Selected Publications

Smith-Tran, Alicia. 2020. “‘Finally Something for Us’: Black Girls Run! and Racialized Space-Making in Recreational Running.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues. Forthcoming.

Abstract: This study uses life story interviews to understand the utility of Black Girls Run!—a predominantly Black organization for women who engage in recreational distance running. Drawing from Neckerman, Carter, and Lee’s conceptual framework of
the minority culture of mobility, the author suggests that Black Girls Run! serves the purpose of helping its members confront the challenges and repercussions associated with being a racial minority in a majority White space, particularly as they are experienced by middle-class Black women. The author focuses on how the organization (a) allows its members to run with others who look like them, (b) cultivates social connection and community, and (c) facilitates challenging health statistics and shifting dominant narratives about Black women. This study provides a more nuanced understanding of the latent functions of recreational sporting organizations catered to middle-class people of color.

Smith-Tran, Alicia. 2020. “A Life Course Perspective on the Start of Black Middle-Class Women’s Recreational Running Careers.” Sociological Spectrum 40(3): 289-302.

Abstract: This study is informed by two questions: How can studying the biographies of Black middle-class women illustrate how early life experiences shape adulthood health and leisure choices? More specifically, what life course processes affect one’s ability and choice to become a recreational runner? Using life story data, I utilize two interrelated concepts from the life course perspective, cumulative processes and turning points, to highlight how both of these social processes affect decisions to run recreationally. For the women in the study whose running stories exemplify cumulative processes, their narratives focused on the continuation of middle-class health and leisure practices from childhood and adolescence. Other participants’ narratives centered on poignant biographical moments related to health that served as key turning points that significantly altered participants’ exercise trajectories in adulthood. This subset of women were oftentimes working class or poor as children. The findings of this study have implications for why it is important to take an intersectional, long-armed approach to understanding Black women’s health and leisure during adulthood.

Smith-Tran, Alicia. 2020. “Exploring the Benefits and Drawbacks of Age Disclosure among Women Faculty of Color.” Teaching Sociology 48(1): 3-12.

Abstract: This article is guided by two questions: How is age an important aspect of social location that, when forthcoming about it with students, can be beneficial for pedagogical purposes? and How can women faculty of color—particularly those who appear youthful and/or are younger than most of their colleagues—address the marginality of their actual and/or perceived age while simultaneously operating in a space that is contested for women of color? I highlight four benefits that arose as a result of disclosing my age to students: It (1) enabled me to provide concrete examples that were illustrative of key course concepts, (2) helped students understand how age is relational and contextually significant, (3) facilitated the creation of a safe space for “nontraditional” students, and (4) allowed me to better control the narrative students crafted about me based on their perceptions of me as an instructor.

Smith-Tran, Alicia. 2019. “The ‘Black Middle-Class Toolkit’ as a Framework for Understanding the Cultural Implications of Recreational Running.” Sociological Focus 52(3): 231-45.

Abstract: Despite Black women having disproportionately low rates of physical activity, the number of Black Americans who participate in non-professional, recreational running is on the rise. Scant research attention has been given to Black women who run and challenge the stereotypes about their health and bodies. Likewise, most previous research in this area has focused on the health aspects of physical activity, rather than the sociocultural components specific to middle-class Blacks. Using life story interviews, this study examines middle-class Black women’s experiences participating in this predominantly white, middle-class activity. The life story excerpts presented in this article are based on the narratives of three women who are part of an ongoing study of middle-class Black women who run. An analysis of their life stories revealed that in addition to losing weight and relieving stress, by participating in this activity they were able to develop their “[B]lack middle-class toolkit” to include recreational running and its associated lifestyle components. Their running narratives exemplify three types of identities in the Black middle-class toolkit: 1) public identities; 2) status-based identities; and 3) race and class-based identities. The themes that emerged in this analysis contribute to a limited but growing literature on middle-class Blacks’ experiences, using a cultural framework to better understand some of the latent functions of becoming a recreational runner.

Smith-Tran, Alicia. 2018. “Muscle as Medicine: An Autoethnographic Study of Coping with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome through Strength Training.” Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health 10(4): 476-492.

Abstract: How can women who are coping with a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis and subsequent illness management overcome the emotional tensions that arise? I propose that through strength training, a stereotypically masculine activity, women can re-gain a sense of femininity that is lost while living with the symptoms of this condition. Framing strength training as medicine can give women with PCOS a sense of control and empowerment while dealing with a chronic condition that often leaves women feeling powerless, as there is neither cure nor explicit cause. In this article, I use autoethnography to describe the lived experience of the initial diagnosis, illness disclosure to others, navigation of health information and self-management of the condition, while unpacking the feelings of guilt, self-pity, anger and lack of control that arise. This study adds a sociological perspective to the predominantly medical and psychologically focused literature on PCOS, giving an in-depth voice to this condition. While framing ‘muscle as medicine’ can have positive implications, I argue that that an ‘exercise is medicine’ framework can be overly agentic and lose sight of opportunity structures and larger social forces that shape a person’s ability to metaphorically self-medicate in this way.