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Simone Ispa-Landa

Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Associate Professor of Sociology

PhD, Harvard University, 2011

Dr. Ispa-Landa’s scholarship concerns the sociology of education, race and gender, and youth peer cultures. She is interested in understanding how individuals and groups respond to stigma and discrimination, maintain the meaning systems that support them, and seek to overcome their negative consequences. She is currently working on two projects: First, how college men and women in historically white Greek life navigate gendered power dynamics and sexual violence. Second, she is working on a book about the strengths and challenges of various approaches to racial disparities in discipline in a self-consciously liberal suburban school district. Her areas of teaching include race and ethnicity, gender, sociology of education, sociology of youth and childhood, and qualitative research methods.

Ispa-Landa holds a PhD in sociology from Harvard University. The National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the W.T. Grant Foundation have provided funding for her work.

Current Research

School Discipline: DERAILED BY THE DATA: HOW ACCOUNTABILITY MATTERS FOR DISCIPLINE IN A MULTIRACIAL SUBURBAN SCHOOL tells the story of Franklin High, a racially and socioeconomically diverse suburban high school in a self-consciously liberal school district that strives for racial equity in all aspects of the student experience. Different from other books on school discipline that examine a particular policy, practice, program, or stakeholder group, DERAILED BY THE DATA offers insight into how the starkly different perspectives of administrators, teachers, students, and others – and the tensions between them – create a powerful backdrop that affects how discipline plays out and affects those most vulnerable. The range of voices includes Black, White, and Hispanic administrators who want to ensure that the school does not feel like a “dress rehearsal for prison” for Black (especially male) students, White teachers who grew up in the upper-middle-class and see themselves as racial justice warriors, Black teachers who feel uniquely responsible for handling student misbehavior, working-class transgender students who face ongoing ridicule, students who face conditions such as autism, and community activists who protest the school-to-prison pipeline. By uncovering how teachers respond to administrators’ efforts to improve racial equity (usually by collecting and interpreting vast amounts of discipline data), how students think and feel about safety and school discipline, and how communities demand action, this book ultimately reveals how big data and concerns about school reputation can interfere with meaningful reform.

Student Peer Cultures. How do organized extracurricular activities matter for how high school and college students form and maintain peer groups? What influence do race, gender, and social class have on students’ opportunities to benefit from high school and college extracurriculars? And finally, how do college women and men navigate organized extracurriculars – such as historically white Greek life – that pose heightened risks of sexual violence and exposure to discrimination based on race and social class? Ispa-Landa has developed a long-term project that tracks women who joined historically white sororities at an elite college. The project investigates whether, how, and to what extent women can benefit from participation in an organization that is high-status, yet also maintains deep-rooted traditions that put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis fraternity men. The project is based on in-depth, intensive longitudinal interviews and tracks the women from their sophomore year of college to the year after college graduation.

Selected Publications

Ispa-Landa, S., and Mariana Oliver. 2020. Hybrid femininities: Sorority rankings and reputation. Gender & Society 34(6): 893-921.

Ispa-Landa, S., and S. Thomas. 2019. The emotional context of the principal role: Race, gender, and emotion work among school principals. Gender & Society 33(3): 387-409.

Ispa-Landa, S. 2018. Persistently harsh punishments amid efforts to Reform: Using Tools From Social Psychology to Counteract Racial Bias in School Disciplinary Decisions. Educational Researcher 1–7. 

Ispa-Landa, S., and C. Loeffler. 2016. Indefinite punishment and the criminal record: Stigma reports among expungement-seekers in IllinoisCriminology 54(3): 387–412.

Ispa-Landa, S. 2016. Legitimizing family management: The role of adolescents' understandings of riskJournal of Marriage & Family 78(2): 516–30.

Ispa-Landa, S., and J. Conwell. 2015. "Once you go to a white school, you kind of adapt": Black adolescents and the racial classification of schoolsSociology of Education 88(1): 119.

Ispa-Landa, S. 2013. Gender, race, and justifications for group exclusion: Urban black students bussed to affluent suburban schoolsSociology of Education 86(3): 218–33.