Professors Michael Yarbrough, Jean Carmalt, and Jamie Longazel Research Diversity, Inequality, and the Law in New York City

Professors Michael Yarbrough, Jean Carmalt, and Jamie Longazel Research Diversity, Inequality, and the Law in New York City

Professors Michael Yarbrough, Jean Carmalt, and Jamie Longazel Research Diversity, Inequality, and the Law in New York City

Recently announced as one of the winners of the 2018-2019 Inaugural Presidential Student-Faculty Research Collaboration Award, Michael Yarbrough, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Jean Carmalt, Assistant Professor of Political Science; and Jamie Longazel, Associate Professor of Political Science, have started their research on a project titled “Diversity, Inequality, and the Law in the Global City of New York.” This ambitious project seeks to show students how law works in the real world. “The Presidential Research Collaboration Award will fund the first phase of a multi-stage research project, in which Law & Society majors do research in their own communities to help solve a problem they think is important,” says Yarbrough. “In the interdisciplinary field of Law & Society, social scientists, legal scholars, and others, study how law works in the real world. A lot of this research focuses on working-class communities of color—like the ones our students call home—but the research is almost always conducted by outsiders. In this research project, our students will help design and conduct the project from the ground up.”

Professor Michael Yarbrough
Professor Michael Yarbrough

“A lot of this research focuses on working-class communities of color—like the ones our students call home—but the research is almost always conducted by outsiders. In this research project, our students will help design and conduct the project from the ground up.”— Michael Yarbrough

Carmalt attributes the inspiration for this research to the students’ capstone projects. “In the Law & Society capstone course, students do an independent project on a research question of their choice. Past projects included a study of how non-Latinx undocumented immigrants manage disclosure of their status, an oral history of how the ‘dollar vans’ in West Indian communities became legal, and ethnographies of vendors selling knock-off fashion in Chinatown. In each of these projects, the student drew on their own experience and relationships to develop a project that had never been researched before,” said Carmalt. “The capstone taught us that there’s a gold mine of insight right here at John Jay that the scholarly literature desperately needs. We’re very excited to take our students’ insights out of the capstone classroom and into the pages of scholarly journals.”

Professor Jean Carmalt
Professor Jean Carmalt

“There’s a gold mine of insight right here at John Jay that the scholarly literature desperately needs. We’re very excited to take our students’ insights out of the capstone classroom and into the pages of scholarly journals.”— Jean Carmalt

Hoping to encourage the John Jay community to take part in research projects like this one, Longazel shared why collaborations like these are so important. “Students’ backgrounds of struggle and their roots in urban communities give them a perspective that is missing from current research,” said Longazel. “Our students have something very valuable to offer on their own terms. In this respect, the deficit lies in the scholarly community and our students are the solution.” Looking forward to their upcoming research, we spoke with Yarbrough, Carmalt, and Longazel, to learn more about their project and what it means to work with John Jay students.

Professor Jamie Longazel
Professor Jamie Longazel

“Students backgrounds of struggle and their roots in urban communities give them a perspective that is missing from current research and that no elite research program could ever duplicate.”—Jamie Longazel

What do you hope to accomplish with this research?
In the first stage of the research, three of our students will conduct several focus groups with over 100 Law & Society majors to learn what problems they think are the most important ones facing their communities. Once we gather and analyze that data, the student assistants will help us settle on a research question and design proposals to submit to external funders. We want students to guide the project from the very first step, and the Presidential Research Collaboration Award allows us to do that. We hope that with the submission of the proposal that we are able to help make a change in our students’ communities. 

As a College focused on justice issues, how do you hope this research will move the needle forward justice wise?
The broad theme of our project is Diversity, Inequality, and Law in the Global City of New York and the specific research question will be guided by what our students say in the focus groups. Ultimately, the project is structured around the principle that no one understands oppressive systems better than those who are oppressed by them. We might look at immigration, policing in neighborhoods, gentrification, or some other topic our students find important. But whatever the focus, by placing students at the center of the research we will involve their communities in it, while also producing breakthrough scholarly publications. We hope this project will provide a new model for Law & Society research and teaching, and create ideas for law reform that could help our students’ communities. 

What makes your approach to this research unique?
Our project is unique because we are placing working-class and immigrant students of color at the center. With about 600 majors, we are by far the largest Law & Society program in the country, and we’re the only one working with so many working-class and immigrant students of color. Nowhere else would research like this be possible in the field of Law & Society. By choosing a research question that’s important to them, designing the project in a way that serves their communities, drawing on their existing relationships to build trust with research participants, and analyzing data through the lens of their own experience, our students will open new ways of looking at the relationship between law and inequality in global cities like New York City.

Since this research will be in collaboration with students, can you tell us why students should participate?
When discussing classic texts in Law & Society with our students, it’s very common for them to say, “That happened to me.” Our students live the realities that Law & Society scholars are studying. Because of this, they bring an insight into the work that we could not get anywhere else. It also means that the work matters to them directly. They put incredible energy and empathy into their research, which makes the process a joy and the outcomes uniquely insightful.