The politics of heritage and class
Two political science students used their summer research opportunity to study identity politics through the lens of ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories on work done by students who participated in the 2021 Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience, which pairs students with an experienced faculty mentor to perform significant, publishable research.
Guiding not one but two students through the completion of their separate yet equally intensive research projects seems like a tall order. But Professor Kirk Buckman is served by two advantages: his lengthy involvement in the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program and his love for it.
“SURE is one of my favorite parts of being associated with Stonehill College,” said the political science instructor.
This year, Buckman partnered with Lauren Correa ’22 to study Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking, communities in Rhode Island and the South Shore region of Massachusetts. He also worked with Thomas Langer ’22 to examine the state of the middle class. The faculty mentor described these projects as being “opposite in their essences.”
“Tommy is buried in secondary literature, whereas Lauren is engaged in primary research,” Buckman said. “She is looking for the needle in the haystack, while he is just buried beneath tons and tons and tons of hay, trying to figure out what it all means.”
Common Bonds and a Surprising Disconnect
Correa and Buckman initially wanted to explore how Portuguese, Brazilian and Cape Verdean immigrants in the area attained middle-class status over various generations. They pivoted their focus as their research revealed a lack of shared identity among these groups.
So instead they will publish research that explores exactly why these groups connected by a shared language have not formed an overarching Lusophone community in the region. Buckman and Correa also hope their work will contribute to the pool of scholarship at the heart of Stonehill’s new Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice. Buckman serves on the center’s steering committee.
Correa, a political science and philosophy major, was responsible for reaching out to various contacts for information on the Lusophone immigrant experience. Massachusetts State Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues is one of the people with whom she and Buckman met. Rodrigues represents Fall River, Massachusetts, Correa’s hometown. He is active in the city’s Portuguese-American community.
Correa’s grandparents immigrated to Fall River in the 1960s from São Miguel Island, located in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores.
“Having personal experience with the Portuguese community because of my heritage has helped me navigate my research at times when it seems like there’s nothing out there,” she said.
While Correa’s topic hit home for her, Langer, a political science major and English minor, had little experience with economics before working on his capitalism-focused SURE project.
“At first, I was drowning in a sea of new information,” he said. “But my meetings with Professor Buckman helped. As I started to understand things, I was able to take information I was learning and write about it.”
Middle Class Challenges and Potential
Meanwhile, Langer and Buckman examined the middle class through another lens, looking at competing definitions and the ways this group contributes to democratic consolidation. They also investigated how events like the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to a sense of economic insecurity among the middle class and fueled support for both populist and extreme political movements.
“The closer we can get to having a comprehensible study or a comprehensible understanding of why there is a divided discussion of the middle class, the closer we can get to addressing it,” said Langer, who hails from Burlington, Connecticut.
Though their research topics differ, Langer and Correa have similar professional interests. Both are considering attending law school. Whatever these students decide to do after college, their professor believes SURE will impact them for years to come.
“This program allows me to approach motivated and gifted students and help guide them to see what they can do and how much they can achieve — how really capable they are to do whatever they want to do,” Buckman said.
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