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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Race and American Politics: Then and Now

What is race? How can we come to understand our American political systems in terms of it? In this introductory Political Science course for high school students, these two questions will be the basis of our exploration of race and its dynamic role in shaping American politics in the past and continually in the present.

This course will begin with an overview of the American political system, using race as a lens to understand major political eras and struggles throughout history. We will divide U.S. history into pre-Constitution, post-Constitution, pre-Civil Rights Movement, & post-Civil Rights Movement, examining specific historical periods that revolve around the creation of legislation addressing inclusion (creation of the Constitution, creation of Amendments, Executive Orders, and Voting Rights Acts).

Reframing past political events around race will help us understand how important race was then (though it was not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution until the 13-15th Amendments) & how that lays the foundations for the political struggles around race that we see today (post-Civil Rights Movement) in our modern government. With the increasing salience of race in American politics, it’s useful to understand the historical foundations that we see apparent today. Understanding the implicit exclusion of people based on race from the past helps us contextualize the current tensions we see in our society today (for ex., how we go from Barack Obama, the first Black President to Donald Trump, a representative of alt-right, anti-Black extremism).

Students will be engaging in an immersive, discussion-based experience revolving around race, American politics, and political psychology. This course will feature a variety of activities, including lectures, selected readings, in-class discussion, presentations, writing assignments and more. Students should come prepared for active participation each day. This course will be a structured guide of the major debates, arguments and controversies of major events in American history and how they affected racial relations in the United States (and global community).


This course is offered at the UMass Amherst campus as a residential program. Local students may apply to attend as a commuter.