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Sally Nuamah

Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy

PhD, Political Science and Methodology, Northwestern University, 2016 

Trained as a political scientist, Sally Nuamah’s research sits at the intersection of race, gender, education policy, and political behavior. Her work is focused on using both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the political consequences of public policies for Black people across the United States, as well as in Ghana and South Africa.

Nuamah's latest book, Closed for Democracy, investigates the political consequences of mass closures on Black Americans' relationship with government. The book received the American Political Science Association’s Ralph J. Bunche Award, Dennis Judd Award, and the Best Book Award from the Race, Ethnicity & Politics section. Research from the book was recently published in the American Political Science Review and Perspectives on Politics. Her newest research is focused on the punishment of Black women and girls and its consequences for their participation in American democracy.  An article based on this work was named the 2021 “Best Paper on Intersectionality” from the American Political Science Association.

Nuamah’s first book, How Girls Achieve (2019) highlights how the biased educational experiences of Black girls in the U.S. and Africa limit their ability to achieve democratic equity. It received the 2020 Prose Award in Education Practice and Social Science by the American Publishers Association; the 2020 Critics’ Choice Book Award from the American Educational Studies Association, and the 2021 Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award from the Comparative International Education Society.

Nuamah also produced an award-winning documentary, HerStory: Educate a Woman, Educate a Nation. Media outlets such as the Washington Post and Salon have written about her research findings. In addition to her work as an academic, she is the founder of the TWII Foundation, which provides college scholarships for low-income girls in Ghana.

Nuamah received her B.A. in political science from the George Washington University in 2011 and a PhD in political science and methodology from Northwestern in 2016. Previously, she was an assistant professor at Duke University from 2018-2019, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard from 2016-2017, and a fellow at Princeton from 2016-2018. The recipient of numerous academic and public awards, she was recently named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” in Education and in 2019 received a prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.

Current Research

The Politics of Public School Closures. Every year, nearly 2,000 U.S. public schools close—recently exacerbated by the global pandemic. An increasing number of these closures occurred in large cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where approximately 90% of those affected were either African American or Latinx. What are the consequences of school closures for democracy when schools are supposed to play an integral role in reducing inequality, translating civic skills, and improving political participation? In this book, Nuamah highlights how Black and Latinx citizens become the most likely to participate in community meetings, to advocate for an elected school board and to turnout to vote following the announcement of mass school closure in their communities. Nonetheless, the lack of substantive policy response from the government undermines their belief in the power of political participation, even when they are successful at keeping some schools open thus producing Collective Participatory Debt. Ultimately, this book reveals that when schools shut down, so do affected citizens' access to, and belief in, American democracy.

The Political Consequences of Punishing Black Women and Girls. Black women have higher rates of political participation compared to all other sociodemographic groups in the United States. Black girls, however, are suspended from school at higher rates compared with white girls and boys and as Black women are imprisoned at twice the rate of white women. In this project, supported by her Carnegie Fellowship, Nuamah explores if those disproportionate experiences with punishment depress rates of political participation among Black women—and what this might ultimately mean for democracy itself.

Selected Publications


Nuamah, S. 2022. Closed for Democracy: How Mass School Closure Undermines the Citizenship of Black Americans. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nuamah, S. 2019. How Girls Achieve. Cambridge: Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

Journal Articles

Nuamah, S., and Q. Mulroy. 2023. “I am a child!”: Public perceptions of Black girls and their punitive consequences. Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 8(2): 182–201.

Nuamah, S., and T. Ogorzalek. 2021. Close to home: Place-based mobilization in racialized contexts. American Political Science Review 115(3): 757–74.

Nuamah, S. 2020. The cost of participating while poor and Black: Toward a theory of collective participatory debtPerspectives on Politics 1–16.

Nuamah, S. 2020. The paradox of educational attitudes: Racial differences in public opinion on school closure. Journal of Urban Affairs 42(4):554-70. 

Nuamah, S. 2020. "Every year they ignore us": School closures and public trust. Politics, Groups, and Identities  DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2020.1748063

Nuamah, S., and D. Morel. 2019. Who governs? How shifts in political power shape perceptions of local government services. Urban Affairs Review 56(5):1503-28.

Nuamah, S. 2018. Achievement oriented: developing positive academic identities for girl students at an urban school. American Education Research Journal 55(6): 1307–38.