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The Russell Sage Foundation has awarded Professor of Sociology Catherine Simpson Bueker, Ph.D. a grant of $68,720 for her project “Beyond White Picket Fences: How Established Residents Experience Increasing Diversity."

Bueker, whose research centers on the ways in which people engage civically and politically in American society, has focused on the political incorporation of immigrants, via citizenship acquisition and voter turnout, as well as how native-born Americans engage.

In this project, she examines the multidirectional ways in which different groups influence each other. “The great majority of immigration research has focused on how immigrants are influenced by and become assimilated to American society,” Bueker says. “Although there are theories about the two-way process, there is little empirical work out there to test this theory of ‘neo-assimilation.’”

The overarching objective of “Beyond White Picket Fences,” Bueker notes, is to better understand how established Americans—those who are born in the United States to US-born parents—are impacted by increasing diversity. The project is situated in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a town twelve miles west of Boston with a population of approximately 30,000. In 1970, the town was 99% white, but dropped to 73% non-Hispanic White in the 2020 Census.

It is particularly important to examine these questions within the context of a highly-resourced community, Bueker notes in her proposal, for while the percentage of established residents may be in decline, such individuals, organizations and communities continue to hold outsized power within society, and thus play a critical role in incorporating new Americans.

To date, Bueker has completed more than 50 in-depth interviews with lifelong residents and community leaders of Wellesley, conducted hours of participant observation and begun to gather and analyze archival data from local newspapers, all of which will allow for an examination of the impact of immigrants at various levels—the individual level, the organizational or institutional level, and the community level.

In addition to exploring the extent to which these influences flow both ways across group borders, I am also interested in determining whether there is an inflection point, a point at which we see processes and practices moving from ‘ethnic’ to ‘mainstream. Thus far, I have found some evidence of the cross-over effect in terms of food, language and politics.

Catherine Simpson Bueker, Ph.D.

Bueker hopes the project will contribute to the domain of academic research by lessening the gap between the theoretical and the empirical, as well as the realm of public policy, as the responses from individuals and local organizations will increase our understanding of the role they place in the process of incorporating new immigrants into their communities.

One of the oldest American foundations, the Russell Sage Foundation was established by Mrs. Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907 for “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.” In its early years the foundation undertook major projects in low-income housing, urban planning, social work, and labor reform. The foundation now dedicates itself to strengthening the methods, data, and theoretical core of the social sciences as a means of diagnosing social problems and improving social policies. It also funds researchers at other institutions and supports programs intended to develop new generations of social scientists.