For many years my research and writing focused on gender and communication, i.e., how a person's gender affects both verbal and non-verbal behavior in interpersonal situations. I was interested in differences in the interaction styles of men and women, in their use of language and in the things they talk about. The degree to which gender differences emerge in interaction depends on the situational context, and my research also addressed the importance of the sex composition of a group (i.e. whether it is all male, all female, or mixed sex) on men's and women's interpersonal behavior. In Men and Women in Interaction (1996) I reviewed a large body of interdisciplinary research on gender and communication and argued that, while a strong case can be made for differences between the interaction styles of men and women, these gender differences are small in magnitude, emerge in some situational contexts but not others, are outweighed by within gender variability, and that our perception of gender differences can be greater than actual behavioral differences.
My research focus shifted from gender to race and social class. I completed a book, Race and Class Matters at an Elite College (2008) by Temple University Press, describing the results of an interview study I conducted that follows four distinct groups of students through their first year at Amherst: (1) affluent white, (2) affluent black, (3) lower-income white, and (4) lower-income black. Drawing heavily on the voices of the students themselves, the book describes the challenges faced by black and white students from different class backgrounds and the educational benefits students derived from living in a diverse community.
In the spring semester, 2009, I conducted a follow-up interview study of these four groups of students, most of whom were graduating seniors. I completed a second book, Speaking of Race and Class: The Student Experience at an Elite Collge (2012), Temple University Press, based on the voices of 55 of the original 58 students. The book addresses the challenges students faced on campus based on their race and social class and the learning that accrued from living in a diversity community over four years of college. The final chapter of book steps back from these students to look more broadly at how colleges and universities across the country are addressing the challenges surrounding diversity. The chapter examines what seems to be needed, what is being tried, and how effective these efforts have been, both in terms of learning from diversity and meeting the challenges faced by black and lower-income students.
I have carried out a final set of interviews with 45 of the original paraticipants from my Class of 2009 study at age 30. A unique feature of my new data set is that it has allowed me to examine participants' reflections on what they learned from exposure to race and class diversity during college and how that learning has impacted their lives. My new book, The impact of college diversity: Struggles and Successes at Age 30 will be published by Temple University Press. The study demonstrates the impact exposure to racially diverse peers during college had on White participants’ understanding of race and whiteness, and how immersion in an affluent community contributed to the attainment of upward social mobility in lower-income participants through the acquisition of higher aspirations, more elite forms of cultural capital and social connections. Attention is paid as well to the challenges that accompanied that upward social mobility in bridging the two worlds of home communities and current communities. The book explores how Black participants' learning from the racial challenges they faced during college helped prepare them to cope with discrimination and career ceilings in the white-dominated workplace. The data are grounded in the historical, political, and economic context of the study, and the role attendance at an elite college played in the outcomes. The book examines why elite colleges and universities have been so successful in promoting upward mobility in lower-income students, and the historical changes that have occurred at the policy level in the past 60 years that explain why it is difficult for public colleges and universities to produce more upward mobility. Finally, the book addresses the importance of equity and inclusion in making diversity initiatives successful.
I completed a co-edited volume with Rose Olver and Jane Taubman published in 2014 (Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst). The volume builds on the symposium held at Amherst in September, 2011, Half a Century of Women Teaching at Amherst: Gender Matters. The volume traces the history of the arrival and departure of the first women tenure-track women faculty hired at Amherst. The volume includes edited transcripts of the three symposium sessions, brief biographies of the first tenure-track women (who joined the faculty 1962-1983), reflections written by women who taught at Amherst in the 60s and 70s about the challenges they faced on campus, essays reflecting on themes raised by symposium participants, and essays on the implications of the pioneer women’s experiences for further diversifying the faculty.