Congratulations to Brandi Perri, the 2020 Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship Awardee and to Sandra Portocarerro, the 2020 Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship Honorable Mention Awardee
Celebrate with Brandi and Sandra and the 2020 Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship Subcommittee on July 13, 2020 at 1:00 pm Eastern Time.
Please Click HERE to Register for the Awards Presentation
Photo of Brandi Perri
This year’s Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship Award winner is Brandi Perri. Brandi is a self-described third-generation janitor who has overcome enormous personal challenges to become a rising sociology star and exemplary teacher and mentor. Brandi had two unsuccessful attempts at starting college before she attended Austin Community College (ACC). At ACC, Brandi found connection with other students who, like herself, were working full time even as they yearned to learn. She also encountered a faculty member who, despite Brandi’s struggles with her coursework, “never made me feel like a D student.” Instead, Brandi recounts, she “made me feel like a valued student, even if I was not a model student.” Like Brandi, her professor was juggling multiple jobs, even as she worked at ACC. Previously, it had not occurred to Brandi that someone with a similar background could pursue a position in academia.
Inspired to tap into her own potential and consider new possibilities, Brandi transferred to SUNY Purchase to finish her Bachelor’s degree. At SUNY Purchase, Brandi discovered sociology. Using her new insights and methodological tools, she could finally explore the questions of identity and inequality that fascinated and challenged her. Brandi quickly recognized that the approach of intersectionality was central to both her life and to her research. Brandi’s teaching and research agendas are guided by two central questions: “How do our intersectional identities shape how we interact with the world around us? And what does this tell us about inequality?”
Pursuing a doctoral degree in Sociology at UMass Amherst has allowed Brandi to delve deeply into these questions. Her dissertation “Born to the Broom: The Relationship between Identity Work among Janitors” “considers how the interactions among a diverse janitorial crew at a public school reflect the larger institutional environment when services are being privatized.” Her central research questions are: (1) What are the day-to-day experiences of janitors in educational institutions? (2) Through what processes are social boundaries produced and maintained among janitors? and (3) How do janitors’ experiences and relationships with each other in the workplace reflect the political climate within the educational system, their union, and the larger culture? To explore these questions, Brandi is collecting ethnographic data, conducting interviews, and performing content analysis of formal documents from unions and the corporation. Her work builds on previous research on service work but importantly, considers how race, gender, and social class inform experiences in this “invisible” profession. Impressively, Brandi has already spent over 2000 hours working on-site with the janitorial crew and completed fifteen interviews. She is well on her way to completing her dissertation, and also has multiple publications under review.
In addition to her innovative and important research agenda, Brandi is an exceptionally committed teacher. In fact, she has won multiple awards in recognition of her teaching, including the SAGE Teaching Innovation Award. During her time at UMass Amherst she has been recognized with both the Best Teaching Award (2019) and Best Teaching Assistant Award (2018). As Brandi notes, when she decided to pursue a Ph.D., she vowed to use her education to make campus experiences more accessible for working-class students, through teaching and mentorship. She has already designed and taught ten classes at UMass Amherst and Greenfield Community College. She uses her own experiences as a queer student from a working-class background to inform her pedagogy. Brandi supports her students as they guide one another through deeper explorations of the course materials. Using her own experiences as a framework and example, she encourages her students to think critically about their own experiences and biases in relation to the narratives and research they analyze.
Brandi’s teaching, research, and mentorship truly embody the spirit of Beth Hess. We have no doubt that Brandi, like Beth, will change lives, inspire the next generation of sociologists, and engage in activism and research that will erode deep social inequalities. We are delighted to honor her and her work with the 2020 Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship.