Mapping Segregation and Inequalities in the Boston Area

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Using ArcGIS software, students create digital maps illustrating the relationships between residential segregation and social inequalities.


Students collect, clean, and convert social science data into visual representations for the purpose of evaluating a social problem and crafting relevant solutions. Students pose research questions regarding the social consequences of residential segregation. For example, “Do public elementary schools in black-dominated neighborhoods demonstrate lower student standardized test scores than schools in white-dominated neighborhoods?” They attempt to answer their research questions by conducting a literature review. Students use ArcGIS software to create maps that help the reader understand the scope of the social problem and provide preliminary evidence in support of their proposed solutions.

Learning outcomes
By the end of the assignment, students should be able to demonstrate the following skills:

  1. collect and clean social science data
  2. create visualizations of that data
  3. use the visualization to evaluate a social problem and craft relevant solutions
This assignment assumes students have a working knowledge of social science research methods (e.g., independent and dependent variables, difference between casual relationships and associations).

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SOC302 Social Problems, Spring 2019


I worked with Jane Tutein to create lab sheets. She made these sheets dynamic and clear by adding images and useful tips. I asked one of the Technology Fellow to come to the first two in-class labs so that he could help me troubleshoot if students ran into problems with ArcGIS. The Technology Fellow also held office hours outside of class. Description of Attachments • Final Paper Guidelines: This file includes all the scaffolded assignments leading up to the final paper assignment and presentation. • ArcGIS Lab for Racial Segregation Part I: In the first in-class session, I posed the following research question (based on class readings): "Is racial/ethnic minority status associated with low income status in contemporary Boston neighborhoods?" I taught students how to create heat maps of the percent White (non-Hispanic), Black, Asian, and Hispanic populations in each Boston Census tract. • ArcGIS Lab for Racial Segregation Part II: In the second in-class session, I taught students how to create a map of median income in each Boston Census tract. We added this layer to the map we made in the first in-class session so that we could answer the question we posed about the association between race/ethnicity and income. • ArcGIS Lab for Who Gets Evicted: In preparation for this lab, students read the book "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond. They downloaded eviction data for Boston from the the Eviction lab, a research institute at Princeton University that is directed by by Matthew Desmond. In "Evicted," Desmond is concerned about already vulnerable populations dealing with the additional stress of evictions. Therefore, I had students explore the following research question: “Are evictions more likely to occur in Boston neighborhoods where households are already suffering from high ‘rent burden’?” Rent burden is the percentage of household income spent on rent in a given area--the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposes that households should spend no more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing. Students create a map with 2 layers: Eviction rates for each Boston Census tract (i.e., the number of evictions per 100 renter homes in an area) and rent burden for each Boston Census tract.

Outcome summary

I found that the eldest students (juniors and seniors) were most resistant to learning the new technology and were impatient when the technology didn't work as they expected the first time. The youngest students (sophomores) were more receptive and willing to explore at length. Surprisingly, at the end of the course, all students agreed that the technology would be useful in future classes for their major, internships, or careers. I had students majoring in Criminal Justice, Political Science, Communications, and Business. Additionally, I really had to push students to critically evaluate the quality of the data they downloaded from ArcGIS and other online sources—I had to spend an additional class period lecturing about reputable sources. The next time I use this assignment, I would assign more social science theories and readings exemplifying the relationship between residential segregation and social problems.