Changing Dominant Carceral Attitudes: A Community Organizing Field Experiment

[In Preparation] For organizers and advocates working to transform the carceral state as a means to eliminating structural racism, a central question becomes: how can we change dominant carceral attitudes and increase support for abolitionist policies?  Several experiments found that a deep canvass organizing intervention effectively reduced prejudice towards immigrants or transgender people and increased support for equity policies.  Still lacking is evidence of field-based interventions that effectively change dominant racialized attitudes broadly or carceral attitudes specifically.  In recognizing that anti-transgender and anti-immigrant attitudes are distinct from carceral attitudes, replication of the field experiment intervention is necessary to determine any potential variance in efficacy across issues.  The focus of this study on increasing support for abolitionist policies is of particular importance given recent calls by Black-led social movements to defund or abolish carceral institutions.

This study extends examination of the deep canvass community organizing method within the context of a campaign that seeks to change carceral attitudes and increase support for an abolitionist policy in Los Angeles County.  Through a randomized placebo-controlled field experiment, a community organization will implement the intervention with a sample of registered voters in predominantly white neighborhoods who have begun participation in an ostensibly unrelated public opinion survey panel.  The project will address four questions related to the intervention’s causal effects:  To what extent does the deep canvass community organizing intervention change carceral and racialized attitudes?  To what extent does it increase support for an abolitionist policy?  Does the intervention also affect opinions on other carceral policies?  Will changes persist for at least two months?

Under Review

Colorblind Attitudes and White Shame: Barriers to White Student Engagement in Social Work Critical Race Praxis (with Javier Garcia-Perez, Maggie Gross, and Laura Abrams)

[Under Review] What are the cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns of white Masters of Social Work (MSW) students in response to racial issues? We analyzed 121 white respondents from a cross-sectional survey of California MSW students conducted in May 2018.  Statistical techniques, including Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression, were used to analyze the relationships between anti-racist behaviors and racial cognitive and affective responses.  Data indicated that colorblind attitudes and white shame, after controlling for other factors, were significantly correlated with fewer anti-racist behaviors.  Empathy was significantly related to more anti-racist behaviors after accounting for other variables.  These results provide evidence that while cognitive understandings of racism influence anti-racist behaviors, affective responses also impact behaviors.  Even when white students cognitively understand racism as a problem, white shame may serve as a barrier to effective critical race praxis in social work settingsThis study’s results implicate social work education to develop group-differentiated approaches to engaging MSW students about the emotional responses they have to racial issues.  A cognitive-only focus on increasing knowledge about race, racism, and racial equity may be inadequate to prepare white MSW students to engage in social work critical race praxis.

Work in Progress

Organizing with Stories: The Role of Emotional Expression in Increasing Support for Abolition

[In Preparation] This study consists of a cross-sectional, quantitative analysis of a deep canvass organizing intervention that aimed to increase support for Measure R among voters who live in predominantly white Los Angeles County neighborhoods. Measure R (also known as Reform LA Jails) aims to decrease the jail population by investing in community resources as alternatives to incarceration and giving subpoena power to the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission to investigate allegations of misconduct. It was approved by an overwhelming majority of Los Angeles County voters in March 2020.

From August 2019-March 2020, volunteer canvassers with a community organization, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and their local affiliate, White People 4 Black Lives, knocked on doors and invited residents into a deep canvass conversation on the Reform LA Jails policy. Prior literature has shown evidence that the sharing of stories, in comparison to the sharing of information alone, explains the intervention’s effects on attitude and policy opinion change. The following question remains unaddressed, however: why or how does sharing stories affect attitude change? This study’s hypothesis was as follows: emotional expression, after controlling for sharing stories and other factors, explains the intervention’s effects.

Preliminary results provide evidence that story-sharing serves as a vehicle for emotional expression but is not on its own predictive of opinion change. Demographic factors, while predictive of answering the door, engaging with a canvasser, or completing a full conversation, are generally not predictive of opinion change itself. The one exception is political affiliation, given that being Republican predicts significantly less change than being a Democrat.

From Social Justice to Abolition: Living Up to Social Work’s Grand Challenge of Eliminating Racism

[In Preparation] This theoretical paper applies abolition to the field of social welfare to ask: what anti-racist futures can we imagine? Through this theoretical investigation, anti-racist social welfare futures are envisioned that 1) advance macro-level interventions of organizing, advocacy, and social movement mobilization to achieve radical policy and culture change, 2) build power in communities of color, 3) intervene to end racism in white communities 4) engage more deeply with critical theories from Ethnic and Black Studies to inform practice and 5) develop robust interventions and intervention-research to effectively eliminate racism. Concrete examples of abolitionist antiracist practice will be offered.

Carceral Justification Scale: Construction and Initial Validation

[In Preparation] Support for status quo institutions has been shown to explain policy opinion, most commonly demonstrated through research using the system justification scale.  This scale was used as inspiration for the creation of a carceral justification scale, a measure that seeks to assess status quo support for the carceral state.  An 8-item instrument was tested with a sample of 2,371 registered voters in Alameda County, California in July-August 2019.  Principal axis factor analysis was conducted using an oblimin rotation, resulting in a one-factor solution for seven items (alpha=.87). 

Understanding the Formation of Liberal Carceral Policy Opinion: A Qualitative Analysis

[In Preparation] Why do predominantly liberal urban areas – which have lower levels of racial resentment and greater support for racial equity policies than the broader U.S. polity – reproduce support for the carceral state?  This study examines the political and racial attitudes of registered voters in predominantly white Los Angeles County neighborhoods within the context of Reform LA Jails – a March 2020 ballot initiative that seeks to: 1) decrease the number of people incarcerated in the County Jail by investing in community resources, and 2) strengthen accountability for Sheriff’s Department misconduct.  Based on 50 in-depth canvassing interviews from June 2018 to September 2019, this study shows that a combination of political ideology, understandings of racism, and emotional object attachments inform the ways in which voters construct opinions about a progressive decarceration policy.

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