Click on the image below for the newsmag version of UMD Socy News Vol. 6 (2), Spring 2012.
With this issue, we bid adieu to our position as editresses – for real this time – and we do so with much gratitude to all of you in our UMD sociology community. You’ve made the newsletter possible with your contributions, encouragement, and generous doses of humor. A big THANK YOU to everyone. But if we may, we’d like to extend an even bigger thank you to someone who has made connecting the UMD community – and the newsletter as one effort toward that – a priority on top of goodness-knows-how-many-more responsibilities. That someone is Dr. Reeve Vanneman, our out-going chair and the newsletter’s greatest supporter.
In this issue, spotlights are on our newest staff member – Erika Hoff, our new faculty member and alumnus – Phil Cohen, Bill Form speaker and alumnus – David Cotter, doctoral candidate – Alice Nixon Thompson, junior undergraduate – Nate James, and Professor Emeriti Mady Segal and Professor David Segal (a.k.a. “Your Excellency” (you’ll have to read to find out)). We also read about the second consecutive annual successes for both the Theorizing the Web conference and the Teaching Support Group. Along with A LOT more!
We cherish that our editress-ship has allowed us to be in closer conversation with each of you. These downright good conversations will continue with Anya Galli as the incoming editress and Dr. Patricio Korzeniewicz as the incoming chair. Best wishes to all here at the close of the 2011-12 academic year. And again, THANK YOU.
Happy summer … Bev & Meg.
This is my last letter as chair. On July 1, I hand over the office to Patricio Korzeniewicz who will bring new energy and new ideas to the department. For me, it’s been a good ride. I have enjoyed joking about the number of days left until I get back to my real work as a sociologist. But, in truth, this is an easy department to chair. We don’t waste time and energy on political divisions; we take pride in each others’ accomplishments; and we are confident that our future will be even better than the present. Each year our students are more accomplished and better prepared than the ones who came before. We have expanded the faculty with eight new hires in these three years, and it has been exciting to see the new perspectives and new enthusiasm at faculty meetings.
There is, as always, much left to do. New information technologies are coming our way. They will reshape the way we teach and how we do research. We need to prepare better for these changes. The university is encouraging us to become better engaged with our surrounding communities – we are a land-grant university and need to live up to those commitments. Sociology is especially well suited for better community engagement, but we have to organize this well to achieve all that is possible. And new faculty mean new directions for our undergraduate and graduate programs. Some of our specialty areas, in particular, look more like the Sociology Department of 2002 than the department of 2012.
This has also been a year of loss for the department. Earlier we lost three former faculty, Emeritus Professors Ray Henkel and Bob Hirzel, and adjunct professor Mehrdad Mashayekhi. More recently, Distinguished University Professor Harriet Presser has died. Harriet was a commanding presence in Maryland Sociology. As the citation for the ASA’s Jessie Bernard Award said, “Her work helped transform the field of demography by bringing a gender perspective to bear on the study of fertility and family processes.” She had a great personal influence on my own research trajectory. Her keen perceptions and good humor will be greatly missed.
And so, we move forward. Here’s to the future…
I was very excited to serve as Graduate Director this year. My term ended up being shorter than originally expected, so some pending projects will have to be brought to a successful conclusion by my future replacement and next year’s Graduate Committee. Still, our office experienced several important highlights this year.
In the Fall, we prepared new instruments and a preliminary plan for evaluating and assessing our graduate program. These instruments are supposed to provide more qualitative information on our strengths and weaknesses, to complement the usual quantitative indicators used to measure performance (such as years to completion of degree, number of publications and paper presentations by graduate students, teaching evaluations and so forth). Our instruments and preliminary plan got very high marks from the Graduate School –who considered our materials to be exemplary. But work remains to be done, particularly in deciding how often and in what way we will use our evaluations and assessments to come up with policy recommendations to continue improving the quality of our program. Graduate student feedback will be important in making these decisions.
As usual, the beginning of Spring semester required the Graduate Committee to engage very fully in the process of admission of new applicants. We were happy to come up with a very diverse (and unexpectedly large!) pool of incoming students. As usual, their interests encompass most of the existing fields of strength in our department, while providing exciting opportunities to explore issues such as the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender in shaping processes of stratification, mobility and inequality.
In both semesters, the whole department had the opportunity to hear presentations on the second year papers. The consensus among both faculty and students was that these presentations represented a very productive opportunity, allowing students to both enhance their professional skills and receive useful, substantive feedback on their work. Beyond the high quality of the papers, it was gratifying to see that the second year paper exercise is encouraging students to stay on track in meeting our program requirements. To further enhance the usefulness of this exercise, I think it will be important to come up with incentives that further encourage students to develop their work into conference presentations and eventual publications.
Our current graduate students have been very successful in pursuing grants and fellowships within and outside our institution. We hope to keep this up! Also, speaking of resources, we are in the midst of reevaluating the stipend levels of our graduate students. Some further discussion will be needed in the Fall to make final determinations, but we have become aware that there are some disparities between our stipends and those in several of our peer institutions. We intend to address this issue as soon as possible.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the intense and essential work carried out by Karina Havrilla in our office. As Phil Cohen soon will find out as the new Graduate Director, her presence is invaluable to the workings of our office. Thanks, Karina, for all your help and efforts!
I recently had the pleasure of learning more about one of our newest additions to the sociology department, Erika Hoff, when she agreed to be interviewed for our newsletter. Erika is the department’s Administrative Coordinator and her official job duties include providing management of the Chair’s academic agenda and acting as a liaison between the Sociology department and other departments on campus or outside agencies. Erika manages development and alumni affairs for the department and is responsible for coordinating various events for the department.
Erika is a DC native who has lived in DC, Maryland, and Virginia at various points in her life. Her mother worked for the State Department, which moved the family to Ecuador when she was 14 years old. She really enjoyed going to high school in Ecuador, having a graduating class of 44 students and going on trips in the jungle and to the Galapagos Islands. Erika definitely has the travel bug and mentioned Thailand, India, Nepal, and Australia as top places on her list to visit (if she can muster up the courage to take those long flights).
Erika went to college in Williamsburg, VA getting her degree in psychology from William and Mary. Since college she has worked in UMD’s psychology department, gotten married (met her husband on a ski trip, he was the ski instructor- so cute!) and has tapped into her creative side, taking photography classes, and starting her own photography business mainly doing portraits and weddings. She loved her business and the flexibility it gave her, especially with a young daughter. But Erika missed the work environment and is happy to be back to regular working hours.
Even though she’s only been with the department for a short time Erika really enjoys seeing what goes on behind the scenes of the department. She has even taken an interest in the field, especially the area of Gender, Work, and Family because it relates so much to her own life. She’s hoping to go to more talks given in the department to learn more about sociology. Erika is excited to be working with the department after getting such a positive vibe from people during the interview process. She is looking forward to putting her creative and organizational talents to use!
Joanna is a third year PhD student.
We were putting the finishing touches on the previous edition of the newsletter late one Friday evening last semester when we realized we were not alone. Up there on what we thought to be a vacated-for-the-weekend 4th floor ASY, our occasional giggles and/or raucous laughter turned out to be audible to others. Or, one other. One Dr. Segal — Dr. David Segal who, in his usual kind spirits, encouraged our on-the-job fellowship, and even came to join the party. We got to talking, and by the by (read: we asked him) we began to talk about how he and Dr. Mady Segal met. It was a great story, one that he finished by saying, “But you ought to talk with Mady.” So we emailed her to request a date when the four of us might sit down and talk together. Here’s what she said:
Bev and Meg,
I’m looking forward to talking to you about how we met. David will tell his version and I’ll tell the truth.
And so in honor of love and partnership we are humbled and excited to share Drs. Segals’ stories. We share an excerpt of the transcript below.
9 April 2012, 3:30pm
ASY 2115 – Dr. Mady Segal, Dr. David Segal, Bev Pratt, Meg Austin Smith
Meg: Thank you for coming, Dr. Segal and Dr. Segal.
Mady: I’m Mady. He can be whatever he wants.
David: Your Excellency.
Meg: So who goes first?
Mady: I’ll start. He’ll interrupt. After 45 years… We’ve been married 45 years. We met when I was still an undergraduate…it was 1965, and I applied to many more schools than most people, my fellow students who were men, because they could predict where they would get in, but it was legal to discriminate against women, that was before the Equal Opportunity in Employment and Education. I was graduating from Queens College, and I had been a mathematics major and changed my major to Sociology the summer before my senior year, and my goal was to teach high school math or junior high school math.
David: You can still do that; you’re retired.
Mady: And in the NYC school system you had to earn a Master’s degree, but I found out it didn’t have to be in education or whatever your field was…I found out there was this field of mathematical sociology, so I went to the library and checked out all the books I could find, including those in mathematical psychology, started reading them, and decided to apply to schools that had programs in mathematical sociology…Turns out my mathematics actually got me in. I was choosing between three schools, the three that were most attractive to me were Chicago, Michigan and Stanford. And of course those were superb schools and I was just shocked that I had gotten in and had gotten funding… I was living at home as an undergraduate, the phone rang, and my mother answered it and came running up the stairs and said, ‘Mady, there’s a professor from the University of Chicago on the phone.’ Now, my father was the first in his extended family to go to college and he did it at night while working full time, I was three and my brother was six when he graduated. We did not have professors hanging out in our house a lot….It was Bob Crane [on the phone] who was the advisor at the time for the mathematical sociology fellows at the University of Chicago, and he said, ‘Have you gotten our letter yet?’ and I said no, and he said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what it says. We’re offering you a three-year fellowship through the National Defense Education Act in mathematical sociology. It was in the wake of Sputnik…
[Bob Crane] gave me his number and said “Call collect” – back then it was important because it was very expensive, and he said, ‘You might want to take a trip out here and if you do, we can’t pay your plane fare, but we can put you up in the Eleanor Club for Women…
David: Can I interrupt for just a minute?
David: Well I will anyway. One of the interesting things is the difference in the admissions process between the University of Chicago and Maryland…At Chicago, decisions were made based on who had funding to support graduate students. Here we have a graduate committee and people talk about who is going to be supported and how, and a lot of people are supported through teaching assistantships, and at Chicago we didn’t have that. Graduate students could not teach undergraduate students…The people who controlled the research assistantships and the training grants made the decisions. So they had a stake from the get-go in who were the incoming students. Once they made their decisions about who they wanted, they worked very hard to get who they wanted…
Mady: I actually wasn’t intending to get a PhD. I was still intending to become a teacher. But that’s not what you can say in these applications….they were all PhD programs. You had to say you wanted a PhD. So by the time I finished writing them all, I had basically socialized myself that I was going to get a PhD. But I also, when I was taking preliminary exams, I said if I pass them at the Master’s level, then I’m taking it and leaving. Because I wasn’t going through that again. It’s like comps but earlier…
David: It is a comprehensive exam. It covered the 14 fields that Chicago felt it was strong in. You could take courses in them or not, but there was a reading list…
Mady: So I talked to my parents, and because they did not want me going as far as Stanford…I was 19 at the beginning of my senior year…so I wasn’t going to take a trip to Stanford. I had a boyfriend there….
Mady goes to Chicago to visit…
So I flew to Chicago…and the person who picked me up at the airport was the son of family friends. It was who my mother was trying to get me together with. And I had a boyfriend back at home.
Bev: And the one at Stanford?
David: It’s the story of my life.
Mady: Back then we did not just date one person. Norms were very different…
David: Did that change when you married me?
Mady: Hmm. Most of the time…Bob Crane knew that I was interested in social psychology…so he suggested that I go to this evening seminar that they had…but it happened to be going on when I was there…they had an outside speaker, there was dinner served for $2, and then there was a question and answer session after dinner. That’s where I met David.
David: I was a social psychologist in my early life.
Mady: It was pretty funny because my mother’s response was, ‘You had to go all the way to Chicago to meet a nice Jewish boy from New York?’ We were actually born in the same hospital. …So David was in his third year…my first year was his last…First of all, the guest speaker was actually talking about neurotic kids’ backgrounds, and he was talking about growing up in New York, and I was slinking under the table…I was talking with people at the table after the talk…David’s roommate had gone to Stanford as an undergraduate, so he suggested that I come over to his place to meet [his roommate]…
David: I thought we went to Jimmy’s first.
Mady: First he took me out for a drink…On our first date, I wouldn’t really call it a date. I had a Coca-Cola.
David: We had good Coke in Illinois.
Before Mady left Chicago…
Mady: We went to breakfast at Gordon’s…I had taken a philosophy course at Queens, it went back to B.C., and Hannah Arendt was one of the people we read in there, so I associated her with Plato and Aristotle. So we walked in and there was a woman having breakfast with a student and David said hello to her, and I said, ‘Who was that?’ and David said, ‘That was Hannah Arendt.’ And I said That’ it! I’m coming to Chicago…
I did have a very expensive telephone call with my boyfriend at Stanford. I actually made a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of each of the schools.
Meg: Was David on the list?
Mady: No. I don’t think so. I actually can’t remember.
David: That’s probably the safest answer.
Mady: We did make up [a version] of the story to tell our daughter, because it doesn’t sound very romantic, “Where did you meet?” “At a social psychology seminar.” …Now it’s your turn.
David: Part of the story is that Bob Crane knew that Mady was going to the social psych seminar and he knew that I was going to be there, and he asked me to make sure that she came. So I married her.
Mady: That’s the version that he likes to tell.
David: The other version is that when she was a teenager, she was learning to knit and she made a sweater for one of her previous boyfriends, and it was a beautiful grey cable knit sweater, however since she was a brand new knitter and she was taking lessons from her cousin who didn’t teach her anything about gauge –
Mady: How many stitches to the inch.
David: … so the sweater didn’t fit him. So she went looking for somebody who could wear the sweater.
Mady: It was in my closet for a long time.
David: And it fit me. So she married me,
When Mady came to Chicago, it was the first time she’d lived on her own. She didn’t know how to cook
David: I’m glad your mother didn’t teach you to cook, because then you would have cooked like your mother.
Mady: I’m a better cook than she is.
David: What a disaster.
Mady: My mother was actually a pretty good cook, but he would say things like, ‘What is your mother drying out for dinner tonight?’
David: Well who eats baked liver?
Mady: So we had an eating arrangement, because we both lived alone…I had an efficiency. The kitchen was a sink, a refrigerator and a stove. There wasn’t even a counter… My mother doesn’t cook any more, but she is still alive. She’s 92. My mother didn’t think he was good enough for me….then it got to the point where she didn’t think I was good enough for him.
Mady and David were engaged May 16, 1966 and married December 25, 1966. [David: And every year people start putting up decorations for our anniversary!]
Bev is a fourth year PhD student. Meg is a third year PhD student.
Although Dr. Philip Cohen is a new faculty member here at UMCP, he is no stranger to the department. Since earning his PhD in Sociology from Maryland in 1999, he has held positions as an assistant professor at the University of California – Irvine as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published several articles on gender, race, and occupational inequality. He returned full force this semester, serving on department committees as well as teaching. Currently, he teaches a course on Gender, Work, and Family. In the fall, he will teach Theories of Stratification. For all of us current graduate students, his career trajectory shows there is light at the end of the tunnel (especially for me, a first year student).
Aside from being a successful researcher, publisher, and blogger (www.familyinequality.com), tell us a bit about yourself. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
My wife and I have two young children and a puppy, so that’s most of the non-work day, happily. When I have time I like to take photographs, especially of birds, flowers, food and random people.
From a previous interview, we know that you have parents who are scholars (a mathematician and biologist) and grew up in Ithaca in an academic environment. Why did you choose sociology as a career path with gender inequality, demography, and stratification as focal research interests?
I knew I was interested in inequality before I knew about sociology. As I was finishing my undergrad degree in American Culture and looking at graduate school, I realized that what was happening in sociology research was closer to what I liked to do. Eventually I got into quantitative work, but that was a lengthy process, requiring some excellent statistics instruction, great mentoring, and a lot of trial and error.
Having received your doctoral training here at the University of Maryland, how does it feel to return to the department as a faculty member?
Great. Except for a few odd moments of déjà vu, it feels very natural to be here. Of course, now I have a bigger office (and paycheck) than I did in grad school. (On the other hand, I’m not as good at staying up late working.) So it’s an adjustment, but I’m very happy to be here, and everyone — including students! — has been super welcoming.
You are among a variety of sociologists who have a large Internet presence. What role do you think blogging and social networks should play in knowledge production and transmission? Do you think these technological advances produce pressure to be a public sociologist?
I’m not sure I meet the criteria of public sociologist that some people use. However, I do think it’s important and valuable to communicate with the non-academic public, and technology now makes that a lot easier — or at least reduces the cost of entry. Actually, most of my blog readers — at least the ones I hear from — are sociologists. And that’s great, too, because they often are the people I can get an immediate boost from engaging in conversation over my work (and their work). We share research findings and reactions, and talk about teaching, and that provides a great entrée into discussions with the non-academics out there as well. It’s a very fulfilling part of my job.
What do you find most rewarding about being a professional sociologist?
The best part is having the time and resources — including the skills I’ve learned, and the people around me — to try to figure out the social world. Solving empirical sociological puzzles — putting together the story of how social change unfolds — is what I most enjoy. As I get older I’m hopefully getting better at it, especially when it comes to learning from other people — students, academics and laypeople. One of my ambitions is to get better at teaching and mentoring. The undergraduate textbook I’m writing, the blog, and the great students here at UMD are all part of that process and, I hope, transformation.
Joey is a first year PhD student.
Often, sociologists’ research is inspired by our life experiences: the Texan wants to study Southern identity, the middle class woman in her 20’s wants to study post-feminist culture (oh hey, that’s me…). Rarely do we see a well-researched, Millsian-inspired presentation on a sociologist’s own social location and exactly what it means to occupy that spot. That’s what we got with this year’s Form lecture speaker, Dr. David Cotter, who entertained and informed us with his presentation “SLACer Life: Composing a Career at a Selective Liberal Arts College.”
Dr. Cotter is one of our own. He completed his Ph.D. at Maryland in 1994 as part of the first cohort in the “new” Ph.D. program, and worked with Bill Falk and Reeve Vanneman while he was a graduate student. Upon completing his degree, Dr. Cotter accepted a two-year visiting professor position at Union College in New York, which evolved to his current position as the chair of the sociology department. Union College is a private, nondenominational institution with about 200 faculty and 2,000 undergraduate students. Union College, like other SLACs, focuses on a “classic” education rather than socializing students into professions, and follows a tutorial model, not a “scholar” model. Criteria for tenure are: 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service.
Think you want to be a SLACer? I offer you some highlights of Dr. Cotter’s presentation on following in his career footsteps. First, there is stiff competition for SLAC positions: This year, the ASA job bank advertised about 25 small liberal arts jobs. Second, in case you, like Dr. Cotter once did, pictured small liberal arts college professors as having plenty of time to kick back in cozy coffee shops, stroll through beautifully landscaped campuses, and shop for tweed blazers with leather elbow patches, think again. Dr. Cotter shared his realization that his professors walking their dogs and cheering at sporting events were not, in fact, living slow-paced, leisure-filled lives, but rather squeezing these activities in between writing book chapters, teaching heavy course loads, and grading mountains of student papers (no TA’s to help!).
Can you be a productive, active scholar and a SLAC professor? Dr. Cotter offered his thoughts and words of advice on this topic. His answer was yes, but remember: At a SLAC, you are a teacher first and a scholar second. If you want to be star sociologist, the SLACer life may not be the path for you. But if you love teaching, the SLAC career path means opportunities to develop courses, instruct small classes, and teach a wide range of courses, from research methods to inequality to the sociology of religion.
I caught up with Dr. Cotter via email after his talk to ask a few follow-up questions and to see if he had any entertaining stories to offer from his time as a Maryland graduate student. Here’s what he had to say.
On his current research and where it’s headed in the near future:
“Most of my research in the past ten years has been on what Joan Hermsen (a fellow Maryland alumnus), Reeve Vanneman and I have called the “end of the gender revolution.” This began with a report for the Russell Sage Foundation/Population Reference Bureau in 2004, and then a number of papers looking at the phenomenon over a variety of dimensions. One of these – looking at trends in gender-related attitudes — was published last summer in AJS. Another, this time looking at the stalling of occupational desegregation, will be presented at ASA this summer in Denver. But given the scope of the issue, and the number of dimensions it crosses we think that it’s headed for a book-length treatment. So that is our next step. I’ve typically also got a couple other things simmering along such as the two papers I put together looking at rural-urban differences in time use, some ideas about papers on work-family balance, and a couple more on rural poverty.”
On student body diversity at Union College (for example, racial composition of students is 3% African American, 7% Asian, and 5% Hispanic) and how that might affect his job:
“Diversity is one of the typical challenges for small, private colleges like Union. Although 60% of our students receive financial aid – and of those the average award is $35,000 – it’s still prohibitively expensive for many families to send students to a college with a comprehensive fee in excess of $50,000 a year. So in some ways this means we’ve got an overrepresentation of the children of the top 1%. That in and of itself is interesting. Those may well be the people who need sociology the most. The College has been trying to diversify both the student body and the faculty. One of the more successful programs we’ve become part of is the Posse Foundation (http://www.possefoundation.org/). One of the interesting things that I’ve become concerned about is the fact that we may be losing the “middle” of the income distribution — we wind up with more students on a full ride, and more who are full pay, but less who have two parents who are teachers, etc.
Paradoxically, at the same time the small size of a school like Union is that students often have more exposure to diversity – either racial/ethnic or ideological — than they do at a larger university. A report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (http://nsse.iub.edu/_2010/img/NewNI/Wabash_Expectations_Engagement.pdf) shows that, compared to their peers at other institutions, students at liberal arts colleges were more likely to report often or very having serious conversations with students of a different race/ethnicity (51% v. 47%) or very different religious, political or personal values (69% vs. 60%). I think part of the reason for this is that the small size of the school, and the active social, athletic and academic engagements of the students means that it is more difficult to remain isolated.”
Dr. Cotter’s #1 piece of advice for Maryland graduate students, regardless of future career path:
“Mix it up – make sure that you get some experience doing research, some experience teaching, and some experience in administration. Not only will this look good on a CV, it can also help you find your passion. When I started as a graduate student I did not think I was at all interested in being a researcher. But as it turned out, first working with Bill Falk and then with Reeve Vanneman and some other graduate students, I not only liked it but was fairly successful at it. I had friends who found pretty quickly that although they might be good teachers it was just too draining.”
A funny/embarrassing anecdote about his time at Maryland (here are two):
“My first semester at Maryland it felt like every time they were in a room together Bill Falk and George Ritzer were competing to see who was funnier. They’d each feel like they had to say something that would top the other’s joke or quip. Some of it was quite humorous. What they didn’t know is that we were keeping track. But I’m not telling who won.”
“So we were sociology graduate students – keen observers of human behavior (i.e. geeks). Come summer, we quickly noted the differences in faculty footwear. There were the ‘full professor sandals’ (George Ritzer’s Birkenstocks), ‘associate professor sandals’ (Reeve Vanneman’s Indian leather ones), and ‘assistant professor sandals’ (Alan Neustadtl’s Tevas).”
Dr. Cotter’s back-up career plan in case this sociology thing doesn’t work out:
“I think I’d be a carpenter. I get to do some of that in restoring the 1840s farmhouse we live in and really like it. But, after a weekend of it I’m ready to go back to my desk job.”
Where the future of sociology is headed, according to Dr. Cotter:
“I think there’s a pretty good future for sociology. Our questions, theories, and methods seem to me to be very well suited to the emerging world. I think increasingly we’ll see that the kinds of skills that sociologists have – integrating ideas and evidence, mixing quantitative, comparative and qualitative analyses – can help answer questions both big and small.”
Lucia is a first year PhD student.
A: I’m a junior sociology major and currently reside with my family in Bowie, Maryland. My dad had graduated from the University of Maryland College Park, and so of course I had always envisioned graduating here as well. I also wanted to attend a high quality school that was a minimal distance away from my immediate family as well as my church in Riverdale (5 minutes from UMD). So, after receiving my Associates Degree in General Studies from Anne Arundel Community College, I gladly took the opportunity to transfer to College Park.
Q: Why did you decide to major in Sociology? What are your specific interests within Sociology?
A: I’ve always had a love for people and diversity. So, when I arrived at Maryland I initially wanted to become a Communications major because of my natural bend towards working with the public. Complications materialized with that endeavor however, and I needed an alternative fast. I found that alternative while taking Beverly Pratt’s “Social Problems” course. I remember being consistently inspired and challenged by eye-opening teaching on and insight into the plight of the oppressed in very our own country. There were more heart breaking moments during the course of those 15 weeks than I can count; moments I wouldn’t trade for the world. These moments awakened me to the needless suffering of millions of the impoverished and disenfranchised in an incredibly wealthy nation, and influenced my decision to become a sociologist. I chose this major because I’m persuaded that it will put me in the best possible position to discern patterns of societal injustice and to challenge them in the most effective manner. Hopefully the paycheck will be somewhat decent as well!
Q: What has your experience been like as an undergraduate student in sociology? What will you “take away” from this experience?
A: Right now I’m only in my second semester of the sociology program, and quite honestly it has not been easy! Sociology 201(Research Methods) is a real “gut-checker” of a course that I’m taking this semester. Apparently this and its counterpart course (Sociology 202) have caused more than a few aspiring sociologist students to reconsider their entire academic trajectory.
Sociology is by no means a “soft science.” Nevertheless, I’m confident the hard work is stretching me to make a greater difference in our world eventually. In the meantime, the most enjoyable aspects of being in the sociology program have been incredible professors as well as the company of my classmates. They continue to provoke and challenge me be the best student I can be.
Q: What are your career plans and goals after you graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland?
A: Given that research positions seem to be the most common option available to 4-year graduates, I anticipate at least initially doing something down that vein. One area I want to delve into is income inequality by race, and then to hopefully shed light on previously unknown causes of such disparities. A bit vague perhaps, but everyone starts somewhere right?
Q: What does Sociological Imagination mean to you?
A: The Sociological Imagination is basically my contemplation of how my life’s narrative connects with the broader storyline of American society and ultimately the world. It’s what helps me convert social theory into the “language” of my everyday life.
Nate is a junior undergraduate student.
Where did you attend undergrad? What was your academic focus?
Originally from Tampa Florida, I moved to the Baltimore area after high school to attend Goucher College. I had originally planned on majoring in Fine Art with a specific focus on drawing, painting and photography. However, after taking an introduction to sociology class, I immediately changed majors. From the start sociology allowed me to explore my academic curiosities and draw on my strengths in math, history, and social studies. I found that studying subjects important to me through a sociological frame gave me a way of seeing the world that made intuitive sense and provided me with a way of connecting my own experiences to the larger currents of society and history.
What was life like after college?
After completing my undergrad degree, I found that sociology did not immediately translate into employment. I moved a few times and had a number of different jobs. I lived in NYC for a time and worked at the New School University as a teaching assistant. I also worked in coffee shops, a travel agency, a couple law firms, and meeting planning company before realizing that to get the type of job I wanted I would have to return to school for an advanced degree. I decided to go back to school and I earned a masters degree in applied sociology with a focus on medical sociology. With this degree, I had found my niche and doors started to open. Over the next few years, I found myself in a series of more and more interesting jobs related to health and society. I worked first for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, then the Government Accountability Office, and finally at the Institute of Medicine working evaluating U.S. Government-funded international health programs. I loved my work but began to see an academic glass ceiling quickly approaching.
Why did you decide to return to graduate school in Sociology? Why did you decide to attend the University of Maryland, specifically?
Looking around at work, I began to notice many of my supervisors, organizational leaders, and people I admired in the work place had doctoral degrees. It became clear that if I wanted to directly shape programs, policy, and/or research I would need to go back to school. The people with advanced degrees had something I wanted: levels of expertise and set of skills that can only be gained by taking the next step. So it was decided I would need to go back to school but where and for what? This question was also answered by my surroundings. For many in my field the answer would have been straightforward: public health. But my background in sociology had provided me with ability to see a gap in the current debates about international health. For years, I had sat around conference room tables listening to doctors, politicians, public health experts, epidemiologist, and bureaucrats debate about how to improve health in “developing” countries. And while many effective suggestions were made, the solution was often missing the insights that could be provided by the discipline of sociology. In many cases, institutional, structural, cultural, and normative challenges were hindering potential progress in development and health in these settings. I knew I could get a public health degree and provide the same types of insights others were already providing OR I could get a PhD in sociology with a focus on areas like development and demography and add a new perspective to the conversation. The answer was pretty clear. The University of Maryland with its complementary specialty areas and access to the MPRC was the perfect place to go to root myself in sociology and get exposure to other related disciplines.
What are your research and goals? What motivates these interests and goals?
I have maintained an applied focus to my studies here at the University of Maryland. My goals when I returned to school were to strengthen my core understanding of the discipline of sociology as well as gain specific knowledge in areas that would be directly applicable to the type of research and evaluation I had been exposed to through my various jobs. The concentrations of development and demography complemented my “real world” experiences and have given me useful theoretical perspectives and methodologies for examining issues related to international health. My current dissertation work is an attempt to bring all of these areas together. I am currently designing a study to explore the continuing influence of colonialism-era health-related institutions on variations in the health of populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. My hope is to produce a work that speaks both to an academic as well as policy audience. For me if my research isn’t in some way leading to an improvement in the lives of real people, I have missed an opportunity.
What does the “sociological imagination” mean to you and how does it influence your daily work?
From my first sociology class, the concept of sociological imagination has provided me with a way to see the world and framework for understanding what I saw. The connection of the seemingly personal with the public came as a relief to me and put into focus what I had always viewed as a world skew. This many years later, it is difficult to view the world without seeing institutions, organizations, norms, patterns of behaviors that sketch out the relationship between individual “troubles” and public “issues”. In my work today, it is the intersection of history and biography, and the relations between the two within society that I hope to bring to my future work on the challenges of global health.
Alice is a third year PhD student.
The crowd is gone, the banners rolled back up, the rooms cleaned, and now we have a chance to sleep–and reflect on Theorizing the Web 2012. After two successful years, the conference—born as a fun idea and with humble expectations—has morphed into an institution in that sociological sense of the term. We’re proud of Theorizing the Web and those who made it a success: our committee and the attendees.
For those who don’t know, this conference is a grad-student-production through and through. We had a terrific committee again this year, which included sociology grad students Tyler Crabb, Rachel Guo, Zach Richer, Jillet Sam, David Strohecker, Matthias Wasser, Sarah Wanenchak, and William Yagatich. Dan Greene from American Studies also joined the team this year. Additionally, we’d also like to recognize Ned Drummond (our designer), Rob Wanenchak (our photographer), and DJ Sean Gray, who you might remember as a former sociology undergrad. Also, we had terrific sponsors, especially the sociology department, who has supported this event in any and every way that we’ve asked. We’re very lucky to be here.
We created the conference for the simple reason of wanting something we were not getting at other conferences. First, there is the substantive focus of the event: theory sessions at disciplinary conference seldom feature presentations that focus on the radically transformative nature of the Web, while tech sessions and tech conferences tend to focus solely on description rather than on making theoretical arguments. Without an apparent space to theorize the Web it became clear that we needed Theorizing the Web.
But if we’re going to make a conference, we’re going to make one we want to attend. The cost? Pay-what-you-want. Grad students could attend for $1, and those who could afford it donated generously. The program should be filled with smart, clearly presented theories from a range of perspectives. Viewpoints often neglected at tech conferences, be they critical, queer, feminist, etc, undergird the entire event, rather than being ignored or placed in token sessions. More than interdisciplinary, this conference is also non-disciplinary, taking very seriously the importance of non-academic knowledges to gain insights about the social world. An art gallery, film screening, and other ways of knowing/communicating augment the paper presentations.
Theorizing the Web 2012 featured roughly 40 paper presentations. Rooms were packed (over 200 people registered to attend in-person). All presentations were also livestreamed (we had over 70 people simultaneously watching live at various points in the day). There was also an extraordinary conversation taking place on Twitter throughout the event. Indeed, the Twitter backchannel itself became a topic of discussion throughout the day. Traffic was heavy, with 4,750 tweets from over 650 people to the official conference account and to the #TtW12 hashtag. And, we made an attempt to innovate in bringing together online and offline interactions at the conference by creating the role of “backchannel moderator” for each session. These folks drew questions from the Twitter stream, giving voice to many people who could not travel but were watching the event remotely.
Following 2011’s talks by Saskia Sassen, George Ritzer and danah boyd, the keynote for 2012 was a conversation between Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Twitter journalist Andy Carvin of NPR. During the keynote, Tufekci sat across from Carvin and acted as interviewer, while, simultaneously, using her laptop to lead the backchannel discussion by taking questions, posting articles and letting what was happening both on and offline drive the session. The audience, following what was happening on stage and the fast-moving backchannel on their devices were inundated with smart ideas and information and left with much to think about regarding social media, social movements, and journalism.
This is just too much fun to not do this again next year.
Thanks to all those who helped make this happen, thanks to everyone who attended, thanks to everyone who encouraged and congratulated us, and thanks for reading.
Nathan & PJ | Theorizing the Web Co-Chairs
Nathan is a fifth year PhD student. PJ is a fourth year PhD student.
This past year, the actions of the Graduate Student Forum may not have been as visible as in years past, but we’ve been busy! Along with our ordinary run of tasks and responsibilities, the GSF has focused on three main things over the course of this year.
First, we are working to implement an informal, advanced graduate student pro-seminar. The goal of this advanced pro-seminar is to meet the more specialized set of professional needs that graduate students find themselves facing as they reach the end of their coursework and transition into comps and writing a dissertation, to answer questions and provide a space in which students can discuss issues freely. Our first advanced pro-seminar will focus on social networking at conferences, as many of us will be attending the American Sociological Association meetings in 2012.
Second, we are working to improve the C.W. Mills space. By the time the fall semester starts, we hope to have a new, bigger refrigerator in the C.W. Mills lounge. We have also added some additional lighting and furniture, as well as some new art kindly donated by Sharon Edens.
Finally, Sarah and Lori have been serving on the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee. The purpose of this committee is to serve as the voice of graduate students in BSOS and to work directly with the Dean to address student concerns, initiatives, and interests and to build relationships across departments and disciplines within BSOS. DGSAC has begun dealing with some important issues and exciting projects, and is set to be an important and valuable resource for graduate students all across BSOS.
We would like to thank all students, faculty, and staff who contributed to the functions of the GSF. It has been wonderful working with all of you.
Lori & Sarah | GSF Co-Presidents
Lori & Sarah are third year PhD students.
Co-Presidents: Lori Reeder & Sarah Wanenchak
Treasurer: Joanna Kling
COMMUNITY BUILDING TEAM
Department News: Meg Austin Smith & Beverly M. Pratt
C. Wright Mills Rep: Anya Galli
Social Chairs: Jillet Sam & Daniel Swann
Pre-candidacy Rep: Joanna Kling
PhD Rep: Valerie Chepp
General GSF Reps: Crosby Hipes, Denae Johnson, & Marek Posard
UMD Graduate Student Government Rep: Joe Waggle
Admissions Reps: Sidra Montgomery & Beverly M. Pratt
Policy Committee Rep: Kendra Barber
Awards Committee Rep: Megan Benetsky
Undergraduate Committee Rep: Tyler Crabb
Events Committee: Anya Galli & Denae Johnson
Karin K. De Angelis
Like many of us who teach, I’m reflecting on my first semester of teaching – six months later – with both regret and affection. The regret I feel is now knowing I could have taught concepts and negotiated discussion in much better ways. But the (quite sweet) affection I feel is toward my nearly 60 students who breathed alive my sociological imagination with their eagerness and hope to learn and do. Little did they know, I needed their hope as much, if not more, than they needed my lectures, as my cynicism toward humanity those few months had been exponentially growing. And, thankfully, their hope worked its magic!
As an extra credit assignment, I told them to go to the new national memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was once a sociology undergraduate student himself), write a reflection of their time spent there, and take a photo in front of the memorial. To my surprise, about 75% of students did the assignment! The following are BEAUTIFUL reflections from seven of my former students (nearly all freshmen), as they process the justice, democracy, hope, and love of Dr. King and his memorial.
Read and allow their hope-soaked words work their magic on you. Maybe you’ll breathe in some of their hopeful magic, too.
Peace … Bev
On December 3, 2011, I visited the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I was extremely fascinated by the amount of work that was put into this memorial. It felt more like an exhibit as it consisted of three separate statues and a long wall with quotes engraved. The fact that I attended this memorial when it was a beautiful day, helped to make me appreciate the beauty of it. I really was emotionally moved from this experience.
The memorial conveys three themes that were central throughout Dr. King’s life: democracy, justice, and hope. The centerpiece of the memorial is the “stone of hope,” which is a 30-foot statue of Martin Luther King Jr. He is standing upright and poised with his arms crossed. He is staring out across water at the horizon. I noticed his eyes were focused to something over to the right. I’m not sure what exactly he was looking at but I expect it has some significance. This centerpiece is a cut out from the two large stones creating a pathway. Before the separation of these stones is the “mountain of despair.” This pathway is the entrance to the memorial. The view as you walk through is truly breathtaking.
There were a lot of different quotes engraved on the inscription walls made of granite. This wall was 450 feet long and consisted of 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses. All of these quotes were inspiring and empowered democracy, equality, and freedom. One quote I loved the most was one with which Liz, Dani, and I took a picture (see photo). It states, “Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope.” For me, I feel this quote links the entire memorial together. It sums up everything Martin Luther King, Jr. stands for and wants for the world: democracy, justice, and hope. It still fascinates me that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that long ago; only about 43 years ago. It is crazy that it took that long for equality in America to be granted. Even though all these laws are passed and America values freedom, equality, and liberty, discrimination is still found everyday. We must continue to take steps toward ending racism, classism,and sexism within our everyday lives.
Dr. Martin Luther King wanted to be remembered as a “drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” As one walks through the memorial dedicated to him, it becomes obvious that Dr. King achieved his goal and so much more. My experience at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC was a very solemn one filled with pride radiating from the other visitors. As I approached the memorial, I was immediately in awe due to the symbolic structure of a mountain missing its middle piece. As I entered the memorial site, I read the words, “Out of a mountain if despair, a stone of hope,” which were displayed on the piece of the mountain that was misplaced. The careful thought to make this quote come to life instantly inspired me, and I began to appreciate the memorial even more than I thought I would.
As I walked along the walls filled with inspirational quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., I read them with a smile on my face as my head nodded in agreement with each of them. I watched as families walked while holding each other close and reading these quotes together. They stood there as a unit until each member was done reading. It was evident how much these quotes and Dr. King meant to them, especially to the families of color. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the people at this memorial were not only those of African American descent. There were people of all different backgrounds who were gathering in this location together to celebrate and remember this man who helped to create the more equal society we live in today. Their looks of appreciation, celebration, and admiration will be ones forever engraved in my mind.
Personally, I was privileged enough to visit this memorial the same weekend my aunt and little cousin were visiting me from New Jersey. I was so joyed that I could share this experience with both of them. Although my cousin is only eleven years old, the respect and knowledge he had about Martin Luther King really surprised me and made me proud that he understood how important this memorial is to so many people. We stood looking over the water at the Jefferson Memorial across the way and were able to appreciate the peace and civility of all the different people around us. This tranquility that I felt was only strengthened by the fact that I had the statue of Dr. King standing behind me.
One of the quotes on the memorial that particularly stood out to me was, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in” (MLK, Washington, D.C, 1959). This quote especially stood out to me because Martin Luther King is suggesting that individuals who fight for equal rights and improving society will not only improve themselves, but the world in which they live. With this said, I am reminded of our class discussions and how Audre Lorde suggests that in order to make a change in society, we must first ask questions and look inside of ourselves. By improving who we are as individuals, we will be more successful in improving the rest of society. Another quote mentions that a society at peace with itself is one that lives with its conscience. This quote inspires people to think before acting, question decisions, and being aware of the way we treat others. If we think before acting, we may be able to find ways to fight injustices without violence and allow peace to prevail. The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was not only inspiring and sentimental, but it also reaffirms the fact that creating a greater sense of peace can improve society for people everywhere.
I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial with my teammates and the first observation I made was how beautiful this monument was. When I saw this assignment, I thought I was going to come to the monument, take a picture, look around and leave. As soon as I entered the monument, my whole point of view towards it changed. As soon as I walked in, I automatically went to the quotes on the inscription wall. A quote that caught my attention was, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Martin Luther King Jr. believed in a non-violent approach to protesting against segregation, and even though he was not able to see the equality in the United States today, his quote about unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
It is amazing that everything that Dr. King preached about came true and it all started with his dream that he instilled in society. On the side of the Stone of Hope, which is the statue of Dr. King, it states, “I am the drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” During the time Dr. King was leading protests against segregation, the black community looked to his a leading in this movement while many of the white community looked at him as a dumb black man trying to change the system. Looking at how the Civil Rights Movement progress, it took a lot of people believing and trusting Dr. King and his inspirational words to end segregation. Like the quote on the Stone of Hope, Dr. King was the drum major and the African American (and the anti-racist) community was his band.
One of the most inspirational quotes I saw at this monument was, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This quote represents how strong the black community is because for years they dealt with disrespect, discrimination, and injustice and they remained non-violent while always looking out for each other. For years, the black community was challenged and encountered controversy but they stuck together and found justice in a non-violent way. Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, but in one of the quotes from the memorial, you can tell he was not just fighting for equality with African Americans, but society in general. Dr. King states, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Dr. King did not want to just fix the segregation and discrimination with African Americans, but fix all the injustice in the government and society. After leaving the memorial, I took a closer look into the construction of the monument and where all the quotes on the inscription wall came from. It was interesting that all the quotes that were used were all from different speeches during Dr. King’s lifetime except the “I Have a Dream” speech. The point of the memorial was to show how much of an impact he has had on society, and not just from the “I Have a Dream” speech, but the hundreds of speeches he used to inspire a movement that changed the United States forever.
The Martin Luther King Jr. national memorial, a “Stone of Hope,” was officially dedicated on October 16, 2011 in Washington D.C., bordering Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Interestingly, King’s memorial’s street address, 1964 Independence Avenue, references the 1964 Voting Rights Act, a milestone of the Civil Rights Movement. King’s memorial is both the first memorial to honor a black man, Civil Rights activist, and located on the National Mall.
King, a Civil Rights leader in the United States, became our modern day Moses of the Bible whose mission was to lead black people into the Promised Land, a society, where everyone that resides within the boundaries of the United States will be treated fairly with respect and dignity regardless of race, gender, or class. A society, in which all groups are physically and psychologically safe and secure and all groups can access resources/services equally. One could argue that without King, the Civil Rights Movement would not have made a great impact on American society. He was willing to risk his life to make America society, dominated by whites, embrace black people as human beings created by God. According to Dyson, King sought to teach Americans that our nation’s true identity lay not in color and hate but in diversity and love (Dyson 2000). King was not afraid to challenge the ideology of white supremacy by putting pressure on the United States government to abide by the true meaning of the Bill of Rights.
Also, the symbolism of his quotes at different times and places he visited was inscribed on the memorial wall. One of the quotes was, “Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights, you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in” (18 April, 1959): Washington DC). His quotes prove his leadership as someone who embraces truth and social justice. As agents of change, we can only be fruitful to our society as King challenges us, by using the knowledge we acquire in the classroom to help make our society a better place to live. Another quote: “Darkness cannot drive darkness, only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” (1963) … In reality, darkness and light cannot work together. King used nonviolent methods based on the teachings of the late Mahatma Gandhi of India to fight for justice and equality. It is in building relationships that one will be able to understand the biography and the history of a person before making a conclusion. Everyone has something in them to give to society, no matter how big or small. The burden of social ill rests on everyone’s shoulder.
I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. on the chilly afternoon of Saturday, November 19. My family, consisting of my parents, sister, and brother-in-law, went with me on this trip. I was quite eager approaching the memorial once I saw it from a distance. All I knew about the memorial was that there was a large statue of Martin Luther King Jr. carved out of stone.
Once I arrived at the memorial, I was impressed at how it was simple, yet grand at the same time. The large statue of the historical figure was amazing just from sheer size. Behind it were two other large stones made to seem as if they had been split apart from each other with their smooth sides facing inwards. The curved walls protruding from the outsides of these stones were inscribed with multiple quotes. The waterfalls on these walls were also a visually pleasing element.
Seeing the large stone depiction of a black historical figure being prominently displayed in the nation’s capital had me think about how far racial minorities have come in the past few decades. A century ago, if even a human-sized statue of a black man was displayed publicly, let alone in Washington, D.C., there would probably have been a significant riot and destruction done to it. When I visited the memorial, I felt a sense of respect among the visitors as they looked around quietly. There was a semicircle of a crowd around the large statue, standing at a distance to take in the whole thing. Many people just stood there admiring the piece. I believe this treatment of a memorial dedicated to a black man would be considered out of the realm of possibility by many people a century ago, as well as the thought of it being located between memorials dedicated to past presidents. This goes to show how our nation has greatly progressed in terms of segregation. But, I was also reminded that there are still large obstacles to overcome involving the inequalities racial minorities face today, as shown in our sociology class.
Inscribed on one side of the main feature of the memorial are the words “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” I believe this appropriate quote describes why the artist chose to portray Martin Luther King, Jr. emerging from rock. I love the whole concept of the statue. In my eyes, it shows that Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t cowardly, but was steadfast in his beliefs. He stood firm in his position of equal rights. He also had a stable foundation of supporters with him, so he wasn’t alone. The memorial and all the various quotes also reminded me of how intelligent he was. I imagined what it would be like to hear a speech of his in person, standing in a large crowd, probably scared and proud at the same time to be associated with such a group.
My trip to the memorial renewed my respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. and reminded me how influential he was in history. Hopefully sociological change will continue to happen in decades to come.
The first thing I would like to say about this experience is that it was more than just simply going to check out the monument of the most influential civil rights activist in modern history. It was the first time for me ever using the Metro or being in our nation’s capital, so this was very exciting and a great experience for me. I just think that, in and of it self, made the trip worth it. But anyway, upon entering the memorial you are greeted by two mammoth-sized boulders that mark the entrance to the park, with rough edges but cut completely flush in between where the visitors walk through. You then are surrounded with a marble wall of quotes given by Dr. King. One of my favorite quotes on this arced wall is this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I think that this quote has a similar message to what we have been taught in class on how to put an end to social injustices by creating relationships with other people outside of your social group. The root of hate is fear, and fear finds its roots in a lack of understanding or the unknown. The way to bring an end to fear, and thus hate, is by trying to understand that which scares you. And if you apply this to a social situation between people, this logic compels you to create a relationship and understand that which is different from you. And it is in this way that if people began to understand that which they fear, that hate that they carried would be on the way to being eliminated. So for this reason I think this quote is more that just powerful and religious sounding; it conveys the same message we learn today in our class on how to deal with and approach social injustices. After I looked over all the quotes from the mind of this great man I turned around and walked around the massive stone and saw a thirty foot sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King standing, his powerful gaze staring off into the distance.
After admiring the colossal work of the monument, I could not help but notice the direction that he was staring off into. I followed his eye and turned around; across the pitch black and reflective Potomac River I saw the Thomas Jefferson monument. And I found this very interesting because Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, is thought to be a great mind of freedom and equality among all men, but he also was a slaveholder. Not only was he a slaveholder, but also he offered rationalization for slavery.
This is not a commonly know fact associated with Thomas Jefferson. And it was after realizing this that I could not help but think about the direction that MLK was facing and the powerful gaze in his eyes and if these two things were connected at all. Offering a silent visual protest to the hypocritical actions of one of our nations founding fathers, one that we hold in particularly high regard. It could be nothing and just a coincidence but it was just an observation I had when at the monument, reflecting on Dr. King’s accomplishments.
After receiving this assignment to go to the MLK memorial, I became instantly excited because I have never been to Washington, DC. I originally mentioned to my roommate that I was going to see the memorial as an extra credit opportunity but her reasons were different. She is 100% African American and she passionately wanted to go, which made me rethink my reason for going. I suddenly felt that I was fulfilling a dream of honoring my African American side. My roommate and I decided to take our mini-adventure by Metro on Saturday November 19. It was a beautiful day, no rain, or even a cloud in the sky. As soon as we stepped out of the station, we were greeted with the gigantic Washington Monument. My expectation was set high for the MLK memorial because of the size of the Washington Monument. As we walked along side of the construction to see the Lincoln Memorial, I was amazed by the detail of his marble face and temple where he sat. As the sun was setting, the lighting was beautiful and the weather was a dream. We continued along the path towards the MLK memorial. Suddenly we were confused by the cardboard sign that pointed to our destination. At first it appeared to be three medium sized boulders. We approached the entrance and entered the memorial. It was not as grand as the Washington Memorial nor as detailed as the Lincoln Memorial. This was disappointing, but I looked around at the tourists of all different races and it became apparent that it was not about how MLK was portrayed, but instead what the monument represented. The words “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” are engraved on the side. These powerful words made me rethink my first negative impression. A smile formed across my face and I honored his mark on black history. I am very happy that I visited this memorial and this proud feeling will be engraved in my memory as a great experience.
Bev is a fourth year PhD student.
UMD sociology community:
Many of you have received my emails this semester about the teaching group meetings. Below are some frequently asked questions I’ve been asked about our teaching support group. I hope to see all of you at our first meeting in the Fall. Also, if you still have any questions, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
What is the “teaching group”? I started this teaching group in 2011 with the intention of facilitating conversations between people teaching topics related to race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. Teaching these topics isn’t easy and we each have knowledge and resources that others can benefit from.
What happens during the meetings? During meetings we talk about current issues anyone may be facing in their classes or a discussion topic that I come in with. Previously we have discussed the complexity involved in teaching about issues that you embody, strategies for teaching classism to students who aren’t used to talking about class, and how to keep students engaged when they are challenged by class topics.
How often do you meet? Once a month for about an hour. But if you have another commitment feel free to stop by and leave early. It’s very informal! Emails announcing the next meetings are usually sent a week in advance and the day of.
Do I need to be teaching a class in order to come? Not at all! The group is open to anyone and everyone who is currently teaching or anticipates teaching in the future.
How is this different from Dr. Moghadam’s teaching assistants’ seminar? While we sometimes give general advice about teaching, such as where to get videos for your class or syllabus construction, the focus of the group isn’t to introduce first time teaching resources. Instead we focus on pedagogy.
Is it restricted to sociology instructors? No! Please invite friends in other departments who teach or anticipate teaching courses related to race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. Past meeting attendees have been instructors in Sociology and Women’s Studies.
Kendra is a fifth year PhD student.
It was my decision to retire,
There are other things I want to try.
So why am I looking at my almost empty office
Fighting a compelling urge to cry?
I’ve been teaching college students
For more than 40 years
Passing on a love for knowledge
While quelling their many fears.
I’ve done research I’m proud of
And published it to share
With others in the profession
And policy makers who care.
I like to think my work has mattered
That I’ve helped improve the lives
Of the students in my classes
And some military wives.
I look at the recycling
Outside my office in the hall
So many years of papers
Form a pile a tree height tall.
Memories rise from the committee files
Paper traces of time and effort spent
To change things for the better.
Is this where my life went?
The walls are white and barren
Only picture hangers to stay
I’ve cleared my last belongings out
To take them home today.
I mulled it over last night
As I tried to fall asleep
How to manage transporting
The items I’d want to keep.
The precious photos of my family
Wouldn’t take up very much space
But the plaques on the wall would
And the mirror I used to check my face.
I took a rolling suitcase
For the awards from the wall.
Is this what’s left of all that work?
I hope my legacy’s not so small.
I wanted to retire
I did it in my time
But I’m leaving some of myself
In this room I’ve left behind.
My identity as professor
And active researcher too
Are moving into history
Another life passage to move through.
I haven’t really missed them
As I’ve had the office for another year
But as I wheel my suitcase out
Here comes another tear.
I’ve left the memories behind me
Emotions boiling when I get home
So I grab a piece of paper
And try to purge them in a poem.
I’ve never done this before
There’s always a first time
Perhaps it will feel better
To get it written into rhyme.
It helps for a while now
But I’m still feeling really down
Thinking of the suitcase
Locking away all of that renown.
When my husband’s home at last,
We go to our cozy basement den.
Together we hang the awards there
And for each I remember when.
He tells me he judges
Much of my work to be great.
He knows I’ve worked my heart out
The suitcase is now empty
Because the plaques are on the wall
Where I can see them and remember.
Then a tear of joy starts to fall.
As a sociology graduate student, I sometimes feel like Simmel’s “stranger,” close enough to academia to observe, but distant enough to retain an outside perspective. Like many graduate students staring down a possible academic career-path, I’m a bit terrified at the elephant in the room: is what academics do really important? are they relevant? does it matter?
Who reads a sociology journal? As my former theory teacher Chet Meeks once posed to my first social theory course, how many people look to sociology journals to learn anything about anything? While the occasional sociologist is quoted in the New York Times or appears on CNN, the influence these experts have is vanishingly small. I do not know as much about other disciplines, but the point for most of the social sciences and humanities is that, in my opinion, expert knowledge is largely going to waste.
The good news is that the tools to counter this deficiency in academic relevance are here for the taking. Now we need the culture of academia to catch up. Simply, to become more relevant academics need to make their ideas more accessible.
There are two different, yet equally important, ways in which academics need to make their ideas accessible:
(1) accessible by availability: ideas should not be locked behind paywalls
(2) accessible by design: ideas should be expressed in ways that are interesting, readable and engaging
To become publicly relevant, academics must make their ideas available to and articulated for the public.
I. Accessible by Availability
PJ Rey argued that journals and their articles are the “dinosaurs” of academia because “they wield enormous (and terrifying) power, yet they are ill-adapted to function in a changing environment.” Print, and even digital, articles are said to be vestigial organs of a different time.
Unlike PJ, I do think journal articles have a continuing and important role in intellectual discussions today and moving forward (a point Patricia Hill-Collins also made in reply to PJ’s piece). Not vestigial organs, journals remind me more of the process of exaptation, referring to the evolutionary process where something evolves in one environment for one purpose but comes to take on a new purpose in a different environment (feathers are the classic example of this co-optation). The five-to-ten-thousand-word well-researched, rigorously-argued, highly-edited, peer-reviewed and jargon-heavy format continues to have its place. Highly-technical arguments need to be hashed out. Even intellectual discussions that have no larger pragmatic purpose should be embraced for their own sake (in that same way we embrace art or sports). That “mental masturbation” is used as a pejorative has always confused me. More importantly, understandings that are best achieved in the article format can be translated into other formats (blogging, tweeting, giving talks and so on).
But PJ and I both agree that the academic journal system as it currently exists is fundamentally broken. Most prestigious journals are “closed,” locking articles down behind paywalls. This is one reason for academic irrelevancy.
First, there is the issue of print publishing. Typesetting, printing, binding and whatever else goes into making the print journal that is then shipped across the globe (using gasoline!) once made sense. These once were necessary costs to disseminate information widely. Because you are reading a blog you already know that the Web radically changes the dissemination of information. Journals with all the same rigorous peer-review and editorial standards can exist online at a fraction of the cost of print journals without letting articles wither away behind paywalls. Yesterday, print journals were created to facilitate the spread of information; today, the continued existence of print journals comes at a cost to the spread of information.
Printing, of course, is only part of the cost involved with maintaining a journal. Editorial work (both in managing the various authors as well as the articles themselves), web-server space as well as web design and maintenance are all costly. However, as many current open-access journals have proven, these costs can be mitigated while keeping articles free to access.
Here’s an idea: if University libraries paid for every penny it would take to run the current crop of prestigious journals across all disciplines as web-only-open-access and stopped buying them from publishers those libraries would save a massive amount of money and all the articles could be available to all. This would save tax-payer and undergrad-tuition dollars and make academic research more available and therefore more relevant. Even if it would cost $100,000/year to operate, say, the American Journal of Sociology as web-only and open-access, this could be paid for with a tiny fraction of the money libraries are collectively paying the The University of Chicago Press for this journal now.
But this is only half of the availability fight. While top-tier journals should be made open access, open-access journals should also be made top-tier. Danah boyd wrote a terrific post covering much of this ground back in 2008, asking academics to boycott closed journals. She has also curated a good list of open-access publications. To second her call, academics need to prioritize reviewing for, citing from and publishing in open-access journals. Academics in positions of power need to consider intellectual availability in hiring and tenure decisions. Did this particular candidate attempt to make their ideas available for the public or did they participate in locking their ideas behind paywalls?
II. Accessible by Design
I can get everything I wished for above–i.e., a world where articles that are available free to everyone that have not been printed and shipped are considered as legitimate by academics in power–and this would only be one small, but important, step in expanded public relevance for academics. The other half of the battle is for academics to express their insights, data and solutions in ways that are accessible.
The Internet disrupts the music, film, news, porn and other industries because of high demand for the content. If I snapped my fingers and the American Journal of Sociology was completely open-access there probably would not be a massive rush of people scrambling to start downloading articles. As a fan of thinkers like Adorno or Hofstadter, I should confess that my first reaction is to scoff at the anti-intellectual nature of mass culture. But that would be short-sighted; there is popular demand for cutting-edge ideas, new data and smart solutions. But academics have, by and large, done a poor job expressing themselves to the public.
As I said above, there should be space for highly intellectual, jargon-heavy debates where interested parties can have fun nerding-out over some super-technical detail of an obscure theory. However, academic conversations usually revolve around issues of larger importance (as obscure as they sometimes sound). Thus, research should (also) be written in a way the public wants to consume it.
Journal articles, especially those in open-access publications, can be written in a way that those outside of one’s discipline can understand. This is especially crucial if one wants journalists to report on the findings. Perhaps more importantly, academics need to think beyond the journal article: blogging, tweeting, and writing in newspapers, newsmagazines, news websites, etc. all allow academics to reach larger publics.
And, of course, writing for larger public outlets means writing differently than academics are often trained to do.
I understand that not every academic may have the skills to write their research in a way that is interesting to the public in general. It is sad that this skill is not included in academic training. Making complicated topics, ideas and research easy to understand and engaging is an under-valued and difficult task. Here, perhaps we can lean on journalists. Recruit them to cover your work. Most of them value and have learned to communicate to the wider public.
To conclude, academics have a responsibility to make sure their insights, research and solutions are publicly relevant. And the current irrelevancy crisis academia is suffering is not just the fault of an anti-intellectual news system or general public, but is also because academic work is simply not accessible. It’s not accessible because the work is not available when locked behind excessive pay-walls, and it is not accessible because few would want to read the work even if it was free.
Thus, the attack is two-pronged: (1) accessibility by availability: we have to make top-tier journals open-access and open-access journals top-tier; (2) accessibility by design: write research in blogs, tweets, open-access journals, op-ed’s, whatever, in ways that are readable, understandable, fun and relevant to larger publics.
Nathan is a fifth year PhD student.