FACULTY MEMBER SINCE: 2010
EDUCATION: Ph.D. and M.A., Political Science, City University of New York; B.A., Political Science, B.A., Psychology, Winthrop University.
CERTIFICATIONS: Certification in Political Psychology, City University of New York.
TITLE: Assistant Professor of Political Science
Amy Hodges: This is your first semester at Millikin. How are things going so far?
Bobbi Gentry: Things are going well. After even a short time at Millikin, it’s obvious how much everyone cares about the students. There’s a real sense of community here, and students and teachers alike are very engaged in the learning process.
AH: As a former resident of New York and South Carolina, you’re no stranger to political corruption woes. What do you think makes those states similar to or different from Illinois?
BG: I’m a realist – so I know that corruption and politics go hand in hand. There are different types, of course – personal, financial, political – but it happens! In my opinion, the worst type of corruption is corruption against democracy – suppressing votes or keeping people from engaging in the process. I think the one similarity shared by New York, South Carolina and Illinois is that all three states have been cited has having oppressive state voting laws, particularly where students are concerned.
AH: 2008 was an election for the history books in every way, including youth voter turnout. As an expert on youth voting, what was so different about Election 2008?
BG: Social media. It made a HUGE difference. There was a concerted effort by both campaigns, particularly the Obama campaign, to connect with youth and engage them.
Another thing that made a big impact was the use of popular television programs like Saturday Night Live. This is something that both candidates utilized. I thought McCain was especially effective in use of this medium to get his message out.
It’s important to acknowledge the different routes to different voting demographics. It all started in 1992 with Arsenio Hall and Rock the Vote. Things have evolved since then, and I hope to see more local and state candidates use new technology and programming as a way to connect with youth.
AH: You lived in New York City for six years while attending CUNY. What do you miss most about the big city?
BG: I miss the friends my husband and I made along the way. New York can become overwhelming after awhile. It can be lonely without strong friendships.
AH: What’s your favorite part of living in the Midwest?
BG: Prices are much, much more reasonable. And the people are very friendly.
AH: Another one of your areas of expertise is campaigns and elections. Dare to make any predictions for 2010?
BG: Well, it’s the midterm, so fewer people will be voting. It’s disappointing, but true. However, this means an individual vote matters that much more. It’s a challenging time for political parties. 2004-2008 saw a resurgence of the “grassroots politics” – the importance of talking to and interacting with voters. Parties will be challenged to articulate what they have accomplished. They must articulate solid reasons why their constituents should get out and vote. It’s important for them to establish real goals for when they are elected, and most importantly, follow through on these goals after taking office.
AH: As a former political staffer, I am well aware of politics’ addictive nature. What was it that sparked your interest?
BG: Well, I started college as a psychology major. I’ve always been interested in how people think and work. What really sparked my interest in politics was a great political science professor during my freshman year of college. Her class was very challenging, and I wasn’t used to being challenged…so naturally, I was hooked.
I’m interested in the American public and how we can get into their minds and see what they want for a better society. I want to better understand public opinion, and see how we can translate what the public wants into action. Of course, there are always limitations. But we need to start somewhere.
AH: What are some things that must happen to get youth more engaged in the political process?
BG: We have to have a conversation about why politics matters, and discuss the consequences of not voting. Second, they should know how politics affects their daily lives. The only way to make them understand is to engage them in the process. I think it’s import for institutions of higher education like Millikin to have opportunities for students to get involved in the political process – activities like debates, forums, and other events.
Students have a responsibility – to themselves, to their country, and to the global community – to involve themselves in something that is bigger than themselves and can potentially make a huge difference.
Faculty 411 is an interview series featuring Millikin faculty members. If you’d like to suggest a faculty member to be spotlighted in the next installment of Faculty 411, e-mail Media Relations Coordinator Amy Hodges at firstname.lastname@example.org.