Rashawn Ray, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, has been awarded the 2022 Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Since 2019, the award has been endowed by and named for quantum physicist Mani L. Bhaumik, an internationally recognized author, lecturer, and entrepreneur whose current interest is in engaging with the public about new advances in quantum physics and cosmology and how these developments can transform our material and spiritual health. Bhaumik envisions this award as highlighting scientists whose exceptional efforts are transforming the way the public engages with and understands science.
Ray is an internationally recognized expert on racial and social inequality, with a focus on police-civilian relations and men’s treatment of women. Among the key goals of his research is to assess how racial, class, and gender inequality can be reduced, at the policy, community, and interpersonal levels.
During an interview with AAAS, Ray explained how he grew interested in researching social inequality. “It probably goes back to seeing some of my friends who were just as smart as me, if not smarter, who didn’t have certain opportunities,” he said. “I am one of the tokenized lucky ones. Yet, people shouldn’t need luck or to be a token. They need equity. Research documents that race, gender, and social class operate as a leg-up or as intersectional bootstraps. I want to continue to provide more nuance to understanding factors that contribute to these inequitable phenomena and help build a truly equitable society.”
Ray studied these issues long before they became so prominent in public discourse and has collaborated with African American communities and police departments to produce change.
He integrates his extensive public engagement efforts with his research, which tackles a critical, but challenging, issue. He has appeared on television numerous times and written over 50 books, articles, and book chapters, and about 50 op-eds. His research is frequently cited by media outlets and, since arriving at Brookings two years ago, his articles have amassed 2.8 million views.
He uses his verified Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts to engage social media users, posts accessible lectures to his YouTube channel, and is the co-editor of Context Magazine: Sociology for the Public, the American Sociological Association’s influential journal. Furthermore, he has partnered with the NBA, WNBA, and Dove; he also works closely with community organizations, religious groups, and high schools and universities.
He testifies regularly before national and state lawmakers, and frequently partners with lawmakers to address challenges of marginalized communities. He has spoken on panels discussing voting rights, reparations, criminal justice reform, and COVID-19.
One of his important achievements is helping develop a virtual reality de-escalation program for police officers to reduce racial bias, which led to invitations to advise police reform task forces around the country. Ray has helped build trust between African American communities and police departments, demonstrating the empathy and strategy needed to inspire social change.
In our interview, Ray stressed the importance of public engagement and offered suggestions for researchers who would like to do more engagement.
“In this era of misinformation and political polarization, it is a must that academics share research outside of the confines of the Ivory Tower,” he said. “Take research articles and package them as op-eds and short policy reports. Start locally with your area newspaper and city council. Build up to the state legislature and Congress. Society needs us. We are doing a disservice to the public if we don’t engage more publicly.”