Self-described as an “art school drop-out,” Dr. Gabriella Silva Gorsky, who goes by “Gage,” has charted a perhaps unexpected path that has led them from the art studio to holding a Ph.D. in Measurement and Statistics from the University of Washington in Seattle. Gorsky, a non–binary trans Latinx Jew, grew up in Chicago with a Jewish mother and Mexican father. Despite their wide range of experiences in Chicago, Gorsky always imagined following in their parents’ footsteps when it came to a career.
“Both of my parents are artists, and I always sort of thought that would be my own personal trajectory as well,” Gorsky admitted. But after spending a year in art school, they felt that something was missing from their education and their anticipated career path. Shifting gears, Gorsky completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and Gender and Women’s Studies, where they found a passion for critical thinking and the study of intersectionality.
Gorsky is confident that they needed to reach each moment on their path to arrive where they are today. “There’s no question that every step took me to the next step, even if each step doesn’t seem related from an outside perspective.”
As Gorsky studied psychology and gender, they expanded their inquisitiveness about the world—a trait found at the heart of excellent research. Their next step was toward math assessment and math education. An average math student up through high school, Gorsky began rethinking how the discipline had limited their access and perceived ability, and how the structure of math education and math assessments may be creating systemic underachievement for certain students.
“Because of my own disenfranchisement from math (actually, growing up I was never a good student in math) …it wasn’t until college that I was like ‘oh, I was just never taught this stuff really well. Nobody is taught this really well.’”
Once Gorsky pinpointed their interest in tackling the inequities in math education, they began to apply their interest to research projects. One was a collaborative development of a math game that pulled together researchers on game design, educational gaming, and Gorsky’s specialization, math assessment and education. “That project set the foundation for my later work,” they explained. “A lot of what I was doing was looking at how subtle changes in wording in the questions of this game were contributing to performance on those items.” They said that this project allowed them to apply typical assessment work—which they described as asking the question “what do we know about what kids are thinking based on their answers to these questions?”—to an on-the-ground project.
When it came time for Gorsky to determine their focus of their dissertation in their Ph.D. program, they built on the applied skills and critical thinking from the math gaming project. “I was looking at gender stereotypes encoded into math assessment questions…the main goal was to look at whether the character representation was gendered and then what types of character traits were portrayed in the item [math question]. What sort of activities they were shown doing, we looked at some interesting stuff around the agency of the language—passive versus active—for the femme or female gendered characters versus the masculine gendered characters.”
Since earning their Ph.D. in 2019, Gorsky has mostly been doing consulting work and contributing to a wide range of projects. “I’ve dipped my toe into a lot of different types of research. That is what I love about being a methods person,” they said. A focus on quantitative (quantity or statistical) analysis has opened numerous doors for Gorsky at a time when social science research is beginning to lean more heavily toward qualitative (quality or experiential) analysis, making statisticians a desirable addition to research teams.
Gorsky has also worked to support social science graduate students in the completion of their projects and degrees, enabling them to maintain that exceptional curiosity and excitement about research they tapped into in undergraduate study. “That has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, partly because of getting to learn what other people find just fascinating. I know what I think of as interesting, but the nice thing about consulting work is that you get to know there’s so many things that people study and want to learn about and want to know about.” Consulting and supporting graduate students has allowed Gorsky to flex their intellectual and research muscles; “my role in research is facilitating the process. I want to help you take your idea and explore it in as many ways as we reasonably can to answer the questions that you have.”
Although Gorsky has undoubtedly had success professionally, their work has also brought them face-to-face with the more existential questions of how to align your career choices with your personal values.
“I struggled to apply [my training] in a professional setting without compromising my own values and identity as a trans Jew of Color. I don’t want to necessarily do gender research…I can feel really safe if I choose to do only research on my own identity…I don’t want to say soul searching, but I’ve been really digging into what are the best ways to use my skills in alignment with my values to answer really important questions.”
However, even in thinking through these questions, Gorsky felt that their Jewishness was not sufficiently acknowledged, valued, or even discussed by others. “I don’t talk about being Jewish in my professional spaces very often, which I don’t think I realized before. This is case in point of the nuance of the Jew of Color experience, right? It’s certainly an important part of my identity but it somehow doesn’t always feel salient to others in all of those settings, certainly depending on how I’m perceived across those spaces. There are spaces where I’m the queer person, and spaces where I’m the ‘mixed ethnic person,’ but other than amongst my Jewish friends and community I don’t know if there are that many spaces where [being Jewish is] a relevant part of my identity to the people that I’m around.”
As Gorsky pointed out, this is far more common among Jews of Color. “I think there are so many people that don’t even know it’s possible to be not white and be Jewish,” they said with comedic bafflement.
Beyond the lack of knowledge regarding the existence of Jews of Color among white Jews (and among non-Jews regardless of race), those who are aware of the community may be ignorant of “the diversity in the Jew of Color umbrella,” as Gorsky phrased it. “It’s already a sub-set [of the Jewish population] but it’s certainly not homogeneous.” The Jewish community “is on a pretty wide spectrum of these questions related to race and inclusion, and the difference between inclusion and acceptance,” they said, explaining that while some white Jews need introductory-level knowledge, others may be quite engaged with education on, or activism related to, inclusion and equity for Jews of Color.
Gorsky wants to see research on Jews of Color that meets the collective Jewish community where they are to make the most effective impact. They believe research on Jews of Color should consider “what people want to know to both educate themselves, and to inform organizational practice.” Research on JoCs should ask “what spectrums do [Jews of Color] cover” rather than approach the community with the assumption that there is a single Jew of Color experience, identity, or life trajectory.
With the prospects of being able to be part of research on Jews of Color on the horizon for Gorsky, they are filled with excitement and gratitude for the expanding research interest in the JoC community. “This is magical,” they said, adding that “it’s so personal…it’s kind of dreamy.” Dr. Gorsky is in conversation with the Jews of Color Initiative about future research on Jews of Color.
As researchers continue to study Jews of Color, Gorsky hopes equity-driven work will be at the forefront, “building a more cohesive Jewish community” that sees Jews of Color not as a single identity or experience, but as a nuanced, diverse, and enriching part of the collective, multiracial Jewish People.