Undergraduate Spotlight: Sean Gray

“You’re going to have to use your mind much more than I ever did,” my father told me very matter of factly. N either of my parents ever went to college; I knew taking this journey would mean I would in some way have to do it alone. When I graduated high school, I knew school wasn’t for me right away. As I was leaving high school I was becoming increasingly involved in independent music. This of course was before the pitchforks and blog-hypes we see today of so called “independent music.” There was an energy that this culture gave to me that I had never experienced before. Through bands such as Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill, The Need, and other punk/indie bands at the time, I was able to understand such issues as feminism, gay marri age rights, globalization, and so on. While I knew in a college I would be able to find people that liked these bands and who would share my views on these issues that I was being exposed to, at the age between 18-24 I knew that my time couldn’t be fully dedicated to music if I was studying.

I started a fanzine interviewing bands and covering social issues that meant something to me, started a record label, and went on many tours with bands that went through parts of the United States that I never thought I would see. I realized during one tour, though, that if I wanted to be exposed to more of the world around me, I should at the very least try college. During high school and after working a job, I saved money, enough to get me started through community college. My parents didn’t have the money or resources to help me through school. I knew I had to start somewhere and I was lucky enough to live near one of the best community colleges in the United States.

I started off as a Journalism-major at Howard Community College. I wrote for the school newspaper, all music reviews of course. However, I felt in the end that I didn’t need a degree to write. During my first year I took a Sociology course. My professor asked us two questions: Can you tell me every step you took this morning to get ready? Then later: What does two plus two equal? The first question when people went through their answers, the professor would for example say, “Well, why did you brush your teeth?  Were you born knowing that?” I chuckled and knew he was on to something. But the second question is what got me thinking. Does it equal four? Why? Who says it has to? Who defines these answers? When he asked us those questions, I knew Sociology was for me.

I became increasingly interested in identity.  For example, how do we define someone who is disabled? Why do we define it that way? The idea that identities are not just masks you make, but masks that are made for you then manipulated over time by others. My community college professor realized I had these questions and that I needed to take my education a step further; not so much to answer the questions but to ask even more. He recommended the University of Maryland (UMD). It was here I fell in love with Sociology.

The first Sociology professor I had at UMD is one of four that will forever be in my mind as I continue my studies. Dr. Jeff Lucas taught my Social Psych class. His lectures made me take my studies to the next level. He expected a lot out of his students, and wasn’t afraid to say it. He seemed to love his job and wanted to challenge students. Even when I didn’t do so well on his first exam, I knew it was for the best and I knew he made it difficult for my benefit. He, in a way, took me under his wing and even let me be part of his lab team the next semester. I was able to experience first hand what professional Sociology can be like.

Professor Andrew Timleck, who I had two classes with (Sociology of Deviance and Social Self), showed me why I should always challenge myself beyond professional sociology. He presented me with the idea that love for sociology isn’t just to study it nor is it to change the world.  Rather it is to better understand the world you live in. He instilled in me the idea that to understand the world you live in, you have to put your self out there, even if it might be viewed as overly intellectual. He didn’t care what people thought of him and I loved that.

Dr. Anthony Hatch and Dr. Patricia Hill Collins, two of my later professors and both similar in teaching style, gave me the final piece I need to always stay in love with Sociology. They both taught me that the sky is the limit. To love Sociology is to give it no bounds, to explore ideas and things that matter to you. Then and only then can you understand what Sociology is; Sociology is us.

This sociological Imagination that I have crafted and developed is not a heavy theoretical one. And while I love theorists like Butler or Foucault, the definition of my sociological imagination is simple: asking why and how. As I sit at my desk studying for the GRE, almost 5 years from the start of my love of Sociology, I still ask those why and how questions wherever I go. This window that one views the world through is only as clear as you allow yourself to make it. Along with Sociology and the people that have cared for my education and for the development of my sociological imagination, the window has never been clearer.

Sean is a senior undergraduate student.


One thought on “Undergraduate Spotlight: Sean Gray

  1. Thanks Sean for your kind words and recognizing our craft as profs/teachers/mentors. It is truly one of teaching’s joys to see students “get it” run with “it” and make “it” their own. Cheers and a “HERE HERE!” to the “Sociological Imagination” in all its forms and all those that teach it and pursue its ever-unfolding, slightly enigmatic meaning and results.

    Andrew Timleck

    Adjunct Professor, Sociology,
    McDaniel College, Westminster, MD

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