Documenting Desegregation, Equality in the Workplace is Sociologist’s Focus
Why would the Director of Graduate Programs, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University leave it all behind after a 20-year relationship and join the Sociology Department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst? “I came because of the excellent reputation and high quality work of the faculty,” says Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, professor of sociology and research associate at the Social and Demographic Research Institute (SADRI). “I think the department is poised to become one of the most influential programs in the country. It struggles with the legacy of low funding and too few professors, but if those problems are resolved over the next few years—and I think they will be—then the program will rise in national prominence. I am impressed with the initiative and creativity of the students I have met so far and expect a long string of successful relationships.”
Tomaskovic-Devey isn’t planning on riding the department’s coat tails to fame. He already is well known in his field. His research is primarily focused on understanding the social processes that produce inequality in workplaces. “This is about dignity at work as well as the financial and other extrinsic rewards of employment,” he explains. “Much of my research has focused on racial and sexual discrimination. In fact, occasionally I am hired as an expert witness, most recently on the Abercrombie and Fitch race and sex discrimination cases.” Tomaskovic-Devey is also working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on regulatory strategies, and has a similar line of research and policy with the Department of Justice on police vehicle stops, “the so-called ‘driving while black’ phenomenon.”
Tomaskovic-Devey is eager to house a research initiative at UMass Amherst to focus on equal opportunity policy for U.S. and international workplaces. “Right now,” he says, “I’m working on a project to make available to the research and policy community over 4 million accumulated surveys on sex and race segregation in U.S. workplaces that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has accumulated but, amazingly, has largely left unanalyzed.” Racial, ethnic and sexual equality for U.S. society is tremendously important, but little money has gone into this research area. Governments and private foundations seem eager to invest in research on the physical health of the U.S., but are less focused on the social health of their societies. “We need to document the processes that lead to and can reverse the large and growing inequalities in our society and the world,” Tomaskovic-Devey stresses. His project, called Documenting Desegregation, will result in a book and many scientific articles. He also intends for this research to influence legal and workplace equal opportunity policy.
As a teacher Tomaskovic-Devey prides himself on helping students make transitions from “consumers of knowledge” to “knowledge creators.” Research Methods, required of all sociology majors, is his favorite undergraduate course. “I love watching the students’ struggle with sampling or survey design turn into a sense of pride and ownership in their new knowledge,” he explains. “And among graduate students I see myself as a mentor who helps them become independent and important scholars. I am very proud of my students, many of whom have gone on to be professors at major universities, including UMass Amherst.”
Tomaskovic-Devey credits his parents with his choice of work. “During the Civil Rights movement, my father was the personnel manager of a major corporation, hired from the outside to take charge of their first attempts at racial integration,” he reminisces. “He spent his whole career trying to make the workplace fair and welcoming for women and minorities. My parents instilled in me a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place. I think I have focused on workplaces and social justice because of their example. Certainly, I believe that understanding the dynamics, vulnerabilities and potential of organizations is essential if we are to build a more just world and a stronger social science.”
November 18, 2005