Faculty Research Projects

Portland State's Black Studies Department has a distinguished faculty who specialize in various fields from psychology to history to urban development. Areas of specialization do not only range in subject matter, but in their regional focus as well. The Black Studies Department covers areas of African, Caribbean and African-American issues.

In addition to teaching, faculty are involved in a variety of research projects. The courses faculty teach are oftentimes very closely connected to their research. Faculty have a diverse range of interests that lead them into activities in their professional disciplines and in the community. Below are just some of the research projects of our faculty.


Caged Women: Incarceration, Representation, and Media

Dr. Shirley A. Jackson and co-author Dr. Laurie Gordy (Newbury College) have just completed an interdisicplinary edited book on the lives of incarcerated women. Initially stemming from their interest as fans of the series and their work as sociologists, this work consists of original essays by faculty, practitioners, and graduate students. The book was published June 2018 by Routledge under its Sociology Rewired series.  Check it out on the Routledge publishing site.


Complexion and Phenotype in the Lives of African Descendant Males in the Portland Metro Area

Dr. Ethan Johnson (and Christopher Potts, graduate student at U of Oregon)

This research project examines the role of complexion and phenotype in the lives of Black males in Portland, Oregon in the areas of education, family, romance, friendships, and work.  Skin complexion and phenotype have been shown to have a significant impact on many aspects of the lives of people of African descent in the United States, including job placement, earnings, relationships (romantic and friendships), academic achievement and self-concept.  Simultaneously, for many Black people, feelings related to perceived self-worth, intelligence, success, and attractiveness have been shown to be shaped by skin complexion, broadness of the nose, and texture of hair (Hall, 1992; Neal & Wilson, 1989).

The Portland Metro Area presents an attractive location in which to examine the role of complexion and phenotype in Black males because research demonstrates that there are regional variations in the United States in the ways that people of African descent experience complexion, phenotype, and related identity practices (Johnson and Hunte 2010).  Results from past studies show that skin tone significantly impacts life outcomes for African American males and females.  Studies are consistent in showing that overall, darker-skinned Black people attain less years of schooling, have lower levels of income, and have lower self-concept and feelings of lower self-efficacy (Bond & Cash, 1992; Boyd- Franklin, 1991; Neal &Wilson, 1989; Thompson & Keith, 2004).

This project explores the role of complexion and phenotype in multiple facets of Black males' lives in the Portland Metro Area.  How do they make meaning of their complexion? What protective elements (i.e., friends, family, media, and education) exist to help Black males navigate their experiences? The primary question I am attempting to answer through the interviews is, how does complexion and phenotype shape the lives of college age males of African descent in the Portland Metro Area? This research is important because there is a paucity of scholarship regarding the role of complexion and phenotype in the lives of Black males in Portland, Oregon.  To date the PIs for this project have found no published studies examining the role of complexion and phenotype in the lives of Black people in the Northwest region of the United States. Additionally, the experience and knowledge gained from this study will increase the PI’s visibility as scholars whose research focuses on the experiences of Black people in the Portland Metro Area.


Art Book: black girls: an archive

Dr. Derrais Carter received a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) in May 2018, for his project black girls: using archives, poetry, and visual art by black women to challenge historical narratives and ways black girls have been sexually exploited in the name of science and photography.  According to the RACC, their "project grants provide financial support for individual artists and nonprofit organizations, and align with RACC’s goal of advancing the region’s access to a wide range of arts and culture" (https://racc.org/2018/05/29/88-local-artists-and-arts-organizations-awar...). 


Indigenous Food Traditions

Dr. Ferbel-Azcarate conducts interdisciplinary research on Indigenous maize food traditions and yuca and casabe complexes from the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, as well as contemporary food systems. With a company he co-founded in 2012 (www.threesisterspdx.com), he is the principal investigator in an applied study of corn production, sourcing, trade, and the manufacture and distribution of corn masa and tortillas. In this capacity, he also advises and mentors small businesses in the Portland area. Pedro also works on topics of racism and racial identity, with a focus on the Afro-Latino Caribbean.  

Pedro is also conducting long-distance email interviews with Cuban espiritist/muertero, Juan Gonzalez Perez (Madelaine), in anticipation of travel to Cuba in 2019.