Emmaia Gelman

Undergraduate Discipline

Public Policy

BA, Columbia University. MCP, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. PhD, New York University. American studies scholar, specializing in the political history of ideas about race, queerness, and rights with a practitioner focus on public history and scholar-activism. Her book manuscript (in development) on the Anti-Defamation League is based on archival research and collaborations with Black, Jewish, Arab, Muslim, and queer grassroots organizations. SLC, 2022-

Undergraduate Courses 2023-2024


All Politics Is Local!

Open, Seminar—Spring

The cry that “All politics is local!,” popularized in the 1990s, pointed out that voters were often motivated by matters of daily life rather than abstract national issues. Candidates could get more votes by creating jobs at the local factory, it claimed, than by ending a long-running war. In the present political environment, the phrase’s meaning has changed. Major national issues of the day—as wide-ranging as book bans, policing, and environmental protection—are themselves matters of local life and community survival. The questions they raise about morality and democracy no longer seem abstract but urgent. In this context, local political organizing has gained special importance as the site where moral struggles are playing out, often in quiet, long-running projects away from the news cameras. The seminar will take students inside the Westchester People’s Action Coalition (WESPAC) to study local politics and learn directly from organizers. How do local communities draw on larger national debates to build power and achieve change? How do organizers narrate local issues in terms of “abstract” values—like shared responsibility to each other, the planet, and the future—to campaign for policies that seek to change the way we live? Students will tailor much of this course to their interests, pursuing a conference project on one local issue area either working with WESPAC or independently. (Likely possibilities include racial justice, decarceration, police accountability, Indian Point, worker cooperatives, public banking, Middle East policy, and social-forum organizing.) If students choose, they may do some classwork on-site with WESPAC organizers.


Previous Courses

Public Policy

Contending with “Hate”

Open, Seminar—Fall

Hate crimes laws across the United States are being expanded, as policymakers struggle to respond to Trump-era racist and anti-queer violence. Indeed, the Biden administration has begun to merge the meanings of hate crimes and domestic terror, proposing to combat hate with new levels of surveillance and militarized weapons. Yet, despite their apparent urgency, anti-hate laws have often been opposed by antiracist and queer grassroots groups. Many now oppose domestic terror laws, too, moved in part by concerns about sprawling law enforcement. This class will examine the contentious hate/terror framework to ask: How should governments and communities resist repressive violence? What does building anti-violence actually look like? How do antiracist and queer movements conceive of safety? The first half of this course will consider the emergence of hate crimes laws from complex political/historical circumstances, including (among others) the unfulfilled hopes of the civil rights movement, the advent of the prison-industrial complex, the rise of gay capitalist citizenship, and the AIDS crisis. In the second half, we move to the present. As we read proposals for new domestic-terror policy against the events and framings that motivate them, we will study organizations working for anti-violence at grassroots, institutional, and state levels—paying attention to how possibilities are made and foreclosed, as each takes up the call to protect populations from attack and build safer worlds. We will engage a wide variety of resources, including community archives and activist research materials, texts in history, sociology, critical legal theory, critical race theory, and queer theory. Students will develop fluency in the history, policy debates, and complexities of anti-hate/terror policy and approaches to repressive violence from institutional and communal perspectives.


Police Violence: Theorizing the Through Lines

Open, Lecture—Spring

The Black Lives Matter mass uprisings against police violence of the past several years have demanded attention not just to the present but also to race, gender, capital, colonialism, and policing as historically-entwined forces that have produced entwined systems of control. This class takes up that exploration as a basis for conceiving meaningful change in the present. From colonial settlement to the Trump era, we’ll consider policing in relation to the emerging state, its relationship to empire, the changing organization of capital, and the formation of race/sex/gender identities. Taking an expansive approach to policing, we will study how control and violence operate not only through law enforcement but also through processes like placemaking and cultural norms. As we follow policing, we will also follow social movements that have challenged racialization, capital, and the state. We’ll use cultural materials, like film and music, and learn from community organizers, as we consider the development through policy and culture of colonial and security affects, the idea of safety, and raced/gendered visibility as conditions of state violence. Our overall task will be to build a framework for understanding how policy approaches to policing can account for—or miss—the many ways in which police violence operates. We will consider questions including these: What is police violence, and for whom does it do its work? What through lines and frameworks are central to understanding historical policing and police violence as it changes form? How have efforts to resist police violence been absorbed, co-opted, or thwarted—and what has worked? What must policy discussions about police violence include, who must they include, and how must they be structured in order to achieve significant change?