Sociology in the Spotlight

Mellisa Holtzman , Associate Professor of Sociology

The research on definitions of family Holtzman began as a graduate student at the University of Iowa and has grown into a lifelong interest. She studies how societal and legal definitions of family conflict, interact, and change over time. Holtzman earned a National Science Foundation grant to help fund her continuing research into the meaning and significance of family.

Holtzman is examining custody disputes between biological and nonbiological parents from 1970 to 2007 in eight states. This almost 40-year window of time has provided her with more than 1,000 cases to study. With the help of a graduate assistant and undergraduate students, she must read, textually analyze, and code this large amount of data.

Holtzman and her staff are looking at judicial opinions and how the various definitions of family helped or hindered custody battles. She believes the geographic area—as well as preconceived notions of family held by those making the rulings—will prove major determining factors in the trends her data reveals.

While Holtzman may be just beginning to dig into her data, she has already begun to see patterns in those who make appeals and how the appeals are usually ruled upon. When finished with the coding of her data, she will continue to analyze the data and work toward disseminating valuable information to the field.

Fang Gong, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Gong is exploring the psychological impact of workplace discrimination for Caucasian and African-American women. Additionally, she analyzes how migration context impacts Asians and Latinos, including their attempts to acclimate to a new culture.

Continuing work she began as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Gong also studies how to improve the health of home health care workers. Research has shown that this line of work can be particularly stressful and involves many potential risks, including injuries from handling hazardous materials or even abuse at the hands of patients.

NIOSH continues to fund Gong’s work as she serves as coordinator, analyzes data, and provides technical support and translation services for interviews with subjects. The result of her study will support measures to promote awareness of health and safety issues for Chinese and Hispanic immigrants who work in this specific part of the health care industry.

Carolyn Kapinus, Associate Professor of Sociology

With the loss of factory jobs in Muncie, Indiana, poverty and unemployment have grown. Area neighborhoods have changed, Kapinus says, which may have an adverse effect on adolescents due to the important part of a child’s nurturing his or her neighborhood provides.

Through collaboration with James Connolly, director of the Center for Middletown Studies, Kapinus has launched a study to see what changes have occurred in the Muncie neighborhoods of Whitely and Southside and how these changes have impacted children growing up in them. Under Kapinus' direction, students from the Department of Sociology used census data, neighborhood observations, and interviews to compile a comprehensive overview of the two neighborhoods. Through this project, students have gained valuable experience working in the field. Additionally, Kapinus, with a graduate assistant who helped compile profiles, presented a paper on the project at the Midwest Sociological Association meetings in March 2010.

This interdisciplinary collaboration was made possible by an award from the Discovery Group, which funds projects impacting Ball State students. Through examination of census information, crime statistics, and neighborhood observations, preliminary findings have revealed that the neighborhoods aren’t as uniform as originally thought.