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CELTSS discusses faculty contributions to ‘Families as They Really Are’

By Jack McLaughlin

Arts & Features Editor


The Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, Scholarship, and Service (CELTSS) met to discuss contributions made to the book “Families as They Really Are” on Zoom Feb. 6. 


The event, which was co-sponsored by both the Education and Sociology & Criminology Departments, began with May Hara, a professor of education and director of CELTSS, introducing the four professors of Sociology & Criminology who contributed to the book. 


Hara first introduced Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, interim chair of the Sociology & Criminology Department. His accomplishments include two published books, over 25 scholarly articles, and his appearance on the documentary series “Forensic Files II.”


Patricia Sánchez-Connally was introduced second. Hara described her research as being focused “on ways that communities of color create different forms of capital to resist racism, discrimination, and oppression.”


Beth Whalley was the next person introduced by Hara. Whalley’s accomplishments include published research on incarcerated women’s mental health and sexual trauma, prison abolition, and institutional sexual assault response. 


Virginia Rutter was the final person introduced. Although recently retired in 2022, Rutter still teaches courses at Framingham State related to families and research methods. She continues to do research, now in Washington, D.C. 


Rutter began the discussion by thanking Luis Rodriguez for his contribution to the event’s poster, which was based on the cover of the book. 


Talking about the book, Rutter explained that it was written “to help our students dig deeply into family diversity and change - turns out that it’s not just students but members of our community, our families, and friends are very interested in the content of the book.”


Rutter discussed a chapter she wrote for the book, “The Case For Divorce.” She wanted to share from this section because it “gives you an inkling of the approach and opportunity of the book,” she said. 


She then shared a figure that showed the divorce rate over the last few hundred years. Although still a large number, the figure showed that the rate has been steadily declining since the 1980s. 


This led to discussing how the topic of divorce should be handled with a particular nuance. 


“When I started this work two decades ago, there was an industry of bad social science research growing up around avoiding this fact, and touting the case for marriage,” Rutter said. 


“The simplest takeaway is that when families are distressed or highly conflictual, divorce is better than staying together. Better for the adults, better for the children.”


Rutter made the point that extending the case for divorce is not to just rebut divorce shame, but to also rebut shame on other types of family structures, in particular single-parent families. 


“Family structure shaming has frequently been a not-so-lowkey dog whistle for shaming and blaming people of color, especially Black women, for barriers set up for them,” she said. 


Sánchez-Connally was next to speak, and she first began by discussing what drew her to want to contribute to this project. She was approached by Rutter who was interested in having a variety of different topics in the book.


“Virginia said ‘We’d like to diversify the topics of the book and provide the opportunity for folks to learn more about different communities,’” she said. 


Sánchez-Connally’s contribution to the book included her experiences while working on her dissertation. This included interviewing immigrant high school students. She noticed a primary source of motivation for them was to repay the sacrifices their parents made by staying in school. 


“I ended up writing a bit about how students would retell the story of their parents’ journey to the United States, and in that way they would recreate a frame of reference between their native country and the United States,” she said. 


She explained that creating the frame of reference for students was important, and most of the students she interviewed would talk about it. 


“This work seemed significant for the book, because I wanted to highlight the contributions that immigrant families make when it comes to helping students succeed,” she said. 


Guadalupe-Diaz spoke next about how his research in intimate partner violence in LGBTQ+ relationships has led him to doing more work with family scholars, despite not identifying as a family scholar. 


“But of course, studying family violence is kind of how I came into the mix here,” he said. 


He described his contribution to the book as “an angle that looks at the social conditions that foster or really create opportunities for abuse and violence between partners.


“Invariably, power seems to be an aspect of all of our relationships, for better and for worse. And sometimes that power can be leveraged against a partner's vulnerabilities, trapping partners to control them, their lives, and who they are,” he added.


He continued to discuss relationship violence by explaining data shows partners known to transgender people are amongst the main perpetrators of this type of violence. 


Guadalupe-Diaz’s research showed how abusive partners of transgender people exploit vulnerabilities caused by the trans-antagonistic culture present in our society. 


“Abusive partners can latch onto those sights of vulnerability and really make violence happen in a way that entraps our queer and trans friends and family members,” he said. 


Rutter recollected editing Guadalupe-Diaz’s chapters, recalling the details made when discussing feminist history as fantastic. 


Next, Whalley spoke about how they decided on the topic for the chapter she wrote. Her research primarily focuses on sexual violence, specifically institutional responses to them. 


She described feeling excited about the chance of expanding this toward family literature, mentioning how her and Guadalupe-Diaz have published work together about sexual violence within the queer community. 


Whalley mentioned how when discussing family sexual violence, looking at it through only sexual abuse toward children or marital rape is a “restrictive way to think about sexual violence that happens between partners.


“It really relies on understanding family as part of the state, through the institution of marriage, or through legal adoption, or through genetics and biology,” she said. 


She talked about the chapter she wrote for the book, which asked, “If family sexual violence is distinguished by this betrayal of trust and safety, how do the limitations that we place on our understanding of family restrict this understanding of the harm of sexual violence and the response to it?” 


To answer this question, she expands the understanding of family by including queer communities and chosen families, and by giving a deeper meaning to violence in queer relationships. 


Through her research, she discovered that chosen families, or kinships, have been around since the Middle Ages, and the contemporary LGBTQ+ community adopted them. 


“However, specific to queer communities, this familial language is tied back to gay men’s culture in New York, especially in ballroom culture,” she said, explaining how this became popular in recent years. 


Whalley said she wanted the important takeaway for her chapter to be “What do we do with the expanded definition of family and queer sexual violence?”


Following a Q&A, Hara concluded the event by expressing gratitude to her fellow colleagues for their contributions to the book. 


“I feel really lucky to be colleagues with the folks on this panel, to be part of this community,” she said. 

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