Racial/Ethnic Inequalities Research Award (RIRA)

This new departmental award supports graduate students of color as well as graduate student research on race/ethnicity.  Priorities for RIRA funding are: 1) high quality research proposals by students of color (on any topic) and 2) high quality research on racial inequalities. In summer 2020, individual awards may be up to $2000, groups of 2 students may receive up to $3000, and groups of 3 students may receive up to $4500. We hope to be able to offer this award every summer, depending on availability of department funds. In summer 20202, we were able to fund five exciting research projects. Please see below for descriptions of what students accomplished with their awards.


“Multi-racial Identities”

Danni Lopez Rogina

Thanks to the RIRA Award, I was able to work on developing the research on a public sociology piece about the erasure of multi-racial (aka. “mixed”) individuals throughout history in the United States, including at the legal, institutional, and interpersonal levels today. There is little research on this population and they are largely mentioned in passing in race literature. I aim to work towards pushing for better recognition of multi-racial individuals and their experiences that are unique in the face of the United State’s existing strict color lines. The RIRA Award has provided me the opportunity to dedicate time to work on this project that will ultimately develop into larger research. I am currently in communication with various public facing sociology publications in order to put my work out there to begin a broader conversation about this often invisible but growing population.


“Intersectional disparities in polyvictimization: What we know and where we should go.”

Jose Antonio Sanchez, MS
Kim-Phuong Truong-Vu, MA

Gendered, racialized, and sexualized stereotypes are highly correlated with negative outcomes for marginalized groups in the United States. Latinx and Black males are often depicted as violent “criminals” (Kunda 1999; Niemann et al. 1994), Latinx, Black, and Asian American females are typecast as hypersexualized deviants (Brooks 2010; Couzelis 2018; Merskin 2007), and LGBTQ individuals are labeled as promiscuous predators (Dunbar 2006). These stereotypes often lead to adultification bias (Epstein, Blake, and González 2017; Goff et al. 2014) and various forms of victimization, such as differential treatment in school (e.g., harsher discipline) and higher levels of violent victimization (e.g., sexual assault; Berg 2014; Cho 1997; Epstein et al. 2017). Additionally, individuals with multiple marginalized identities are more likely to experience polyvictimization—encountering various and multiple forms of victimization throughout their lifetime. These fabricated stereotypes often blame individuals with multiple marginalized identities for their experiences of victimization. Yet, little attention has been given to understanding victimization with an intersectional lens.

The proposed chapter has several aims. First, we propose using an intersectionality lens for victimization research. Intersectionality can highlight how an individual’s identity and experiences are made up of multiple social statuses—such as race/ethnicity, sexuality, gender and age—that jointly and simultaneous shape the multiple experiences of victimization (Crenshaw 1991; Potter 2013). Second, we will highlight a body of literature surrounding polyvictimization and its limitations thus far, such as the limited inclusion of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. Finally, we will outline future directions for research and the importance of integrating intersectionality with polyvictimization. Bridging intersectionality and polyvictimization will shed light on the compounding effects multiple marginalized statuses can have on victimization, thereby refuting the normalization of violence against these individuals.


“Attending to Silencing Discourses in Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy Implementation”

Maya Contreras

Thanks to the RIRA funding I received in 2020, I was able to complete many hours of research for my Third Year Paper/Master’s Thesis, “Attending to Silencing Discourses in Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy Implementation.” Although racial and ethnic disparities in unhealthy air exposure are well documented, regulatory agencies have been slow to ameliorate these environmental injustices. Therefore, this research focused on the implementation of an EJ law passed in California, Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617), aimed at reducing high levels of air pollution in communities of color. AB 617 dictates that the local Air Pollution Control District (APCD) must work with community members on Community Steering Committees (CSC), to develop and implement strategies to reduce emissions. I used this case to ask the following research questions: What are the factors that shape or limit EJ policy implementation outcomes? What discursive techniques do industry and the help up of RIRA funding, I was able to review 24 documents, approximately 10 hours of observations, and complete 9 interviews. With these methods I found that industry and state actors disproportionately shaped the outcome of AB 617 covertly by using “silencing discourses”.


“Violence, restriction of asylum, and deportation:

Immigration policies designed to deter movement at the US-Mexico border”

Bertha Bermudez Tapia

My dissertation aims to investigate how deportees and asylum seekers living in heightened violent border cities experience damaging impacts of immigration policies. The U.S.-Mexico border symbolizes a global trend toward violent, hardened, and militarized secure borders where two forces converge: Washington’s border enforcement campaign and an ongoing war against the drug cartels’ domination in Mexico. This convergence has resulted in the exacerbation of an already hyper-violent situation on the Mexican side of the border. In this context, the Texas-Tamaulipas region, particularly the city of Matamoros, is experiencing the collision of two distinct migrant groups flowing in opposite directions. The first group is northbound refugees from Central America and the Caribbean seeking asylum in the U.S., who have been forcibly required to wait in Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) imposed by the U.S. Government in 2019. The second group is southbound migrants, who are Mexicans deported from the interior of the U.S. in transit to their “home regions.”  To understand how the experiences of deportees and asylum seekers are affected by restriction of asylum and deportation policies, this research engages with an ethnographic design combining participant observation and intensive interviews in the city of Matamoros. This study addresses areas no covered by research regarding the intersectionality of deportation, asylum policies, and different forms of violence, such as marginalization, robberies, kidnapping, body injury, or death. The significance of this study is that it informs our theoretical understandings of how immigration policies intersect with violence by introducing a multilayered analysis of different forms of violence acting simultaneously. Additionally, it acquaints our empirical understanding of how certain U.S and Mexican immigration control practices expose asylum seekers and deportees to deep and broad violent consequences along the U.S-Mexico border.

A conceptualization of violence in a context of asylum denial, deportation, militarized borders, and an ongoing drug war cannot rely on a single theoretical framework. These different contextual aspects embody multiples forms of violence that never occur in isolation but instead, are intertwined (Menjívar, 2011). For example, observing the reasons to migrate can help to identify the everyday economic or political violence most migrants experience and to better understand why they are fleeing. It is also possible to observe the physical pain, injury, and death some migrants experience during their journeys at the hands of drug cartels, smugglers, local police, ICE agents, or border patrol officers. Likewise, deportees also face legal violence when they are violently separated from their families and their lives, and when they must re-assimilate back into a country that most of them no longer recognize as their home. In addition to these forms of violence is the underlying daily presence of physical violence and the constant fear of the drug cartels that operate in Mexico. Another example of other different forms of violence experienced by asylum seekers that have not yet been extensively studied is the violent effects of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) metering and turnback policies. Since 2018, CBP has ordered their agents to stand on the border line between Mexico and the U.S. to prevent asylum seekers from reaching American soil and requesting asylum (Fitzgerald 2019, 123). This practice has several repercussions, but one of the most damaging effects is that now asylum seekers are risking their lives by attempting unauthorized crossing outside formal entry points. If their attempt is successful, they then surrender to Border Patrol officers and begin their process of asylum. This was standard practice until December 2018, when the U.S. announced the creation of the MPP program. These protocols put asylum seekers in a high risk, extremely vulnerable situation by sending them into unfamiliar, sometimes hazardous cities with no money, no contacts, and almost no government support. Before the MPP policy asylum seekers, would have been released to sponsors in the U.S. while their asylum cases were resolved. Instead, they have been sent to Mexico under the promise that Mexico will provide them with “all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.” (Department of Homeland Security 2019) However, the reality is that they are living now in a precarious camp made up of rows of tents, where the initial conception of temporary displacement has turned into a more permanent situation.

By studying the subject of restriction of asylum and deportation within the context of hyper-violent border cities, this research engages with a fundamental concern to disrupt traditional approaches to immigration policy and to contribute to social and political reforms. Furthermore, the case of Matamoros can help to elucidate the conditions under which uncompassionate protocols of immigration control might best be challenged, and how a confluence of events might enable or constrain transformative thinking and action regarding the future of migration.


“The ‘Color of COVID:’ Historicizing the Structural Disparities that Drive Disproportionate Mortality Rates Among African-American Communities”

Asa Iacobucci and Micah Pyles

The visibility of black-white disparities in overall rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality have become central to the national conversation of COVID-19. In understanding these inequalities, early medical scientific explanations pointed to the heightened prevalence of pre-existing health conditions or “comorbidities” among disproportionately impacted groups, often employing the language of genetics and biologic predisposition while ignoring the role of the social determinants of health. However, genetic and biological explanations for the COVID-19 racial death gap risk promoting ethnocentric ideologies of human biological difference and genetic superiority. 

The first goal of our work, therefore, is to clearly and explicitly historicize the confluence of structural forces that have come to dictate where African Americans disproportionately live, learn, work, and play (i.e. the disinvested urban center). In achieving this goal, we highlight and challenge the notion of equitable residential agency along racial lines and thus underscore the structural factors that have concentrated generations of African Americans in extremely poor and highly segregated communities. Next, we clearly and explicitly identify how the structured conditions of hyper-segregated, urban life result in the elevated prevalence of underlying comorbidities among black urban communities. In doing this, we pay specific attention to the effects of racism, mass incarceration, economic inequality, and concentrated poverty, all of which predict the social determinants of health and, thus, of the underlying health disparities that culminate in the COVID-19 racial death gap. In achieving these two goals we realize a third, ultimate goal: to (i) challenge the usefulness of biogenetic explanations for the COVID-19 racial death gap, (ii) combat racialized stereotypes that, in the context of COVID, blame the victims of structurally induced health disparities, and (iii) mitigate the potentially devastating effects of territorial stigmatization.