ABOUT DUCHESS HARRIS
American Studies and Political Science Professor Duchess Harris is the recipient of the 2021 Thomas Jefferson Award. The award was established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation to honor members of the Macalester community who exemplify the principles and ideals of the third President of the United States. Dr. Harris was selected by a committee of past Jefferson Award winners.
“It was such a thrill to be able to bestow this award upon Duchess, who has made such extraordinary contributions to the campus, the local community, and the world,” said President Suzanne Rivera. “She is a beloved teacher, role model, scholar, and leader. We are so very lucky that she shares her talents and gifts with Macalester every day.”
An interdisciplinary scholar of contemporary African American history and political theory, Dr. Harris’ work has focused on events of Black political importance that have largely been ignored or neglected. She has authored, co-authored, or edited five academic books and numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Prof. Harris is particularly proud of her work on The Duchess Harris Collection, a series of 120 books for students in grades 4-12 that address issues of race, gender and class in America.
“This award has tremendous meaning in this political moment because I feel like the College sees me and the work that I have done to lift up racial justice and equity,” said Prof. Harris.
Professor Harris arrived at Macalester as an instructor and a visiting assistant professor in 1994, teaching courses in women’s and gender studies. In 1998 she joined the tenure-track faculty in political science and African American studies. She was tenured in 2004, earned a Juris Doctorate in 2011, and was promoted to full professor in 2013. Dr. Harris was also a founding member of the American Studies department and served as chair for eight years, including as its inaugural chair.
The breadth of courses Dr. Harris has taught is wide-ranging, and includes Foundations of U.S. Politics, Policy Analysis: Health Care in the United States, Black Political Thought, Race and the Law, and “The Obama Presidency.” Among the things she’s most proud of during her time at Macalester are the lifelong bonds she builds with her students in the classroom.
“Staying in touch with the students as they thrive in their careers and then they include me in that is one of the things I cherish the most,” she said.
In addition to her scholarship and teaching, Dr. Harris has served on numerous governance committees across campus from the Faculty Personnel Committee to the Task Force on the Budget to the current Provost Search Committee.
Off campus, Prof. Harris has served on many boards, as well, including the Friends of St. Paul Libraries, Governor’s Council on Public Defense, Penumbra Theatre, Minnesota Women’s Foundation, and Governor’s Council on Black Minnesotans. She’s also likely the only Macalester faculty member who has thrown out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins game.
I believe pedagogy is a form of social practice and it should inspire a lifelong, hands-on learning commitment to students. For me, teaching is not simply a matter of improving academic preparation or demonstrating an area of ongoing research. It must expand our sense of possibility for the world beyond the classroom. This belief informs my philosophy of teaching: students grow as individuals when we invite them to engage in rigorous classroom methodologies and meaningful civic engagement.
I have adapted and expanded upon existing courses and curricula to develop several innovative courses in my subject area specialties of race, law, and feminism. The fact that these courses are included in the Critical Theory Concentration, Legal Studies Concentration, and the Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Department reflects and reinforces my interdisciplinary interests, and underscores my ability to make meaningful contributions outside of my home department.
Whenever possible, my courses involve a field component that requires students to make critical “real world” connections. Often, I have had to create these types of connections from the ground-up because students might not have had these experiences prior to my course. I begin with simply exposing students to the world beyond their own home communities. To this end, I developed several courses that involved students traveling with me to a place (or places) where they would learn history in situ.
One of my favorite courses was the 2012 Senior Seminar, where the students were enthusiastic and committed. The Seminar brought into play many different topics and concepts, ranging from race, sexuality, privilege, oppression, power and identity. The students were not only active in discussions and presentations, but articulated how they could use their new understanding to affect change in their communities. There was an appreciation for working with others from different backgrounds and learning from their peers.
Senior Thesis 2012
& PUBLIC POLICY
2016-Present The Arc
Watch a clip from a fundraiser Harris led to benefit The Arc
2006-08 Penumbra Theater, Board of Directors
2000-06 Minnesota Women’s Foundation, Board of Directors and Chair of Governance
1996-99 Genesis II for Women, Inc. Board of Directors Vice President
1994-99 Model Cities
A Minnesota based organization whose mission is to promote the physical, mental, spiritual, social, and economic wellbeing of individuals, families and communities who are under served.
2017 Black History Month: Rep. Becker-Finn honors the women of NASA and Dr. Duchess Harris
2010-2011 Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission
The Commission conducts research, consults with the Executive Branch and members of Congress, convenes public forums and issues periodic Report Cards to grade presidential administrations as it relates to Black issues, and offer policy recommendations for advancing Black interests.