Race and Inequality

The continued relevance of race and inequality as a public policy issue in the state of Illinois and in the nation is difficult to dispute; stories about racial/ethnic inequality in school outcomes, foreclosures, policing, employment, etc. are the subject of national, state, and local headlines on a regular basis.  But persistent racial inequalities, and the many ways in which policies influence—and are influenced by—these inequalities, do not ebb and flow with the whims of the media.  They have been—and in many ways remain—a constant part of the fabric of our nation and state.  The goal of the Race and Inequality initiative is to harness the resources of the University of Illinois to bring evidence-based research to bear on public and policy conversations on the range of issues (health, education, employment, housing, criminal justice, to name a few) in which race and inequality are relevant. 


Current projects in the Race and Inequality Initiative include:


Chicago Neighborhood-Schools Connection Project

The goal of this project is to better understand racial inequality as plays out in the nexus of two critical and inter-related domains:  education and housing.  Focusing on a group often overlooked by policymakers and researchers alike, we interviewed about 150 primarily working-class and lower-middle class white, black, and Latino parents of school-aged children in five neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.  The purpose of the study is to understand how these parents navigate the housing and education policy context in which they operate—and if and how race/ethnicity shapes their experiences and outcomes.


Understanding the Drivers of Racial Residential Segregation

Racial residential segregation remains a persistent problem in Chicago, across the state, and throughout the United States.  Blacks and whites, and to a lesser extent Latinos and Asians live in separate neighborhoods.  And those separate neighborhoods are not equal.  Work by Krysan focuses on understanding how people end up living in the (often) segregated neighborhoods they do, by focusing on the housing search and selection processes.  In this way, light is shed on the mechanisms through which segregation is perpetuated; and, ultimately, helps identify the policy levers that might be engaged to disrupt the cycle of segregation. 


Racial Gaps in School Achievement

Similar to racial residential segregation, racial gaps in school achievement are a persistent challenge locally, across the state and nationally. For example, major gaps between racial groups exist on a range of standardized tests, high school grade point averages, graduation rates, placement in gifted programs, and honors or AP educational tracks (especially in desegregated schools). Resulting differences in educational attainment have major implications for one’s chances of getting ahead in life.  Lewis’s research examines how and why racial dynamics shape educational experiences and outcomes focusing on the processes and mechanisms within schools that contribute to differential results.


Tracking and Understanding Trends in Racial Attitudes

Visit the Trends in Racial Attitudes Website

In addition to understanding the institutional context of race and inequality, this initiative also provides data and interpretations of data that policymakers and the public can use to understand how people think and feel about racial issues in the United States.  The initiative has designed and maintains a website that compiles national trend data on racial attitudes across a range of topics, including what white and black Americans feel about the principles of racial equality, social distance, stereotypes, racial policies, explanations for inequality, and a number of other topics.  The racial attitudes website provides the results of surveys from the 1940s up until today, complemented with figures that summarize the patterns, and short narrative descriptions of the key patterns and their interpretations.   


Racial inequality is a defining feature of cities and town throughout Illinois and the United States.  The purpose of this initiative is to provide evidence-based research on the causes and consequences of racial inequality and to provide direction for policymakers and the public to dismantle it.

Lead Experts

Professor and Head, Department of Sociology

Expertise: Social Policy

Maria Krysan is professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Chicago. She is an expert on survey methods, focusing her research on racial residential segregation and attitudes toward race. She leads IGPA's Race and Inequality policy initiative.

Affiliated Experts


Expertise: Social Policy

Amanda Lewis' research focuses on how race shapes educational opportunities and how our ideas about race get negotiated in everyday life. She is the author of several books including (with John Diamond) Despite the Best Intentions: Why racial inequality persists in good schools (Oxford, 2015) and Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color-line in Classrooms and Communities (2003). She is also the co-editor (with Maria Krysan) of The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity (2004), and co-author (with Mark Chesler and Jim Crowfoot) of Challenging Racism in Higher Education: Promoting Justice (2005). Her research has appeared in a number of academic venues including Sociological Theory, American Educational Research Journal, American Behavioral Scientist, Race and Society, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, DuBois Review and Anthropology and Education Quarterly