The NCID Scholar-in-Residence program provides an opportunity for senior diversity scholars to pursue their research and writing at the University of Michigan. Scholars will be a part of a vibrant intellectual community and have the opportunity to interact with junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows, senior NCID faculty fellows, graduate students, as well as colleagues in their affiliated academic units.
The Department of Sociology is proud to announce W. Carson Byrd as this year's NCID Scholar-in-Residence. Read below to get to know more about Carson's research.
Please describe your research and the ways your project is interesting.
My research examines the persistence of social inequalities in education, particularly racial inequality in higher education. I often focus on how colleges and universities can simultaneously operate as engines of social mobility and inequality for students, and why our institutional efforts may not have the desired outcomes of producing more racially equality. For example, in my first book, Poison in the Ivy, I examined the campus lives of students to identify how their social interactions with each other and different campus experiences shaped their beliefs about racial inequality. I am currently working on several research projects including a book manuscript tentatively titled Behind the Diversity Numbers that aims to describe how universities’ use of quantified, numbers-driven policy approaches can shape racial inequality in higher education. Rather than blame the numbers or the policy approaches for racial inequality, this work uncovers how the organizational processes and policies (i.e., how universities work) around diversity and inclusion on college campuses may influence how we examine race and inequality in higher education, and what we think the issues and solutions may be in an effort to create a more equitable campus. I also have related projects in the works examining how universities can shape residential segregation and voting behaviors off-campus, and the factors influencing students’ degree pathways, among other projects in development.
How have you/will you involve students in research?
I have worked with students on research projects before and welcome the opportunity to work with students to assist them with getting hands-on research experience to apply what they are learning in the classroom. I currently have a few opportunities for students to work on projects that involve working with both quantitative and qualitative forms of data, and content analysis of different documents and information. Most of these efforts will contribute to future publication opportunities.
What is innovative about your research?
My work builds off the longstanding need to constantly refine how we study racial inequality to highlight better uses of our analyses when further considering the organizational contexts of our schools and universities to identify issues of exclusion and discrimination that may go unnoticed in past evaluation efforts. At the heart of this work is improving how we study racial inequality, in all of its manifestations, in order to improve not only the decisions made from such research, but also to improve the lives of students, faculty, and staff who enter the halls of schools and campuses of colleges and universities. Numbers may be viewed as more objective data, but many assumptions about how we get these forms of data and what they mean for equity and inclusion efforts can shape what we do with them and what limits, if any, we recognize they have in pursuit of those campus goals.
What are the big issues in your research area?
Perhaps one of the biggest issues in my research area is achieving a balance between the uses of different forms of research for administrative and policy decisions. Quantitative work can give us the proverbial “bottom lines and numbers,” but sometimes only utilizing this type of data for decisions about how to make a campus more equitable results in dismissing, overshadowing, or ignoring other forms of data that qualitative and mixed methods projects can produce that are deeper considerations of why we have the patterns from the numbers in the first place. In some cases, this results in overlooking or ignoring the voices and experiences of those you are seeking to support, exacerbating inequality. However, achieving this balance can be costly and deter administrators and policymakers from investing in more holistic research of how and why racial inequality persists in education. A component of my current work is identifying ways to assist our administrators and policymakers with incorporating more holistic research approaches to answer the many questions we have about how to combat inequality in higher education.
Who/what has influenced you the most?
There were, and continue to be, many people and events that influenced my work. I find inspiration in many aspects of life, so attempting to peg what or who influenced me the most to this point is difficult. If I could share one example of who continues to inspire me and guide my work today, it would be my late mentor Alan Bayer. He was a brilliant scholar, but also a compassionate person with a humor that complimented his life and work in many ways. He would pull me aside when I was pursuing graduate studies and keep me focused on identifying why the people and situations I was studying mattered, and what methods and policies could be developed to influence social inequalities. I continually think back to our conversations and his probing questions to find and make meaning of the sociological study of inequality.
What has been the impact of your research?
Identifying exactly how your research has had an impact can be difficult, but I would say my work has assisted with clarifying how racial inequality persists in colleges and universities from who is admitted to and enrolled in college and how we monitor different student group representations, what students study and experience while on campus, and even what knowledge can enter their classrooms, particularly how scientific innovation can shape perspectives of race and inequality. With the many years ahead in my career, I have more questions I am seeking answers to that may lead to my work having a bigger impact on the solutions to inequality in higher education and creating a more equitable campus.
What is the most important question you want to address in your research?
Perhaps the most important question I want to answer with my current research projects at this juncture is: what are the ways we can produce better data and analyses as well as shift how our universities use this information in the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
What do you feel is the overall importance of this project?
I believe the overall importance of this work extends beyond contributions to the field of sociology to how the sociological study of higher education and inequality can be applied to our college campuses in efforts to improve the lives of marginalized students, faculty, and staff. That is, understanding how race and inequality are interwoven into the fabric of university processes and policies, and how our examinations of race-related issues on campus reflect these organizational realities, can support more effective efforts aimed at cultivating campus equity.