Scholar studying the sociology of education joins Arts and Letters faculty

Author: Carrie Gates

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Calvin Zimmermann wants to better understand the fundamental roles that race, gender, and class play in society, and particularly how they affect young children.

He focuses his research on African American youth, he said, because they are one of the most vulnerable and oppressed populations in the world. 

“I believe the long history of social injustices against African Americans is one of the most important social problems in the United States today,” Zimmermann said. “I address it by looking at young children because, unfortunately, from the very beginning of their lives these social inequalities profoundly impact them.”

He joins the faculty of Notre Dame’s Department of Sociology and the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity this fall, where he will continue to research inequality in school settings.

Zimmermann, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, will serve as a post-doctoral research assistant this year and as an assistant professor of sociology in 2019.

William Carbonaro, associate professor and chair of sociology, said Zimmermann increases one the department’s key strengths — the sociology of education — while helping it grow in other areas, including race and gender.

While most prior research on racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes in school focuses on large patterns in data, Carbonaro said, Zimmermann’s dissertation was based on careful and detailed fieldwork inside elementary school classrooms. 

“Calvin shows how the everyday practices by teachers and school personnel unwittingly create these racial disparities in disciplinary infractions and punishments,” Carbonaro said. “It is important work that deepens our understanding of how these inequalities arise, and will inform the debate about how schools can address the problem.” 

“If we can understand the complex problems that African American children face, we can contribute to a better future for them.”
— Calvin Zimmermann

Notre Dame is a good fit for a number of reasons, Zimmermann said, including the high value the University places on both research and teaching, its concern for social justice, and the abundance of resources offered.

“The breadth of research areas in the sociology department and the diversity of ideas and perspectives will also be beneficial for me,” Zimmermann said. “I appreciate the collegiality amongst the faculty, many of whom have published in top-ranked journals and university presses. I think I can learn a lot about the publication process from the more senior faculty in our department.”

Zimmermann will be teaching a course on the sociology of race and ethnicity in the spring, examining racial inequalities in education, immigration, health disparities, and media representations.

He is currently working on several articles that look at racial disparities in how teachers perceive children’s behaviors, in school discipline, and in school communication with parents about children’s academic and behavioral problems. 

Zimmermann also plans to explore how race, gender, and class shape children’s home lives and how those differences, in turn, may affect their school experience. 

“If we can understand the complex problems that African American children face, we can contribute to a better future for them,” he said.

Originally published by Carrie Gates at sociology.nd.edu on August 27, 2018.