ON THE MARKET: Navigating ASA Employment Services

As part of our On The Market series, our newly-minted Dr. Amina Zarrugh shares some sage advice on how to maximize Employment Services, one of several resources that the American Sociological Association provides graduate student members. 

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Source: American Sociological Association (ASA)

Each year during the ASA annual meeting, the organization facilitates meetings between prospective job candidates and employers. These meetings, referred to as “Employment Services,” are brief 20 minute meetings that are sometimes regarded as preliminary interviews for the upcoming job market. This is a paid service (roughly $50-55), which you must  purchase in advance of the conference (through your ASA account) if you would like to access information about employers as early as possible. The process can be unclear unless you have already been through it once before so here is a brief “how to” to help those who may be navigating it for the first time.

Purpose

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The purpose of ASA Employment Services is for job candidates to meet faculty from universities that intend to hire new faculty for the upcoming year. It is important to recognize that not all universities that plan to hire in the fall will hold meetings during ASA and not all of the meetings are considered by universities to be part of their formal interview process. Universities approach ASA Employment Services with different intentions and purposes; for some, the ASA interview is an opportunity to sincerely assess candidates and expedite their job search while for others the ASA interview is an opportunity for them to share information about their universities and positions. As a candidate, you should be prepared to treat each interview as an opportunity to both 1) practice describing your dissertation and your broader research plans and teaching style and 2) learn more about schools to which you may apply. The interview process can be an important exercise in learning how to talk about your research and can also provide you with important details about schools that you can later include in your application materials. Use this opportunity to think about how your application can benefit from speaking to members of the search committee.

Process

The process of participating in ASA Employment Services is composed of two phases:

 Before ASA

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After registering and paying for ASA Employment Services, you will be granted access to an interface which will allow you to post your CV, fill out a calendar with your availability, and see employer postings. Universities that are hiring in the coming academic year and who would like to meet with candidates at ASA provide information about the position(s), application materials, and contact information. Most job postings will not appear until late July or early to mid-August. Several postings may appear during the ASA annual meeting itself so you should continue to check for new postings while you are at ASA.

First and foremost, you should post a CV and fill out the calendar with your availability. You should be as generous as possible regarding your availability on the calendar; leave open many time slots (twenty-minute increments) so that universities will have several choices from which to select when scheduling a meeting with you. It is especially important to keep Saturday and Sunday as open as possible because many faculty will only be at the conference during the weekend given that some universities commence classes before the conference concludes.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you should contact employers through the ASA Employment Services interface before ASA. Contrary to the idea that employers will contact you because you posted a CV, you need to contact employers as soon as possible. There are far more job candidates than employers and, therefore, it is incumbent upon you to take the initiative and invite yourself to be considered for an interview. It is possible that you will receive a request to meet from universities on the basis of your CV but it is less common.

Once your CV is posted and you have filled out your availability, you should begin writing employers as soon as they have posted a job ad. It is important to note that they may not reply to your invitation until two to three weeks before the conference in order to process all of their interview requests; however, it is good to express your interest early.

Your message should be framed as an “expression of interest” in a position. In your message, be sure to include the following:

  • Your name, university, and expected graduation date
  • Your research interests (in order of importance according to the job ad) and a one-sentence description of your dissertation
  • Any sources of funding that you have received in support of your work (see example for how to assert this in a modest way)
  • Your broader research agenda (especially if you can connect it to other aspects/requirements of the job description)
  • Your teaching philosophy (brief statement that connects to research, if possible)

Here’s a sample message:

Dear Dr./Professor [CONTACT LISTED IN ASA EMPLOYMENT SERVICES],

I am writing to express interest in the position of [POSITION] in the [DEPARTMENT] and at [UNIVERSITY].

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and I plan to graduate in [MONTH, YEAR]. I specialize in [RESEARCH INTERESTS PRIORITIZED BASED ON JOB AD]. With funding from [FUNDING SOURCE], I examine [ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION OF YOUR DISSERTATION]. My broader research agenda also includes a focus on [ONE SENTENCE ABOUT YOUR OTHER RESEARCH].

With my international research experience [FIND A WAY TO BRIDGE RESEARCH AND TEACHING], I bring unique insights to the classroom through a global perspective on classic sociological topics. I am firmly committed to teaching, which is evidenced by [INCLUDE ANY SPECIAL TRAINING OR EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE RELATED TO TEACHING]

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration and I look forward to an opportunity to meet with you at the ASA annual conference.

Best,

[NAME]

In response to these messages, you will receive requests from employers who suggest a specific day and time to meet on the basis of your calendar of availability. You will receive requests through ASA Employment Services and copies will also be sent to you via e-mail. You will use the ASA Employment Services interface to confirm the requests. If you are invited to an interview, you should confirm the request and also send a message thanking the employer for their time and stating that you are looking forward to the meeting.

During ASA

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Before ASA begins, you should have confirmed the universities and faculty with whom you will be meeting (though some universities will provide later notice and will contact you during the conference, so keep looking at your ASA Employment Services interface).

For each department, you should closely research its programs, research areas, and its curriculum and classes. It is very important that you pay close attention to the research program and classes taught in the department because many of the questions you will be asked throughout the interview will concern how you relate to these aspects of the department. You can access this information on most departmental websites and you should prepare before ASA so that you can review it on your way to ASA and during breaks you may have during the conference.

Upon arriving to the annual meeting, you should locate the registration area of the conference, where you will confirm your participation in ASA Employment Services on-site. You will be provided with instructions about how the process works and you will be given a name tag that permits you access to the Employment Services area.

The meetings take place in a common and open, but secure, space with several tables (akin to the structure of a roundtable session). To each table is affixed a number that is assigned to a specific university. You should plan to arrive early to your scheduled interview meeting in order to look up the table number that corresponds to the university with which you plan to meet. The meetings are twenty minutes long and an orchestral sound will signal that two minutes remain in the interviews. The end of meetings is punctuated with another orchestral sound, which signals people to end their meetings and new meetings to begin. Bring a copy of your CV with you and, if you have them, business cards to give to the employers; some employers will have a copy of your CV while others may not.

You will be meeting with as few as one departmental member and as many as three members; many meetings take place with two departmental members, which helps facilitate the conversation. This means also that you will need to make sure that you speak to (and make eye-contact with) both departmental members during the conversation. Meeting with multiple faculty members underlines the importance of researching the universities beforehand and being aware of who belongs to the department.

 Potential Interview Questions

While twenty minutes is not a long time, it is possible to cover several topics, which generally focus on your dissertation, research, and teaching. Most faculty will leave at least five minutes towards the end of the meeting for you to ask questions about their program and department so you must have 2-3 questions prepared to ask of each university (and these can overlap).

  1. Research: The questions that relate to your research will concern your dissertation, your future research plans, and how your interests connect to the job. You should be prepared to briefly summarize your dissertation punchline and its contribution. Be prepared to talk about the key arguments in any papers you have published or are under review. Examples of questions:

Dissertation

  • Could you tell us about your dissertation?
  • When do you plan to defend?
  • What have you written and what remains to be written? (Be specific about the chapters you have completed and offer a concrete schedule for when you plan to complete remaining chapters)

Research Interests

  • Tell us about your research interests.
  • Where do you see your research going in the future?
  • How did you become interested in this line of research?

Papers

  • Tell us about this paper (describe key argument and how it connects to your broader research agenda)
  • Tell us about your collaborations (be prepared to discuss your contributions to papers that have multiple authors).
  1. Teaching: The questions that relate to your teaching will concern what types of teaching you have done, how you approach teaching on a pedagogical level, and what kinds of classes you would like to teach and how you would approach them. Your research about individual universities will help you identify what classes you could contribute to each university (and you should identify courses that you are capable of teaching and would contribute to the program).

Teaching Background

  • What classes have you taught?
  • How did you teach these classes? (Evaluations, assignments, etc.)

Approach to Teaching

  • What is your philosophy about teaching?
  • How would you approach teaching “x” course? (Some faculty will ask you about how you would teach specific courses so pay close attention to job ads and whether they mention classes that future faculty are expected to teach)

Future Classes

  • What classes would you like to teach? How would you teach them?
  1. Your Questions: While ASA Employment Services is an opportunity for employers to get to know you, it is also a chance for you to learn more about specific universities. You should anticipate the opportunity to ask questions of the employers and you should prepare questions for each university. Some topics/questions include:

Research-related Questions

  • Are there any departmental area groups? Are there faculty writing groups?
  • What kinds of support exist for research travel and conference travel?
  • Does the department plan to develop a particular research area in the future?
  • What kinds of affiliated research centers exist at the university?

Teaching-related Questions

  • What is the teaching load and how many new course preparations are expected?
  • Will I be able to teach courses in my field or will I be expected to teach introductory and methods courses?
  • Are there opportunities to co-teach classes?
  • How many sociology undergraduates (and/or graduate students) are there and what are the expectations regarding advising?

University- and/or City-related Questions

  • What kinds of institutes and centers exist for collaboration between departments?
  • What roles do the university and department play in the community?

After your interview, you should take notes about the discussions you had with committee members, particularly if they communicated information that could be useful to your preparation of an application.

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When the annual meeting concludes, you should send thank you notes to the faculty members with whom you met to express appreciation for their time and the information they shared about their department and university. This is an opportunity to underline your interest in the program and to state your intention to submit an application.

See more on Employment Services here. You can also reach out to Amina for more amazing advice!


Amina Zarrugh received her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology in 2016. She joins the faculty at Texas Christian University as an Assistant Professor. Her research interests focus on gender, nationalism, and religion in North Africa and the Middle East from a postcolonial perspective. Her dissertation examines regime violence in Libya and the mobilization of women in a family movement that developed in response to a contested prison massacre at Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli. 

No Words.

by Shannon Malone

Fanny Lou Hamer, a leader of the Freedom Democratic party, speaks before the credentials committee of the Democratic national convention in Atlantic City, August 22, 1964, in efforts to win accreditation for the group as Mississippi's delegation to the convention. The Freedom group, composed almost entirely of Negroes, is opposed by the regular all-white Mississippi delegation.(AP Photo/stf)
Fanny Lou Hamer, a leader of the Freedom Democratic Party, speaks before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, August 22, 1964, in efforts to win accreditation for the group as Mississippi’s delegation to the convention. The Freedom group, composed almost entirely of Black Americans, was opposed by the regular all-white Mississippi delegation. (AP Photo/stf)

I am in a profession of words. I am in a field that attempts to use words to uncover systems of power and oppression. As a child, I read the words of Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, “Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent beings, in America?” I grew up listening to the words of my grandmother back home in Mississippi, who knows all too well the cost of racially motivated violence from her long days of voter’s registration organizing in the 1960s: “We had no choice. We knew we had to push for you. Now you have no choice. Now you have to push for what is to come.”

All of these words, and yet, I feel like all too often I have none.

Alton Sterling (left) and Philando Castile (right), two men who were shot and killed by police the week of July 4th, 2016.
Alton Sterling (left) and Philando Castile (right), two men who were shot and killed by police the week of July 4th, 2016.

I have no words for the brutal, sensationalized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I have no words for the senseless murders of five police officers in Dallas following a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter. I have even fewer words for those who behave like scavengers and quickly offer the unburied bodies of these officers as evidenced carcasses that a movement for the humanity of black people is a movement against others, offering us distractions in #bluelivesmatter or #alllivesmatter.

It’s been 60 years since the world bore witness to the gruesome death of Emmett Till and 60 years since the American justice system let his killers go free. Visit Sumner, MS and you can still see the scars of a town divided by railroad tracks and resources, a town where the Bryant and Milam family continue to hide behind their power and are rumored to threaten anyone who questions them about the death of a 14-year-old boy. Now, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling join Emmett Till, along with countless others.

Do we even know how many black bodies this country has buried? How many lay at the bottom of the Atlantic, how many lay underneath the cotton fields of the South, how many lay in the prison cemeteries, how many lay with their blood still warm on the streets? Will I join them? Will my brother? My nephew?

I was only 19 years old, headed to the mall with my girlfriend, and excited about attending a sorority party that night when I was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. Surrounded by two cops, I remember the moment he pulled out his gun and pointed it at me. I can remember him yelling at my friend and I, as we stood stunned and confused. He yelled at us to put our hands up and get back in the car, and I could not decide what to do. Everything around me slowed down. Should I keep them up, as instructed, or should I open the door and get back in the car, as instructed?

I was 19 years old when my life flashed before my eyes. Could my body be buried with the untold others and eulogized with words like, “Here lies Shannon Malone, gone, but not forgotten?”

This is the America we live in. What words help us make sense of this? What words do you use to make yourself feel better about living in a country with such a high body count? What words do you post online to signal to others that you understand? What are the words you use to tell little brown girls and boys that there is a better tomorrow?

My people have spent the last week, or more accurately the last few centuries in mourning, and I demand to know: what are your words?

There comes a time when words, while meant to show sympathy and support, are used as placeholders for action, placeholders for those comfortable enough to push the brink with their words but are not yet willing to sacrifice their bodies. Words that offer escape from the harsh reality of all the black bodies piling up around us. Words used before and after a Sean Bell or a Trayvon Martin, with yet another brown body in the ground who we lay words on like “rest in peace.” Rest in peace, but live in fear, humiliation, or violence? What words do you use to justify another life gone too quickly?

Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.” My grandmother, like her grandmother before her, hummed spirituals underneath her breath when she had no more words. In a country that has a proven history of kidnapping, beating, hanging, imprisoning, and shooting black people and using words to explain, describe, predict, and reflect on our buried, black bodies, what words do you offer up?

I have none.


Shannon Malone is a PhD student in the department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on how social networks enable mobility for women and girls throughout the lifecourse. Shannon is a W.K. Kellogg Community Leadership Fellow in Mississippi where she works to help vulnerable children and their families achieve optimal health and well-being, academic achievement and financial security.

 

 

 

 

Contemporary Changes in the Transition into Adulthood

by Chelsea Smith, Robert Crosnoe, and Shih-Yi Chao

This blog post is based on “Family Background and Changes in Young Adults’ School-Work Transitions and Family Formation in the United States,” available online and forthcoming in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. This blog post was originally posted on Work in Progress, a public sociology blog of the American Sociological Association.

Source: TIME

A hallmark of the late teens through the 20s is attainment of social roles that signify the balance of independence, interdependence, responsibility, and productivity widely considered to define adulthood in Western societies. Completing education, taking on full-time work, and starting a family are social signals that someone has left adolescence to become a “real” adult.

This process of becoming an adult, however, looks different for today’s young people than it did 20 years ago. Over the last several decades, the transition into adulthood has become delayed and elongated for two reasons. First, the decline of the manufacturing sector and growth of the information/service sector have massively reshaped the economy into an hourglass labor market with little middle ground between the security afforded by professional careers and the insecurity of low-wage work. Second, that economic restructuring has affected cultural views about when young people “should” form families—after securing economic independence, which is increasingly difficult.

The transition into adulthood also looks different based on youth’s social class and family background. The different resources that families provide can shape whether transitions into adult roles are launch pads into a successful adulthood or a time of stagnation that limits future opportunities. Parents’ own college education influences the knowledge, status, and money they can pass along to youth, and family structure influences the time and money that parents have to invest in youth.

In an article forthcoming in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, we compared two age cohorts of youth as they aged from 16 years old to 32 years old in terms of family background disparities in how long they took to complete schooling and commit to the labor market as well as family formation transitions (marrying, becoming a parent) closely tied to such socioeconomic attainment. We found young people today are indeed delaying transitions into a number of adult roles. Those delays, however, look different depending on youth’s family backgrounds.

Delayed transitions into adult roles

Compared to the older age cohort of young people coming of age in the 1980s, the more recent cohort of young adults in the early 2000s was, on average, slightly younger when they completed their schooling and had their first child and slightly older when they entered the labor force and got married for the first time. More of those young adults had college-educated parents but fewer lived with both biological parents when they were teenagers.

Proportion Not Yet Experiencing Each Transition, by Cohort (Kaplan-Meier Survival Estimates)
Proportion Not Yet Experiencing Each Transition, by Cohort (Kaplan-Meier Survival Estimates)

All things being equal, the most recent age cohort was less likely to have completed schooling, fully entered the labor force, married, or become parents by their 30s than those in the older cohort. The descriptive figure above shows the divergence of when cohorts moved into adult roles, with each graph depicting the proportion of young adults that had not yet transitioned into the role at each age. Labor force entry, for example, occurred earlier and at a sharper rate for the older age cohort in blue compared to the more recent cohort in red.

Having college-educated parents also made young people less likely to complete those transitions. Living with both parents as a teenager made school completion and having a baby less likely but labor force entry and getting married more likely.

Different transitions based on family background

As described above, there were overall differences in the transition into adulthood by cohort, and there was also variation in those patterns by family background. Essentially, the general delays in the transition into adulthood looked different based on young people’s parental education and family structure.

The cross-cohort drop in school completion was more pronounced among young people from more disadvantaged family backgrounds (i.e., neither parent college-educated, non-partnered parents). Compared to their more advantaged peers, youth from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have completed their schooling, but that gap in school completion was larger for the older cohort than it was for the more recent cohort.

The drop in labor force entry was more pronounced among those from more advantaged backgrounds (i.e., at least one college-educated parent, partnered parents as a teenager). In the older cohort, youth from advantaged backgrounds were more likely to enter the labor force compared to youth from disadvantaged family backgrounds. In the more recent cohort, however, advantaged youth were less likely to fully enter the labor force.

Although the drop in marriage did not differ by family background, the drop in having children was more pronounced among those from more advantaged backgrounds. In both cohorts, youth from advantaged family backgrounds were less likely to have their first child in a given year during the 16-32 years old window, compared to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. That gap in the probability of childbearing was more pronounced, though, in the more recent cohort.

Our findings confirm that young people today are delaying transitions into adult roles, which reflect large-scale economic structures and cultural norms. Contemporary young adults finish school, fully commit to the labor force, get married, and become parents significantly later than their counterparts did 20 years ago. Fewer of today’s young adults have achieved the roles that lead society to deem them “real” adults by the beginning of their 30s.

Notably, youth’s family backgrounds accounted for some of those cross-cohort differences in markers of the transition into adulthood. The delay we found in school completion among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds was likely the result of taking more time to obtain a degree with breaks in enrollment as opposed to the pursuit of advanced degrees. Youth from more advantaged backgrounds, on the other hand, may have been delaying fully entering the labor force in favor of professionalization opportunities such as internships with little or no pay but that broadened their professional networks and gave them the work experience now required for entry-level jobs.

Knowing the sources and outcomes of differences in socioeconomic attainment during the transition into adulthood is especially important for current and future generations as today’s young adults take longer to achieve adult economic roles yet delay family formation to a much smaller extent. The lack of movement in childbearing patterns among young adults from more disadvantaged backgrounds has implications for their own socioeconomic prospects and those of their children.

Our study presents a broad overview of changes in the transition into adulthood and then considers whether those changes were specific to young people from different family backgrounds. This investigation of delays in the transition into adulthood as they relate to past inequality in family background and unequal future prospects is an important first step. Future research should build off of this framework to consider geographic differences, such as local labor markets dictating job opportunities, regional norms about the appropriate age for marriage and childbearing, and cross-national comparisons including non-Western countries.

 

 


 

Chelsea Smith is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on family formation during young adulthood as well as how family complexity matters for children.

 Robert Crosnoe is the C.B. Smith, Sr. Centennial Chair #4 and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He studies child, adolescent, and youth development in relation to families, schools, and immigration.

 Shih-Yi Chao is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is interested in family and work, labor markets, and poverty.

 

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.

mindset-animation

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).

Sheehan Image 1

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.

 

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