Whitney Pirtle

Institutional Affiliation 
Assistant Professor of Sociology, UC Merced
Professional Bio 

Dr. Whitney Laster Pirtle is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her research interests include race, identity, mental health, and quantitative methods. Her research is primarily informed by social psychological framework, and explores how social structures, like racial hierarchies, impact individuals lived experiences, well-being, and identities. Her work has been published in academic journals such as Sociological Perspectives, Sociological Spectrum, and Journal for the National Medical Association. She is currently working on a book on the formation and transformation of the “coloured” racial group in post-apartheid South Africa.

Whitney grew up in East Lansing, Michigan and then went to undergrad at Grand Valley State University on the west side of the state. She went on to earn her PhD at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN in 2014. She is now enjoying California living. Outside of work, she stays busy being active with her husband, two sons, and dog.
Area of Expertise 

My areas of expertise include the sociological study of race, identity, and mental health.

I study race, particularly racial meanings and identities, in the United States and globally. For instance, my current book project develops the concept of racial limbo using coloured South Africans as a case. I analyze legal, survey, and interview data to demonstrate that coloureds’ limbo position was cultivated during apartheid and persists today through coloureds’ collective identities. This work shows that group boundaries are characterized by greater variation for those positioned in limbo.
A sustained research emphasis of mine is to create understandings of race that are more inclusive for capturing multifaceted racial identifies in our changing society. For instance, I analyzed Add Health data to find to that there are mental health consequences for individuals when observers’ classification of them changes over time. I am also involved in a multi-campus social experiment, which determines whether hair texture (curly v. straight) impacts how people classify others’ race.
My other area of expertise is health disparities. I study differential exposure and vulnerability to social stress, and the mental and physical health consequences of social stress, by emphasizing differences among social categories (e.g., race, legal status, education).
Workshop Locations