Cultivating Resilience – a COLA Mental Health workshop

ER3aMany thanks to the College of Liberal Arts Office of Research and Graduate Studies  for hosting a broad based conversation on Resilience and Mental Health. Associate Dean Esther Raizen started the conversation by noting an increase in the number of graduate students who are seeking accommodations from the Office of Students with Disabilities.  Kelli Bradley, SSD Executive Director confirmed that thirty four percent of new applications from  over 240 graduate students cited mental health and anxiety related concerns.

This is a steep rise in graduate student request for services that have traditionally focused more on undergraduates.  Some thoughts on why graduate numbers also continue to rise at the Center for Mental Health Counseling include: fear of and the stigma of failure, financial and academic stress  and more students who have been engaged with psychological counseling.  To encourage self-care,  CMHC has launched a new iPhone app Thrive at UT. Thrive consists of seven topic areas. Topics include community, gratitude, self-compassion, mindfulness, mindset, thoughts and moods. In each topic, students will find an inspirational quote, a short video of a UT student sharing their own story, some light reading and an interactive activity.

The job market may intimidate those who already carry the burden of student loans, including grad students who may not have a tenure track trajectory. International Students face additional anxiety stemming from language insecurity, living far from home and limited access to external funding sources.  The CMHC also offers cultural adjustment resources to offset the potential for isolation, loneliness and depression.

Dr. Leonard Moore of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement talked about the micro aggressions and feelings of being in a very small minority that students of color experience, both in their cohorts and in seeking minority mentors.  He suggested admitting students of color who can cluster in cohorts, so they do not feel so alone.  Encouraging students of color in administrative directions as well as tenure track positions would help to build a more diverse and inclusive culture in the academe and should be encouraged.

Susan Harnden, from the Employee Assistance Program recommended Susan Dweck’s Mindset, The New Psychology of Success as a resource for encouraging resilience in the face of challenges.

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1075722Dr. Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez has given talks on health and well being in the Sociology department, orienting incoming students as they transition into graduate school and encouraging them to find a balance between work and life. She shared tips on cultivating resilience as students face the challenges of completing their PhD.

  • learn to tolerate some suffering
  • resolve to be healthy and have a real life while working on a PhD
  • create a small network of good friends
  • get a life, don’t forsake your humanity
  • take care of yourself – sleep and eat
  • schedule fun without feeling guilty
  • have at least one supportive faculty mentor who really cares
  • become more comfortable with uncertainty – transitions are a part of life
  • keep the big picture in mind, the reason you came to make positive changes in the world
  • learn to accept a certain amount of pressure and take breaks
  • be receptive to help and advice
  • cultivate basic emotional intelligence and be honest
  • find your unique rhythm for productivity
  • remember to reach out for help if you need it
  • do not routinely overwork
  • practice compassion for yourself and others

It is getting harder to avoid the feeling that our world is in turmoil. The  tension between the old and the new can be overwhelming, particularly when uncertainty and negativity are part of the 24 hour news cycle.  Cultivating the resources we need to survive and thrive during these time of transition are not only advisable, they are necessary.  UT Austin has so many resources, for both the individual and the community, please use them and share generously.

 

Duty, Honor, Country, Disparity: Race/Ethnic Differences in Health among Veterans

by Connor Sheehan

A campaign supporter’s sign at a Trump rally in Chicago. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

During the 2016 election cycle, Democratic and Republican candidates for president have consistently discussed veteran health issues and reform of the Veterans Administration (VA).   The increased attention to veterans and their health is well-warranted, as veterans are an enormous population in the United States totaling over 23 million—almost as many people as live in the entire state of Texas. Veterans, of course, also have unique health, partially due to the occupational and behavioral hazards that accompany military service. As part of this policy discussion, it is important to discuss the large racial and ethnic health inequalities that exist among veterans. As I show below, racial and ethnic minority veterans consistently report worse health and have more health related limitations to activities than white veterans. These gaps are hard to ignore, particularly at a time when the veteran population is becoming increasingly racially diverse and the share of underrepresented groups among veterans is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades (see Figure 1).

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As a PhD student in the Sociology Department at the University of Texas, I have been conducting research that sheds some light on the extent and nature of racial and ethnic disparities in health and ultimately suggests what can be done about them. First, my findings consistently show that sizable health disparities exist. An analysis I conducted of a nationally representative survey of veterans administered by the VA showed that almost half of black veterans report “fair” or “poor” health rather than more favorable categories such as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent.” Conversely less than a quarter of whites reported “fair” or “poor” health (See Figure Two) (Sheehan et al 2015). The analysis also showed that 13% of black veterans report a severe activity limitation such as not being able to walk, get dressed, use a toilet, or eat. In contrast, less than 5% of white veterans reported having such limitations.

Not only are black veterans lives characterized by worse self-rated health, and more activity limitations, they are also shorter. In my own (unpublished) analysis using the Linked Mortality File of the National Health Interview Survey, I found that, even after controlling for age and region of residence, Black veterans were 43% more likely to die compared to white veterans from 1997-2011 (see Figure 2).

Sheehan Image 2

Imagine, so many of these veterans who once dedicated their lives to our country and sacrificed so much, are in such poor health. The American public and the presidential candidates cannot stand by and do nothing. The military, a longstanding institution that requires its members to uphold values like discipline, integrity, and loyalty should now uphold the same and do right by them. The VA, which shares similar values to the military and which also strives to provide equitable services, can also help minimize disparities.

There is a lot that can be done to reduce racial disparities in health among veterans. Any effort aimed at minimizing health disparities in later life must from the time that young recruits enter military service. My research shows that, compared to whites, a greater proportion of racial and ethnic minorities serve in combat roles, as well as also serving in branches with higher levels of exposure to combat and other dangerous experiences such as exposure to chemical or environmental hazards (Sheehan et al. 2015). Placement processes should be reviewed and such differences rectified in order to eliminate racial disparities in exposure to dangerous situations that have lifelong consequences for health.

Medalists from the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (2013), from Houston, TX. (Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)
Medalists from the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (2013), from Houston, TX. (Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)

Other researchers have shown that after military service, minority veterans attain lower levels of education and economic prosperity than their white counterparts – two components that are consistently linked to worse health (Teachman and Call 1996). To counter this, the VA could expand occupational training focused specifically on underrepresented groups, with the understanding that these programs may improve health.

Beyond these measures, there are also specific health interventions that could be used as models to design approaches that can help reduce disparities. One intervention which improved the overall health among a primarily black elderly veteran sample in Washington, D.C. relied on Home Based Primary Care (HBPC). HBPC emphasized the integration between social workers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and dietitians in providing care at home for the elderly population (see: Chang et al. 2009). Researchers found that those who received HBPC had 43.7% fewer hospital admissions and spent almost 50% fewer days in the hospital than those who did not.

Another intervention found that racial disparities in knee surgery outcomes were reduced when veterans were well-educated about their medical options. The black veterans who received more information on their treatment options experienced significantly less pain and greater physical function than black veterans who did not receive the information. There were little differences for the white veterans (Weng et al. 2007). These experiences suggest that integrating multiple domains and focusing on education regarding the health care system and health care options could help to minimize health disparities among veterans.

Veterans have sacrificed greatly for their country. Now it is time for their country to sacrifice for them, and work to end these health disparities. If the presidential candidates are as committed to veterans as their rhetoric claims, we should soon see policies and programs aimed at improving the health of all veterans.

Acknowledgements: I thank the Population Research Center, the Population Reference Bureau (Specifically Elizabeth and Reshma for their helpful comments), Shantel for her comments. All those working at the VA to end health disparities and all the veterans who have served. Mistakes and views are my own.

 

References

Chang, C., Jackson, S. S., Bullman, T. A., & Cobbs, E. L. (2009). Impact of a home-based primary care program in an urban Veterans Affairs medical center. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 10(2), 133–137.

Teachman, J. D., & Call, V. R. (1996). The effect of military service on educational, occupational, and income attainment. Social Science Research,25(1), 1-31.

Sheehan, C. M., Hummer, R. A., Moore, B. L., Huyser, K. R., & Butler, J. S. (2015). Duty, Honor, Country, Disparity: Race/Ethnic Differences in Health and Disability Among Male Veterans. Population research and policy review,34(6), 785-804.

Weng, H. H., Kaplan, R. M., Boscardin, W. J., MacLean, C. H., Lee, I. Y., Chen, W., & Fitzgerald, J. D. (2007). Development of a decision aid to address racial disparities in utilization of knee replacement surgery. Arthritis Care & Research, 57(4), 568–575.

Connor Sheehan is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center. His research analyzes health inequality and how institutions get “under the skin” to influence our health.  Follow him on Twitter at @ConDemography

Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond

by Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. Professional athletes have worn "I Can't Breathe" messages in protest of a grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of a New York man. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. He and his teammates wore “I Can’t Breathe” messages in protest of the grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner. (Source: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

The last few years have seemingly seen a rise in outspoken “activist” athletes. In late-2014, LeBron James and most of the Cleveland Cavaliers wore “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirts in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement to protest the murder of Eric Garner, a 43-year old Black man who was choked to death by Staten Island police in July 2014. Similarly, the University of California – Berkeley women’s basketball team took to the court wearing homemade black T-shirts with the names of Black Americans who were either lynched or killed by the police in the Golden Bears’ game against California State University – Long Beach. Also in 2014, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins entered FirstEnergy Stadium with a black sleeveless T-shirt worn over his uniform and pads inscribed with the message “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.”

On the left, Andrew Hawkins entering the Browns’ stadium with his “Justice” shirt; on the right, Cal’s Lady Golden Bears in their homemade t-shirts before their game. (Source: Tony Dejak/Associated Press, Cal Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

In 2015, in a show of solidarity with other students, the University of Missouri football team refused to take to the field unless their university system president, Tim Wolf (who had not adequately addressed issues of racism on campus), resigned. Within 36 hours Wolf was gone, prompting Missouri state legislators to engage in what sports journalist Dave Zirin terms “plantation politics”; in putting forth a bill that would revoke scholarships for any scholarship athletes who fail to perform for “any reason unrelated to health,” Missouri legislators aimed to silence Black dissent, specifically the actions of the Mizzou Tigers football players.

It is in the midst of this particular activism-inclined sports climate that several journalists, activists, academics, and former athletes gathered in Austin this March to discuss the relationships between sports and politics. On March 11th, the co-sponsored event (co-organized by UT-Austin Sociology professor Ben Carrington), “Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond,” brought together a panel of athlete-activists. Moderated by British journalist Keme Nzerem, the panelists Shireen Ahmed (athlete, writer, activist), Michael Johnson (former English Premier League and Jamaican national team football player), and Etan Thomas (former NBA player) facilitated a discussion about the role of athletes as activists. The room was full, with an audience of faculty, students, staff, sports writers, and curious residents of Austin, as well as SxSW visitors. The panel began with each panelist discussing their personal experiences as both athletes and activists and the intersections therein. From there, Nzerem asked a few more pointed questions to facilitate discussion, and then opened the floor to the audience itself.

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The panelists discussed the ways in which athletes have acted as activists throughout history, while simultaneously connecting their own experiences to contemporary instances of athletes as activists. One of the central stories shared was that of the Mizzou Tigers football team, and their successful stand against former university-system president Tim Wolf. The Tigers operated in solidarity with the student population of the university, including one student who had engaged in a hunger strike against the president. What their stand contributed, as noted by Etan Thomas, was a form of collective power. As student athletes, the football team generates revenue for the university, and by refusing to play, that revenue was put in jeopardy. Though their actions were later met with backlash and antagonism, they showed in that moment that power that comes from a unified front of student athletes—the power to get things done.

The panel highlighted the Mizzou action as a recent example of athlete activism, but also made it clear that taking such measures is not an easy thing to do. The act of being both an athlete and an activist simultaneously provides a platform and runs the risk of taking serious heat. Nevertheless, each panelist, in their own way, made clear the value of being both an athlete and an activist, especially in instances of solidarity and support.

The conversation was rich and varied, drawing on topics such as the lack of representation of people of color and women on athletic organizational boards, the continued issues faced by women in sport – particularly as they intersect with race, religion and sexuality – as well as the importance of all students (athletes and non) advocating for their own rights. The panel brought to the fore many diverse voices – faculty, student athletes, graduate students, sports writers and more.

One thing that was made particularly clear during this panel discussion was the intersection of sport and politics, and the interconnectedness of social movements and sports. Athletes have the ability to bring attention to larger societal issues on a major scale, and though using their voices to bring issues of injustice is often met with backlash, it is important to remember that the platform, power, and privilege does exist.

Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown is a 6th-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include race, embodiment, social relationships, food practices, and sport. Her dissertation explores middle-class Black American food practices in Austin, TX. 

 

Reflections on the Benefits of a Graduate Workgroup

Around this time two years ago, fellow doctoral student Carmen Gutierrez and I were preparing to greet a handful of admitted students with research interests in Crime, Law, and Deviance. At the time, we were the only graduate students formally interested in CLD in the department. As we organized our introduction, we turned to each other and said, “Why don’t we have a CLD workgroup?” After all, it seemed that many of the other sections in the department – such as Race & Ethnicity, the Urban Ethnography Lab, Power, History and Society, and Gender/Fem(me) Sem – had long-established their own workgroups. Perhaps we – along with the prospective students – were missing out on something?

Following recruitment, we reached out to other individuals in the department (both graduate students and faculty) in our effort to get something together for the upcoming academic year. In developing the structure of the workgroup, we encouraged everyone with research interests related to issues of crime, law, and deviance to consider sharing their current projects with others in the department. The response was incredible!

The CLD workgroup was established in the fall of 2014, and since then we’ve met an average of three times a semester. The meetings are co-organized by the graduate student members, and the various faculty provide an invaluable presence. Each session focuses on a single project, and presentations have included a faculty member’s grant proposal, a graduate student’s fellowship application, and other research paper presentations. Now, we have examples of actual research being conducted in real time by our peers, mentors, and colleagues right here in the department. There is no better way – for graduate students especially – to learn the ropes of teaching, research, and publishing.

One of the things I appreciate the most about the CLD workgroup is our commitment to a diversity of research topics. In fact, many of our members and participants aren’t formal crime and law scholars. For instance, our workgroup benefits from demographers, gender, health, and race scholars – all of whom have projects that connect with issues related to criminal justice, criminal behavior, and the law. Over the past two years, I’ve realized the best part of the CLD workgroup is its bridge to the other areas in the department. Academic research doesn’t have to be an insular endeavor! If you are interested in education, then maybe you have a project that examines the school-to-prison pipeline? Or, if you are interested in healthcare, then maybe you explore the impact of incarceration on health outcomes for individuals and their families? There is room for all of that – and more – here at UT.

Each workgroup in the department is unique, but they all provide a positive structure to the various sections throughout the department. In these spaces, graduate students and faculty are able to come together and hold each other accountable separate from our coursework and instruction. Ultimately, these associations are beneficial because they encourage productivity and positive engagement.

Andrew Krebs is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His research interests include lay participation, juries, court systems and prison operations. Follow him on Twitter at @A4Andrew

Advice to prospective colleagues from UT Austin graduate students

12828924_483543678495471_1359198197756623076_oOn March 23-24 we will welcome  our prospective 2016 cohort members!  Spring is such a beautiful time to come to Austin and we look forward to sharing our city with visitors who may become  new friends and colleagues.

I asked our Sociology graduate students what advice they would give to those considering a move to UT Austin. Their responses and cohort years are included below.

Julie (2012)

Two of the greatest strengths of our department at UT are the sense of community and wealth of resources. So, take advantage of them! Immerse yourself in the department by joining lab groups, attending brown bags, having lunch with guest speakers, and participating in the various events the department holds. In this way, you’ll make connections and become part of a broad network of scholars that will share knowledge, give feedback on your work, and inspire you to grow professionally and personally.

Robert (2013)

As far as Austin is concerned, it’s an incredible city. It’s a pretty big one with a small city vibe. There’s a ton of outdoor space and events because the weather is wonderful.

Everything else here is also pretty affordable. There are a lot of two dollar happy hours around town and you can have a good night out for under $20. Barton springs / deep eddy during the summer cost $3 for the whole day and every other Wednesday there’s a free outdoor music festival called Blues on the Green. Some of my favorite events include Eeyore’s Birthday, the Pecan Street Festival, movies at the Long Center or Central Market and Bat Fest. Long story short, Austin’s pretty awesome and definitely worth the visit.

Caitlin (2015)

  • trust your gut feeling and emotions based on correspondence and the visit. Social warmth matters.
  • location and context matter, don’t overlook them. This is your life.

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Be open-minded when it comes to training and opportunities, even if you come into a graduate program and you know what you’d like to learn and work on.  If a faculty member is willing to work with you or gives you an opportunity to get training in an area you are unfamiliar with, be open to widening your networks and your skill set.

Robyn (2011)

1. Be open to all methodological approaches and take as many methods classes as you can
2. Always have a Plan B
3. Make friends beyond the academy
4. Exercise
5. Meditate / Journal
6. Set boundaries between work and non-work
7. Run, don’t walk, to a therapist’s office
8. Read fiction
9. Don’t be an jerk
10. See number 9

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson has some great advice on resilience and Dr. Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez continues to inspire us to maintain a proper work/life balance and to understand how making the decision to come to graduate school will result in many life changes.

(Un)Soundness of Being: Feminist Approaches to Health and Healing

The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies will be hosting its 23rd Annual Graduate Student Conference on March 23rd, 2016.

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Several members of the Sociology Graduate Community will be presenting! See their papers and abstracts below and go support your fellow graduate students:

Anna Banchik: Photography and the Spectacle of Race

In 2008, families in Libya began protesting in order to seek information about male relatives who had been forcibly disappeared, and subsequently killed, by the government. Despite the prevalence of forced disappearance cross-nationally, these mobilizations in response have seldom been studied from sociological point of view. This paper seeks to understand mobilizations in response to forced disappearance from a sociological perspective that considers the role played by mourning and trauma in social movement organizations. Social movement scholars have recently considered the significance of emotions in collective organizing but have focused primarily on dynamics related to pride, shame, anger, and indignation, among other emotions. While some scholars have addressed grief, there has not been a sustained focus on issues of mourning and trauma in social movements. I focus on the case of Libyan mobilizations around disappearance to argue that grievances over the disappeared body are characterized by expressions of mourning and the experience of collective trauma, which serves to sustain their movement. Families engage in protest tactics that both commemorate and reframe the lives of their loved ones and express grief for their loss. This study contributes to our understandings of how the missing body and protracted mourning have the potential to motivate and sustain social movements.

Shantel Buggs & Ryessia Jones: Disciplining Olivia Pope: Race, Gender, Family, and the Power of Whiteness

While much of the discussion regarding race and gender in Scandal is reserved for its portrayal of interracial relationships – specifically the sexual relationship triangle between Olivia Pope, President Fitzgerald Grant, and Jake Ballard – the majority of Olivia’s interactions are informed by, and enacted through, whiteness. Olivia has relationships with White men, wears the “white hat,” associates mostly with White colleagues, and consistently uses her resources to save the careers and lives of White political figures. This essay explores the ways in which whiteness emerges in the television show, Scandal, a scripted show created by Shonda Rhimes and starring Kerry Washington, both Black women. More specifically, this chapter reveals how whiteness is utilized as a mechanism for policing and disciplining the Black female body, specifically through an analysis of Olivia’s relationships with Fitz, Jake, Mellie Grant, Abby Whelan, and Olivia’s father, Rowan (Eli) Pope. As Frankenberg (1993) argues, “whiteness” is the means of producing and reproducing dominance, normativity, and privilege (236); thus, White people have a “possessive investment” in its success (Lipsitz 2007). Because whiteness is a social construction, it informs not only how we understand constructions like gender and race in the “real” world, but it our fictional worlds as well.

Prisca Gayles: Re(membering) the Past and Recovering the Present: Black Activist Responses to Controlling Images and Stereotypes of Black Women in Argentina

This paper examines Black activism in Buenos Aires from a Transnational Black Feminist and Subaltern perspective. The present project is necessary because Afro-Argentine women have either been erased from or misrepresented in Argentine historiography and are currently situated in a system that threatens to reproduce this injury. I begin with a review of the ways hegemonic historiography in Argentina has contributed to the present day myth of non-existence of Afro-Argentines. I then examine the trivialization of actions, assumptions, and practices in Buenos Aires that violate the black female body by assigning her a static and/or stigmatized role. I do this with an analysis of the vendedora de empanadas (the empanada seller), the most reproduced image of the Afro-Argentine woman of the nation’s past, who today is represented with blackface practices. I ask in what ways this controlling image is related to the injurious experiences of black women in Argentina today. Although I locate the simultaneous invisibilility and hypervisibilty in the figure of the vendedora de empanadas I do so as an example, only one in a myriad of ways in which this is true for black women in Buenos Aires. Finally I draw on Black activist responses to contest the relegated role of black women paying particular attention to “recovery work” in the visual field and the experiential knowledge of Black female activists. The intent of this paper is to argue that subaltern analyses are incomplete if they only write about subjugated groups. The gaps that subaltern projects seek to fill are enriched when they not only interpret the silences but also draw upon the experiential knowledge and transgressive practices of the groups they seek to represent. Thus, a Transnational Black Feminist approach to understanding the work of black female activists in Buenos Aires must necessarily be coupled with the subaltern approach.

Emily Paine: “Not…dead lesbians”: women’s experiences of sex in the midlife across same-sex and different-sex couple

I examine the experiences of women navigating sex amidst midlife transitions within same-sex and different sex long term couples. Data from in-depth interviews with women in 18 same-sex and 18 different-sex couples were analyzed to reveal how transitions related to caregiving, health and aging work to change women’s intra- and interpersonal experiences of sex and sexuality. I extend theories of gender and sexual scripts to examine how women framed and made sense of their changing sex lives in light of larger cultural schemas of gender and sexuality. For example, lesbian women negotiated their discordance from heterosexual scripts by framing their changing sex lives as either similar to those of heterosexual long term couples or too different to be understood through such scripts. Whereas straight women cited their alignment with the script of sexless long term heterosexual marriages, lesbian women negotiated stigmatized heterosexist scripts of lesbian asexuality. I introduce the term of lesbian “bed work” to describe the sense of responsibility and work undertaken to keep up sexual relationships discussed by lesbian women.

Samantha Simon: Male Strip Clubs as Revolutionary Sexual Spaces

In this paper, I argue that male strip clubs offer women an opportunity to destabilize normative forms of heterosexuality by actively and publicly desiring sex and that some of this transgressive behavior can become sexually violent. The existence and popularity of male strip clubs and bachelorette parties denaturalizes women as asexual by demonstrating that women actively desire sexual experiences. Though scholars disagree on whether these spaces either reinforce or disrupt gender norms, I argue that the mere existence of these spaces and their acknowledgement of female sexuality destabilize normative expectations of gender and sexuality. Some of women’s transgressive behaviors in male strip clubs could be described as violent. Interestingly, male dancers and the researchers who study these spaces do not describe them as such. These researchers may inadvertently be reinforcing conceptions of women as non-threatening and passive by describing patrons as “wild” and not “violent.” I argue that social discomfort with these transgressions is corrected for in the description of these events as not violent. Though I certainly do not condone this kind of behavior, I do argue that if we are able to acknowledge the existence of violent women and vulnerable men, we can contribute to the disruption of gendered norms of sexuality that lead to violence against women.

Maro Youssef: The Algerian state’s creation of terrorism and the “Islamist ghost”

The Algerian civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, consisted of infighting among various Islamist militant groups that also were also engaged in warfare with the Algerian state. There were between 200,000- 300,000 deaths and at least 10,000 disappearances (7,000 of which the state later recognized). Following the civil war, the state created the “Islamist ghost” as Algerians demanded answers about the disappearance, abduction, torture, and death of at least ten per cent of the population during the war. The state constructed narratives of haunting and trauma using the “Islamist ghost” in order to create a docile population that would later re-elect the same president four times since the war.

Amina Zarrugh: “This vigil of ours is a vigil of truth”: The Role of Mourning and Trauma in Social Movements

In 2008, families in Libya began protesting in order to seek information about male relatives who had been forcibly disappeared, and subsequently killed, by the government. Despite the prevalence of forced disappearance cross-nationally, these mobilizations in response have seldom been studied from sociological point of view. This paper seeks to understand mobilizations in response to forced disappearance from a sociological perspective that considers the role played by mourning and trauma in social movement organizations. Social movement scholars have recently considered the significance of emotions in collective organizing but have focused primarily on dynamics related to pride, shame, anger, and indignation, among other emotions. While some scholars have addressed grief, there has not been a sustained focus on issues of mourning and trauma in social movements. I focus on the case of Libyan mobilizations around disappearance to argue that grievances over the disappeared body are characterized by expressions of mourning and the experience of collective trauma, which serves to sustain their movement. Families engage in protest tactics that both commemorate and reframe the lives of their loved ones and express grief for their loss. This study contributes to our understandings of how the missing body and protracted mourning have the potential to motivate and sustain social movements.

 

On Jane Ward’s “NOT GAY”

On February 25th, the Department of Sociology and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies had the pleasure of hosting Professor Jane Ward for a public job talk on her most recent book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight Men (New York University Press, 2015). The talk entitled “NOT GAY: The Homosexual Ingredient in the Making of Straight White Men,” traced the historical relationship between same-sex behaviors and practices and the construction of (white) masculinity, particularly addressing arguments around the increasingly more common phenomenon of “heteroflexibility.”

Her entire talk is available on YouTube via the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies:

As evidenced by the packed room (with undergraduate and graduate students spilling out the door!), Dr. Ward’s work has inspired a lot of excitement, thoughtfulness, and reflection. Additionally, Dr. Ward shared some of the reactions to her work, with critiques (surprisingly) mainly being directed at her by self-identified gay men. Overall, the talk and subsequent discussion were a useful and important intervention in how to think about white “heterosexual” masculinities and what implications and/or possibilities might exist for men of color’s sexual identities.

 

Shantel Buggs at Racism Review

 

Source: Salvage
Image Source: Salvage

Over at Racism Review, fifth-year doctoral candidate (and UTAustinSoc editor!) Shantel Gabrieal Buggs has shared some findings from her dissertation in regards to dating practices, race and racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement:

As every good social scientist knows, words mean things. The  language around, and produced by, movements like BLM – particularly in regards to discourses of race, racial inequality, state-sanctioned violence, and racism – has influenced the ways in which the multiracial women in my study discuss race, racism, and inequality in the context of their intimate relationships. Several women have described using their own stances on the issues BLM addresses as a means of selecting potential dating partners. This finding suggests that BLM and other widespread social justice movements are having significant impacts on how people are navigating racial politics on an interpersonal level. This is particularly pertinent during a time where U.S. media and popular culture is especially focused on issues of racism and state-sanctioned violence.

Thus, Black Lives Matter provides multiracial women with a means of framing their commentary on racism, racial inequality, and violence. Often, these women describe trying to find a “middle ground” in which to exist politically, so as to not fall within the so-called “extremes.” This middle ground calls to mind the notion of mixed-race people being a “bridge” between communities. The “middle ground” also suggests that to be on the extremes is to identify too closely with blackness or to not be “beyond” race. Thus, many women expressed contradictions over the course of their interviews; for several women the tensions around race and racism are issues of “diversity” and something that these women perceive black people to be “ethnocentric” about. It is telling that the multiracial women who believe that the concerns of BLM are solely concerns for black people are women who are not of black descent. However, women of myriad mixed racial backgrounds – including those who are not part black – noted that the issues the movement highlights are concerns for us all.

Read more here!

 

 

Why Are So Many Scientists Harassing Their Students?

Harassment

Christine Williams is among those interviewed by Kaleigh Rogers for Motherboard about Sexual Harassment in STEM fields:

“There’s no evidence that the incidences of harassment and discrimination are increasing. In fact, some of the senior women scientists I’ve interviewed insist that sexism was much more entrenched and blatant 20 years ago than it is today,” Christine Williams, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who researches workplace sexual harassment, told me via email. “However, what is increasing is public acknowledgment of these problems—more people are aware of these issues.”

Read the full article on Motherboard

When White Men Can Dance: Race, Masculinity, and Jock Insurance

by Katie Rogers

Earlier this month, an Australian CrossFit athlete named Khan Porter posted a video to his Facebook page. The video opens on Porter in a gym. He sashays to the Beyoncé hit “Single Ladies.” Suddenly, mid-routine, Porter performs a 264 lb snatch: He lifts a cartoonishly huge barbell above his head in one swift motion, then drops it with a triumphant thud and picks up dancing where he left off.

The video has more than 1.7 million views. Porter has since followed up with a second post, saying, “I posted my video because I think the way the public reacted reflects a pretty cool shift in preconceived notions of masculinity and think that’s grounds for starting some more positive conversations about what it means to be ‘a man.’” The post goes on to address the connections between masculinity, mental health, and suicide.

Porter’s video and follow-up post have both received an outpouring of support online, from comments on Facebook to features and praise on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and espnW. Many commenters—including Porter himself—have likened the video to actor Channing Tatum’s recent appearance on the reality series Lip Sync Battle, in which Tatum performed a drag rendition of Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” The video of Tatum’s performance went viral, too.

It is tempting to embrace Porter’s hope that the widespread love for his video reflects a sea change in contemporary conceptions of masculinity—a move from rigid, fragile identities to more flexible, durable ones. But while it is true that masculinities are always in flux (Kimmel 1996), masculinities scholars debate the extent to which these changes are liberating for women and marginalized groups of men. Is the response to Porter’s video as revolutionary as these media outlets profess, or is it a mirage, tricking us into believing that patriarchy has fundamentally changed? Masculinities scholarship suggests that the video reveals the elasticity of an institution like patriarchy. It can stretch to change form or appearance, but its hierarchical structure and resulting inequality stays the same.

Sociologists Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe (2014) have devised a useful concept for understanding the continual shifting of masculinities. For Bridges and Pascoe, hybrid masculinities refer to the “selective incorporation of elements of identity typically associated with various marginalized and subordinated masculinities and—at times—femininities into privileged men’s gender performances and identities” (2014:246). In other words, men enact hybrid masculinities when they include bits and pieces of identities associated with marginalized “Others” into their own identity projects. These Others can include men of color, working-class men, rural men, queer men, and women, among others. Bridges and Pascoe argue that even though all kinds of people use hybrid masculinities, it is men who have the most privilege (i.e., white, straight, wealthy, cisgender) who are freest to enact these identities while still being seen as appropriately masculine.

Porter partially acknowledges this when he points out that gay men are not allowed the same flexibility in constructing hybrid masculinities as straight men (though it should be noted that this point also serves—intentionally or otherwise—to stress that Porter himself is straight). However, two additional privileges help make Porter’s hybrid identity “acceptable” to a broad audience. First, he has what Pascoe calls “jock insurance” (2003:1427), meaning he conforms so closely to the standards of hegemonic masculinity that he can behave in conventionally nonmasculine ways without having his masculinity questioned. These standards include traits like athletic prowess, attractiveness, and sexual skill. Porter’s website states that he is a professional CrossFit athlete. His Instagram account is filled with photos and videos that showcase his athletic ability, muscled build, and signifiers of wealth (e.g., a BMW, an expensive watch, vacation photos). Articles describing the viral video tend to mention Porter’s sexual desirability, calling him “super hot” “eye candy” with a “flawless” physique and “all-too-perfect upper body strength.” These elements of Porter’s performance and its reception work together to ensure that his dance moves do not detract from his manliness.

Second, Porter is a white man. Compare Porter’s experiences with those of Odell Beckham, Jr., star wide receiver for the New York Giants, to understand the advantage his race affords him. Beckham, who is Black, is also known for dancing. He grooves in the end zone after a touchdown and in videos posted online. He also posts photos on his Instagram account that show displays of tenderness and affection toward other men. These behaviors seem aligned with what Porter sees as a transformation in socially-accepted performances of masculinity. However, the response to Beckham’s hybrid masculinities differs dramatically from the response to Porter’s. Rather than celebrate Beckham’s identity, online commenters and media organizations have responded by interrogating his heterosexuality. Streams of comments on Beckham’s Instagram describe his sexuality as “suspect” and explicitly insist that he’s gay.

An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham hugging close friend and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry after a game.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham hugging close friend and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry after a game.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham with his father and baby brother.
An image (with comments) posted on Odell Beckham, Jr.’s Instagram page. The photo features Beckham with his father and baby brother.

For instance, a photo of Beckham hugging longtime friend Jarvis Landry (a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins) drew dozens of comments like the following:

blessings_catchings He’s really gay people and it’s not because of this pic.

alexryansanch Looking very suspect.

marley_chapo He kissn his neck

Compare this response to the praise heaped on high-profile friendships of white celebrities. The so-called “bromance” of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon, for example, has been celebrated by the media for years at no cost to public understanding of their manliness or heterosexuality.

These attacks on Beckham’s identity have taken a toll on the football field. Numerous sources including the Giants organization have stated that players have targeted Beckham with homophobic language all season, occasionally spurring confrontations with other players. Before a December game against the Carolina Panthers, players reportedly taunted Beckham with “gay slurs” during pregame warmups. Beckham went on to strike Panthers cornerback Josh Norman repeatedly on the head during the game, resulting in a one-game suspension. Panthers players continued to undermine Beckham’s masculinity after the game, publicly feminizing him with words like “bitch” and “ballerina.”

American culture regards NFL football players as paragons of masculinity and toughness. If anyone should be able to leverage “jock insurance,” it should be an NFL football star. Yet when we compare the radically different responses to Porter’s and Beckham’s enactments of hybrid masculinities, we can see racial disparities in the effectiveness of jock insurance. White men, it seems, have more space to construct hybrid identities (e.g., showing affection to other men, dressing in drag, dancing to Beyoncé music) than men of color.

Though well-intentioned, Porter’s “strategic borrowing” (Bridges & Pascoe 2014:252) of elements of black femininity may actually work to obscure and reinforce systems of patriarchy and white supremacy rather than dismantling them. Bridges and Pascoe write:

By framing middle-class, young, straight, White men as both the embodiment and harbinger of feminist change in masculinities, social scientists participate in further marginalizing poor men, working-class men, religious men, undereducated men, rural men, and men of color (among others) as the bearers of uneducated, backwards, toxic, patriarchal masculinities. Even as young White men borrow practices and identities from young, gay, Black, or urban men in order to boost their masculine capital, research shows that these practices often work simultaneously to reaffirm these subordinated groups as deviant, thus supporting existing systems of power and dominance. (2014:253)

Applauding Porter’s identity while criticizing Beckham’s reinforces racial disparities in public conceptions of manhood: Porter appears bold and enlightened for engaging in behaviors for which Beckham is painted as deviant. Porter’s video and accompanying statement celebrate the freedom of white men to play with masculinity, but they will do little to dismantle systems of oppression that punish men of color for the same behaviors. Rather than subvert the structural inequalities of patriarchy and white supremacy, Porter’s appropriation of elements of femininity and black culture amount to—in the words of sociologist Michael Messner—“more style than substance” (1993:724).

 

References

Bridges, Tristan and C. J. Pascoe. 2014. “Hybrid Masculinities: New Directions in the Sociology of Men and Masculinities.” Sociology Compass 8(3):246-258.

Kimmel, Michael. 1996. Manhood in America. New York: The Free Press.

Messner, Michael. 1993. “‘Changing Men’ and Feminist Politics in the United States.” Theory and Society 22(5):723-37.

Pascoe, C. J. 2003. “Multiple Masculinities? Teenage Boys Talk About Jocks and Gender.” American Behavioral Scientist 46(10):1423-38.

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Katie Rogers is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests focus on the areas of gender, sexuality, and youth.     You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.

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