Amanda Dewey has a new title to add to her vita: Mayor. On June 9, the Sociology graduate student was elected Mayor of Berwyn Heights, where she has served on the Town Council since 2018. Amanda was kind enough to share information on her priorities and how her training as a sociologist informs her public service.
We understand you’ve been involved with governance in Berwyn Heights for some time. Can you share an overview of the work you’ve done?
I joined the Berwyn Heights Green Team in 2015, which is the committee of the town government focused on sustainability. That was my initial exposure to the town government and I gradually became more involved in town events and ad hoc efforts, even advocating for legislation from time to time. I actually did not run for election in 2018 (our last election), but was appointed shortly thereafter to fill a vacancy left on the Council after a resignation. Therefore, I served a little less than a full term from 2018 to 2020. It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve in this way. The highlight, for me, is being able to make visible change in my community. My position also gives me the opportunity to directly communicate with my county, state, and federal representatives to help advocate for our residents. In my time so far, I've focused on efforts to engage our citizens and include the full diversity of our community, pursue sustainability projects, improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, and advocate for our local schools.
What led you to run for Mayor, and what was your platform?
The Berwyn Heights election system is a single race for Council, with the top vote-getter becoming Mayor. I decided to run because I wanted to continue to serve my community. From a policy perspective, my platform focused on 5 priorities of community engagement, engaging in our region and county through local partnerships, educational advocacy, sustainability, and pedestrian/cyclist safety.
What do you see as the most significant challenges facing Berwyn Heights?
Like all municipalities and governments, we are expecting multiple years of challenges resulting from COVID-19. We are tasked with balancing our budget with likely revenue decreases, supporting our residents and business-owners who are struggling financially and otherwise, and making decisions about services and programs that keep residents and staff safe. We will also need to be brave and tackle conversations related to race and policing. I have already signed the Mayor's Pledge being organized by My Brother's Keeper (President Obama's Foundation). This pledge calls on us to review our police use of force policies, engage our community in the review, seek feedback on our findings, and then make changes to our policies. While we know that these patterns of police brutality and systemic inequality are centuries-old, the murder of George Floyd and resulting protests have rightfully called on all of us to be reflective on individual and institutional levels and act for justice.
Climate change and urban sustainability continue to be critical challenges as well. We are witnessing a declining tree canopy and stormwater quality and quantity issues that threaten our resilience to climate change, quality of life, and ecosystem and community health.
Has your research and/or training as a sociologist informed how you approached your work on the Council, and how do you see it guiding your time as mayor?
I believe that my training in sociology as well as my other experiences in NGO work and chairing a non-profit board allow me to bring a unique combination of sociological thinking and leadership, management, and communication skills to the position. The value of my research and training only became more evident throughout the campaign (which began in March) as we faced the COVID-19 pandemic and a national reckoning with racial inequality and police brutality. On the most basic level, I bring my sociological imagination to the table. In the U.S. we tend to focus on individual explanations and approaches for dealing with problems. My training as a sociologist allows me to focus on the social and structural contexts and approach solutions that go beyond the individual level. I also am trained to focus on inequality and power, which is useful in my work to make sure that our policies and practices advance equity, justice, and inclusion. As a social psychologist, understanding dynamics of values, identity, and emotions help me to navigate communication challenges and community discussions. I know that this training will continue to serve me well in my new role.
Can you give us an overview of your dissertation research?
My dissertation research focuses on environmental values in conservation organizations through a case study approach looking at multiple wildlife conservation contexts. Climate change has rightfully received significant attention within sociology because of its catastrophic expected impacts. However, the planet is currently experiencing a wave of human-caused extinction and biodiversity decline that poses an equal threat to human survival because of environmental collapse. Values can help us to understand social components of biodiversity issues, and this project explores how value processes in organizational settings influence outcomes. I plan to graduate in May 2021.