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I will be conducting research in a Latino-studies research institute next summer. I will probably be the only non-Latino researcher in the institute that summer. I’m also approaching my research from a computational sociological point of view, which is vastly different from the qualitative orientation of my peers’ research. I do wish to explore the field of Latino studies more and possibly even conduct research in it (of course as a respectful student who is outside the culture).

How can I not only conduct research but move up more into this world of Latino studies research without being disrespectful and giving precedence to those who not only research Latino studies, but are part of the culture?

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    The same way that non-plants conduct research about plants. – padawan Apr 15 '18 at 12:58
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    Honestly, if there is a department researching X culture, and all the researchers are X culture, there is something going wrong. – sgf Apr 15 '18 at 14:06
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Congratulations on your upcoming research position! I understand why you might be nervous, especially since you expect to have two major differences with all your coworkers (ethnicity and methodology). Quantitative researchers are often treated as if they have higher status than their qualitative counterparts (funding discrepancies, accessibility of their research to colleagues in STEM fields, ability to "dabble" or "consult" in different situations without as much background knowledge, easy transfer of skills to jobs outside academia). So, you have (at least) two areas, central to your job, where it may be hard to communicate with coworkers and where you may have had very different experiences you're working from.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Your coworkers will (presumably) all be from different backgrounds. Even setting aside migration-related cultural differences, there are very different cultures across different parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the extent to which people identify with indigenous heritage will also add diversity. Afro-Cuban religion, Andean culture, the Chican@ movement, and Brazilian social stratification are in the background of Latino studies, and probably none of your colleagues will have lived cultural experience with all of them.

  2. That said, it is entirely possible that many people will feel comfortable chatting in Spanish or Spanglish, or making cultural references you don't know. It may be valuable to brush up on your Spanish and brush up on whatever Latino culture is local to where you are. (For instance, you might see if there are guest speakers or film nights at a cultural center on campus or arranged by your school's Latino studies program.)

  3. (I am white and non-Hispanic.) I grew up with the idea that there was no longer racism in American society and that most apparent continuing racial differences were attributable to economic factors. In college, I learned from African American friends that yes, racism persists. In graduate school, I learned from the social science literature and colleagues' research that race definitely matters. Stated in the most conservative way, even after accounting for many, many other factors, race and ethnicity still help predict many life outcomes in modern America.

    I do not believe that every racial disparity or negative experience a minoritized person has is attributable to racism. However, ... most higher education scholars rely on everything but racism in their attempts to explain, theorize about, and discuss findings that emerge in their race-related studies. This trend is consistent with approaches sociologists commonly employ in their research (Bonilla-Silva & Baiocchi, 2001). (pp. 22-23)

  4. There are many barriers that your colleagues have faced to get where they are. In this very readable article, Harper and Charles Davis III present "Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms," and they will probably be good to think about for a scholarly research environment, too.

  5. Let's say that something you say is (mis)perceived as racist. It's hard to talk about race, and your job will involve talking about ethnicity and (likely) race. So you may want to think about what happens if you say the wrong thing and/or someone calls you out. This blog post, "My Fellow White People, Here's One Simple Trick You Can Do About Racism TODAY!" covers this situation. (You did not mention your racial/ethnic background beyond being non-Latino; however, at least some of the advice may apply even if you are often minoritized yourself.)
  6. Show interest in your colleagues' research and methodologies. If any of them study/studied at the same place you do, ask for course recommendations.
  7. If they are interested in your computational sociology, help them understand it, and (if appropriate) recommend resources they might benefit from.
  8. Make sure that your research is written in a way that qualitative sociologists can fully engage with it, and help de-mystify quantitative work.
  9. As in any position like this, remember that you're new but that you have interesting ideas. (If you tend to be more outspoken, use this to hang back more at the start. If you tend to be quiet, use this to speak up.) Talk with your advisor/boss/PI if you have questions about things, including office culture.
  10. For the longer-term goals, your work at this institute is a good start. Be open to mixed-methods collaborations with the colleagues you meet here; many of them will probably work in fascinating settings and may have the opportunity to collect novel quantitative datasets alongside their detailed qualitative work.

Finally, here are some lengthier suggested readings:

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The fact that you are not in the same group as your study subject should not have anything to do with it. Do your job to the best of your ability and that's it.

Real world considerations: Someone may think something along the lines of what you fear. People are terrible. As long as you are academically precise, based on well-known facts, and sensitive, what you are should not be an issue.

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It is often an outsider with a different tool- and mindset that can bring a new perspective on things, keep that in mind. The fact that you're an outsider should only be something positive in my view.

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