Researching Best Practices to Enhance Equitable Public Participation in Alignment with Framingham’s Racial Equity Vision

By Amelia Murray-Cooper

Increasing community and civic engagement are key goals outlined in the City of Framingham’s Racial Equity Vision. During fall 2021, Associate Professor Katherine Levine Einstein led a course on Inequality and American Politics in the College of Arts and Sciences, in which students researched methods of enhancing equitable public participation in Framingham.

Professor Einstein partnered with the Initiative on Cities’ MetroBridge Program, an experiential learning program that helps connect BU students and faculty to local governments in a series of real-world projects. These projects provide students the unique opportunity to work on impactful projects with neighboring cities, while also offering partner organizations valuable insights for addressing urban challenges.

“What MetroBridge does is amazing. They solicit different proposals from local governments for projects they need help with,” said Einstein. “I worked with Framingham last year too, and they’re interested in improving equity and community engagement and having more equality in political participation in local government proceedings. They wanted a group of students to go out and research the key obstacles to that in their community and some best practices for improving equality.”

According to Einstein, the course is an upper level seminar for juniors, seniors, and early graduate students. The course goals are to help students understand scholarly research in political science, economics, and sociology of inequality and politics, and then consider how the research applies to local communities around them.

From the beginning of the course, many of the readings and discussions considered political participation and how to reduce inequality. City of Framingham officials virtually met with students early in the semester to explain some of the key challenges in the community. Then, students were assigned different areas to research, such as survey engagement, equality in political representation, and best practices for immigrant outreach.

The students conducted targeted interviews and analyzed meeting minutes, voting data, social media, and journalistic accounts to provide recommendations for more effectively engaging marginalized populations in local politics. One of the group’s reports, which compared outreach to Latinx communities across gateway cities and Framingham, is available here.

Einstein also explained that the students faced a real-world example of how challenging it can be to create sustainable change in politics amidst administration changes, because the officials who partnered with the course lost the recent mayoral election. According to Einstein, the municipal officials said they were deeply appreciative of the work the students produced, and they “will leave it on the desks of their successors.”

“The students took the work really seriously and pursued ambitious projects. I hope they took away the incredible importance of local politics and having more equity for accomplishing policy goals. Also, I wanted them to take away how much legwork is involved in making these changes happen and how the government works,” said Einstein. “I think one of the cool things about MetroBridge in combination with academic readings is students get a real understanding of how elections affect policy, and just how policy change happens.”

Learn more about other fall 2021 MetroBridge projects here, and find the spring 2022 course list here! To stay up-to-date, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletter.