Catching Up With Rashawn Ray by Bev Pratt & Meg Austin Smith

It’s a new faculty extravaganza here in the newsletter this semester, and we wanted Rashawn Ray in on that action, too! So back in February, we emailed him some questions! And he answered them! Immediately! With exclamation marks! And adjectives and adverbs of enthusiasm! And we said, Ooh, we like this! This is our kind of interview style! We must know more! And so we called him. And we discovered: it’s all about his sociological imagination.  It’s the way he relates to lived experiences and imagines the questions and the dialogues that might emerge from them. Thus, Dr. Ray can relate – to his research participants, to his research questions, and to us ol’ graduate students, too.

We asked:So, first and foremost, we’re pumped you’ll be a Terp in the not too distant future. But we’re also very happy for you and all you’re doing at Berkeley. Can you share a little bit with us about what you’re up to out there — and also perhaps how you might be continuing/developing some of that work once you’re here?

He answered: I am extremely excited about physically being in the department in fall 2012. I will be visiting in April so I look forward to meeting with people then. I am currently a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley/UCSF. I am working on a project examining racial differences in barriers and incentives to physical activity. Besides the racial differences in health outcomes, Americans only walk approximately 5,000 steps a day, compared to 9,000 for Australia which has a similar diet. So the findings from my project have health policy implications for all Americans and our obesity epidemic.

Since the RWJ program is flexible, I have ample time to focus on other research projects. I am working on a book from a data set with 46 Black, White, and Mexican-American families examining gender roles, family relations, work/family balance, and health outcomes. Additionally, I have articles forthcoming in American Behavioral Scientist and the Journal of African American Studies on racial differences in social class identification and men’s treatment of women. I also have two R&Rs that I am working on. And yes, I will definitely be continuing these lines of research once I come to Maryland.

We asked: What are some things you’re looking forward to doing once you’re in the College Park area? (And we mean fun stuff here: e.g. what kind of activities/ restaurants/ performance venues/ people-watching venues can we be ready to show you?)

He answered: Fun. What is that?! LOL. I believe that I will enjoy having access to so many sports teams. I love all sports so being able to watch Ray Lewis in Baltimore and Alexander Ovechkin, John Wall, and Stephen Strasburg in D.C. will be exciting. However, my son will be two years old by then and he will start to really be able to soak in culture and art so museums and performances will probably be on my agenda.

We asked: So how have your sociological interests developed?

He answered: I come from a family of nurses. My grandma is—was, well, once a nurse always a nurse! My mom, my wife, my mother-in-law. And so I can see mismatches between the literature and people’s experiences. I can start to ask why it is that people may perceive that they are not getting adequate care, or why people trust or don’t trust the institutions that give them care.

RJ answered: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa.[Aside: we’re on the phone at this point, and RJ is five-months-old. He’s never met us before, so we were pretty grateful he agreed to join the conversation.]

We asked: AWWWWWWWWW!!!!! [Aside: we know that wasn’t a question.]

Dr. Ray answered: Sorry about that. [Another aside: we’ve edited out some of the ensuing AWWWs. There are many others. To wit: one for RJ’s dog, one for his cat, and one for the fish, swimming soon into the Ray family future.]

We asked: Okay okay, we’re professional. We can be professional. We have a list of questions. We’re going to ask one of those: “What does the sociological imagination mean to you?”

Dr. Ray: Ooh, that’s a good question. [Aside: We’re scribbling, scribbling, scribbling down all the good stuff we got here. The following answer is, alas, not verbatim, and some of the best stories shared in this answer have been left out simply because we didn’t want to impose our words on them. Qualitative researchers take note. Qualitative instructors, feel free to include us in your syllabi under “Worst Practices.” Friendly folk, rejoice in this as a possible point of entry to many wonderful conversations yet to be had.]

I would say my sociological imagination is always turned on. I have had some unique life experiences, and I think because of that I can relate to a lot of different people. I moved around a lot with my mom, and I saw my mother’s experiences with racism and sexism…I am not necessarily looking to answer “What explains this?” but rather “Why is is happening?” and then you start to get at these theoretical mechanisms you wouldn’t be able to get at otherwise. And I think that this question “Why is this occurring?” is what makes us sociologists.

Bev is a 3rd year graduate student & Meg is a 2nd year graduate student.

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