Short Bio: Dr. Christina Jackson, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Stockton University, specializes in urban sociology, social welfare, and inequality from sociological and public health perspectives. Beyond academia, she’s an engaged scholar-activist, facilitating and consulting with community partners and creative groups on topics like anti-violence, gentrification, housing, food justice, and racial justice. She’s co-authored significant works like “Black in America: The Paradox of the Color Line” and “Embodied Difference: Divergent Bodies in Public Discourse,” alongside numerous articles and book chapters. Dr. Jackson began her academic journey at Temple University, earned a PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed postdoctoral studies in Africana Studies. Follow her work at www.christinarjackson.com and @drjacksoncollaborates on social media.
1. If you had to describe your writing style or philosophy in a few words, what would they be?
Public sociological writing for me is like jumping on a moving train to facilitate a curated art gallery. I learned an interesting way of developing my relationship to writing from a book entitled Becoming the Writer You Already Are by Michelle Boyd. For me, writing feels like jumping a moving train (a current social problem or trend) and organizing the cars(themes) in different ways to see that issue from all sides. My writing has become deeply ethnographic, based in stories and founded in critical thinking.
2. Your academic journey is quite impressive, from Temple University to a PhD from the University of California Santa Barbara in Sociology, and then postdoctoral studies in Africana Studies. Can you share some pivotal moments or experiences that shaped your academic and activist path?
Thank you! They do feel like moments. One pivotal moment was continuing to be engaged in activism in and outside of the school while in undergrad at Temple. I took my commitment to community movements and organizations as well as racial justice during my time in school very seriously. It’s very easy to get consumed in the life of academia, but I’m glad that I charted my path early as a scholar-activist. Another pivotal moment was applying for an internship in undergrad to study forgotten founding father, W.E.B. DuBois, with my professor. The thought of being paid to do research, and better yet, to read more about the work of an important Black theorist was unthinkable. It led to launching my career as a sociologist and later my first publication and first conference.
3. “Black in America: The Paradox of the Color Line” explores the tension between post-racial and colorblind ideals and the persistent racial disparities in the United States. Could you elaborate on some specific examples or trends that illustrate this paradox?
In my view, two of the biggest paradoxes that come up in my work is Black wealth gaps and Black maternal mortality. In both issues that Black people disproportionately face, it affects both low-income and upper income people. Educated upwardly mobile Blacks are still more likely to die from childbirth complications and still are unable to accrue wealth anywhere near the rate of their white counterparts. These facts blow anything post-racial out the window. Things have improved from the past, sure, but we can’t forget that race and class among other things, still determine if the decks are stacked against you, that can act as a powder keg for contemporary movements.
4. In your opinion, what is the role of academia in addressing pressing social issues like racism? How can scholars effectively bridge the gap between academic research and practical activism?
Public sociologists have been leading the way on this front. Other disciplines can challenge ideas about the how we collect data in ways that are more collaborative with surrounding communities. I’ve done a lot of research with and for communities. I personally have my ear to the ground about issues that affect myself and the everyday life of others in my community. For me, I made sure that achieving justice and decreasing inequality in grounded ways stayed central in my mind as I entered graduate school. I never let the theory become too dense that it couldn’t be understood with real life examples. I remember one of my late mentors Dr. John Mohr, Professor of Sociology at UCSB, always discussed his appreciation of my application to real life examples in our Foucault seminar. That made me feel that there was a space for me in the academy. Conversely, I never let the academy (in its’ current form) hold all my value or be the only entity that develops ideas about our social world. It doesn’t determine my role in achieving justice, but research can be a tool in the toolbox. Good critical thinkers and sociologists must keep a degree of flexibility as we explore new ways to describe the human experience. Things change, but we live in the impact of past decisions. We can have the openness to build off existing research methods and explore new ways to create knowledge. Let’s explore working on policies with the state and community groups. Let’s attend community forums that educate them about the effects of structural racism and what can be done about it. I think more sociologists need to find the common ground between research interests and community interests and how we can help each other.
5. In our increasingly globalized and competitive world, some argue that people are becoming more focused on individual success and material gain, potentially leading to a decline in empathy and emotional connections within society. How do you see this phenomenon affecting concepts like humanity and social welfare, and what role do you think sociology and related fields play in addressing these challenges to ensure the well-being of communities and individuals in the face of global capitalism?
I think that as the gap between the rich and poor globally become wider and the prison industrial complex remains central to capitalist systems, people have become more desperate and more depressed. We know that one of sociology’s founding fathers explored the effects of economic systems on workers’ spiritual essence, i.e. the root of why we do what we do. Black Marxists have explored racial capitalism and the effects of living under a racialized economic system that uses forms of violence, imperialism, a powerful military force to increase profit. Sociologists can and should develop more critical questions that address our pressing realities. Part of that requires being out in our communities, developing relationships, connecting on a human level so that we can produce non-exploitative research and increase the quality of life for all people.
6. As someone with an impressive academic and research background, you’ve navigated the path of scholarship and excelled in your field. What advice would you offer to newcomers and aspiring scholars on how to secure scholarships and gain admission to premier institutions? Are there specific strategies, resources, or experiences that you believe are particularly valuable for those beginning their academic journey?
Yes. I would suggest accessing as many professional development resources, books, internships, and mentorship programs as possible. Being someone once new to higher education, all of those initiatives continue to help me excel in the academy and have good work-life balance. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) and The Professor is in community are great. I rely on their programming regularly and is worth the investment. In undergraduate, I spoke on my first conference panel on the effects of an NSF-funded internship program on my education. A professor, later mentor, heard me speak, approached me about bringing me out to see his PhD program. He followed through and provided just enough cushion to launch into something unknown to me. I received a healthy financial package to fund some of my graduate school education and I took a leap. After that, I teamed up with a dynamic mentor and fierce sociologist, Dr. Nikki Jones who took mentorship seriously. She helped me to recognize that my perspective and viewpoints are valuable and not to be sheepish about developing my voice.
7. Family often plays a significant role in shaping one’s values and career path. I’m curious to know if there are any sociologists or writers in your family who may have influenced your academic and scholarly pursuits. How has your family’s background or values contributed to your work as a sociologist and scholar-activist?
Great question. My mother is an K-12 educator in Philadelphia, think Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ms. Howard on Abbott elementary. I graduated from the public school district there, so if you watched the show, you can see how my educational advocacy work was immediate, pressing and most relevant. To this day, I’m still advocating for smaller class sizes, keeping art teachers and an end to leveling in a chronically underfunded predominately Black and brown school district. Educational advocacy lit the fire into larger housing issues in Philadelphia. I was mostly influenced by the neighborhood I grew up in, Mt Airy, nestled in the Northwest part of the city. It was an intentionally integrated community post WW2 with a long history of activism and tolerance. Justice was in the air. As I drove from Northwest Philly down into the Temple area, I noticed the differences block to block with regard to neighborhood inequality. Strong community engagement work on behalf of the community arts program at Temple helped me to build stronger relationships with the surrounding communities. I listened to their stories and created projects together. That started off my work as a scholar-activist.
8. Lastly, can you share any upcoming projects or research areas that you’re currently working on or excited about?
Yes! Over the past two years, I have started working on public health projects. I have been excited to work with BIPOC-led community-based organizations, families, and the Office of First Lady of New Jersey on their campaign to reduce Black maternal mortality. Racial justice and reproductive justice are at the center of that work.
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