About the Researcher

The Basics:

Name:  Julia Rivard Wessel, but you can call me Claire.

Status: Junior at University of South Dakota

Life: An awesome husband, Lee Wessel, and my eternally interesting children – Crimson (9), Réjeanne (3 yr), and Cyrus (1 yr). I’m also a birthmom to Kellie (15) but I can’t take the credit for the beautiful person she is becoming.  I’m also a Mormon Democrat, which is mighty rare. A fellow Mormon Democrat, Mo Udall, once said, “I’m a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona and you can’t have a higher handicap than that.” Support your local underdog!

It is said that all researchers bring their biases to their work, whether by trying to overcompensate or by the bias coloring the work. I think it is imperative to leave as much of that at the door as possible and just let the data speak for itself. With that said, I believe I come to the table with a unique set of life experiences which most likely will color my research now and in the future.

The first thing I should bring up here, I’m a white chick living in the Midwest. What in the world do I care about educational inequality or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

While I’ve always been white and female, the Midwest digs are a new development. I was born in Chino, California to a single mother who worked herself into disability by caretaking race and show horses. We moved to Duarte, California when I was six years old. I was a screwed up, latch key kid with a high IQ and no supervision. I spent elementary school throwing my grades to try to not get beat up and spent junior high fighting back at everyone. At the time I lived in Duarte (better known as Duroc), it had the distinction of being second to last in school performance in the entire state. The only school worse than ours was Centennial High in Compton. I’d like to point out that Duarte High was recently listed in Newsweek as a top school! I call that proof that ANY school can be turned around!

Anyways, like many people I grew up with, I was a bit of a delinquent, spent time on the streets and couch surfing, didn’t have an iota of family support or guidance and made my own way.  Out of the kids I went to school with in Duarte (Class of 1993), we’ve had  some death, a few in prison, two who went to the NFL, some who went to top colleges and have professional careers, a herd in community colleges, teen moms who are GREAT moms, and of course, a rock star. More than anything, Duarte taught us how to get along with anyone, no matter race or beliefs. It was also a shared experience. I think most of us would agree it was rough, but I doubt we’d trade it for anything else. As a result, I believe we are all people, all equal, and all Americans. I believe deeply in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream and I don’t believe we are there yet.

Secondly, you will not be seeing the phrase “African-American” unless it is stated that way in the research data. Barring a sense of obligation to do so for statistical accuracy, I’m not a fan of that phrase. I grew up in a neighborhood that was predominately Black and Latino, those are generally the terms I stick to. If someone bigger than me pushes for some PC language, I’ll probably end up giving in. I’m a sell-out like that.

As a political aside, Malcolm X advocated for the use of Afro-American so I’ll do my best to use that if someone asks me to be a little more PC. Unfortunately, due to that vintage hairdo by a similar name, most people probably wouldn’t find Afro-American to be PC, which is a shame because Malcolm X was an amazing man and deserves the honor of keeping the phrase in usage.

Finally, this bias may or may not apply to this research, but I ask different questions. Anytime I read someone else’s work or see data someone else has collected, I generally come away wondering why certain questions were not asked. During my college career at a standard “fresh out of high school” four year campus here at USD, I’ve discovered I have a very unique perspective. I’ve always been an observer of social interactions and family interactions. This observational tendency, coupled with being the homeless kid on someone’s couch for much of my teenage years, has given me an insight not available to the vast majority of researchers. People aren’t on good behavior in front of the couch girl who is relying on good graces to get by; they are keepin’ it real without inhibition. I did my best to not be a burden and thus rendered myself fairly invisible. I credit these life experiences and observations on family life and social structures for my unique perspective and questions that many simply never thought to ask. People who grew up the way I grew up are much more likely to be junkies than college students. (We’re around, just invisible)

“We should applaud more frequently those who transform a lost life” ~Sonia Sotomayor, nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court


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