analytic memo

March 13, 2015
Dear Colleagues,
We have had a great time working on our project thus far. It has been interesting and
honestly, a very eye-opening experience. We have had the chance to listen to some incredible
stories and we are excited for what lies ahead of us.
As of now, our research question remains the same: what are college students’
perspective on cancer and its causes? Do these perceptions change based on a student’s racial
identity? Our question hasn’t changed yet, although it is very probable it will in the upcoming
weeks due to the very broad amount and types of information we have gathered thus far. In terms
of gathering data, we have only used in-depth interviews. We have sat down with several
students, three of whom have had lengthy cancer experience stories. Considering the kind of
information we are seeking, we think we will stick with in-depth interviewing rather than
participant observation or focus groups. We think we have used these tools effectively. We have
been trying our hardest to probe and to use as many follow-ups to get the information we need.
Besides that, we have also been very attentive with how we respond to these stories since they do
deal with such a sensitive topic. We think interviewing has done us quite well thus far.
In general, the information that our interviewees have given us has answered some of our
preliminary questions. The main one that has been answered was in regards to causes of cancer.
So far our answers range from smoking to exposure to toxic chemicals to diet to genetics. We
have had a few answers to our question about preventative measures and what our interviewees
are doing to prevent cancer and remain healthy. A change in dietary habits has been the primary
answer to that one, revealing a theme of food. Another interesting theme in regards to prevention
is the notion of youth and invincibility. Most of our interviewees do not take preventative
measures and this could possibly be because of their preconceived notions of aging and
susceptibility. There has been a slight connection with race, but more themes are emerging that
deal with class and occupation. For example, two of our interviewees attribute cancer to the
occupational exposure to carcinogenic materials their parents dealt with. The nuances between
individual experiences have given us a broad scope and many varied responses to our research
As a research team we hope to contribute an understanding of what kind of risk
information is reaching college students and how their parent’s experience in the health care
system influences their beliefs about the causes of cancer and ways to prevent practices. These
findings will assist in developing health communication tools that encourage prevention, not just
illness interventions down the line. Medical sociology recognizes the retroactive behaviors of the
American health care system but there has been little research done on the retroactive beliefs
held by American youth. Our research will contribute to the sociological understanding of which
factors (eating and exercise habits, alternative forms of medicine, social activities, drug and
alcohol consumption) college students consider cancer effective at preventing cancer. Moreover,
we believe that understanding discrepancies between racial identitis and experiences will assist
in understanding what behavioral interventions different college students choose to partake in.
We hope that our research will further prove just how individual and nuanced the cancer
experience is to each person. Our goal for the project is not to draw any implications, but to
inform the sociological research of the wide array of experiences held by college-age citizens.
While we hope to see meaningful connections to racial identity and cancer experience, our true
goal is to accurately portray the story of each of the individuals we interview.
We hope that everyone’s research is going as well as they hoped it would be! Until next
Jasmine and Meredith