Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Inclusion and Social Development

First Advisor

Meghan Kallman

Second Advisor

Rita Kiki Edozie

Third Advisor

Andrea Benjamin


While women represent half the world’s population, they are underrepresented globally in government (UN Women, accessed February 27, 2022). In the United States, women’s representation is particularly low and women of color face greater levels of exclusion than white women (Reflective Democracy Campaign, 2018). During the 2018 mid-term elections there was a significant increase in the number of women running for office of all races, particularly Black women (CAWP, 2019). Black women have historically held less than 5% of elected executive offices, including Congress and state legislatures (CAWP, 2018d), even though they comprise 13.1% of the total U.S. population (CAWP, 2018d). Research shows that when Black women run for office, they win at higher levels than their white and/or male counterparts (Gertzog, 2002; Hardy-Fanta et al., 2006; Orey et al., 2006; Shah, 2014). Of the 65 Black women who ran for Congress in 2018, 23 won their primaries and five first-time Black women were elected ( CAWP, 2019).

My research explores why there was an influx of Black female candidates, compared to previous years. In 2018, a highly partisan political environment coupled with a President who used identity politics to divide constituents polarized voters. Social justice activism grew for both women and people of color. The election was preceded by the first Black President and the first white woman to be nominated by a major political party in a Presidential primary. As such, gender and race were prominent in politics. Using an intersectional framework that acknowledges the complexity of people's experiences due to multiple identities, two case studies of then first-time Black Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes explore why they ran in the 2018 midterm election amidst a heightened protest environment. I identify factors in their decisions to run, how those decisions were affected by a mobilized electorate focused on race and gender, and what their paths to office might teach future political representatives from this marginalized segment of the population.

Available for download on Sunday, June 30, 2024