Three CAL Faculty Selected as Weber Honors College Research Fellows

Ramona Pérez, Roy Whitaker, and, Sureshi Jayawardene to expand impactful research and mentor students during the spring 2022 semester

The Weber Honors College Research Fellows Program promotes student achievement by pairing faculty members with highly motivated Weber Honors College undergraduates. Faculty then support and guide the students in the development and application of research skills on a specific research problem to connect their classroom studies to real-life issues. The Weber Honors College Research Fellows program contributes to SDSU’s commitment to promote student success, increase transformational educational experiences, and foster the development and growth of excellence in research and creative endeavors.

Roy WhitakerRoy Whitaker and Maya Elden to Modernize and Strengthen Religious Directory to Showcase Diversity  

Roy Whitaker, associate professor in the Department for the Study of Religion, will modernize the department’s public-facing online directory of religious groups in San Diego called the Metropolitan Area Pluralism Study, or MAPS. He will be joined by student researchers and other members of the SDSU community to include digital humanities leaders and managers of mapping access systems. 

MAPS locates, charts, and digitally publishes a visual and descriptive guide to the religious diversity that exists in the San Diego region. “It fulfills one of the goals of the department, namely, ‘to cultivate an understanding of religious pluralism,’ that is, to help people comprehend the nature of religious diversity that exists in our world,” Whitaker said. MAPS identifies the religious institutions and organizations that exist in the San Diego region. 

An aim of a revamped MAPS, is for students and the public-at-large to be able to better understand current cultural issues, such as “Why does religious diversity matter?” 

Maya Elden

Maya Elden, a sophomore studying speech, language, and hearing sciences, with a minor in interdisciplinary studies in Weber Honors College, will join Roy in the project as his research assistant. “I am most looking forward to furthering my knowledge in research, and my goal is to help enhance the MAPS project. I will be helping to find accurate and updated data to upload to the website to strengthen the platform,” Elden said.

“Research is a vital aspect of my field, and this opportunity will better prepare me for my future endeavors,” Elden added. “Working in this program will give me interdisciplinary knowledge and the experience of working in a different field, as well as the ability to produce accurate, beneficial, and precise research.”

Sureshi Jayawardene and Akilah Wayne to Identify Stigmas and Stereotypes of Black Student Mothers

Sureshi Jayawardene

Assistant professor of Africana studies, Sureshi Jayawardene’s research project "What Black Student Mothers Can Teach Us” will identify and understand stigmas and stereotypes of Black student mothers. It is the second phase of a larger and longitudinal project on Black women who are simultaneously mothers and college-attending students. 

Between 2017 and 2018, Jayawardene, completed the first phase of research, along with her colleague, Dr. Serie McDougal III at CSU Los Angeles. “Together, we conducted survey research among Black student mothers attending 2- and 4-year colleges in Illinois and California to better understand their experiences in these dual roles,” Jayawardene said.

This study resulted in the co-authored chapter, “Black Student Mothers: A Culturally Relevant Exploratory Study” which appears in the 2019 edited volume, “Challenging Misrepresentations of Black Womanhood: Media, Literature, and Theory,” edited by CSU Northridge Africana Studies professor Marquita M. Gammage and SDSU College of Arts and Letters Africana Studies professor Antwanisha Alameen-Shavers.

The “What Black Student Mothers Can Teach Us” project aims to advance previous research using qualitative data collection methods such as focus groups and interviews. The objective of this second phase is to identify more clearly the stigmas and stereotypes Black student mothers face alongside their specific approaches of contestation and subversion. 

Akilah Wayne

Akilah Wayne, fourth-year Africana Studies student is the research assistant on this project. “I am honored to be a part of and contribute to a vastly under-researched topic,” Wayne said. “By participating in this research, I hope to understand the accurate and versatile struggles that Black student mothers undergo and the benefits of higher education. Furthermore, I want to learn about the diverse experiences of Black women who are mothers and students simultaneously and how this affects all aspects of their lives. In addition, I hope to get a broader understanding of how occurring obstacles can be reduced for Black student mothers, and what resources are needed to encourage, assist, and support Black mothers striving for advanced education.”

Overall, the project elevates the narratives, perspectives, and lived experiences of Black student mothers whose stories have long been marginalized in the scholarship. 

“This research project is personal because I am a current Black student mother. I understand the obstacles I have faced as a Black student mother and the rewarding benefits of pursuing higher education to reach my goals,” Wayne added. “As a mother raising little black girls that will someday blossom into young women pursuing a college education and maybe one day even mothers themselves, I understand the importance of this research project. As a result, I hope that this research will help me to inspire other Black student mothers while also finding solutions to encourage and support Black student mothers worldwide.”

Ramona Pérez and Skaidra Pulley to Research Civilian-Led Police Oversight Committee Practices

Ramona Pérez

In response to the demands to defend policing that resulted from the BLM movements across the U.S., Ramona Pérez, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Latin American Studies, joined colleagues from Emory University and Eastern Michigan University to evaluate the impact that civilian oversight commissions have over police violence in the field.

“Civilian oversight commissions have existed for decades and in recent years calls for their growth and accountability have increased but have not resulted in standardization or even shared best practices,” Pérez said. “We established a multi-sited research program that uses qualitative, ethnographic, and archival research methodologies to compare and contrast civilian oversight commission practices in three counties with a focus on how the commissions address the racial issues within the cases.” The counties include Milwaukee, Washtenau, and San Diego.

The base research question is: “How might matters of racism and democratic practice be located in civilian-led oversight?”

The students involved in this project during the spring semester will begin sitting in on commission meetings for the San Diego Police, Sheriff, and La Mesa Police. They will take field notes on cases, debates, and outcomes and offset this with research on archival information about the formation of these commissions, to include the biographies of each commissioner, how they are elected or appointed, and how they handle the public press on cases.

Skaidra Pulley

“I am super excited to work on this project with Dr. Pérez! I’ve never been part of a research team before, so this honors faculty-match program was a really incredible opportunity,” Weber Honors College student Skaidra Pulley said. “Dr. Pérez’s research involves racism in police oversight committees, which is such a pressing topic as a lot of recent antiracist activism has been structured on the idea that these sorts of bodies constitute effective surveillance of police actions.”

Pulley is most looking forward to the opportunity to learn from Pérez and to assist on research which has very immediate and substantial applications. “My goals as a research assistant are simply to gain more work experience in an academic setting and to provide meaningful support,” Pulley said. “My hopes are that my work has a positive impact on the team as a whole and that our research effects real change in the function of and conversation around oversight committees, not only among San Diego law enforcement departments but nationwide.”