Don C. Sawyer III, Ph.D.

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Summary of Scholarship

My lived experiences as a Black male, father, husband, mentor, educator, and scholar have played a major role in determining my academic and research focus. When I see news footage and statistics about young Black men going to prison, I see myself. When I see young Black boys wandering aimlessly in the streets because schools have failed them, I see myself. When I see stories of young Black men being killed in the streets, I see myself. In all of these instances, I know that I could have been one of them. My research in communities of color is not just about gathering data for the sake of publishing, but rather me using my resources and capital in an attempt to positively impact society through research driven social change. Dedication to a community-centered approach is what guides my research choices.

Although I am trained as a sociologist, my research (and teaching) is interdisciplinary and draws from and contributes to multiple areas of inquiry.  My main research interests are: urban education, prisoner reentry, hip-hop culture, race/critical race theory, qualitative methodology, visual sociology, and critical media literacy.  These areas inform my current research on youth culture and the experiences of underrepresented populations in education and urban communities. In the early stages of my academic career I have been accumulating a body of research that focuses on Black and Latino males in urban schools, prisoner reentry, hip-hop culture, and youth resistance. 

Current Scholarship

Urban Education: I am currently working on a project at a local high school where we are using hip-hop culture to (re)engage Black and Latino males with school.  Many of the young men were on the verge of dropping (being pushed) out, but returned to school when the assistant principal and I collaborated to create an in-school hip-hop program.  The research portion of the project is a qualitative investigation of the social and academic experiences of 15 Black and Latino males participating in the program.  I am conducting participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and photo-elicitation interviews (PEI).  I use multiple methods in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the lived experiences of the young men in this study.

Prisoner Reentry: I am currently collaborating with a colleague on a research project focusing on Black and Latino men reentering society after serving time in prison.  The project focuses on their reentry experiences with employment, training, housing, reconnecting with family, fatherhood, etc.  We are conducting participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and photo-elicitation interviews (PEI).  This work centers the voices of an often marginalized and misunderstood population.

Black Male College Experiences:  I am collaborating on a project with a colleague in California focusing on the experiences of Black males at private, predominately white institutions (PWI).  The goals of this study are to examine the life and educational histories of Black men, focusing on factors contributing to or impeding their educational success.

Future Scholarship

Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to do exploratory travel to the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Cuba.  During these trips, I have worked with local residents and organizations to develop university-community partnerships to address community needs/concerns.  In addition, I’ve been able to begin the process of examining race, education, incarceration, and hip-hop on an international scale.  Ultimately, I want to expand my research goals and objectives and continue to examine complex issues of race, culture, inequality, and education, both domestically and globally.  My research projects will provide ample opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to be engaged in collaborative sociological research and practice.