Portrait photo: Matthew Medeiros

About.

Mahala Dyer Stewart is a visiting assistant professor at Hamilton College. Her research is focused on race, gender, and class inequalities in families and schools. Her work appears in Sociology of Race & Ethnicity, The Family Journal and Sociology Compass. She earned her doctorate degree in Sociology and her Graduate Certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies from Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, both from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Her book, Strategic Schooling: How Race, Gender and Class Shape Families’ Schooling Decisions, is forthcoming at New York University Press. The research compares the logics of Black and white mothers’ schooling choices, some of whom teach their children at home, and some send their children to public schools. Across school type, women’s narratives reflect the intensive work they do to navigate schooling options, while the meaning and experience of this work is shaped by race and their class advantage.

In an ongoing collaborative project, Stewart explores how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted families’ schooling decisions and how these decisions are shaped by gender, social class and race. The project is designed to support students in gaining research and publication experience.

Stewart is also engaged in a number of teaching and learning projects. This includes a co-authored book, The Gender Project, which is currently under contract with Oxford University Press and integrates intersectional, masculinities, transgender and global scholarship throughout the text. She is also the co-editor of the anthology, Gendered Lives, Sexual Beings (Sage Publications). The reader provides instructors with important classical and cutting-edge pieces for teaching gender and sexuality in the 21st century classroom, while the complementary website offers the most up-to-date media materials to supplement the readings. She is also co-editor of the reader, Frameworks of Inequality(Cognella Academic Publishing). The collection offers an innovative framework for teaching social inequality, while taking an intersectional approach.

Research.

Research Statement

My research focuses on the study of gender, race, and class inequalities in families. My goal is to contribute to a larger social justice project, examining how individuals understand and navigate these inequalities in their everyday lives. Beyond my book manuscript based on my dissertation, I have engaged in a number of collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects that form a full range of ongoing and future creative work.

Mothering & School Choice

I am currently working on a book project, based on my dissertation research, that compares the schooling choices of 96 Black and White mothers, with half of each group teaching their children at home and half sending them to public schools. Using in-depth interview methods, the study examines how homeschool and public school families living in the same region make the choices that they do and how their choices are linked to inequalities in schools. These choices encompass a range of options, including traditional or neighborhood public schools, private schools, charter schools and homeschools. School choice places the responsibility of selection on individual families, yet my research finds mothers’ are particularly burdened with this responsibility. Their schooling choices are shaped by racial logics, while framed as what best fits their individual child and family. This research unpacks the host of factors shaping families’ schooling choices, contributing to our understanding of how the choice to homeschool is made within broader educational contexts. To date no research has compared homeschoolers to other schooling families in the same region, or examined the impacts of local educational inequalities across these two groups. The study offers a rich comparative analysis for how school choice initiatives are understood by parents who are confronted with the same range of educational options, yet are making different choices.

Interracial Couples Residential Decisions

An ongoing study with colleague, Dr. Celeste Curington (North Carolina State University), examines how parental status, gender, and race shape interracial couples’ residential and schooling decisions. Using mixed methods with women and men involved in interracial partnerships, the study seeks to uncover how these couples negotiate decisions around residence and schooling. This investigation is particularly timely given shifting patterns of segregation.

Childfree Adults Decisions and Gender

In this project with collaborator Dr. Amy Blackstone (University of Maine), we investigate decisions of adults choosing not to have children. Using focus group data collected with childfree women and men, we examine how the childfree come to this decision, and how they navigate responses from family, friends and co-workers. Childfree adults describe their decision as a conscious one, and often one made over time through a series of influential moments that unfold across the life course. Childfree women and men understand their decisions differently. Women describe motivations that prioritize others, while men describe the decision as prioritizing themselves, something they would have to give up if they had children. These findings show the persistence of gendered cultural scripts even among those who choose to forego childrearing, a persistently gendered aspect of family life.

Wikipedia and Student Learning Outcomes

With colleague Dr. Zachary McDowell (University of Illinois), we combine mixed methods research with scholarship of teaching to assess student learning outcomes using Wikipedia assignments. Results from our survey and focus group data show that after completing Wikipedia assignments, students hold more positive views towards Wikipedia, and describe developing a range of skills. These include digital literacy, critical thinking, writing for the general public, and evaluating online sources.  Focus group data show students’ perceptions of Wikipedia became much more positive after gaining editing experience.

Publications and Media.

Books

Brown, Marni and Mahala Dyer Stewart, editors. 2019. Frameworks of Inequality: An Intersectional Reader. Cognella Academic Publishing.

inequality

Misra, Joya, Mahala Dyer Stewart and Marni Brown, editors. 2017. Gendered Lives, Sexual Beings: A Feminist Anthology. SAGE Publishing. (Complementary website)

Articles & Chapters

Forthcoming. Stewart, Mahala Dyer. “Educational Policy and Race.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology, edited by Lynette Spillman.

Forthcoming. Brown, Marni and Mahala Dyer Stewart. “Intersections of Gender, Sexuality, and Family Diversity.” Chapter in Social Studies of Gender: A Next Wave Reader edited by Christine Wood, Cognella Academic Publishing.

Vetter, Matthew, Zachary McDowell, and Mahala Dyer Stewart. 2019 “From Opportunities to Outcomes: The Wikipedia-based Writing Assignment.” Computers and Composition.

Blackstone, Amy and Mahala Dyer Stewart. 2016. “There’s More Thinking to Decide”: How the Childfree Decide Not to Parent.” The Family Journal 24(3):296-303.

Stewart, Mahala Dyer and Naomi Gerstel. 2016. “Family Care Policies.”  In The Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging, edited by Susan Krauss Whitbourne.

Blackstone, Amy and Mahala Dyer Stewart. 2012. “Choosing to Be Childfree: Research on the Decision not to Parent.” Sociology Compass 6:718-727.

Work in Progress

Stewart, Mahala Dyer. Strategic Schooling: How Race and Gender Shape Families’ Schooling Decisions. (Book manuscript in preparation for review.)

Stewart, Mahala Dyer. “’You’re Really Targeting My Kids For No Reasons’: Racial Differences in Black and White Mothers’ Schooling Logics.” (Article under review.)

Stewart, Mahala Dyer. “Mothering as Cultural Transmission: A Content Analysis of Parenting Magazines.” (Article in preparation.)

Teaching.

Teaching philosphy

My approach to undergraduate teaching rests on the idea that students learn sociological concepts, theories, and research methods best through active engagement with material that is made applicable to their everyday lives. I structure my courses around a variety of assignments that complement my teaching goals. I vary the format of class time, using small group activities and projects, structured classroom discussions, and guest speakers to complement the material that I present through mini-lectures. I also find incorporating media – including films, podcasts, video clips or blog pieces – serve as a catalyst for lively discussion and thoughtful written assignments. Students report this approach inspires real interest in the subject, and results in engaged learning.

Courses

The Family

Course Description: This course examines how sociologists’ study families and the varied meanings, needs and functions of families as seen across time and place. We begin by studying the history of families and meanings that exist around what constitutes family. Next we consider varied formations that contemporary families take, moving into a discussion of intimate relationships and marriage as one point around which some families form. From there we examine various modes and approaches to the reproduction of future generations. We then consider dynamics and experiences of parents and children, ending the course by considering how families form, transform, or end, across the life course. Throughout the class we pay particular attention to how gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality, shape family life. We examine how notions of families are tied to inequalities that are created and recreated through various social institutions such as schools, work, media and the state. The primary focus of the course is to examine how contemporary families are studied, and the connection between families and inequalities.

Data Collection and Analysis

Course Description: This class introduces you to research design in sociology. We start by considering the types of questions relevant for sociological inquiry and the relevant method for data collection. We examine a range of approaches for collecting sociological data including interviews, observations, field methods, and surveys. This course introduces the strengths and drawbacks of these research methods, while learning to assess reliability and validity of data. We consider ethical concerns that arise through social science research, while learning to situate studies within existing scholarship. We trace the steps of research design, from sampling, coding, and analysis, to the reporting of findings. A primary course theme is the connection between power and knowledge production. For example, what is the relationship between the research questions being asked and their impact on those being studied? We close the course by exploring various ways that sociologists’ report research, and how this is shaped by the intended audience.

Race, Gender, Class & Ethnicity

Course Description: This course explores how sociologists’ study social inequalities related to race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality. We begin by exploring how these identities are experienced in people’s everyday lives. Next, we examine how these identities are constructed and maintained through dominant institutions, from families, schools, and workplaces, to the media, and state. We close out the course by considering creative solutions that work to end inequalities as seen through resistance and social change efforts. Throughout we will explore the significance of these categories within the different contexts of our lives.

Gender & Writing

Course Description: This course develops students writing through developing their ability to articulate complex sociological ideas and concepts in clear and persuasive writing. By learning to frame written work for varied audiences, including academics and non-academics, students develop communication skills that prepare them for a range of careers. They develop these skills through the sociological study of gender. The course begins with an examination of prominent sociological gender theory, before moving through five topical areas within the field: (1) bodies, identities, and culture, (2) families and intimate relationships, (3) work and employment, (4) social control and violence, and (5) politics and social change. Across units, we pay particular attention to ways that gender intersects with other locations and identities such as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and citizenship. We examine how gender is socially constructed, and how meanings have changed over time, within the United States and transnationally. This includes considering important developments within the field related to transgender and masculinity studies.

The Family

Course Description: This course examines how sociologists’ study families and the varied meanings, needs and functions of families as seen across time and place. We begin by studying the history of families and meanings that exist around what constitutes family. Next we consider varied formations that contemporary families take, moving into a discussion of intimate relationships and marriage as one point around which some families form. From there we examine various modes and approaches to the reproduction of future generations. We then consider dynamics and experiences of parents and children, ending the course by considering how families form, transform, or end, across the life course. Throughout the class we pay particular attention to how gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality, shape family life. We examine how notions of families are tied to inequalities that are created and recreated through various social institutions such as schools, work, media and the state. The primary focus of the course is to examine how contemporary families are studied, and the connection between families and inequalities.

Courses Assisted

Gender and Difference, Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies 

Gender and Asian America, Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies

The Family, Sociology Department

Introduction to Sociology, Sociology Department

Social Class Inequality, Sociology Department

Race, Gender, Class & Ethnicity, Sociology Department

Contact.