Months of research on hidden attitudes in national surveys culminated for Buffalo High School graduate Carlos Gonzales on July 29 with a presentation at the University of Wyoming’s research symposium.

Gonzales, a junior at UW who is double majoring in sociology and gender and women’s studies, presented “Measurement of Gender and Sexualities in National Surveys: An Exploration into Hidden Attitudes and Messages” with graduate student Clarissa Nord and professor Jennifer Tabler during the McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Symposium on July 29.

Gonzales was one of 15 UW student-presenters, covering a wide variety of subjects, including geology, physics and astronomy, pharmacy, molecular biology, music, theater and dance, sociology, political science, psychology and American Indian Studies at the symposium.

For his presentation, Gonzales focused on the representation of minorities in national surveys. Many national surveys have not been altered in decades and don’t reflect societal changes, Gonzales said.

“I understand from a sociological perspective that you want to keep things consistent,” Gonzales said. “If you rewrite a question, it could upset the trend that you have been studying for decades. But at the same time, there are people in this country who are not seeing themselves reflected in the GSS or other national surveys.”

Gonzales said his interest in sociology and social justice issues date back to his time at Buffalo High School. But during his first sociology class with professor Tim Nichols his freshman year at UW, he discovered he had a real passion for understanding the social world.

“That class (Sociology 1000) really ignited my love for the field,” Gonzales said. “I think sociology provides a great way to understand our social world including social constructs like gender.”

During this year’s spring semester, Gonzales started work on a project in which he looked through national surveys and particularly focused on questions related to sex, sexuality and gender.

“We were looking at how many options respondents were given and how inclusive those options were,” Gonzales said. “We looked at how measurement of those things changed over time and how data collection differed through different academic fields. But one thing we found – and didn’t expect – were some of the hidden messaging and attitudes within the surveys regarding sex and sexuality and gender.”

Those hidden attitudes were manifested in several ways, including dated language within the surveys, Gonzales said.

“The language can definitely be used to sway respondents to think about sexual identities in a certain way,” Gonzales said

Hidden attitudes are also found in what was omitted from the surveys, Gonzales said.

“There are a lot of researchers trying to do research about sexual minorities, but the data does not really exist out there for people who identify beyond male, female, gay and straight,” Gonzales said. “I think there is a perception in the research community that these more inclusive measures don’t work, but I think there are ways to collect good data and be inclusive at the same time.”

Gonzales said he expected to continue his research throughout the rest of 2019, with the eventual goal of publishing an article on his research in a national sociological journal at some point in 2020.

“I think the first step in making change is bringing attention to the fact that things should look different,” Gonzales said. “If my research raises that awareness, I would be really excited.”

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