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May 10, 2015

A Mission of Change: Social Inequality

By Jordan Chapman

jjohnsonburgos-profile Is there a greater number of homicides in racially segregated areas than more integrated neighborhoods? Do social inequality, location, income and addiction factor into the illegal marketing of products such as cigarettes? These are the questions posed by Department of Sociology Assistant Professor Giovani Burgos, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Jacqueline Johnson, Ph.D.

Dr. Burgos is currently working with colleagues from Adelphi and faculty from the University of Florida, Northeastern University, Harvard and Duke to measure the rates of homicide in New York City over the last 10 years along ethnic and geographic lines. He’s also researching whether police brutality is more likely to occur in segregated areas.

He wants his students to see what he sees in the numbers, to understand the harsh realities of segregation in today’s society. “I see jaws drop when I talk about percentages of segregation,” he said. He gets them involved via classroom assignments, and those who continue to work with him as he begins to write and publish his findings also receive research recognition and letters of recommendation. “Working with students—that’s what I really like,” he said.

cigarettes-researchFor three years Dr. Johnson has participated in a study with three other sociologists. They scour the streets of the South Bronx collecting empty and discarded cigarette boxes. Cigarette packs and cartons with the cellophane wrappers still intact will have a tax stamp, which shows where the cigarettes were purchased.

“We take them to the sheriff’s office and we can use the ultraviolet light to see if the pack has the cigarette tax stamp on it and if it’s a legitimate or fake stamp,” Dr. Johnson said. They’re finding a lot of Newport cartons coming mostly from Virginia, where cigarette taxes are a mere 30 cents per pack.

“What happens when the neighborhoods become more patrolled in certain areas and suddenly this low-level crime becomes more serious for some groups of people rather than others?” she asked. It’s a question she will sometimes pose to her students. She’ll get them to relate by mentioning other low-risk crimes. She’ll remind them that downloading music and movies off the Internet is illegal. She’ll mention speeding and the knockoff Coach and Gucci bags sold in Manhattan’s Chinatown district. Although students will reluctantly acknowledge they’re performing illegal activities, she often hears, “Well, there’s nothing I can do.”

“I’m on a mission to change that,” Dr. Johnson said.

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of The Catalyst, the College of Arts and Sciences newsletter.

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