Rhonda Levine has spent almost a decade investigating how race and class affected the educational careers of 28 African American teenagers from a small city in New England.
A sociology professor at Colgate University, Levine spoke with a small group of Yale students Monday about how her personal experience led her to research the students for a book she is in the process of writing at the more than 90-minute workshop, “When Race Meets Class: African American Teenagers in a Small City,” sponsored by the Sociology Department.
Since she is just beginning the process of writing the book, she both asked for and gave advice to the attendees, most of whom were graduate students, on how researchers should interact with their subjects and shared her preliminary insights.
“When we think of urban poverty or low-income kids and race and what’s going on in schools and life chances, we need to start looking at what’s happening with the girls,” she said.
When she started her ethnographic research, Levine said she did not anticipate that gender would have a significant effect on the students’ achievement. However, she found that the social pressures affecting girls, such as having to juggle family responsibilities their counterparts did not, made them more likely to drop out of high school.
“All my preconceived ideas of who was going to make it were wrong,” she said.
Out of the 28 high school students she studied, 12 of whom were girls and three had babies while in high school, she said.
An expert in historical sociology, Levine said the experiment was her first ethnographic study. She became interested initially in the subject after witnessing the influx of urban residents to her small New England town. But her curiosity really sparked, she said, after she saw her son’s friendship of several years with a black kid who had just moved to their small town dissolve for apparently no reason during high school, she said.
During the nine-year research process, she conducted interviews at the students’ homes, observed high school students at public events like basketball and football games and spent a summer with an urban family on their porch, which she said was a “center point of a lot of research.”
The workshop was part of the sociology department’s Colloquia and Workshop Series in which students discuss their ongoing academic projects with more experienced social scientists.
The event attracted undergraduates as well as sociology graduate students. Two graduate students said the workshop series is helpful for developing their dissertations.
“Today’s workshop helped develop my ideas and will eventually help me write a better [dissertation],” said Esther Kim GRD ’13.
Three of Levine’s male subjects joined the military. Five went on to four-year colleges, nine went to two-year colleges and one has graduated from college, she said.