Last month, we announced that all of you helped us surpass our goal of reaching 1,000 Jews of Color with our Count Me In survey (one part of our national study). With 1,029 participants, this is the largest dataset of Jews of Color in the United States. But that’s not where the study stops. Our research team is on to their next phases of the study: analyzing the survey responses and conducting a second round of interviews with Jews of Color. These interviews will play a significant role in rounding out our communal understandings of the experiences of JoC identity.
Even though surveys help us reach a much wider audience, there are limits to every research method. The downside of surveys is that they aren’t often able to capture the depth of lived experiences. That means that conducting interviews in addition to the surveys is essential for filling in the gaps left by the survey.
Vincent Calvetti, the member of the research team who has conducted many of the qualitative interviews for the study, shared why qualitative interviews matter so much. “Qualitative interviews allow us as researchers to understand the challenges encountered by Jews of Color as they are experienced within actual communities and social contexts. This allows us to get a sense of what sorts of patterns of behaviors, ideas, and power relations shape these experiences.”
Qualitative interviews not only provide more detail but reveal the lived experiences of identities. “Our interviewees tell us not just what they experienced, but how they experienced it—how it made them feel, how it shaped how they relate to the space they experienced it in.”
The conversational nature of interviews helps researchers capture more complex experiences because there is far more room for variation in responses compared to multiple-choice style surveys. Giving participants five answer options per question only allows for five options for responses. In comparison, qualitative interviews are as varied as the unique perspectives and experiences of each individual as they choose to narrate them in their own words.
Designed more like a conversation, qualitative interviews can also enable participants to ask questions of the researchers, or to push back against problems they see in a question. With surveys, it’s much more common for someone to answer in a way that doesn’t fully represent their authentic response, skip the question, or even quit in the middle of the survey.
This is particularly important for research studies that, like the Count Me In study, focus on perspectives, experiences, and identities. Part of what we uncovered with our first study, Counting Inconsistencies, was that most research on the Jewish community has not asked about race, and when it has, it hasn’t done so with consistency. Not having much data on JoCs and experiences of non-white Jewish identities means that researchers have less existing information to guide their study. This makes it even more crucial that our research team uses methods that allow participants’ experiences, perspectives, questions, and feedback to shape the study itself.
The research team is using a multi-stage study design that incorporates iterative conversations with members of the community. Prior to developing the study, the researchers conducted a first round of interviews with approximately 30 Jews of Color to determine what questions the survey should ask. The survey was also reviewed by a research advisory committee of JoC leaders and stakeholders.
Now, the process will continue through a second round of qualitative interviews. “The first round of interviews was with 39 JoC professional and volunteer leaders,” said Tobin Belzer, the lead researcher for the study. These interviews informed the creation of the survey and also add nuance to survey findings.” The second round of interviews intends to include “15 additional interviews with JoC community participants who responded to the survey.”
Calvetti says that this second round will give us a fuller picture of the diversity within the JoC community; “this allows us to interview folks of more diverse socio-economic backgrounds, occupations, and experiences as well.”
For Calvetti, encountering both the positive and negative experiences of other Jews of Color during the interviews also resonates with him on a personal level as a JoC researcher. “The experience of hearing so many different JoC testimonies has been powerful. I have heard inspiring stories of the work that many people are doing to confront oppressive behaviors and that makes me so proud to be a Jew of Color.”
However, the other side of the coin is that Calvetti is also hearing story after story of how participants have encountered the trauma of racism. “I have also heard stories of pain and trauma that have left me so shaken that I’ve had to take breaks from conducting interviews for a few days,” he admitted. But Calvetti also highlighted the strength he has found in building connections with other Jews of Color through the research process.
“I also find myself grateful for the opportunity to be able to co-create small JoC spaces with other Jews of Color from all across the country, even if just for an hour and virtually over Zoom. Being able to feel this sense of connection and community has been really energizing, especially in the face of the intense isolation we have all been struggling with over the past year of a global pandemic.”
Visit our website’s research page to stay up to date on the Count Me In study.