As one of the first scholars to lead research examining the social interactions and community life of racially integrated suburban neighborhoods, Dr. Alan Grigsby, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, was recently nominated for the National Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award competition, in the Social Sciences category.
The prestigious Distinguished Dissertation award is given each year by the Council of Graduate Schools and ProQuest publishers to dissertations that demonstrate an unusually significant contribution to their discipline. Dr. Grigsby's dissertation, "Integration without Assimilation: Black Social Life in a Diverse Suburb," was selected to represent the University of Cincinnati, where he completed his Ph.D. in 2018. Each member organization selects one student for the competitive award, which has included past winners from Yale University, Boston College, and the University of Michigan.
Dr. Grigsby's dissertation research is one of the first ethnographic studies investigating race relations in a suburban setting. "I grew up in a racially diverse suburb, and when I got to college, I learned that most of my peers had grown up in racially segregated, not integrated, communities," he said. "When I decided to pursue my Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to research social life in racially diverse neighborhoods. I was hoping to learn the secret recipe for maintaining harmonious and equitable race relations. I expected that if I could learn what diverse communities do well, maybe the rest of society could benefit from that information."
For two years, the race scholar and urban sociologist lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland with a national reputation for its early (the 1950s) integration efforts. "In the two years I spent in Shaker Heights as an ethnographer, I learned that even the most diverse and inclusive communities still struggle with racial equity." Among his findings, Dr. Grigsby found that black adults in Shaker Heights live, move, and shop in predominantly black neighborhood spaces. The study demonstrated that even when adults of different racial backgrounds live close to each other, the places they spend leisure time do not always result in diverse interactions.
"I hope that this research conveys the complexity and complicated nature of the work broadly defined as diversity and inclusion," he says. "Schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods each face their own distinct challenges in their diversity and inclusion work."
At Curry College, Dr. Grigsby's courses, including Urban Life and Chocolate Cities, cover the sociology of race and ethnicity. As an educator, he prides himself on creating a classroom that is student-centered and incorporates skill-building in information literacy and social science research methods.
"I try to meet students where they are. The way they are. I recognize that many students come to me on day one as full cups. They are not empty cups waiting to be filled with work and information. Many of them live busy lives," he says of his teaching approach. "As much as I want our students to learn all the material and information that I deem significant, I recognize that I must help them make sense of their own lives as a starting point. I want to help our students use their vast and varied lived experiences as a learning tool in my Sociology classes."
The Distinguished Dissertation Award will announce winners in December. Dr. Grigsby's dissertation research was also recently featured at the Eastern Sociological Society's annual meeting and is currently under review as a book proposal.