Catching up with Sam Richards

Sam Richards and Danna Jayne Seballos

Sam Richards, co-director of the World in Conversation Project, with project facilitator Danna Jayne Seballos

Do you feel as if racial labels in America are becoming outdated?

Racial and cultural labels and terms are always changing and will always be changing, although I think we'll always be using some sort of terminology to make generalizations about particular groupings of people. We live in large collectivities, after all, and it is inevitable that we will encounter situations in which we need to make meaningful statements about particular people or groupings of people.

How do you feel that growing up in Toledo, Ohio influenced your sense of identity?

One thing that stands out is that for as long as I can remember, Toledo has struggled with economic decline by way of de-industrialization. I knew from early on as a child that I was going to have to work hard and go the extra mile if I wanted to move up and out—wherever that would turn out to be. That sense that I was on my own very much became part of my identity. As well, I have an instinctual understanding of how people in "middle America" think about the world, especially white people. This helps me as a white guy talking about race relations.

What is the biggest misconception about your field of research?

Speaking directly about people who do research about race relations, I suppose it would be that we're all a bunch of PC police officers and bleeding heart liberals who mistrust white people. I do see some of that (and those people), mind you, but not very often.

What are some of the most interesting research collaborations you've had the chance to work on here at Penn State?

Definitely my work with Mark Shriver in Anthropology and using DNA bio-geographical ancestry testing so that my students could get a window into the parts of the planet to which their DNA admixture is tied.

Out of all the research projects you've worked on, which was your favorite?

My doctoral work on the Catholic Church in Latin America. I did ethnographic research there and was transformed by my experiences.

What hobbies do you enjoy most in your spare time?

Work is my hobby. Really. But I also enjoy riding my recumbent bicycle, playing the drums, and cooking.

Last Updated April 12, 2011