Race, Ethnicity, Gender and the 2020 Elections

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion presents a panel on Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and the 2020 Elections.

Date: October 28th, 2020

Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm


The dynamics of race, ethnicity, and gender have long played central roles in U.S. electoral politics. The current pandemic and most recent spate of state violence will only heighten the significance of these issues in the upcoming elections. This panel will discuss the various implications for the next four years and beyond.

To view the recording, click here.

Panelists’ Bios

Debo P. Adegbile

Debo is a partner in WilmerHale’s Government and Regulatory Litigation group and Co-Chair of the firm’s Anti-discrimination practice. His work focuses on matters at the intersection of law, business, government enforcement and policy. He has significant experience in commercial, government-facing, appellate and United States Supreme Court litigation, as well as in complex investigations and strategic counseling in high-stakes matters.  His clients include corporations, trade associations, municipalities and agencies, colleges and universities and other not-for-profit institutions.  Debo twice defended the constitutionality of two core provisions of the Voting Rights Act in oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court.  Debo was part of the WilmerHale team that successfully defended Harvard University’s admissions policies against a federal challenge in SFFA v. Harvard University.

Debo has testified before Congress on legal issues on multiple occasions. He currently serves as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, appointed by President Obama in 2016. Previously, he served as Senior Counsel to Patrick Leahy, then-Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as the Acting President and Director of Litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. He is the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and a graduate of Connecticut College; a graduate and trustee of NYU School of Law, and also serves as the Vice Chair on the Board of Directors of the Vera Institute of Justice.  In 2020, Debo was appointed as the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Civil Rights at University D.C. Law School.


Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq.

Glenn is a long-time civil rights attorney, professor, and LGBTQ rights activist.  He has been organizing in the LGBT community for over 30 years.  He is the former Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), a national federation of Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations, where he oversees the organization’s trainings, advocacy on immigrants’ rights, and visibility and family acceptance campaign. His efforts were recognized by the Walter & Evelyn Haas, Jr. Fund with their 2017 award for Outstanding LGBTQ Leadership for Immigrants’ Rights.  He was named as one of Instinct Magazine’s “25 Leading Men of 2004.  He organized the first ever testimony before The White House Initiative on Asian Americans & Pacific Islander in 2000.  In 1994, he spoke at the National March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.  Before taking the helm of NQAPIA, Glenn was a nationally recognized civil rights attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).  He is an authority on the federal Voting Rights Act and expert on Asian American political participation, including bilingual ballots, election reform, multilingual exit polling, and census.  AALDEF has filed numerous briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court and several appellate and trial courts.  He has litigated cases on minority voter discrimination against several states.  His efforts were recognized by the NYS Bar Association Committee on Civil Rights with the prestigious Haywood Burns Memorial Award in 2015.

He has published a dozen scholarly legal and academic peer-reviewed articles, authored reports, and has given commentary to numerous media outlets including The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, MSNBC-TV, NBC Asian America, and The Advocate. Glenn chairs the LGBT Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York.  He continues to inspire new legal minds by teaching “Race & the Law” at Brooklyn Law School and serves as a Professor of Asian American Studies at Hunter College/ CUNY and Columbia University.

Glenn attended the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook on Long Island, and as a beneficiary of affirmative action, graduated cum laude from the New England School of Law, in Boston.


Evelyn M. Simien

Evelyn is Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Race, Ethnicity, and Politics (REP) Master’s degree program.  Her first book, Black Feminist Voices in Politics (SUNY Press, 2006), examined black feminist consciousness and its effect on political behavior using national survey data. Her second book, Gender and Lynching: the Politics of Memory (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011), focused on African American women who suffered racial-sexual violence at the hands of lynch mobs in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her third book, Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015), considers whether candidates like Shirley Chisholm in 1972 and Jesse Jackson in 1984 as well as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008 mobilize voters through emotional appeals while combating stereotypes and providing more inclusive representation.

A nationally recognized teacher, Professor Simien was awarded the 2006 Anna Julia Cooper Teacher of the Year Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, and the 2007 Teaching Promise Award from the American Association of University Professors. She was also recognized as the 2017 Faculty Member of the Year by the UConn chapter of the NAACP. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes—for example, African American Politics, Black Feminist Theory and Politics, Black Leadership and Civil Rights, as well as Race, Gender, and Ethnic Politics. Professor Simien earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University.


Doug Spencer

Doug is Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Connecticut. During the 2020-2021 academic year he is visiting Colorado Law as Distinguished Faculty Fellow at The Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law. Spencer is an election law scholar whose research addresses the role of prejudice and racial attitudes in Voting Rights Act litigation, the empirical implications of various campaign finance regulations, and the many ways that election rules and political campaigns contribute to growing inequality in America.

Spencer has been a professor at the University of Connecticut since 2013. He has taught as a Visiting Professor at the Yale Law School (2020) and at the University of Chicago. He has also worked as an expert witness in voting rights and campaign finance cases. Prior to law teaching, Spencer was a law clerk at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, an election monitor in Thailand for the Asian Network for Free Elections, and a researcher for the Pew Center on the States’ Military and Overseas Voting Reform Project.

Professor Spencer holds a Ph.D. in Jurisprudence and Social Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. He also earned a J.D. at Berkeley Law and a M.P.P. at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 2004 with a B.A. in Philosophy.


Charles R. Venator-Santiago

Charles is an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut, where he holds a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and El Instituto: Institute for Latino/a, Caribbean and Latin American Studies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2002.

His most recent books are titled: Puerto Rico and the Origins of U.S. Global Empire: The Disembodied Shade (Routledge 2015) and Hostages of Empire: A Short History of the Extension of U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Rico, 1898 – Present.

He has been working with Carlos Vargas-Ramos (CENTRO-Hunter College) on several projects addressing the impact of the displacement of Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of hurricane Maria, including a study in the greater Hartford region (Storm Surge) and a similar study in the City of Holyoke, MA. He currently manages the Puerto Rico Citizenship Archives Project (PRCAP) and the American Samoa Nationality and Citizenship Archives Project (ASNCAP).

He teaches courses on U.S. territorial law and policy, Public Law, Latino/a Politics, immigration law and politics, and political theory.


Janene Yazzie

Janene is an entrepreneur, community organizer and Indigenous rights and human rights advocate. She has worked on climate change, water security, food security, broadband development, energy development, and nation building with Indigenous communities for the past eleven years. She served as a research associate on several studies looking at the impacts of environmental contamination on Indigenous communities in New Mexico and Arizona. She co-founded the first community-led watershed planning program on the Navajo Nation known as the Little Colorado River Watershed Planning Project. Currently she is program manager of Sustainable Community Development with the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). She also represents IITC as the co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group (IPMG) to the United Nations High Level Political Forum on the SDGs. She ran for New Mexico Public Regulations Commission in 2018 and currently serves on the New Mexico Governor’s Advisory Committee for Racial Justice.


Three main questions asked:

  1. Issues of race, ethnicity, gender/gender expression, sexual identity and orientation, and their intersections have long been vectors of power and influence in U.S. electoral politics. From your vantage point, how and to what degree might they impact these elections in ways that they haven’t in the past? Please explain your views on this issue.
  2. Based on the focus of your work, what issue has emerged during this election cycle that you think deserves the most public attention? What advice would you offer to newly elected federal, state or local officials on this issue?
  3. What role can colleges and universities, especially flagship institutions like the University of Connecticut, play in the electoral process, particularly with regard to issues of social identities and their intersections (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and power?