Melissa Harris-Perry speaks on making democracy work

April 19, 2012 5:45 AM

Aidan Smith

“If you had one last lecture to give, what would it be?” For Tulane political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry, it would be “Bridging the Divides: Politics, Difference and Making Our Democracy Work. ”

Melissa Harris-Perry

After her hypothetical “last lecture” on "Bridging the Divides," political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry talks with students. (Photo by Sabree Hill)

Each year the Newcomb College Institute’s Mortar Board Honor Society asks a professor to give a “last lecture,” and this year’s result was a discussion that reflected both contemporary issues and the history of our nation.

Harris-Perry is a familiar face on campus, as well as on television screens around the country. She is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South at Tulane. She is also the host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry.” Her lecture touched on some challenging realities of American culture, from the death penalty to healthcare reform to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Harris-Perry inspired the standing-room only audience at Rogers Chapel with a simple description of how the system should work: “To live in a democracy is to have the right to govern, not simply to be governed. To rule, not just to be ruled. To be heard, not to be silenced. To lose without fearing that winners take all.”

Amy Holiday, Mortar Board president, said the professor serves as a model for their organization. “She represents a lot of what Mortar Board stands for, and what our members aspire to become. She is a confident and composed leader who has created for herself the credibility that allow her ideas to develop traction.”

In spite of the challenges the nation faces, both economic and social, Harris-Perry encouraged students to get involved, run for office and understand their role in our democracy.

“It’s not easy. It’s not pretty. It is not straightforward and is often very difficult. But opting out is not a choice,” she said.

Aidan Smith is external affairs officer for the Newcomb College Institute.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000