Faculty Profile: Rob Eschmann
Rob Eschmann, Associate Professor of Social Work, spoke with us about his research and about being part of the inaugural Race and Racism Scholarship cluster hire.
Can you describe your research interests broadly?
I explore the effects of online experiences on real-world outcomes on race and racism in the digital era, bridging the gap between virtual and face-to-face experiences. I also look at how the internet affects the way students of color experience, interpret, and respond to racial microaggressions, and I explore the relationship between technology and resistance.
What larger problems are you hoping to address in your work?
A lot of the work I’m doing now is on the individual level, looking at interpersonal experiences with microaggressions and the ways they impact health and educational experiences, but all of my work serves the larger goal of dismantling white supremacy.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished my book, When the Hood Comes Off: Racism and Resistance in the Digital Era, which will explore the ways online communication has changed the expressions of racism, its effects on communities of color and society, and resistance to racism at individual and structural levels. My next project will involve developing a virtual reality-based educational tool to help folks learn the best ways to respond to racism and microaggressions in real time.
How has the social media landscape changed in the time you have been working on your book?
I started working on this project before the Ferguson uprisings in 2014, and before Trump was elected. Both Black Lives Matter and Trump have changed the nature of online racial discourse, with BLM amplifying antiracist counternarratives, and Trump amplifying…you know.
"My current work looks at interpersonal experiences with microaggressions and the ways they impact health and educational experiences, but all of my work serves the larger goal of dismantling white supremacy."
What would you say influenced your decision to come to Columbia?
It really was an easy choice. It’s hard to say no to an opportunity to be at a world class institution in New York City. And I think that Columbia has done a lot of things in the past few years to show that they're interested in leading the way, in being an institution that is serious about fixing the problem of racism, and so I think that's something that that I felt like I could add to and I would like to be a part of. Just knowing what the institution offers and its antiracist initiatives, I knew I could be here long term. There are really good people here, in my department and across the university, some I already knew and some I’ve been privileged to get to know over the past year.
What does it mean to you to be part of this inaugural race and racism cluster hire?
It's exciting. I had a meeting with other folks in the cluster the other day and I recognized a few of them. When we went around and shared our research interests, it was incredible to just hear all of the overlap just in the small Zoom room.
I think that it is a powerful thing to bring in a cohort of folks who are all seeking to investigate and dismantle the mechanisms of racism, each using different methods and different theoretical frameworks. There is a lot of synergy going on there, a lot of potential for collaboration across departments.
"Columbia has done a lot of things in the past few years to show that they're interested in leading the way, in being an institution that is serious about fixing the problem of racism."
What does the move to New York mean for you and your work?
I'm from Chicago, and in Chicago we tend to take issue with the idea that we are the ‘second city’ to New York. Growing up, I spent a lot of time coming up with reasons why Chicago was actually better than New York. I have spent a lot of time in New York; I have some friends and family here. When I visited, I spent most of my time just following them around, and I learned to love the city. I am excited to get to know the city on a different level now. I really am humbled to be here. Considering how big the city is, and how much is going on, I'm just trying to find my way and explore little by little, and take advantage of all the things that the city has to offer.
I recently read a book by N.K. Jemisin called The City we Became. Jemisin is a Black woman who won the fantasy book award three years in a row for her Broken Earth trilogy. I'm a huge fan.
Reading her book about the city of New York made it come alive for me (pun intended). It’s this fantastical science fiction book with interdimensional monsters, but it also feels like a history lesson about the city. The story is rooted in the actual histories of people in New York, including the native folks who lived here before the land was colonized by two different racial and ethnic groups that are here now.
What's next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to finishing my book. The reviews are in and I'm just working on some final edits. I'm very excited about moving on to the next phase and growing as a researcher. I got my PhD in 2017, and with this move I really do feel like I am taking a step into the next phase of my career and my life.
Once this book project is done, it will be time for me to become a student again. I am excited to do that in this very supportive context with the resources and the people and the mentors around me to help me be successful.
Speaking of being a student, what are you teaching?
Right now I'm teaching Foundations of Social Work Practice; it’s a course that introduces issues of power, racism, oppression, and privilege. It’s the basics of direct practice work through a lens of understanding how racism and oppression shapes our field, how it impacts the lives of the folks that we work with in the ways that we think about social problems and interventions. I'm not certain what I'll be teaching next year. I may be trying to develop a new course around race and tech.