Penn State Abington Senior Presents Research on Black Men’s Dating Preferences at Baltimore Conference

Dante Thomas in front of data board
Image via Beth Montemurro at Penn State Abington.
Dante Thomas.

Penn State Abington senior Dante Thomas recently won two awards for his undergraduate research project, “Black Men’s Romantic Partner Preferences: Exploring How Race and Color Matter.”

In addition to the professional recognition, his work also earned him the opportunity to present his findings at the 2023 meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society, a Philadelphia organization that supports sociological education.

Thomas’ research was an early-stage investigation of how Black men’s dating choices shape racial and color hierarchies.

The work was also recognized by the:

  • Division of Social Sciences at the annual Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities exhibition
  • The University Libraries, a University of Washington program that highlights undergraduate-research excellence in information literacy

“New and Unexpected Experience”

Presenting at the sociological society’s national conference was a new and unexpected experience for Thomas, a psychological and social sciences major.

“People were so positive about my project, and they asked good questions about my research,” he said. “I was nervous going into it, but it was more informal and open than I expected.”

Genuine Voices

Working under the guidance of Elizabeth Hughes, Penn State Abington assistant professor of sociology, Thomas underwent extensive training to master the complex dynamics necessary to successfully interview subjects for qualitative research.

“I talked to each man in the sample for about 90 minutes,” said Thomas. “Interviewing them in person made their answers stronger and more profound. If the interviews weren’t in person, the exchange of information wouldn’t have been as genuine.”

Lead Interviewer

The project is a testament to the time Thomas invested in the process, including repeatedly reviewing the research protocol and questions, conducting practice interviews with Hughes and others, and assessing the results of the test interviews and analyzing ways to improve his technique.

“I’m not sure you would have gotten the same responses without Dante as the lead interviewer,” Hughes said. “He made people feel comfortable with intimate conversations. Dante paid attention to the responses and was aware of clues for follow-up questions. It appeared natural, but he worked hard to develop key skill sets.”

Broader Value of the Research

Hughes explained that there is a broader value to participating in undergraduate research for students, including experiencing graduate school-level academic rigor and engaging with and committing to a project that may last as long as three semesters. “Being adept at qualitative research skills outside the classroom helps you communicate effectively,” she said.

“You are listening for key words and ideas and following up to get a sense of people’s reality. It’s really deep listening, which is an important life skill.”


A discussion on Black men and dating difficulties.

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