A&S Doctoral Student Receives Presidential Fellowship

By Madison Dyment

Sociology doctoral candidate Henry Zonio in the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts & Sciences was selected as the recipient of the 2019-2020 Graduate School Presidential Fellowship.

This competitive fellowship recognizes and rewards one graduate student annually for her or his  exceptional academic and research merit in their field of study.

Receiving this award allowed Zonio to advance in his field by giving him the ability to focus on completing ethnographic field observations and drafting his dissertation he will be defending this coming fall semester. Within sociology, Zonio focuses on social inequalities, the sociologies of childhood, education and religion. His dissertation is an ethnographic study on how Sunday school teaches children about race and gender, with the studies focusing on three racially homogenous churches, these races being Caucasian, Black and Latinx.

“I chose this dissertation project because it connected my previous experiences working in churches with my personal and professional interests in racism and sexism, especially how young children interact with those concepts in socializing institutions,” Zonio said.

Churches are deemed by Zonio as “an understudied phenomenon” for gender and race socialization for children since six out of 10 children younger than 12 attend some form of religious programming monthly.

“Some of my key findings include the presence and reproduction of a white patriarchal Christian imagination in the religious education through the predominantly white imagery and male-centered Bible stories at each of the churches in the study,” Zonio said. “This, in turn shapes how Sunday school teachers and children interact concepts of race and gender within their one-on-one interactions with each other and with the material culture within the Sunday school spaces.”

Having had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Asbury University, Zonio moved to the Bay Area to complete a master’s in sociology at San Jose State University. Between these, he worked for 12 years in Protestant churches in both the United States and Canada, acting as a director for religious programming for children and their families as well as other denominational leadership roles.

Zonio has presented findings from his dissertation research at sociological and religious studies meetings, has consulted with religious education curriculum publishers, facilitated a webinar panel on discussion on racism in children’s religious education for 1,500 religious educators in the United States and was invited by the Church of England to talk about race and racism in Sunday school to children and youth workers in the United Kingdom. Some of his  indings have been published as a chapter in a book titled Bridging Theory and Practice in Children's Spirituality, published by Zondervan Academic.

This award was a welcome surprise to Zonio, who was sitting in the sociology graduate student offices when he received his email.

“Our DGS was in the office at the time, and I immediately showed her my computer screen. The small group of us had a mini celebration on my behalf,” Zonio said. “I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I had to focus on my dissertation work for the duration of the Presidential Fellowship.”