Founding a Legacy for Women in Academe

Doris Graber

Professor Doris Graber.

“I’ve always been drawn to topics that are not over-covered—I’ve explored things that others don’t,” said Professor Doris Graber, whose UIC teaching career in the Department of Political Science began in the mid-1960s. “I don’t remember the exact year I joined the university. I think I was at Navy Pier for one semester. Then we moved here and built the political science department.”

With a curriculum vitae that includes upwards of 15 books, more than 100 articles and chapters, countless presentations at scholarly conferences, and numerous awards, Graber is not resting on her laurels. In addition to teaching in both the political science department and the Department of Communication, she continues her research and writing interests. Her latest book, On Media: Making Sense of Politics, was released in September.

On Media - Making Sense of Politics book cover

Graber’s latest book. Image courtesy of Paradigm Publishers

“The book started out with the notion that the number of people who pay attention to the media is generally declining,” Graber said. “There are a lot of people not looking at the news and pundits say the sky is falling. The question then is: ‘How do people learn about the news?’”Graber’s research in the U.S., synthesized in On Media, revealed that people are often getting their understanding of social and political issues from television drama—particularly crime and hospital shows.

Graber explained that many of the television shows analyzed in her research grapple with real issues that individuals and society are actually dealing with—such as HIV testing or health care. The dramas also tap into an emotional response in the viewer and elicit a personal engagement in the issues that result in experiential learning, which she found to be highly effective.

“We have some evidence that people do indeed learn. There is the ‘CSI Effect’ in which juries will not convict because they say the investigators didn’t do a certain test that they learned about on television. When there is a story on television about HIV, national health agencies know to put additional telephone operators on the phone banks because they will get more calls.”

Graber does not offer a judgment regarding whether this method of acquiring knowledge is good or bad, but rather emphasizes the fact that information spiced with dramatic appeal “is going to stick with you because it engages the emotions, it gets your juices going and you learn much better with your juices going. I teach political psychology; I think it is very important.”

With On Media hot off the presses, Graber is already engaged in her next research project: quantifying if social media, such as Facebook, really help shape, drive or change public opinion.

With On Media hot off the presses, Graber is already engaged in her next research project: quantifying if social media, such as Facebook, really help shape, drive or change public opinion.

“Is the currently-accepted wisdom that ‘Facebook drives public opinion’ actually true? Can we set up a measurable linkage?” asked Graber. “We are still working out the methodology. There are a lot of stereotypes floating around. I like to look behind that.”

Graber grew up in Colorado and attended Washington University in St. Louis for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She earned her PhD in law and international relations at Columbia University. “I really wanted to be a foreign correspondent—that was my aspiration. I go a while back and it was very difficult for women to get into the field. I had to have something extra. I can tell you lots of stories,” she said. 

Graber became engaged to her husband when she was entering the master’s program on a fellowship. “It was in the society pages, so the provost found out,” Graber recalled. “He said ‘this award is designated for a promising young scholar. No woman about to be married can be called a promising young scholar.’ And they took the fellowship away. I won’t tell you the year because I graduated very young.”

Graber completed her dissertation while pregnant with her first child. She and her late husband, an orthodontist, went on to raise five children while she built a career in publishing and then in academia. Graber taught at Northwestern University, University of Chicago and for a year at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University before settling into her tenure at UIC.

Doris Graber by cartoon wall

Graber shows off the political cartoons on her office door.

“Women worry about being bound by their biology. It does take organization to put it together successfully. I can give them some guidance in balancing family and career,” said Graber, who asserts the importance of active parenting. “We are raising the citizens of the country. They in turn make their contributions,” she said. “How can we continue to be an important factor in world development when we are not educating our children properly, when schools are underfinanced and teachers underpaid? And parents are absolutely crucial to this education because learning patterns are set early.”

The challenges of maintaining a marriage and nurturing a family have made her particularly sensitive to, and supportive of, women who are balancing these often-conflicting demands. The political science graduate fellowship that Graber established in 1995, and continues to generously support, gives preference to high-achieving female candidates with family responsibilities.

Marcie Reynolds is working on a PhD in American and urban policy while raising three children. A former high school teacher, she said that the Graber fellowship was a “key component in pursuing a lifelong goal. It allows me to focus on coursework rather than working. It greatly encouraged me and continually inspires me to do my best.”

Although she is not raising children, Graber scholar Mitzi Ramos has family responsibilities at the other end of the life spectrum—living with and caring for her aging parents. Ramos’s PhD in urban politics and public policy will allow her to pursue an academic career focused on the impact of public policy on the Latino community. The Graber fellowship has enabled her to focus on her coursework. “Had it not been for this award, I would have needed to pick up another part-time job to make ends meet. I have such high regard for Professor Graber’s work—I was truly floored when I received news of my award. In addition to the financial support, it has given me added confidence in my academic abilities.”

“I feel a social responsibility and I’ve been very blessed,” said Graber, explaining her long-term support for the fellowship. “I know the difficulties that women who have family responsibilities face when they go to college. That’s something that most people don’t think about and through the fellowship I can help out in a spot where it’s really needed. Those of us who are lucky should share their luck.”

To support the Doris A. Graber Endowed Graduate Fellowship, specify your gift to fund number 772020. To support other scholarships and research in political science, consider a gift to the Political Science Fund (number 333383).

Photos by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin