Joanne Connor Green on Politics and Gender

The professor of political science empowers students to change their communities.

Joanne Connor Green, professor of political science at TCU

Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Joanne Connor Green on Politics and Gender

The professor of political science empowers students to change their communities.

As professor of political science and an affiliate faculty member in women & gender studies, Joanne Connor Green researches the role of gender in elections, in political representation and in public opinion.

Green served as department chair of political science from 2009-2015. She recently finished serving as coordinator for TCU’s council of department chairs. Today, she mentors individual students on their senior projects. Green also serves on the TCU Global Academy team, which offers students the opportunity to tackle a global issue through both study and working on a community-driven project abroad.

You grew up in upstate New York, near where the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls. When did you understand how influential gender is?

I was raised very much in this post-feminist environment. We thought we didn’t need feminism anymore and women achieved equality, and I remember being completely and entirely ill-prepared for how relevant my sex was going to be in my treatment, particularly in graduate school.

My experience got me interested in gender on a normative level. Then I started looking at gender substantively in my research in graduate school and the role of gender in elections and how candidates are evaluated. I’ve been interested in it ever since.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue a PhD in political science and teach?

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to law school or graduate school. I’m a first-generation college student, and I self-advised for most of college. I took the GRE, decided I was going to graduate school and I got this wonderful financial aid offer in this fellowship. Since it was free, I thought I might as well try it out.

The first semester was rough; I went to the University of Florida, and it was a really difficult transition. I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place, and I was still thinking I should go to law school.

I was a teaching assistant for an American politics class and the professor had to go out of town for business; he told me I was going to lecture for his class of 300 people. I was 22 years old. I went in there to lecture and the first 10 minutes I was terrified, but then something clicked in my head; I knew what I was doing. I felt alive and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I completed my PhD.

What drew you to TCU?

I can remember exactly when I wanted to come to teach here — it was when I was on the interview. So, they brought me in and the department was all male. I was the first woman that could have a tenure-track position in political science. The first night they took me out to dinner, and it was me and seven male professors.

After they were done putting me in the hot seat, I was able to sit back and watch them interact with each other, and they started talking about students by name. They really cared about their students.

I decided I could see myself at a place like this, where they value teaching, and you get to know your students.

What makes AddRan College of Liberal Arts unique compared to liberal arts colleges at other universities?

AddRan has many strengths including the long tradition of really embracing the liberal arts, strong support for thinking critically and analytically and the emphasis on experiential learning. By experiential learning, I mean opportunities for internships and emphasizing the practical elements of liberal arts.

Sometimes liberal arts have been criticized because some people ask, “What do you do with liberal arts?” and say there’s no marketability for it. But the research has clearly demonstrated that liberal arts majors do really well economically and are quite happy and fulfilled in their careers.

Joanne Connor Green, politcal science

Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Which of your classes is the most impactful for students, and which is your favorite to teach?

My Gender Politics class is the one that I hear the most about from students. I love Gender Politics because it really challenges students to look at things from a critical perspective, like gender roles and our views of what is equality in the United States.

But I also really like teaching Campaigns and Elections. We create a campaign plan for a candidate that is actually running for Congress. And that’s really important for students when they get to take what they learn in a book, and then they get to apply it in real time for somebody seeking higher office.

It really helps them learn on a substantive level in very practical ways. Students respond to it very positively; they actually make campaign ads and they edit them. Sometimes they’re better quality than you see on TV. The students do really well with the campaign plans and they find that really rewarding.

One time a student called me — she graduated years ago — and said, “You’re never going to believe this, but the person I wrote a campaign plan for happened to be in a restaurant when I was on vacation.” She went over and introduced herself to him and said, “When I was in college, I wrote a campaign plan for you.” He lost. And he invited her for a drink, and they talked about it.

What kind of energy do you foster in the classroom? How do you keep the information relevant?

I have a natural enthusiasm for teaching and so I do have a high energy when I teach. I try to instill the energy that our society will be better off the more we’re involved. My teaching has always been well received by the students, and I’m grateful for that.

I try to have feminist classrooms. By feminist classrooms, I mean I try to instill the idea that you can take your education, or you can receive your education. When you receive it, you passively sit there and just let it sit, but when you take your education you own it, you own your place, you know you belong, you take your space and you have agency.

I want my students to know we’re on this journey together. I am always learning from my students, and I am learning with my students.

What kind of teaching awards have you won?

In 2005, I was the director of the women & gender studies program and there was a group of students who wanted to bring The Vagina Monologues to campus. They tried to do so through a student-run group, but they couldn’t get permission, and so they came and asked if we would sponsor it through the women’s studies program. We said yes.

A lot of people on campus didn’t want it; I got called to the provost’s office, but the provost sided with us as a form of academic freedom.

Part of having The Vagina Monologues on campus was raising a lot of money. In order to get a licensing agreement, you pledge to raise money, through ticket sales and sponsors, for an organization that fights violence against women; that’s what the monologues are designed to do.

They awarded two of us as the Vagina Warrior that year. While not exactly a teaching award, it certainly reflects my commitment to gender equity at the university, so I’ve always been really proud of that.

I also won the Deans’ Teaching Award, which was really awesome recognition. I’ve been a finalist for the mentoring award several times as well, and I think those all speak to my teaching commitment.

Did you learn anything from teaching during the pandemic?

The pandemic was very difficult for me. I was also doing a number of administrative responsibilities and it was hard. I went months and months and months working every day without a day off.

It really taught me the importance of balance because it was starting to affect my health; it reminded me on a personal level how important self-care is.

It was really important for me to reset and get some better balance in my life so, for instance, I really try to make an effort to not check my email on the weekend, or at least try a whole day without doing email. So, it has made me have better professional boundaries.

But it has also made me more compassionate and empathetic. The pandemic reminded us that we don’t always know what’s going on in other people’s lives and how challenges manifest differently to different people. I think we need more humanity in our interactions with everybody we come into contact with.

 What kind of research are you working on?

Currently, I’m looking at political scandals and if the population evaluates men and women differently. I am also researching the consequences of the changing demographic composition of state legislatures. Specifically, as legislatures become increasingly diverse, do they enact different kinds of laws? A new project I’m looking at is the role of feminism and how feminist identity impacts how people are seeing politics and politicians. I’m specifically interested in how male feminists are different than female feminists because I think during the Trump administration, we saw men who identify as feminists activate in different ways than we saw female feminist identities activated.

You’ve co-authored two major textbooks, one on American politics and one on Texas politics. Which are you most proud of and why?

The Texas politics book has been used all over the state, and the American politics book has been used in hundreds of schools across the country. There is an opportunity to make some great influence through touching thousands of people every year in introductory classes.

Living Democracy is the textbook that I am most proud of because the reason we wrote that book was to reengage youth in our country. At the time we wrote the book, there was a lot of discussion about how the youth in our country were getting disengaged from politics. The goal of the book was to empower young people to understand that they can make a difference.

That is deeply important to me and what I try to instill in all of my students. I know if you take Intro to American Politics with me, you’re not going to remember every little thing you learn, but what I want you to emerge with is this sense that you can make a difference in your communities and that you have the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to change lives.

How do you think gender will impact politics in this year’s midterms? How are these midterms different than midterms in the past?

Gender could impact the elections via the heightened attention that is sure to be placed on abortion and reproductive rights, and gender could impact the elections indirectly through the differential policy preferences likely to be seen by male and female voters — the gender gap.

For example, education is a hot topic and with more women being responsible for Zoom school and home schooling during the pandemic, this could impact women and men voters differently.

In the last two elections, we saw a large increase in women elected to office — 2018 was a big year for Democratic women; 2020 was a big year for GOP women. With more attention being placed on the economy, and given how much women were economically impacted by the pandemic, this is certainly a large issue for women.

These midterms feel a bit different than others given some uncertainties — how large of a role will Trump play in the midterm campaigns, how bad will inflation be in the fall, what will the economy look like in the fall. Some wonder how large the expected Democratic midterm losses will be; the party of the president traditionally loses seats in Congress during midterms.

What’s next on your list?

I’ve stepped back from some administrative responsibilities so I can really focus more on teaching and being in the classroom. I’m really excited about that. I was the interim chair and that responsibility takes you out of the classroom. I was doing some other serious service responsibilities that were important and good to do, but now it’s somebody else’s turn and I’m excited to focus more on my teaching and research again.

I really enjoy working with students, and I mentor a number of student projects now. Teaching is what really makes me want to get up in the morning.

Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.