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Regina Baker joined UNC Sociology as an Associate Professor in Fall 2023. Prior to joining the department, she was an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD in Sociology from Duke University in 2015.

Recently, PhD Student Kallan Larsen spoke with Dr. Baker about her transition to Carolina.


Kallan: How has your transition to Chapel Hill been?

Regina: Well, I’ve moved three times since July, so it’s been a little chaotic, but aside from the physical moving part, it’s been good! I’m originally from the South, so it’s been refreshing to come back here from Pennsylvania. The people here at UNC have been warm and welcoming. It’s nice to be closer to family. All of that has made the transition a little easier.

Kallan: What has been the most challenging part?

Regina: The stress of moving and adjusting.  Although I am somewhat familiar with the Triangle because I went to grad school at Duke, a lot has changed since I graduated almost a decade ago!  I also didn’t come to Chapel Hill much back then, so I am trying to adjust to being in a different place and learn my way around. Also, with a different institution comes a different set of rules, guidelines, and norms to get used to. Additionally, I have a seven-year-old, and transitions can be hard for kids. Just trying to navigate all that, on top of having to get unpacked and settled is challenging.

Kallan: What has been the most rewarding part?

Regina: Getting to return home to the South and work at UNC. Being part of a strong and collegial sociology department as well as having access to other great entities on campus that are relevant to my work, such as the Carolina Population Center, the Center for the Study of the American South and the Southern Historical Collection at the Wison Library. Then there’s the personal side of things – being close to family and getting to see my son and niece play and grow together, being in a warmer climate, and being able to get around with ease. The first time we were on the road here, my son asked, “Mommy! Where are all the cars?”  And when we drove to UNC from my sister’s house in Durham, he was amazed that the GPS indicated it would take 25 minutes to drive 20 miles, and said, “Mommy, how are we going that many miles in 25 minutes? Because back in Philadelphia, it took like 20 minutes to go to my school, and that was only 4 miles!” I know people here are complaining about traffic getting worse, but it’s nothing compared to bumper-to-bumper, heavy Philly traffic, so that has been a nice change! Overall, to say it more concisely, working in a great department at a great public university, in an area that I love and call home, and being close to family is like hitting the lottery in terms of academic jobs because it’s hard to find all of those. So, being able to check all those boxes is really rewarding.

Kallan: Thank you. What you said about the traffic is funny! What projects are you working on that you’re excited about?

Regina: I’m especially excited about expanding my work on institutional and historical mechanisms of inequality. For instance, in my prior work, I conceptualized and constructed a state-level historical racial regime (HRR) measure that reflects slavery and Jim Crow and demonstrated the link between HRR and Black poverty and the racial gap in poverty within the South. Now, I am eager to examine a finer-grained geographical scale and use North Carolina as a case study to demonstrate the salience of place-based, historical racism for contemporary socioeconomic and health outcomes and disparities across counties. I am also excited about my other ongoing/new projects examining disparities across race and/or place as they pertain to child poverty, socioeconomic mobility, the union wage premium, and mortality.

Kallan: When you are not transitioning or working on research, how do you spend your free time?

Regina: Aside from just getting my house together (I love organizing and decorating), I enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends. I love music and shows, and I’m so excited about getting concert tickets to see Usher! It’s also been nice having more outdoor/green space to enjoy, especially with my son, because in Philadelphia we only had a patch of grass for a yard. I also enjoy listening to audiobooks and exploring recipes in my new kitchen.

Kallan: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Regina: Overall, I’m just excited to be here and be in this space. Being from the South, I especially look forward to expanding my work on the South and having opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and students here in the South.

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