The Williams Institute at UCLA

A faculty member recently asked where he could find good studies on same-sex couples and marriages. While doing a thorough search, I found the Williams Institute. Whoa, what a great find!

Rainbow by Benson Kua on Flickr

The Williams Institute is a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law devoted to legal research, public policy analysis, judicial training, and leadership development. Its consortium of legal scholars, economists, demographers, social scientists, and public health experts is responsible for some of the leading research on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. Businessman, academic, and philanthropist Charles Williams has given over $13 million in grants to the Williams Institute since 2001—which is the most funding ever given to an academic institution for work done in this area.

In recent years, the Williams Institute has published rigorous studies on marriages for same-sex couples. Their most recent report includes state-level statistics on same-sex couples who identify as spouses and same-sex couples who identify as spouses raising children (their own and non-relatives). This study also has maps of state laws broken down by marriage, civil union/domestic partnerships (broad), domestic partnerships (limited), and includes states with no state laws on gay marriages.

As a leader of original research and a repository of LGBT studies, the Williams Institute at UCLA is continuously making significant contributions to the field. It’s a great resource for scholars, particularly those doing research-related work. My colleague recently found a guide on Best Practices for Asking Questions about Sexual Orientation on Surveys via the Institute’s website. Think that’s a great resource? This information barely skims the surface of the studies and resources readily available through the Williams Institute. Check it out!


“The Dirty Little Secret of Higher Education.”

Matthew Williams from the New Faculty Majority describes the prevalence of welfare recipients in higher education as “the dirty little secret of higher education”. Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education released an article with data generated from Current Population Surveys of 2008 and 2011 reporting an increase in aid recipients with advanced degrees.

The federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefit that many of these scholars are receiving is food assistance. The number of folks with PhDs receiving food stamps nearly tripled from 9,776 in 2007 to 33,655 in 2010. That only includes people who self-report to the U.S. Census Bureau that they receive food stamps or some other form of government assistance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include data on aid recipients who may have declined to respond for any reason (out of embarrassment, for instance). After all, being a PhD on welfare isn’t exactly ideal.

If this is really as problematic as the data show, should we be encouraging students to go into PhD programs when post-grad employment opportunities may not be there for them? Should we continue to train students for the academy when their career paths may actually veer off in another direction? The American Sociological Association reports that the academic job market recently shrank considerably compared to previous years. Such reports make you wonder, what is the future of the academy? University positions are being eliminated and the criteria for filling them is certainly changing.
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Racial Segregation in Chicago

From the DePaul University newspaper to local and national news outlets, reports have identified Chicago as the most racially segregated city in the nation. All these sources reference the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which analyzes U.S. Census Bureau data to compare the racial composition of major cities. According to an Institute report released this past January, Chicago has the highest indices of dissimilarity and isolation of the nine largest metropolitan areas in the nation (those with populations over 500,000).

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Data, Media, and “Scary Numbers”

I was reading the NPR news blog over a cup of tea when I came across an article called Housing Starts Drop, But Building Permits Are Up. Housing starts generally refer to the new construction of privately-owned residential buildings. My gut reaction to the headline was merely a thought, what does all of this mean?  As I read further I learned that there was a 5.8 percent drop in housing starts from February to March 2012. Bloomberg News reported that this unexpected drop leaves housing starts at a five-month low. Although both sources reported declining housing starts, based on a joint press release from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, they highlighted an increase (of 4.5 percent) in the number of building permits issued from February to March 2012. This statistic is certainly telling us something about the housing market but what are these economists and journalists really saying? Well, the increase in building permits is a proxy for new residential construction, so when there is an increase in permits, future construction is expected. Economists often use these statistics to project whether or not the housing market will expand or decline. In other words, these statistics are most often used to predict economic activity in the housing market. According to these articles, the development of new housing is on the decline even though permits for new privately-owned buildings have increased.

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Safe Schools?

A trend toward increasing punitiveness in public schools seems to be taking shape across the nation. Schools are looking more like prisons governed through a penal pedagogical framework of crime while the rights and liberties of parents and students are diminishing (Giroux 2003; Simon 2007). With a national emphasis on crime control in public schools, per the Safe Schools Act of 1994 (Simon 2007), many of the former institutional goals of racial equality and equity are being undermined.

There’s a near consensus among scholars that schools distribute punitive measures in thoroughly racialized ways, punishing black students most often (Keleher 2000; Gregory, Skiba, and Noguera 2010; Welch and Payne 2010). Being suspended or expelled from school substantially increases the likelihood that a young person will be arrested and incarcerated later in their lives (Wald and Losen 2003; Simmons 2006; Weissman, Cregor, and Gainsborough 2008). Racial disparities in suspension and expulsion rates, then, contribute to racial disparities in educational outcomes and life chances of young people in the United States. Harsh punitive measures by school officials do not lead to the improvement of pupils’ behavior or  reduce school violence and increase school safety (Imich 1994; Skiba and Peterson 1999; Skiba et el. 2008).

Map by Dan Cooper

To quantify one dimension of this problem, Mariame Kaba of Project NIA, and Frank Edwards of the SSRC at DePaul this week released “Policing Chicago Public Schools,” a report detailing the scope and character of arrests occurring on Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) property. Data on policing activities in public schools is pretty difficult to get. School officials, CPS in particular, are very reluctant to release information about school discipline, and the Chicago Police Department has only recently made useful data on crime and arrests easily accessible to the public. This report is an effort to make what is going on in schools more transparent.

Key findings of the report include:

  • More than 5,500 arrests of young people under 17 years old took place on CPS properties in 2010.
  • Black youth are disproportionately targeted for arrest at school. In 2010, while they represented 45% of CPS students, black youth accounted for 74% of juvenile school-based arrests .
  • Young men are much more likely to be arrested on CPS property than their female counterparts.
  • Nearly a third of school-based arrests in 2010 were for simple battery (fighting).
  • Certain police districts on Chicago’s South Side have far greater rates of arrest at schools than other police districts.

Notably, this data suggests that arrests on CPS property account for about 20 percent of all juvenile arrests in  Chicago. The bulk of these arrests are for relatively minor infractions such as simple battery and disorderly conduct.  Theorists, empirical scholars and activists have argued for some time that as zero-tolerance policies and policing have replaced traditional school disciplinary practices (e.g., a trip to the principal’s office), the rates of suspension, expulsion and arrest at schools have skyrocketed, suggesting that we might best view these efforts as creating a school-to-prison pipeline. This report provides empirical precision to help quantify the magnitude of the problem in Chicago. The results unfortunately confirm that this pipeline is indeed operating here and is contributing to the production of the racial bias scholars detect operating throughout the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Frank Edwards contributed to this post.

Open Tools for Social Media Research

For you researchers who have long awaited open-source tools to start analyzing social media networks, the time has come. The Social Media Research Foundation (SMFR), comprised of a collection of researchers, is a non-profit organization that specializes in the development of open tools and data to aid scholars with social media-related research. Despite the recent emergence of these tools provided by the SMRF for folks in the academy, social scientists have begun taking full advantage of these tools (see Marc Smith’s story).

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Annotated Bibliography: Social Media for Recruitment

Illustration by Kathleen Donovan

The ways in which scholars engage in research are gradually shifting. In the age of technology, information can be disseminated freely in a relatively short span of time. Scholars around the world are obtaining information and exchanging resources in and across their disciplines as result of social networking.

In addition to networking, surveys can be distributed via Facebook and the latest resources for faculty and students in the academy can be shared on Twitter. Social media in the western world has become such a large component of our existence that we would be remiss to not take advantage of its potential.

Recently, we put together a Social Media Annotated Bibliography (click to download the .docx file) on online survey recruitment using social media, particularly social networking sites. Although much of the literature suggests that online survey research can produce diverse convenience samples at a minimal cost to the researcher, the literature in this area also touches on crucial ethical and methodological issues in online research as well.