Caleb Dawson

Caleb E. Dawson is a PhD candidate in Critical Studies of Race, Class, and Gender with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Residing on the unceded land of Ohlone peoples, Caleb engages in humanistic social science research about educational institutions and social movements. He boldly researches, teaches, and intervenes about how antiblackness is nestled across the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels; how Black people experience suffering in higher education; and how Black folk sustain themselves amidst and contest oppression. His ideal day involves research in the morning; community-centered endeavors in the afternoon (including teaching and mentoring); and dancing, cycling, or jump roping to music with loved ones in the evening.

Drawing on ethnographic, survey, and archival methods, Caleb’s dissertation examines how Black campus leaders of various statuses—undergraduates, graduate students, staff, faculty, administrators—have been contesting antiblackness at the University of California, Berkeley from 2014 to 2022. He investigates the challenges and supports that they experience as well as how gender and organizational status shape their experiences of antiblackness, their efforts to contest it, and the university’s response to their pro-Black social action. This project affords nuanced insights about how universities are racialized through antiblackness and what it takes for Black people to lead efforts within an ostensibly antiblack organization to defend and cultivate Black life.

Caleb also examines the Black student loan debt crisis and for-profit colleges. He has published his historical and theoretical work on racial capitalism and the Black student debt with Dr. Jalil Bishop in Teachers College Record. Caleb’s upcoming publication situates the gendered contours of the debt crisis in the structural precarity and predation of Black women. He argues that neoliberal shifts in federal welfare and higher education policy have rendered precarity profitable through coerced enrollment in for-profits. Future collaborations with Dr. Bishop draws from the more than 1,100 interviews and survey responses of "Jim Crow Debt," the first national qualitative study on Black student loan debt.

When not immersed in the aforementioned research, Caleb supports historically disadvantaged scholars and scholarship by other means. As principal investigator of Black Lives @ Cal (BLAC), a multi-year initiative about Black history at UC Berkeley, Caleb proudly merges his passion for qualitative research and mentorship with his project management skills. Through BLAC, graduate and undergraduate students collaborate in researching and preserving otherwise overlooked histories, and make this research accessible to the public. In its first year, Caleb has hired, trained, and collaborated with six undergraduates and one graduate student on research, content creation, website design, and events through Berkeley’s URAP program.

Caleb co-founded and convenes a paid writing fellowship for dozens of Black graduate students as well as a Critical University Studies working group. His research agenda has been supported by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues; the Social Science Matrix; the Black Studies Collaboratory; the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership; the Townsend Center for the Humanities; the Center for Race and Gender; and more.

Specializations and Interests

Sociology of Race and (Higher) Education; Gendered Racial Capitalism; Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Antiblackness and Activism; Qualitative Methodologies

portrait image of doctoral student caleb dawson


MA, Education, UC Berkeley

BA, Sociology and Economics, Gonzaga University

Minor, Women and Gender Studies, Gonzaga University

Certificate, Comprehensive Leadership Program, Gonzaga University

Certificate, Latin American Studies, Universidad Adalfo Ibañez