Office Hours: Rhonda Levine

Office Hours: Rhonda Levine

Matthew Knowles

In a corner office on Alumni Hall’s fourth floor, a Karl Marx doll is nestled on top of a filing cabinet be­side a Che Guevara poster and across from a wall of 1960s protest buttons. Although this eclectic collection may seem odd, after spending some time with Professor of Sociology Rhonda Levine, it can be concluded that there is nothing better to represent her unique perspective. Professor Levine specializes in research that examines the educational gap between African American students and those of other races, and she recently finished her latest project.

“I am completing a 10-year lon­gitudinal ethnography on following 28 lower-income African American kids from the end of eighth grade through their entire high school career and to now, looking at their life course and trajectory,” Professor Levine said.

From this study, Professor Levine came across some very in­teresting results. Many of the males were varsity athletes in high school, and one thing that she found was that the role of a coach is very im­portant in keeping them on track. This is due to the strong emphasis put on athletics during their high school days.

“In high school, they perceive their ticket to college to be through sports,” Professor Levine said, “[But] only one ended up playing division one varsity athletics.”

Another surprising result that Professor Levine found is that these kids’ life tracks were not always pre­dictable based on what they had been through previous to the study. Just because a child had stellar grades in middle school did not mean that he or she would find success in high school. Similarly, she gave an exam­ple of a student who was involved in gang activity starting in high school, but later got involved in football, helped his coaches after he graduated and is now in engineering school.

“So many studies will take a snap­shot of one year and make a general­ization about a life course, whereas in a 10-year study, you can find so much more,” Professor Levine said about the the case.

Professor Levine also discussed the new trend of public sociology, a big movement in her field. Public sociol­ogy, which she compared to public intellectualism, is a marked change in the objective of sociological research.

“It is not doing research for pub­lic policy, but it is used to inform the public,” Professor Levine stated.

In an effort to contribute to this movement, she wishes to use any re­sults that she obtains from her study in order to help the high school that she examined. Another interesting trend is also the topic for the next American Sociological Association meeting: real utopias. The general concept is to determine how, by making fundamental changes in public policy, humanity would be able to create a more just society.

“These aren’t utopias in la-la land…we are taking a look at how or­ganizations and institutions are set up and how to make them, ultimately, more democratic,” Levine said.

When asked about Occupy Wall Street, Professor Levine generally ap­proved of the movement and had a well-thought out explanation of why.

“I think it’s great that people are now talking about the issue of racial and wealth inequality. It’s no surprise that there are some incredible gaps between the top one percent, even the top 10 percent, and the rest of the 99 percent,” Professor Levine explained.

She juxtaposed this movement with the Tea Party movement and said that it is yet to be seen if Occupy Wall Street will follow a similar track in be­ing something that works within the realm of current politics or introduces a new perspective all together. It was obvious from talking to her that Pro­fessor Levine is excited to be a sociolo­gist during these times of social change and she looks forward to completing her own personal research, as well.

Contact Matthew Knowles at [email protected]