As a college student, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Teresa Gonzales kept noticing strange changes to her Chicago neighborhood, Pilsen, while home during breaks.
Then she learned it had a name: gentrification, and she began research into a topic that she is still exploring today.
“That’s what got me interested in sociology,” Gonzales said.
Through the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship and her junior faculty leave, Gonzales now has a chance to spend an entire year studying gentrification and grassroots movements.
Gonzales learned she had been awarded the fellowship on Feb. 10. The fellowship is given out by the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation to junior faculty for a year of research in their third year at their institution.
Gonzales’ research focuses on the New Communities Program, which has given funds to 16 Chicago neighborhoods for community development. Within the program, she has focused on the Little Village and Greater Englewood neighborhoods.
“Both of these neighborhoods have been historically disenfranchised in terms of political involvement and representation, but then also economic disenfranchisement,” Gonzales said.
Senior Karina Martinez has transcribed interviews for Gonzales. She described the project as looking at the connections, or lack thereof, between community organizations.
“A comment [Gonzales] made to me, as she was clarifying things that she was transcribing, that it shows the lack of connection between these organizations sometimes, because she gets different information from different organizations when she asks, and sometimes the information doesn’t follow through,” Martinez said.
The project has close ties to Gonzales’ life. The fellowship includes a mentorship program, and Gonzales will work with her first Sociology professor from her undergraduate studies.
“I took my first sociology course with him, and now I’m working with him to write my book, which is really cool,” she said.
The neighborhoods she is working with also have a personal connection. Gonzales’ family lived in Little Village when she was born, and she grew up in Pilsen, an adjoining neighborhood. She first became interested in looking at redevelopment initiatives, or gentrification, while an undergraduate.
While working toward her master’s at University of California, Berkeley, she focused her research on gentrification and its effects on small businesses. Her early research used more literature-based approaches, but her current methods have shifted towards sociology.
“I started seeing some of the contradictions with the aim of the [New Communities Program] and then what was happening on the ground. Some of the tensions, but then also some of the possibilities with this kind of program,” Gonzales said.
Junior Karla Medina is helping Gonzales with her research, by looking at what the New Communities Project has planned in the neighborhoods and if the communities are reaching those goals.
“I’m looking at these plans, trying to summarize how they went about it, and basically seeing what they were able to implement and what organizations took lead in that and were involved,” Medina said.
Next year, Gonzales plans to use her junior leave as a non-tenured faculty member and use the entire year for research.
The Fellowship has requirements beyond being used in the fourth year at an institution. Fellows must also have connections to racial and ethnic issues, and be involved in combating connected social issues.
“It’s not just about your research, but your commitment to eradicating primarily racial and ethnic barriers at your institution,” she said.