Q&A with PRODiG Fellow and Sociologist Reece Torres

Reece Torres

Reece Torres (SUNY Geneseo photo/Matt Burkhartt)

Reece Torres joined the Geneseo sociology department in Fall 2023 as a 2023–25 SUNY PRODiG Fellow. The PRODiG program (Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth) aims to increase the representation of historically underrepresented faculty at SUNY campuses. Torres is Geneseo's fourth fellow since the program's inception in 2020.
Q: Your research focuses on elite education, and you have some personal experience with that as well. Tell us about where you grew up and went to school.
A: I grew up in Harlem, New York, and initially was a product of their public schools. In 7th grade, I became involved with the Albert G. Oliver program, which identifies high-achieving Black and Latinx students and provides a path for an enhanced educational experience. So, I went from New York City public schools to a prep school in the mid-Atlantic. From there, I landed at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, where I did my bachelor's degree in sociology and Africana studies, and then got my master's and doctorate in sociology at Syracuse University.
Q: How did you realize sociology was the field for you?
A: As a senior in high school, I took a class on race, gender, and interracial relationships. At the time it felt gossipy, but we were interviewing each other and talking about what the campus sexual dynamics were. I was totally enthralled and had never thrown myself at a class that way, ever. I remember asking, “What is this?” and my teacher told me the closest thing would be sociology. My first sociology class in college had the same effect—I was just hooked from the beginning.
Q: Was that discussion-based high school class the model for how you teach classes at Geneseo?
A: One hundred percent. I came from environments where we were pushed to take ourselves super seriously as individuals capable of digesting knowledge. My teachers and professors weren’t just looking to pour knowledge into me like I was a cup—they wanted me to come to the material on my terms and charge my way through it. I appreciated being taken seriously as an intellectual. And I try to do that as an educator now. I want students to come in and bring the messy questions and the challenging questions.
Q: Have there been instances where you observed your teaching positively impacting students?
A: There are times when I see the light bulb moment, and it looks different for every student. I’ve had students who have come to my office and said, “I have never learned anything like this before, and it feels like you’ve turned on a light that I can’t turn off.” To hear a student say that the things we’ve done together in class have changed the way they see themselves and their place in the universe—that to me is priceless. More than anything, I want students to walk away from my courses feeling empowered to diagnose the world and make informed decisions about how they want to live in it. And when a student says that they’ve been empowered in that way, that’s like gold. I go to bed and think, “I did my job today.”

—Erin Tinklepaugh