Eden-Reneé Pruitt, faculty in Social Studies, joined Bard College at Simon’s Rock in the fall of 2009. Pruitt recalls sharing a story with her social psychology class about teaching at another university. “I had given my students there an exam, and they did so poorly I spent an entire class tutoring them on how one takes a test. At one point a junior raised her hand and said, ‘when I saw the essay question, I didn’t know what to do, so I left it blank,’” Pruitt pauses. “There’s such a vast difference between Simon’s Rock and other schools.”
Indeed, her exams here center on essay questions and rarely feature multiple-choice. The rationale? Her courses focus on the application of knowledge, of how a term or concept operates in a real-world situation. Students need to be able to give examples and explain in their own language what’s going on in a given scenario. “Memorizing facts just doesn’t cut it,” Pruitt says.
Pruitt’s research centers on investigations into stereotyping and prejudice. She studies the perspectives of those on the “receiving end” of stereotyping, working to understand how context and identity shape the experience of those being stereotyped. Central to her work is the concept of intersectionality, which attempts to account for how multiple categories of identity—such as race, gender, and class—interact and thereby construct experience.
“My work is part of a movement away from what psychologists refer to as the oppression olympics. For a time, it was posited that the more categories of subordinate identity a person embodied, the more oppressed, the more subject to negative stereotyping, he or she would be,” Pruitt says. “But this research focus misses the point. It’s not about figuring out who has it worse. It’s about figuring out what’s going on in particular contexts, getting a sense of what people’s experiences are, and of how those experiences are similar and different.”
In Pruitt’s current research, she draws on intersectionality theory to examine the relationship between race and gender and workplace behaviors. Examining both positive behaviors like loyalty and altruism, and negative behaviors like missing work without reason, Pruitt is finding that there are significant relationships between negative and positive workplace behaviors, experiences, and identity conflicts.
“I gathered and analyzed the data for this project with my colleague Monika Hudson, who’s at the University of San Francisco. Social psychology is a very big field, so research tends to be extremely specific and focused. It forces you to look outside of your own institution to collaborate on projects, and it brings you into conversation with people from around the country,” Pruitt says. “At the same time, I can turn to my colleagues at Simon’s Rock to get a different sort of perspective. Here, Katie Boswell and Francisca Oyogoa also research race and gender, but from anthropological and sociological perspectives.”
This fall, Pruitt began supervising Jehan Worthy’s Senior Thesis—it’s her first time leading a thesis committee. “Jehan’s ideas are very cool. She’s looking at the effect of slavery and legal rape on both Black and White women’s sense of self worth, seeing how it shaped their way of perceiving their gender, beauty, and self-image. It’s an interdisciplinary project in legal studies and psychology,” Pruitt says. “Jehan’s using court cases and legal documents as primary resources, and bringing in contemporary research from psychology.”
“Simon’s Rock does an excellent job of making sure students are mentored and taken care of, and it does an excellent job in making sure students are challenged. The focus here is on teaching, on being effective in the classroom,” Pruitt says. “The difference between teaching at Simon’s Rock and other colleges? It’s night and day. The focus on students is something I value immeasurably, and it’s a big part of the reason I’m so excited to be here.”