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.
In recent years my research focus has 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 have completed a second book, Speaking of Race and Class: The Student Experience at an Elite College (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 am currently conducting a follow-up study of the students from my Class of 2009 study. I hope to gain a better understanding of race and class differences in the following areas: the paths students traveled since graduation in terms of jobs held and higher degrees obtained; experiences on the job and in graduate school; current occupational aspirations; the possession of “grit”, i.e., passion and perseverance, and its ability to predict outcomes; the extent to which participants feel they are bridging two different worlds - the world of home communities and the current world they inhabit; current relationships with family, friends and possible romantic attachments; thoughts on parenthood; the nature of the communities participants live in currently and the nature and extent of their civic engagement. I am also examining race and class differences in participants’ reflections on their overall college experience at Amherst and satisfaction with that experience, and in the learning that took place at Amherst through being part of a diverse community.
I completed a co-edited volume with Rose Olver and Jane Taubman (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.