Students in a large college lecture. (Kevin Dooley / Flickr; some rights reserved.)

For decades, conservatives have claimed that higher education has a negative influence on students’ moral and political development. A new study from Miloš Broćić and Andrew Miles provides research on one of the most understudied and misunderstood of these claims: the effect of college attendance on moral values.

Using data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Miles and Broćić found that people who attend college are more likely to have a greater concern for others, less of a concern for social order, and be less relativistic. They used data from both before people enrolled in college and after people attended to look at the influence of college, specifically. 

People who went to college are more likely to say that compassion for people who are suffering is most important, but less likely to say that kids need to respect authority or that morals are relative. Moral relativists believe that morality is relative: that is, moral truths are not absolute and can change from one society to another, or over time.

Notably, this is distinct from previous work that found increased moral relativism among academics. This could be because college’s role in moral socialization has changed over the years. These days, critics of higher education are more likely to argue that it leads students to not be relativistic enough: too uncompromising in their morality. The authors say that their study provides preliminary evidence in favor of this critique.

Our values are fundamentally shaped by the environments and institutions we find ourselves in, and this research brings us closer to understanding how going to college shapes students as human beings.

Video imagery courtesy of canva, canva licensing

Young men in gangs are often thought to always practice masculinity by engaging in violent behavior like fighting and shooting, which many attribute to systemic inequalities like mass incarceration, scarce jobs, and racism. New qualitative research by John Leverso and Chris Hess shows that as male gang members age, they remain committed to masculinity but they relate to their manhood differently. 

Leverso and Hess asked about important life events that changed the way respondents understood what being a good man is in 29 in-depth interviews with current and former gang members in Chicago. These interviews showed how masculinity endures and evolves into new phases of adulthood, particularly fatherhood. the ways gang members accomplish masculinity changed drastically as they became fathers, caregivers, and husbands.

From the perspective of these current and former gang members, the ideal man is “hardworking, no punk, tough, and loyal.” Their concept of the ideal man reflects a tough, hardworking, and heterosexual ideal of manhood. These foundations of masculinity were consistent among men when describing both their past and present lives, regardless of whether they remained involved in a gang. However, despite this consensus, the ways gang members accomplish these goals of masculinity changed drastically as they became fathers, caregivers, and husbands.

Even current gang members still value family as an important part in accomplishing masculinity. One example is Jason, a gang member who claims that he “will always be a Pope,” or a part of his gang. However, he now valued his role as a father more and put his daughter’s needs in front of the gang. For instance, Jason claimed he would only help his fellow gang members financially if they were desperate, but would not do anything dangerous for the gang, and if anyone asked him to do something dangerous he would “smack them silly.”

This change in understanding of being a good father was also observed with those who had left gang related activity. As a gang member, Juan expressed the importance of “putting in work” (violent or non-violent actions in service of the gang) to show he was “faithful, loyal and respectful.” For Juan today, however, “putting in work”  means “spending time with his son, making money as a truck driver, and being a family man.” While no longer a gang member, loyalty and faithfulness to his family and children are still central to his ideas of manhood.

The article highlights that gang members, like non-gang members, change how they ccomplish masculinity over the course of their lives. It also challenges assumptions about gang members as having radically different understandings of manhood. Like many men who were never in gangs, they prioritize being a family man and providing for their families. 

Kate R Watson, Ron Avi Astor, Rami Benbenishty, Gordon Capp, and Michael S Kelly, “Needs of Children and Families during Spring 2020 COVID-19 School Closures: Findings from a National Survey,” Social Work, 2021
A white child navigates their laptop computer, we see their hands on the keyboard and mouse. Image in public domain.

Over the past two years, hundreds of K-12 education hours were lost to COVID-19 and we are beginning to see the academic impact. But what about the emotional, social, and mental health impacts? In new research, Kate Watson and colleagues show some of the challenges students faced during the COVID-19 school closures by analyzing a nationwide survey of school social workers.

While teachers may concentrate on the academic achievement of students, school social workers focus on the emotional, social, and “other” sides of education. 

Above and beyond lost classroom and learning time, COVID-19 school closings meant that children were unable to spend time with friends, attend extracurricular activities, and participate in many traditional school activities for months — and school social workers noticed. 

In the survey, school social workers identified that 76% of students needed mental health services, 62% needed food, and 62% needed tutoring. Typically, these services would be coordinated and provided by the school social worker – such as placing daily food inside of backpacks of students in need of dinner after school.  However, forced to stay at arm’s length, school social workers were severely limited in aiding their students’ basic needs.

School social workers also shared the levels of student participation and engagement through virtual education. Strikingly, more than 80% of participants reported extremely low levels of student participation.  In other words, students generally showed an extremely low level of engagement during “zooming”. Notably, students of color and students who live in poverty were even less likely to be engaged – widening inequities.

Schools have long been about more than just academic learning. Today, while COVID-19 appears to be on the retreat, society must take stock of the lessons learned and implement changes to better prepare schools and the holistic well being of children. The perspectives of school social workers, as advocates for children’s emotional, social, and holistic well being, can show us how much our society relies on schools – beyond just the academics.

Vincent Roscigno, Jill Yavorsky, and Natasha Quadlin, “Gendered Dignity at Work,” American Journal of Sociology, 2022

A white blond-haired woman sits in front of her laptop, her head resting on her fist, staring off into the distance. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

Gender and work researchers have long encountered a puzzle: despite persistent gender discrimination, pay gaps, sexual harassment, and segregation within workplaces, women report approximately the same levels of job satisfaction as men. A new American Journal of Sociology article shows how “dignity” at work, measured in terms of respect and recognition, helps resolve this paradox. 

To consider whether work experiences of respect and recognition are gendered, Roscigno, Yavorsky, and Quadlin use nationally-representative survey data from 2002 to 2018. Specifically, the authors examined self-reported measures of job satisfaction, respect at work, fair pay, and fair promotional procedures. 

Although men and women in this time span report roughly equivalent job satisfaction, women are approximately 20% less likely to say that their pay is fair, and about 27% less likely to perceive fairness in promotion and experience respect at work. In addition, women who had experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination at work were less likely to report feeling respected at work. 

Taken together, these findings indicate that women experience less dignity at work than men, despite reporting comparable levels of job satisfaction. Additionally, what the authors call power-laden, gendered interactions like sexual harassment play a strong part in undermining women’s sense of dignity and respect in the workplace.

A black and white photo of a young child of color walking and holding the hands of two adults, a woman on his left, and a man on his right. Image use under CC0.

Young men in gangs are often thought to always practice masculinity by engaging in violent behavior like fighting and shooting, which many attribute to systemic inequalities like mass incarceration, scarce jobs, and racism. New qualitative research by John Leverso and Chris Hess shows that as male gang members age, they remain committed to masculinity but they relate to their manhood differently. 

Leverso and Hess asked about important life events that changed the way respondents understood what being a good man is in 29 in-depth interviews with current and former gang members in Chicago. These interviews showed how masculinity endures and evolves into new phases of adulthood, particularly fatherhood.

From the perspective of these current and former gang members, the ideal man is “hardworking, no punk, tough, and loyal.” Their concept of the ideal man reflects a tough, hardworking, and heterosexual ideal of manhood. These foundations of masculinity were consistent among men when describing both their past and present lives, regardless of whether they remained involved in a gang. However, despite this consensus, the ways gang members accomplish these goals of masculinity changed drastically as they became fathers, caregivers, and husbands.

Even current gang members still value family as an important part in accomplishing masculinity. One example is Jason, a gang member who claims that he “will always be a Pope,” or a part of his gang. However, he now valued his role as a father more and put his daughter’s needs in front of the gang. For instance, Jason claimed he would only help his fellow gang members financially if they were desperate, but would not do anything dangerous for the gang, and if anyone asked him to do something dangerous he would “smack them silly.”

This change in understanding of being a good father was also observed with those who had left gang related activity. As a gang member, Juan expressed the importance of “putting in work” (violent or non-violent actions in service of the gang) to show he was “faithful, loyal and respectful.” For Juan today, however, “putting in work”  means “spending time with his son, making money as a truck driver, and being a family man.” While no longer a gang member, loyalty and faithfulness to his family and children are still central to his ideas of manhood.

The article highlights that gang members, like non-gang members, change how they accomplish masculinity over the course of their lives. It also challenges assumptions about gang members as having radically different understandings of manhood. Like many men who were never in gangs, they prioritize being a family man and providing for their families. 

Black Lives Matter is written on a cardboard sign and held up in the air by a pair of white hands.
Image: Black Lives Matter is written on a cardboard sign and held up in the air by a pair of white hands. (sasatro/Flickr; distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

After the wave of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, the idea of being actively anti-racist, as opposed to simply “not racist” or “color-blind,” has gained popular attention. But does the general public agree that there is a distinction between being “not racist” and being “anti-racist”? According to a new paper by three sociologists, Samuel Perry, Joshua Grubbs, and Kenneth Frantz, the answer is no.

Perry, Grubbs, and Frantz begin from the claim that the language of “anti-racism” has increased in prominence over the last decade. They point to the proliferation of educational curricula incorporating this language, as well as a number of best-selling books. Data from Google shows that the use of terms related to anti-racism in books has spiked since 2013. And Google searches for “antiracist” peaked in the summer of 2020. Against this backdrop, the sociologists use survey data to explore which groups of Americans are most likely to identify as “anti-racist.” 

Unsurprisingly, the research team found that among the people surveyed, the strongest correlation for identifying as “anti-racist” is holding progressive views on racial issues.

Other findings were more surprising. For example,  the second-strongest correlation among all survey respondents with identifying as “anti-racist” was identifying as “color-blind.” In other words, many Americans identify as both “anti-racist” and “color-blind.” This discovery is intriguing because in recent years sociologists have tended to emphasize the more conservative effects of colorblindness rather than its more liberal or change-oriented dimensions.

The authors suggest that this is because both the terms “anti-racist” and “color-blind” read to whites as being liberal views on race, but not radical. This is in contrast to the academic discourse (and even some popular books) about these terms.

In addition, researchers also found that Black and Hispanic people were significantly less likely than white people to identify as “anti-racist.”  One reason for this may be that books, curricula, and other campaigns advocating for “anti-racism” are often targeted at white audiences. It also does not necessarily mean that white people more often behave in an anti-racist manner. People in general are likely to identify as “anti-racist,” regardless of their views on race. This includes those who would, for example, not confront a friend who made a racist comment.

This research reminds us that people’s conceptions of race are complicated and ever-changing. The way scholars understand race does not always line up with the general public.

 

Image: Mariacha Plaza in Boyle Heights, looking West towards downtown Los Angeles. A mariachi musician crosses the street in the foreground, instrument in hand. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC BY-NC 2.0

We usually think about gentrification as the replacement of poor, non-white residents with white and affluent newcomersin city neighborhoods. According to this narrative, property values rise alongside an influx in amenities catering to a wealthy, whiter community. But an immersive new study from Alfredo Huante complicates that by showing how a changing working-class, Latinx neighborhood in LA grapples with affluent Latinx arrivals.

Using the case study of Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights barrio, Huante examines a process he calls “gente-fication.” During “gente-fication” educated, higher-income, and lighter-skinned Latinx move to historically working-class barrios. Instead of a process of “gentrification” where the “gentry,” or the elite and noble classes move to a neighborhood, “gente” describes a distinct process in which new, wealthier arrivals share  existing residents’ racial or ethnic background. Huante’s research moves beyond the black-white conflict usually associated with gentrification to emphasize tensions within the same racial and ethnic group that are present in the processes of neighborhood change in Boyle Heights. Huante draws on in-depth interviews with long-term barrio residents, community activists, and real estate agents, in addition to data from social media and neighborhood meetings.

Despite the fact that the majority of Boyle Heights’ residents are Latinx and working class, barrio residents disagree about whether gente-fication is a threat to the neighborhood. Long-term White residents and Latinx media figures argue that new wealthy Latinx residents will stimulate economic growth and foster racial diversity. Because gente-fiers are Latinx, not white, they also feel like their arrival prevents the cultural erasure usually brought about by gentrification. On the other hand, local activists opposing gentrification claim the new class of Latinx newcomers are still displacing and replacing long-term working-class Latinx residents who are also darker-skinned.

While it seems like this process of gentefication preserves the racial and ethnic character of a neighborhood, Huante’s emphasis on class inequalities within racial and ethnic groups reminds us that the complexities of intra-ethnic dynamics on the ground have a much different story to tell.

Parenting is hard. Ensuring that their kids are healthy and successful, while maintaining their own well-being and other commitments, is a real challenge for many caregivers. Parenting classes, an intervention targeted towards low-income parents, can help. These classes can potentially offer parents support and help them build skills. 

However, new research from Maia Cuchiarra shows how parents and class instructors may have fundamentally different understandings of the purpose of parenting. In particular, parents and instructors may disagree about the appropriateness of physical discipline, particularly when parents are concerned about preparing their children to live in a hostile or threatening environment.

Cucchiara attended weekly, community-based parenting courses taught by professionals living in the same predominantly Black and lower-income neighborhood.  Most of the class participants that Cuchiarra observed attended classes voluntarily or as a requirement of a housing program, not due to court-mandate. 

The Black mothers in the course understood parenting through a “protective frame.” They viewed their primary responsibility as ensuring the physical safety of their children in a world, and local community, that was unsafe and potentially violent. They had a nuanced view of physical discipline and drew clear distinctions between types of force that were or were not appropriate. These mothers felt that it was important for their children to respect them and understand how to use force to protect themselves if threatened.

In contrast, class instructors used a “therapeutic frame.” They viewed children as very vulnerable and in need of warm and gentle support. They did not think that physical discipline was ever appropriate and viewed the potential consequences of using physical discipline as serious for both the parent-child relationship and children’s self-esteem.

The mothers in the study used physical discipline because it helped them meet their high-stakes goal of keeping their children safe in a hostile world. Even though the parents and instructors in this study were members of the same community, this research shows how professional commitments to non-violence can clash with the parental responsibility of raising children in potentially violent environments.

This image shows how segregated Black, Hispanic, and Asian people were from white people, on average, over the last 30 years. (Image: Benjamin Elbers / Socius; some rights reserved)

Although explicit racial segregation in housing was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1968, in practice, Americans remain highly segregated by race. This is due both to the continuing impacts of historical policies and present-day policies, such as exclusionary zoning laws.

The latest 2020 U.S. Census results give social scientists an opportunity to evaluate the state of segregation using high-quality data. Benjamin Elbers recently used Census data to evaluate how segregation has changed (or not) in the U.S. over the last 30 years. He examined data from 228 metropolitan areas.

Elbers finds that overall, segregation declined substantially in each decade. 

However, these overall numbers are not the whole story. For instance, Hispanic and Asian people have become more segregated from white people, on average. Elbers also points out Black people remained highly segregated from white and Asian people in many places.

So, while there has been some progress over the last thirty years, racial segregation and racial inequality remain defining features of American society. 

Image: An American flag hangs on a light post in front of a Church. The camera is titled upwards and the blue sky is visible behind the church tower. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

For many Christian Americans, discussions of structural racism amount to attacks on America – and its Christian heritage – itself. Using survey data collected during the early months of the pandemic and through the summer of “racial reckoning” in 2020, Samuel Perry, Ryon Cobb, Andrew Whitehead, and Joshua Grubbs show how “White Christian nationalism” contributes to what they call a “perception gap” on racial issues. 

Perry and colleagues measure Americans’ attitudes on racial discrimination using four sets of survey data from 2019-2020. They also assess respondents’ approval of Christian nationalism, an ideology that fuses Christianity and American civic life. Champions of Christian nationalism seek to define America as a divinely-inspired Christian nation and advocate enshrining Christianity and “Judeo-Christian heritage” in school curricula, in the public sphere, and in government. 

The authors find that White proponents of Christian nationalism tend to minimize anti-Black discrimination and deny the presence of systemic racism in policing. The surveys – designed to capture shifting opinions during the developments of 2020 – revealed that supporters of Christian nationalism were more likely to believe that the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery were “not necessarily racist” and acted within their right as vigilantes.

Unlike whites who accept Christian nationalism, Black respondents recognize who affirmed the ideology did so while recognizing racial discrimination against Black Americans. Whereas White supporters of Christian nationalism look at American history without recognizing past violence and atrocity against minorities and people of color, Black Americans who affirm Christian Nationalism see it as a call to action to address present-day inequalities and injustices.

By depicting key elements of American history with a religious gloss that overlooks racial problems, White Christian nationalism and its ideological commitments contribute to a “perception gap” on issues of racism and systemic discrimination.