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"Getting to the root of things. Literally." A racial perception experiment

One result of race being socially constructed is the association of certain physical features with certain races. As such, routine body work has the potential to alter how others perceive one racially. Experimental research using a computer generated ambiguous male face and different prototypical hair styles demonstrated that observers use hair as a racial marker feature to classify others (MacLin and Malpass 2001).

My present study is an experiment focusing on the influence of hairstyle on racial perception of women. Instead of computer generated faces, this research is using the new "selfie" style photos of real women. In the winter of 2015, I collected pairs of photos of women of all races -- one with curly/natural hair (for experimental condition one) and a similar one with straight/straightened hair (for experimental condition two). A focus group of undergraduate sociology majors helped select 15 photo pairs from the over two dozen submissions. The photos were shown to over 1000 students at a predominantly white, mid-western university (spring 2015) and at an historically black, southern university and a western Hispanic serving institution (fall 2015). Preliminary analysis is underway.

Define Ethnography: Identifying pedagogical strategies to increase student learning

In my fall 2014 Introduction to Sociology classes I explained that ethnography was a method of sociological research in which the researcher lived among those s/he was studying. I discussed Alice Goffman's six years studying a heavily policed black neighborhood in Philadelphia as an example. When asked "What is Ethnography" on the first exam the very next class period, 87% of all students (three sections of 40 students each) answered incorrectly. Moreover, the incorrect answer that over half (54%) of students gave was the same: that it is the study of race. When asked to explain why they selected this answer, it was reported that they wrote "the study of race" because, having "no idea" as to the correct answer, they guessed based on the fact that the root word "ethno" could mean race.

While that explanation may be true, based on social psychological studies of the effects of priming and test performance, I additionally hypothesize that my using an example of a researcher studying a black community, said to a predominantly white student body, primed racial difference and inhibited retention of additional details. In order to test this hypothesis and potentially identify pedagogical practices for increasing student learning, this semester I used a different ethnography example in each of my three sections of the course. Comparing this semester's test results by section to those from last semester will create a natural experiment to provide insight on the effect of priming racial difference on student learning. Data collection for this study has been completed and analysis is in progress.

last updated 02/02/2016