Jatia Wrighten, Ph.D.
Dr. Wrighten conducts research on black women, state legislatures and leadership, with an emphasis on intersectionality.
Jatia Wrighten, Ph.D., conducts research on black women, state legislatures and leadership, with an emphasis on intersectionality. Her current project examines the differences in leadership attainment that exists between black women, white women, black men and white men in state legislatures and what are the factors that cause these differences. She created the novel theory, the Heavy Lifters Theory, to explain the primary differences between black male and black female legislators as it relates to leadership in state legislatures. She was most recently awarded the Gender and Leadership Dissertation Award from George Mason University for her work that focuses on intersectionality and leadership. She has taught a range of political science courses at James Madison University, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College.
She looks forward to continuing research and instruction that emphasizes themes of equality, justice and political effects for the most marginalized groups in the United States as an assistant professor at VCU.
Wrighten received her B.A. in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University; her M.A. in political science from the University of Maryland, College Park; and received her Ph.D. from the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, where she defended her dissertation entitled, “Who Runs the World? An Examination of Black Women and Leadership in State Legislatures.” Wrighten plans to use her degree to teach and serve as a mentor to a future generation of scholars. When she is not researching and writing, she enjoys traveling with her family.
Q&A with Dr. Wrighten
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?
My dad was in the Army so I have lived all over the world. My favorite station was in Darmstadt, Germany. I have also lived in California, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. I have always loved school and really enjoyed reading and writing. I am a first-generation college student and did not realize that there were degrees after the bachelor's until I came to VCU as an undergrad. My mentor, Dr. Njeri Jackson, told me about the Ralph Bunche Program. I applied and attended my sophomore year and left [the program] knowing I wanted to get my doctorate in political science. When I graduated from VCU in 2006, I taught high school for two years at Highland Springs High School in Henrico County, and my last year teaching, I applied to graduate school. I received my master's from the University of Maryland, College Park, and my doctorate from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?
When I was in 4th grade, I decided I wanted to be president of the United States. I loved history and social studies. And I figured if you were president you can tell everyone what to do and use history and social studies in your job every day. Clearly, I had a very basic understanding of the presidency and what the job entailed. As I continued in my educational journey, I took AP government courses and fell in love with the study of political science. I majored in political science as an undergrad at VCU and minored in African American studies. I decided to work in academia after attending the Ralph Bunche Institute. I have an interesting and unique perspective on politics and I wanted to share that with students in order to create a more equitable society.
Can you explain the focus of your research?
In 2018, Black women continue to occupy a unique position in American politics and their status is still widely misunderstood and undetermined. Many scholars have researched Black women and their political behavior, but few have assessed how institutions impede or facilitate their influence within democratic legislatures. My research seeks to fill this gap by examining the causes of the unequal selection of Black and white women to leadership positions in state legislatures. In recent years, Black women have been able to gain increasing numbers of elected seats in state legislatures, as they actually run and win more often than both white women and Black men. Yet, they are still grossly underrepresented in leadership positions. What explains the gap between Black and white women’s ability to gain formal leadership positions in state legislatures? My research uses panel data that spans from 2007-14 and includes 13,147 legislators from all 50 states to examine this puzzle.
What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?
VCU was such a large part of who I have become and instilled in me a sense of belonging and direction. VCU is where I learned about myself through the courses I took and the experiences I had. It was diverse, progressive and exciting. It is in the heart of the city and I always felt invigorated when I was on campus. When I finished up my Ph.D., I wanted to work in an environment similar to that of VCU. Fortunately, when I was ready for the job market, the Department of Political Science had an opening. So I figured, why try to replicate all of these great things I enjoyed while at VCU, when I can just be at VCU? I am most excited about sharing the love of the city and VCU's campus with our three kids.
Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?
I teach because I believe that education is the primary tool that leads to progression in society. It empowers individuals while simultaneously changing and shaping the world around us. It is something that once learned, can never be taken away. In an effort to empower individuals in my class I focus on three main objectives: exposing students to new perspectives, encouraging critical thinking skills, and evaluating existing theories and offering critiques of these theories in an open and respectful environment. The thing I enjoy most about teaching is the interaction with students.
Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?
I love to travel. Last year, my husband and I took our three kids to five countries: Iceland, Germany, Netherlands, France and Italy. It was the most amazing adventure. We are always looking for new ways to show our kids how interconnected we are on this Earth and how our actions affect others. Traveling is one of the best ways we have been able to do this.