Recap of session with Dr. Sarah Gaither

By Nupoor Kulkarni

A first-person account of The Measure of Everyday Life radio show’s live episode preview at the Duke Coffeehouse from correspondent, Nupoor Kulkarni.


McCall Wells, Dr. Brian Southwell and Dr. Sarah Gaither

Tucked away inside the unassuming entrance of the Duke Coffeehouse, the experience within is anything but. With its vibrant artwork practically coming to life off of the cement walls, on a warm February night, the Coffeehouse provides an engaging space for self-reflection and compelling conversation. The show’s mission – to make social science relevant in daily life – becomes clear in the dimly lit room as host Brian Southwell settles into conversation with Duke University’s Dr. Sarah Gaither.

Mirroring the show, Southwell asks the Duke Psychology and Neuroscience professor about her journey, and the passion that fuels her work at the Identity & Diversity Lab. Gaither’s willingness to be vulnerable with the audience – a mix of students and working professionals – creates an environment for acceptance and understanding.

A prime example of her honesty on stage is her allusion to “me-search,” or the notion that social science research can, at times, seem a little self-serving. Dr. Gaither does not shy away from discussing the impact her own biracial identity has had in shaping her worldview and social interactions. However, she is of the mindset that when it comes to research, as in writing, it often makes the most sense to do what you know – or at least what you seek to better understand. In her current research, Dr. Gaither examines the impact that living with an other-race roommate in a university setting may have on interracial interactions.

Brian then puts the spotlight on the crowd, asking us to be vulnerable with them. We hear from people of diverse backgrounds who share how even their earliest experiences have shaped their sense of self. One Duke undergraduate student opens up about how her multiracial identity and upbringing by a White, single mother has influenced her proclivity towards certain social groups.

Hearing these powerful stories highlights the importance of Gaither’s work in light of America’s current political climate. With many news stories focused on upsetting acts of hatred and racism, this evening with Sarah Gaither provides some hope for the future.

Throughout the conversation with Gaither, we hear soundbites previewing the show’s episode. It holds the audience’s attention, as we shift from using our eyes to focus on the speakers in front of us to tilting our heads to catch the pre-recorded interview over the Coffeehouse sound system.

The show ends with a special feature from McCall Wells, an intern on the radio show, in which she interviews two refugees, Ghazwan and Lenny, both of whom now live in North Carolina. We hear the two men speak of how the label “refugee” dictates certain aspects of their lives in the United States. Although transported from their homes and friends, you can’t help but smile as Ghazwan and Lenny look to their futures with optimism.  We’re even given the opportunity to see Ghazwan’s smile, as Brian acknowledges his presence in the cozy room.

The night concludes with the buzz of excited voices (only partially due to the coffee) discussing the live radio experience. With the audience’s insightful questions and enthusiasm, there is no doubt they went home that night reflecting on the nuances of intergroup encounters.

For more intriguing social science discussions, listen to “The Measure of Everyday Life,” on WNCU 90.7 FM on Sundays at 6.30 PM EST, listen to the episode with Dr. Gaither here, and find all past episodes for free here.

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