The Bridging the Gap team is thrilled to announce the addition of a new member of our leadership team: Emmanuel Balogun, the inaugural BtG Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow. We recently sat down with him to ask about his work, hobbies, and plans for the fellowship. Welcome to the team, Emmanuel!
BTG: Tell us a bit about yourself. What drives your scholarship?
EB: What drives my scholarship is my desire to highlight the multitude of ways African countries engage with the international community. I am also very curious about the role of African expertise in IR. My research on African regional organizations was actually born out of thinking about Foreign Policy Decision Making and how African leaders use regional organizations as forums for foreign policy. As I got into the research, I became more interested in the bureaucracy of ROs and the creative ways they would try to get their job done. As a result, my scholarship is driven by a desire to see how expertise and resourcefulness among African bureaucrats gets turned into governance.
Growing up as a First-Generation Nigerian American, I would often hear stories from my dad and family members about how great it was to grow up in Nigeria, yet these stories were not the same stories I would hear in school, if I heard them at all. I always said that I would want to have a career where I could learn more about Nigeria and where my family comes from and a career that would allow me to travel and learn on the continent. I think this also drives my scholarship, in that I want to better understand the social and political contexts of Africa and better understand my own connection to the continent.
BTG: What’s your favorite part about teaching?
EB: My favorite part about teaching is seeing students get excited about making connections. The connections are not always profound, but I genuinely enjoy seeing students apply material in the course to something in their other courses, or something they have experienced in their own lives. Relatedly, I just enjoy the journey of the semester. The difficulties, the weeks where everyone is struggling to get through the materials, and just the overall challenge of getting students to think critically about course content, while also thinking reflectively about how they situate themselves in the world. Teaching is also a great opportunity to try out my dad jokes. Most of all, I truly enjoy helping students through the learning process and I see the learning process as truly collaborative. I learn a lot from my students and I hope that they leave my classes having been challenged in a way that helps them in other courses down the line.
BTG: What about your interest and activities — how do you spend your time outside of work?
EB: I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old, so a lot of my activities outside of work currently involve singing, acting out Disney movies, and conflict resolution. I really value and enjoy spending time with my family. But in general, I watch a lot of basketball (go Celtics) and I am trying to get back into playing competitively; I am rediscovering my love for video games, and I am a huge hip-hop fan—I am currently re-listening to the early catalogs of DMX (RIP), De La Soul, and NY Drill music. I also have a long commute, so I have been able to listen to more podcasts. My current favorites are Hear to Slay, the Bodega Boys, the NBA Mismatch, and Trade Talks.
BTG: Why did you want to get involved with Bridging the Gap?
EB: I’ve always wanted to think about how to make my work relevant to the audiences that would benefit from the implications of my work. In my conversations with policymakers and practitioners that I meet and work with on the continent, they often tell me that they do not engage with political science scholarship on Africa for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of accessibility and the tone of the scholarship. I think Bridging the Gap will help me personally keep these questions of accessibility in the forefront of my research moving forward and be more intentional about including the perspectives of my colleagues on the continent in my work.
Relatedly, I wanted to work with Bridging the Gap because I think there is a great opportunity in this moment to really rethink questions of equity and access in our discipline. I’ve admired the work of Bridging the Gap from afar, but never thought I’d be able to participate in any of the programming, as I did not think I was the type of scholar they would be interested in. Once I saw they were looking for a Diversity Fellow, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to get involved and work collaboratively to seek out ways to make BtG more accessible to those who are also interested in “bridging the gap” but feel they might not have an entry point into this space.
BTG: Why is it important for scholars to share their work with policymakers and the public?
EB: Again, I come back to access. What good is it if we as scholars have something important to say or have an interesting finding and it is gated in an academic journal somewhere? Also, I think it is important for the public to know and be able to access information that we produce as scholars. I think we see this with the crowd sourced syllabi produced over the years and the anti-racism reading lists that proliferated over the summer. While I have some criticisms of these syllabi and reading lists, the fact that scholars were quickly able to deploy scholarly resources for public discussion/consumption in such an immediate and effective way, offers a necessary kind of access for the public to gain deeper understandings about politics and society that I think will lead to a more engaged public.
It is a two-way street—scholars also get a lot out of sharing our work. For me, it’s allowed me to focus more on the important points of my scholarship—the “so what” of my research, if you will. Being able to distill complex academic arguments in a way that is intelligible for policymaker and public consumption I believe is an invaluable skill. It is also a way to potentially boost the profile of scholars who have great ideas, but have been boxed out of traditional dissemination outlets due to their position in the academy.
BTG: What do you see as some of the challenges confronting underrepresented groups in writing and disseminating policy-relevant scholarship?
EB: There are a lot, but if I must pick a couple, I will say tokenization/representation and legitimacy. I think many people will point to the issue of representation first, and rightfully so. When you look at policy makers or the field of political science (IR in particular), there is an issue of racial representation. Those of us who are black in the discipline, there is the issue of us being tokenized to only speak to “black” issues. For example, the black American that must only study Race and Ethnic Politics, or the black IR scholar who could not possibly be an expert on the EU and/or South Asia. These elements of tokenization and the lack of racial representation might lead to underrepresented scholars not receiving the opportunities for policy engagement because of a perceived lack of expertise. This is why I value the work of Women Also Know Stuff and POC Also Know Stuff, because their mandate is to force underrepresented groups into the space and legitimize our knowledge.
I also think a significant challenge is knowing where to start/how to engage. For those who do not have the “pedigree” (I hate this term) and were not educated in spaces where everyone has access to policymakers or colleagues/professors who have policy connections, how would they know how to get their research in the hands of someone at a think-tank? How would one know the process of what it takes to write for the Monkey Cage for example? Academia and political science are still very gated and guarded, which I think poses a significant challenge to underrepresented groups and their ability to engage in policy-relevant work.
BTG: What are some of the things you hope to do with Bridging the Gap this year?
EB: I am hoping to build partnerships with groups who are already doing excellent work to make political science and international affairs more equitable. One of my main goals as Diversity Fellow is to work towards creating more of a pipeline from graduate school to post-doctoral studies for underrepresented scholars to engage in this space. I also hope to build on efforts for BtG to engage with undergraduate students as well.
I am also interested in thinking more about how to mainstream equity and inclusion in BtG programming. I am planning to do an internal climate survey with the BtG leadership team and a broader engagement with BtG alumni to see where they believe equity and inclusion could be improved within BtG. Alongside this, I want to think about how we can broaden our conception of the policy space, to think about those scholars who want to engage with practitioners beyond DC and engage with the practitioners in their area of research.
Finally, I hope to create what I call a Bridging the Gap “Makers Space” which I envision to be a collaborative space with other like-minded organizations to focus more on how we make the practices in academia and in the policy world conducive to the lived experiences of Black people, queer people, gender non-conforming folx, and people with disabilities.