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Lauren Valentino joined UNC Sociology as an Assistant Professor at the start of 2024. Previously, Lauren earned her PhD in Sociology from Duke University, served as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, and was an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Ohio State University. Lauren’s research interests include culture, cognition, stratification and inequality. UNC graduate student Savannah Salato interviews Dr. Valentino below.

What have you found the most challenging and rewarding about your transition to UNC?

It was challenging for me to join in January, which is a bit unusual as far as an academic position is concerned. So, I think that’s been my biggest challenge, starting in the middle of the school year. Also, it’s less fun starting a new job in the winter, so I’m really excited for spring! It has been amazing to come back to this area, and I’m a native North Carolinian so I’m very excited to be back in North Carolina. I was familiar with UNC’s department when I was in graduate school at Duke, and I’ve always admired the people here. There are so many incredible researchers here doing such high-level work, so now being apart of this department is really a dream come true.

How is it being at UNC now instead of Duke?

I don’t know, but I will say that last night, I was walking downtown to pick up my takeout for dinner, and all these people were honking at me and they seemed really angry! I thought, “What is going on?” And then I realized I had thrown on my Duke sweatshirt, and that’s why everyone was honking at me! People here take those things very seriously…

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a number of projects. One of them is a very large, multi-method project trying to understand the cultural meanings that Americans attach to words like racism, sexism, and classism. We’re interested in the heterogeneity in how these concepts are understood, and also the social patterning behind them. We use a mix of methods in this project, such as interviews, to inductively understand the way people think and talk about these terms in their everyday lives. Then we took some examples people gave and we tested them in a survey experimental framework using nationally representative data. In that project, we show how different definitions of things like racism, sexism, and classism are related to policy preferences, such as people’s views on affirmative action, for instance. But, these definitions are also related to things like self-rated health, because we know discrimination and health are tightly linked. Through this project, we are able to shed light on how the appraisal process in particular plays a role in the discrimination-to-health pathway.

When you are not conducting research, how do you like to spend your free time?

Well, once I get settled in and have free time, I’m really into yoga. I love cooking, and I really like to travel as well. I do a lot of international traveling.

What’s your favorite place you’ve been abroad?

I went to Thailand two years ago, and I really loved it. I’m so jealous of all the people in our department that work in Thailand!

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