Sociology - Congello, Kunkel, and Ferguson

Jacq Congello, Prof. Ronald Ferguson, and Prof. Char Kunkel

Research Project: Racial Attitudes and Actions in Olmsted County

Jacq Congello, Major: Sociology

Ronald Ferguson, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Char Kunkel, Professor of Sociology

About the Project

In 1990, the Diversity Council commissioned a Racial Attitudes and Actions Survey in Olmsted County, Minnesota. “I replicated this study for the Diversity Council in 2006,” Kunkel says. “We found that racial attitudes toward blacks were increasingly negative on seven of 10 questions. In addition, we found little integration or interaction between whites and people of color. Finally, anti-immigrant attitudes were common.”

Kunkel, Ferguson, and Congello received a grant from Luther through the Margaret Cargill Foundation to replicate this study again in 2016. “This year we shortened the survey to five pages, added on online option, and offered an incentive to increase participation rates,” Kunkel says. “The survey was just mailed, and we’re excited to begin analysis of the data because Olmsted County continues to grow and diversify.”

This year’s survey is being sent to a random sample of 2,500 residents of Olmsted County. In addition, Congello, Kunkel, and Ferguson will conduct three or four focus groups targeting community organizations of color to supplement the survey data and capture the attitudes of communities of color, which are historically underrepresented. “The reason the focus groups are needed is because in the 2006 survey, there was a very low number of respondents of color,” Congello says. “Results will be analyzed, and everyone involved in the research hopes to publish articles about our findings.”

What Was Most Challenging about the Project?

Congello’s biggest challenge has been determining how to apply the findings in different ways. “Instead of limiting the results and inferring that they only show the change in attitudes and actions over time, I would like to study the variance in attitudes and actions among people of color,” she says. “This requires taking the data and not only comparing it to the previously collected data, but seeing what else it’s able to tell us.”

Congello feels that the overall value of this research lies in comparing and understanding differences in attitudes and actions toward immigrants. “My analysis of horizontal hostility requires taking a project designed for one purpose and being able to interpret it a different way,” she says. “I believe that racial issues are everywhere, not just limited to Olmsted County, and there are more problems than the public understands. Race is not a black-and-white issue. It’s inclusive of all.”

Ferguson feels the most challenging aspect of the project was creating a research plan that would yield the highest participant response rate. “Research studies on racial attitudes have traditionally resulted in low response rates, but our desire is to have a robust and representative sample of respondents from the county. We went to great lengths in our design to ensure this occurs in our study.”

The challenges Kunkel recalls relate to developing the survey itself. “We’ve encountered difficulties with getting access to public residential data to create a random sample, choosing which questions to keep on the survey and which to delete, and determining the logistics of copying and mailing mass quantities of paper,” she says. “Overall, we feel privileged to conduct the study and collect such significant data given social politics of the day.”  

Most Compelling Discovery

Congello finds it fascinating that immigration is another form of racism, as shown by Kunkel’s 2006 survey. “Immigrants of color received overall negative attitudes and actions from others, while immigrants who were considered ‘white’ did not receive the same,” she says. “It was also interesting to see that a lot of people voiced that they believed they were racially progressive, but their actions did not reflect their beliefs. Their actions suggested there was no racial progression.” She found the 2006 results really intriguing, and she’s excited to see what the 2016 results show in this area.

Having Jacq involved in the research is significant because she’s learning collaboration, seeing firsthand the complications and successes of social research, and is being professionalized in the discipline. She has been indispensable to us in learning Qualtrics survey applications and methods.

—Char Kunkel

This research has shown me that I’m truly passionate about seeing sociology and social inequalities, as well as sharing my knowledge with others. Through this project, I’ve learned that I have the power to raise awareness and make change.

—Jacq Congello