Category Archives: Austin

Clips from Opening the Blinds: Talking Race, Sex and Class at UT-Austin

by Kevin Hsu and Evelyn Porter

Marianna Anaya, Mexican American Studies and Radio, Television and Film junior, member of La Colectiva Femenil
Marleen Villanueva, Spanish senior, member of La Colectiva Femenil
Juan Portillo, PhD student in Sociology
Rocio Villalobos, UT-Austin alum and Program Coordinator for the Multicultural Engagement Center
Ganiva Reyes, PhD student in Cultural Studies and Education

Opening the Blinds: Talking Race, Sex and Class at UT-Austin – Introduction by Juan Portillo

While college is often sold as the ticket to a better life, being a student at The University of Texas can also be a rough and violent experience. Recent bleach bombings against students of color, offensive sorority and fraternity race-themed parties, and the current attack on affirmative action can affect students’ sense of security, their sense of belonging in our imagined community, and their emotional well-being. At the same time, UT’s and Austin’s claim to a liberal mentality can serve to obscure or diminish the impact of these events, as well as the sense of alienation that students can and often feel.

Marianna Anaya Talks about La Colectiva Femenil

As a response to the current campus climate, on October 30, 2012, the Sociology Department organized a panel presentation and discussion, free and open to the public, to frame these and other issues in a way that allows us to unravel the many social forces that affect students, including race, gender, sexuality, and social class.

Marleen Villanueva on the Importance of Speaking Out

In this panel, the presenters opened up a conversation to explore how race, gender, sexuality, and social class are experienced by students.  First, Marianna Anaya and Marleen Villanueva provided narratives of their educational trajectories at UT, shedding light on their experiences as first generation college students, women of color, and student leaders.

Juan Portillo on ‘Micro-Aggressions’
Rocio Villalobos Talks about UT’s Legacy and the History of Student Activism

Next, using an intersectional, feminist, sociological lens, Juan Portillo explained how UT can learn from students’ experiences in order to understand how racism, sexism and classism are at work in institutions in the form of ‘micro-aggressions.’

Ganiva Reyes on the Myth of Individualism and the Importance of Working Together


Rocio Villalobos then provided her perspective as a UT alum and as someone who now works for UT in a center that seeks to address issues such as racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.




Finally, Ganiva Reyes talked about her experiences teaching the only required course in the College of Education that addresses race, gender, sexuality, and other factors in teacher training.



Dr Christine Williams on Diversity as Ideology, Listening, and Lessons for Allies

The panel was moderated by Dr Christine Williams, Chair of the Sociology Department. We hope that after the presentation, the panelists and the audience can continue to have conversations that further enrich our understanding of racism, sexism and classism, and what steps can be taken to address these problems.

Better Know A Sociologist: 10 Questions with Christine Williams

Here at the UT Sociology Blog, we strive to find new and interesting ways to expose the people and research in our department.  To that end, we present to you “Better Know A Sociologist,” where we ask 10 general questions to one of our illustrious faculty members.  Given that this is our inaugural post, we thought, “why not start at the top?”  Thus we present to you 10 questions with Dr. Christine Williams, chair of the UT Sociology Department. 

1.  What first attracted you to sociology?

I don’t know how I first got interested in sociology.  I’d always developed this narrative that I discovered sociology in college after going through different majors like political economy and art history.  But then, somebody – I think my sister -pulled out my high school yearbook – I went to a pretty small high school in South America, so each senior had their own page and their own quote – and in my quote, I talk about wanting to be a sociologist!  So I was 16 years old when I graduated from high school so obviously I knew what it was and I said I wanted to be one, so who knows?  I don’t know where that came from in my 16 year old self, but I do remember actually making the switch to being a sociology major and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it was the place where I learned about social justice and social inequality and that’s where feminism was located in the academy, so I think that that’s what drew me to the major.  I’ve always been interested in class and gender.

2. What did you do your dissertation on?

My dissertation was a study of men in nursing and women in the Marine Corps.  It was published as the book “Gender Differences at Work.”   There’s this book by Rosabeth Moss Kanter that’s very famous called “Men and Women of the Corporation.”  It’s a bit old, but people still talk about it.  Kanter says in the book that it’s all about being a numerical minority, that is, the token phenomenon that results in basically labor force discrimination. I thought I would compare men’s and women’s experiences as tokens, but my original case study design was women in the Marine Corps and men in ballet because I had this title in my mind : “Men and Women of the Corps.”  Like the Corps de Ballet and the Marine Corps, and I thought it would be this great hook because it was ultimately a critique of Kanter but I went to talk to an adviser in anthropology – who ended up not being one of my advisers – but he said that it was a stupid comparison and I got all, “Waaah, no!”  I eventually figured out that he was right, but he was way too gruff in his manner and so I changed my case to nursing.

And so doing those studies, was that sort of what got you thinking towards doing the research that would eventually result in “Still A Man’s World”?

Yeah, after I had published “Gender Differences at Work,” one of my reviewers – it was actually Arlene Kaplan Daniels, who recently passed away.  She mentored the whole generation of scholars that are my age.  She was really really important and is missed – she gave it a very positive review and said that she was especially interested in the case of men because sociologists of gender have basically ignored men up until then and that the case of men in nursing was just fascinating and new and so that’s when I decided to expand my second book to look at more than one occupation that was female dominated.

3.  Why did you decide to work here at the University of Texas?

Because they offered me a job! [laughs]  Nobody picks where they work, this is where you end up. It was very funny because my first job was at the University of Oklahoma and that’s where I was an undergraduate.  I was two years into being there and I was pretty miserable.  I was the token qualitative person and the token theory person and it was just miserable, so I went back on the job market and applied everywhere.  I almost didn’t apply here because I thought, “Oh UT, that’s going to be exactly the same as Oklahoma and I just want to get out of this part of the world.”  But I came down here for my interview and I was just blown away.  It was pretty and it had hills and people were really nice and excited about my work.  I had just come from an environment where as an assistant professor I was constantly being criticized.  Here everyone thought I was great and I thought they were great so it was a good match.

So when you got here, did you see this as a place you wanted to stay, or did you see this as just another part of your journey?

I had my career ups and downs here.  I was pretty unhappy at one point because I thought they would count my two years [at OU] towards tenure and they didn’t – they would do such a thing now, but back then they had more stringent rules about time and rank – so they didn’t let me go up early and I was pretty unhappy about that and threatened to leave but never did.  You know, I’ve been here for almost 25 years and I can’t – I often think about where I’d rather be other than here and I can’t think of any place.  I can’t think of any place that would be as good as this.  Of course I have this great lifestyle where I go away in the summer and get to live in the Bay area, so that kind of gives me the best of both worlds.

Definitely.  Avoid the Texas summers if you can.

I know! But I still get to have the big ranch house and an easy bike commute and fantastic students and a great department.

4.  What’s your overall experience of Austin then?  What do you like about this place?

I like that it’s very relaxed and informal, although I understand that’s less so these days downtown.  I just don’t go there.  I think I, like a lot of people, live in a very small part of Austin.  I basically live in a three mile radius of my home and I think it’s great.  I don’t know what you’d want more than this.  Of course, I spent a lot of my childhood traveling, so having a place that where I’m actually going to live for a long time is something attractive and very different for me.

5.  If you could teach one sociological concept to the world, what would it be?

Mmm.  Well it wouldn’t be the glass escalator, because I already did that and now I’m backtracking on that.  There are flash cards with the glass escalator, it’s in hundreds of textbooks: kids all over the country are being given multiple choice questions on “what is the glass escalator?”  So it’s happened.

So talk about that.  It sounds like you’re a bit conflicted.  How do you feel about having that sort of legacy or this concept that you created out in the world and you don’t really have as much ownership over how it’s being discussed and taught?

Well, it’s a good feeling.  You know, I didn’t actually invent the term, [my partner] did. [laughs]  I was sitting there working on the article because I had published two books already and my senior colleagues told me that if I wanted to get tenure at Texas I had to publish articles too.  So I was working on this article that became the glass escalator article and I was looking at my analysis and saying “It’s like these guys keep on getting moved up even though they don’t even necessarily want to move up.  It’s like they’re on some kind of elevator or something!”  And he goes, “no, it’s an escalator, because they have to work to stay in place.”  And I said, “That’s it!”  I remember it very vividly, that conversation.  So it’s very gratifying to know that – and I think it’s a good concept because people know intuitively what it means because it has a counterpart with the glass ceiling, and I do think that’s partially the secret to success is to come up with some catchy term.  I mean, Arlie Hochschild really refined that with “the second shift” and “the time bind.”  She keeps coming up with these great – like “the global care chain,” that’s another one.

Or emotion work.

Emotion work!  I mean, all of these ideas, people can intuitively grasp what they’re about and it’s very cool.   No, I’m backing away from it not because I think I was wrong but because I think that the world of work has changed so that there are many, many careers today that have no career ladder.  You can’t have a glass escalator unless there is the opportunity for promotion.  I think it’s a concept that’s grounded in an earlier form of work and we need new concepts.

It’s almost like a treadmill now.

Yeah, or a trap door is another one that we’re thinking about.  So we’re thinking about the limitations of the glass escalator concept and we’ve got an article forthcoming in Gender & Society next year.

6.  What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

This.  Graduate students.  Talking about ideas.

Why is that?

What other field do you get to be around a bunch of brilliant young people who are basically creatively thinking about society?  There’s nothing else that comes close to it.

7.  Who is one person in the department besides yourself that you think is doing really interesting work and what is it?

Well, it’s really funny, most of us don’t know what each other does, and I do because I’m chair.  The thing that just boggles my mind is how much amazing work is being done here.  When you asked that question, I was like, “Holy cow, what am I going to say?”  I mean, is it going to be Sharmila’s [Rudrappa] work on surrogacy, Deborah’s [Umberson] work on gay marriage, Ron’s [Angel] work on post Katrina…  It’s just endless.  My colleagues over in the Population Research Center are also doing really interesting and innovative work, so I couldn’t pick.  I mean, Michael Young’s work on immigrant rights, Ari’s [Adut] work on the French Revolution – I get to read all of this stuff – Gloria’s [Gonzalez-Lopez] work on incest, it just goes on and on.

It’s an embarrassment of riches.

It is, and it helps us to understand why we’re so highly ranked but it also has to do with our ability to interact with and mentor excellent students.   Just having that intellectual stimulation – we didn’t always used to have that here and I think it’s something that we’ve cultivated and grown. Virtually everyone in the department is doing interesting work now.  I mean, Joe Potter’s work on contraceptive health and health policy, it’s just, it’s first-rate and it’s so interesting.

8. What are your current research interests?  What are you looking at these days?

Well, the short answer is women geoscientists in the oil and gas industry, but I think my heart lies in understanding work transformation and deindustrialization.  What’s really interesting to me is how a lot of policies meant to promote gender equality have been designed with professional women in mind and I think that policies that aid them may actually diminish poor women.  So I think there’s a real need to understand how social policies have a class basis to them.  Especially poor women, but also men, because a lot of the time they’ll say, “OK, there’s a gender wage gap”.  Yeah, she’s earning $7.50/hr, he’s earning $7.80/hr, so both of them are struggling, OK?  It’s like it’s almost the wrong issue.  And the focus sometimes on gender disparities at the bottom of the wage scale I think prevents worker solidarity.  This is the stuff that I’ve been teaching to you since I first met you, sort of combining the gender and sexuality with the labor markets.

Exactly.  And sort of the effect of neoliberalism towards putting men and women in a race to the bottom in terms of wages.

Right.  And we can still detect gender disparities but are they the issue when people are not earning living wage?  No, they’re not.  On the high end, it’s “OK we’re going to get women into the CEO suite,” but it’s going be a pyrrhic victory if they’re just going to continue to impose these neoliberal reforms and slash any kind of benefits and wages.  No thank you!  That’s not my feminist movement.

9. What’s one book you’ve read in the past year that you’ve really enjoyed and why?

Well, the book I’m reading now is just amazing.  It’s Sinikka Elliott’s book – which was her dissertation here at UT – and I’ve assigned it to my undergraduates.  There’s just so many wonderful feelings involved in seeing this work from its inception.  It’s called “Not My Kid,” and it’s about what parents believe about the sex lives of their teenagers.  They all think that their kids are good and innocent and other people’s kids are hormone driven sex maniacs and this belief, she argues, reproduces social inequality but it also prevents teenagers from getting any kind of thoughtful, useful information about sexuality and relationships.

10. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy bike riding and reading.  Especially novels.  I also enjoying swimming and yoga and drinking beer.


A Crooked Piece of Time: As Navigated by Dr Sheldon Ekland-Olson

By Kevin Hsu and Evelyn Porter, with special thanks to Julie Kniseley

A Crooked Piece of Time: Beginnings of an Academic Career

Professor Dr Sheldon Ekland-Olson shared his stories and lessons with students and colleagues today on the journey to becoming a sociologist, a scholar, a teacher, and a truly resilient human being.

Dr Ekland-Olson is the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Centennial Professor and Graduate Advisor of Sociology, and Director of the School of Human Ecology at UT-Austin. Former Executive Vice President and Provost of the University and former Dean at the College of Liberal Arts, Dr Ekland-Olson is the recipient of numerous honors such as the Texas Blazers Faculty Excellence Award and, most recently, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. He joined the faculty of the University in 1971 after earning his PhD in Sociology and Law from the University of Washington and Yale Law School.

Dr Ekland-Olson’s latest book Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides? (Routledge, 2011), based on his award-winning and hugely popular undergraduate course at UT, explores controversial issues such as abortion, neonatal care, assisted dying, and capital punishment, and the fundamentally sociological processes that underlie the quest for morality and justice in human societies.

The Importance of Core Values

In this talk Dr Ekland-Olson (or Sheldon, as his colleagues and students affectionately and most often call him) emphasized the importance of discovering and being self-aware about one’s core values and goals, of ‘knowing thyself,’ and staying true to oneself under various circumstances. Sheldon’s own personal and professional course has taken a number of unexpected turns, but at each juncture he asked himself whether his choices and actions truly reflected what he wanted to do and felt was right, and this has been his guiding principle to this day.

Against the backdrop of the American civil rights movement, Sheldon attended college in Seattle, originally intent on obtaining a bachelor of science in chemistry. In the summer before his senior year, however, he was hired by an anthropology professor to transcribe interviews with an 85-year-old member of the Kwakiutl tribe in Canada about the effects of modernization on his community. Sheldon admitted to catching the ‘ethnography bug’ while transcribing Jimmy Seaweed’s interviews, and in his senior year changed his major and eventually graduated with a bachelor of arts degree.

In part because of his science background, Sheldon went to graduate school at the University of Washington to study social statistics, and five years later he graduated with a PhD in sociology. It was during this time he began to see the importance of law and the legal system in effecting social change, and he applied for and received a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale Law School.

Sheldon remembered loving the study of law, which for him was a fascinating subject in and of itself. Despite strong pressures from mentors and colleagues to go into a law career, he was more interested in the interplay and dynamics between law and culture – in particular the lives of prisoners, who are systematically stripped of civil rights, existing in a sort of gray legal  ‘no-man’s land’. He undertook an ethnography of jail, spending nights studying and talking to prisoners awaiting trial about their unique perspectives and experiences, which led to the establishment of a pro bono legal counseling service provided by law students to prisoners in need.

In 1971 Sheldon joined the UT Sociology Department. Just before his tenure review, the publisher of his ethnography study went bankrupt, and mentors and colleagues tried to persuade him to pursue other courses of research and to publish in different venues. Nonetheless Sheldon stayed true to what he was interested in, thought was relevant and wanted to do, and was eventually able to publish his book and earn tenure at the University.

On Building Programs and Administration

In the 1980s the Chancellor of The UT System was seeking to implement higher education development initiatives in the Rio Grande Valley, and wanted a ‘non-bureaucrat’ to oversee the process. Sheldon was appointed as special assistant on this task force. It was then Sheldon discovered his love of, and knack for, building programs from the ground up. Later, as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, he would apply his vision and experience to the creation of programs such as Plan I Honors, the Undergraduate Writing Center, a Religious Studies program, Freshman Seminars, the interdisciplinary Tracking Cultures program, and numerous other initiatives at the University. Sheldon emphasized his journey is a continuous learning process and he ended up doing what he loves in completely un-anticipated and un-preconceived ways. It’s been important for him to remain true to his goals, and yet recognize there may be many paths to reaching them.

On Writing

In the late 1980s Sheldon’s mother was dying from diabetes. The exorbitant cost of experimental drugs that could prolong her life for possibly six months forced Sheldon’s father, a janitor, to make the difficult choice to let her die. End-of-life and quality-of-life issues have since intimately engaged Sheldon as a teacher and a scholar, leading him to develop his undergraduate course ‘Life and Death Decisions’ and, eventually, write his book Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?.

Sheldon’s current teaching and research involve the study of the evolution of moral systems, from the way people justify torture and capital punishment, to how science and technology influence our morality and ethics, and vice versa.

In sum, Sheldon offers the following life lessons for resilience:

  • Be grateful for rejection and adversity, and learn to cope with them. It is through them we come to realize our source of strength and learn where our anchors are. (Hrabal: ‘For we are like olives: only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us.’)
  • Be grateful for successes, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Recognize small steps matter. Don’t plan too far ahead. Be open to unexpected developments and bends in the road, in study and in life.
  • Have humor.
  • Be responsible and live for yourself.
On Resilience

We are grateful Professor Sheldon Ekland-Olson has shared his stories with us, a testament to the adage that example isn’t another way to teach – it is the only way to teach. We are truly fortunate to have him here as a colleague, a mentor, and a friend.

Thanks, Sheldon!

Research Q & A – A Dynamic Duo of Crime Fighting: APD and UT Sociology


     Recently, the Austin Police Department was awarded funding from The Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, a program begun by the Department of Justice to help facilitate place-based, community oriented strategies to address neighborhood crime.  As part of their proposal, APD has involved the UT Department of Sociology in the planning and evaluation steps of this multi-year project.  We sent our intrepid blog editor to interview Dr. David Kirk, Associate Professor and lead researcher on the project, to find out more. 

Why did APD decide to involve the UT sociology department?

Well, they were looking for research partners that had some experience with community crime prevention and neighborhood development and I had contacts at APD who were aware of my research.  A core piece of my research agenda is understanding the relationship between crime and community conditions.  APD knew I was familiar with the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative through some work I have done with the National Institute of Justice.  So I am familiar with what the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance want to accomplish through this grant program.  Additionally, given my research background, I can help them both design a crime prevention program and evaluate it after implementation.

This project is specifically focusing on the area north of 183 around Rundberg Lane.  Why was this area targeted?

The nature of the grant program is to identify a neighborhood in a given urban environment that accounts for a disproportionate amount of crime in a given city.  So when APD and I developed the grant proposal, we looked at neighborhoods where crime concentrates.  Here in Austin, the crime rate is fairly low compared to the crime rate in other urban areas, but it’s very concentrated and the Rundberg area is one of the extreme pockets of crime in the city.  So the decision was kind of made for us based upon the distribution of crime.

Are place-based crime strategies effective?

Definitely!  The particular strategy that we’ll end up applying in the Rundberg area won’t apply everywhere of course, but certainly place-based strategies do work and not just in areas where there are high rates of crime.

One of the goals of this project is to not just reduce crime rates, but to “empower residents” of the neighborhood.  Why shouldn’t these funds just go directly into enforcement and surveillance?

Because if you just spend the money on enforcement and surveillance it’s not developing community capacity like it needs to.  So the idea is that after a three year period – a year of planning, a year of implementation, and a year of evaluation – the project funds will go away but the effort will be self-sustaining because the collective capacity of the neighborhood has been built up.  It’s not just about reducing crime; it’s also about building collective efficacy in the community so that you have residents and the police and the DA and community organizations all working together.  So we want to establish social network ties, establish working relationships; therefore even when the money goes away, they’ve got an institutional framework for continuing to fight crime.

What does “empowering residents” mean?  What might it look like?

It can be as simple as encouraging residents to report crimes or to start neighborhood watch programs.  Yet a specific motivation for this grant program is to directly involve the community in the planning process.  That empowers residents.  They will work with city leaders, community organizations, and UT to analyze the problems in the community and figure out what solutions make sense.  Ultimately, if we just rely upon the police to control crime then we’re not capitalizing on the fact that there are all these other entities that could help out.

So just to be clear, we’re not talking about empowering residents to fight crime themselves, we’re talking about empowering them to address the causes of crime and to reduce the crime rate in that fashion?

Well, I’m definitely not talking about vigilante justice where you arm residents and have them go out and fight crime! [laughs] But I AM talking about empowering residents to work with the police.  For example, one characteristic of a lot of communities that have high levels of crime and socioeconomic disadvantage is that relationships with police are characterized by a lot of animosity and distrust.  But if you bring the police and the residents in a collective process that’s designed to address community problems and they start talking, they realize it’s possible to reach common goals by working together.  So part of the project is to work at reducing this distrust between the community and the police.  And that goes a long way towards lowering crime.

That makes sense.  What about the community of social services?  How will they be involved in this?

They will be directly involved.  One of the big issues in the Rundberg area – and this applies to a lot of urban neighborhoods – is concentrated prisoner reentry.  You’ve got a lot of folks coming out of prison going back to neighborhoods and often times there’s not a great understanding of what kind of resources are available to help these folks reintegrate back into society and furthermore, a lot of the time the community itself may not even understand their needs.  So we want to have the community communicating to individuals what kinds of resources are available.  For example, “here’s an organization that provides job training for free,” or “here’s a treatment facility that actually has bed spaces,” or “I heard about this company that will hire ex-offenders,” that type of thing.  So that’s one way to help facilitate the reintegration process for ex-prisoners.  The theoretical idea is that if you have a structure of social service providers and non-profit organizations, these are important entities that can contribute to the control of crime.

Are projects like this common?  A lot of times professors and academics are seen as “hands off” intellectuals, sitting alone in an Ivory Tower somewhere.  Why is it important to be involved in on the ground projects such as this?

Well, different academics have different research trajectories.  I have not done a lot of applied work.  But this project is an opportunity to help a community and that’s certainly the most important thing to me.  It’s interesting from a research aspect as well.  There are research questions we can ask by trying to revitalize a neighborhood.  I mean, the whole question of “can we get the police and the community and these other entities to work together effectively,” that’s an interesting question in its own right.  It’s also important to research what it takes to foster better relationships between the police and the community.  Personally, I definitely think it’s useful to apply what I’ve learned sitting here in my office running statistical models in the service of trying to help a community.

Anything else you feel is important that I may have missed?

I would just emphasize the nature of the three year project.  It’s a well developed grant program that the Department of Justice has put together and so they’re providing the city and police and UT a year of funding to analyze the problem intensively.  And then the idea is that after people have analyzed what’s going on in the area – and here we’re not just talking about crime, we’re also talking about housing, employment prospects, etc. – we’ll collectively come together and identify what types of intervention would make sense in the neighborhood.  Then there’s the implementation phase and that has its own challenges.  And then after that UT will come in and evaluate it and see whether or not it was a success.  So it’s a big, three year effort.  It’s going to present me with some different research challenges, but I’m excited.  The Chief of Police predicted that there would be real change in the neighborhood.  There are a lot of people interested in helping out the community and the community itself is interested as well, so I’m optimistic that we can make his prediction come true.

Cover Image provided courtesy of KXAN

Welcome to our 2012 Sociology Graduate Student cohort

The Fall 2012 semester is almost upon us, with it’s challenges and victories still ahead. One of the events we most look forward to is welcoming new friends into our community. Watch our introductory video by following the link below:

Welcome 2012 cohort!

Ellyn Arevalo
Shih-Yi Chao
Beth Cozzolino
Paige Gabriel
Marc Garcia
Corey McZeal
Juan Portillo
Luis Romero
Julie Skalamera
Brittany Stoker
Nicholas Szczech

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson Receives 2012 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award

Sixty-five faculty members from institutions across The University of Texas System will be honored Wednesday (Aug. 22) by the UT System Board of Regents as recipients of the 2012 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. Our own Graduate Advisor and Rapoport Centennial Professor of Sociology, Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson is one.

From the Board of Regents:

“We have a responsibility as a Board to support, encourage and reward our most innovative and effective educators. These annual awards help advance a culture of excellence and recognize outstanding performance in the classroom and laboratory that directly benefit our students for life” Regents’ Chairman Gene Powell said.  “On behalf of the Board of Regents, I congratulate each of these dedicated professionals for their commitment to exceptional teaching and providing an education of the first class for our students.”

The $25,000 per teacher monetary awards, offered annually in recognition of faculty members at the nine academic and six health University of Texas System institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction, are the Board of Regents’ highest teaching honor. The financial awards this year total more than $2.6 million for faculty at both the academic and health campuses and are among the largest in the nation for rewarding outstanding faculty performance. Given the depth and breadth of talent across the UT System, the awards program is also one of the nation’s most competitive.

Award nominees must demonstrate a clear commitment to teaching and a sustained ability to deliver excellence to the undergraduate learning experience. In the competition for the awards, faculty candidates were subjected to rigorous examination of their teaching performance over three years by campus and external examiners.

“The UT System and the Board of Regents believe educating young minds is paramount for the future of this great state and nation,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. “These awards honor those educators who have produced proven results and have had a great impact on our students.”

Established by the Board of Regents in 2008, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards complement a wide range of Systemwide efforts that underscore the Board of Regents’ commitment to ensuring the UT System is a place of intellectual exploration and discovery, educational excellence and unparalleled opportunity.

Lest we forget, only a year ago Sheldon was chosen by students in the College of Liberal Arts to receive the Jean Holloway Award for Teaching Excellence. The Jean Holloway Award recognizes individuals whose commitment to students has an effective, positive influence on the educational experience and lives of those they teach. Receiving the Jean Holloway Award is truly an honor, as the recipients are selected solely by a committee made up of students from the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences.

Dr. Ekland-Olson has been chosen because the student selection committee found he most reflects the purpose of the award: Dr. Ekland-Olson “demonstrates a warmth of spirit, a concern for society and the individual, and the ability to impart knowledge while challenging students to independent inquiry and creative thought, as well as respect for and understanding of the permanent values of our culture.” the

UT Sociology graduate students talk research and ASA

By Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts
Published: Aug. 16

UtopasMore than 80 professors, students and alumni will showcase their work at the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) annual meeting Aug. 17-20 in Denver, Colorado.

This year’s conference theme, “Real Utopias,” will challenge researchers to explore the viability of utopian ideas and demonstrate how innovative visions can provide alternatives to existing institutions ranging from corporate industries to small communities.

To celebrate the achievement of our sociology scholars, we’re highlighting three up-and-coming researchers who will be presenting at ASA, one of the largest and most important professional gatherings in the field of sociology. For more updates about our student, faculty and alumni presenters at this year’s ASA conference, go to the Department of Sociology’s graduate student blog.

Amy Lodge

Amy LodgeRank: Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, Population Research Center
Research Topic: Parenthood and Physical Activity across the Life Course: How do Gender and Race Matter?

Please give a short description of your research.

My research examines if and how parenthood shapes physical activity (or exercise) and how these patterns differ over the life course by race and gender. In order to examine these questions I analyzed in-depth interviews with 44 African American and white mothers and fathers. These parents represented different life course positions. While some parents were younger and had only very young children, others were older and had only adult child.

What spurred your interest in studying parenthood and exercise?
This research is part of my larger dissertation topic, which examines how various social relationships shape physical activity patterns over the life course differently for men and women and African Americans and whites. From a sociological perspective, social ties-such as the parent-child relationship-are extremely formative in shaping our health behaviors like physical activity. I am interested in physical activity because it is an important component of physical and mental wellbeing. It is one of the best things we can do to improve or maintain our health, yet less than half of Americans engage in regular exercise.

Have you come across any surprising findings in your research?

One surprising finding is that parenthood shapes physical activity very differently over the life course. Parenting duties often limit the amount of time parents – and especially mothers – have for exercise when children are young. Adult children tend to have a more positive impact on parents’ physical activity patterns. Parents of adult children reported that their children motivated them to exercise – either indirectly-they wanted their parents to exercise, to live long and healthy lives, so that they could “be there” for their children–or directly in that they told their parents to exercise.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

My ultimate goal is to better understand how the social world shapes individual exercise patterns. Specifically I want to understand how different social ties (e.g. intimate relationships, peers, parents, children) shape individual exercise patterns, and if they do so differently for different social groups. Health behaviors, like how much we exercise, are often viewed as arising out of individual will power, responsibility, or even moral worth but that perspective ignores the various ways that the social environment and the people around us encourage or constrain regular exercise. My goal is to better understand these social processes.

What do you hope to accomplish at the American Sociological Association conference?

I hope to learn new things! My previous experiences at ASA have been wonderful because I’ve always left with new ideas and perspectives to incorporate into my own research. ASA is also a great opportunity to receive feedback on your research and to meet students and faculty from sociology departments all over the country.

How has your experience at UT contributed to your success as a student scholar?

There are many ways that UT has contributed to my success as a student scholar, but two ways that immediately come to mind are the wonderful mentorship I have received here as well as the many opportunities for professional development that UT provides. For example, there are several conferences held on campus for graduate students that provide a place to both practice giving conference presentations and receive feedback on your research.

Dara Shifrer

Dara ShifrerRank: Alumna (Ph.D. Sociology, ’11/ MA Sociology, ’08)
Research Topic: Stigma of a Label: Educational Expectations for High School Students Labeled with a Learning Disability

Please give a short description of your research.

My research takes a sociological approach to learning disabilities (LDs), which means I focus on social factors that are related to youths’ chance of receiving an LD label, as well as social processes related to the LD label that may have implications for youths’ outcomes.

In our studies, we have found that socioeconomically disadvantaged and some linguistic minority high school students are more likely to carry the LD label. Racial minorities who attend lower minority schools are more likely to carry the LD label than otherwise similar racial minorities who attend higher minority schools. A student at a lower poverty school is actually more likely to carry the LD label than an otherwise similar student at a higher poverty school.

These findings suggest that the LD label is not only assigned on the basis of neurological differences, but may also be based on subjective criteria or be a product of social stratification. They also suggest that the LD label is not assigned in a uniform way across schools. I have also found evidence that the LD label is stigmatizing, in that teachers and parents hold lower educational expectations for adolescents labeled with an LD than they do for otherwise similar adolescents not labeled with disability. My findings also show that adolescents who are labeled with an LD may experience poorer educational outcomes at least in part because of this stigma, as well as through placement into lower level courses than their performance and test scores warrant.

What spurred your interest in studying the stigma of a learning disability label?

The federal government is very interested in understanding whether the poorer outcomes of students in special education are a result of their own differences, or whether they are at least partly attributable to the way we process and treat these students within schools.

Despite this interest, there are several misperceptions about the LD label that have resulted in the public and researchers being less likely to perceive the poorer educational outcomes of students labeled with an LD as indicative of stratification and inequity. These misperceptions include the widespread idea that students labeled with an LD are neurologically different, while evidence suggests that the LD label is not based on objective criteria and is not assigned on the basis of uniform standards. People also often perceive youth labeled with an LD as having a low IQ, despite the fact that these students receive the LD label for achievement levels that are lower than would be expected given their (average or high) IQ.

It is the learning potential of youth labeled with an LD that makes it imperative to understand whether our school system contributes to their academic struggles. My personal and professional interactions with people who experience cognitive differences or difficulties have provided my motivation for trying to understand more about the process of labeling and “treating” people.­­

Have you come across any surprising findings in your research?

One of the most surprising findings to me was the extent to which the LD label arises from and is perpetuated within schools. In other words, the education system has a great deal of authority over which students receive an LD label. LD labels are assigned on the basis of students’ academic achievement and behaviors, qualities that are influenced by a wide range of factors besides neurological differences. Schools also determine what the label will mean for each student, in that some students labeled with an LD continue to access the mainstream curriculum, while others are separated from their peers and important coursework. These school processes are important because schools have so much influence over students’ lives, by determining who receives the preparation to attend college and to attain the occupation of their choice. My evidence suggests that students labeled with an LD experience far more disadvantage within schools compared to their peers who are not labeled with disability, but take similar courses, get similar grades and even score similarly on tests.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

My ultimate goal is to improve the school and life experiences of students who struggle academically. My findings suggest that we may be able to reduce the incidence of LDs, or the inappropriate labeling of some social groups, by reducing inequities in the wider society, providing more resources to youth with fewer at home, and by improving LD diagnostic procedures. We could improve people’s understanding of LDs and perceptions of these youth through public outreach, teacher training programs and teacher development programs. Attending to the self-perceptions of students labeled with an LD should be an integral aspect of special education programs. Checks and balances could be installed within schools to ensure that the academic progression of students labeled with an LD is not unduly influenced by what their label symbolizes to people.

What do you hope to accomplish at the American Sociological Association conference?

Presenting this research at professional conferences does provide an opportunity to share findings with a wider audience, but more importantly, provides me with a chance to hear fresh perspectives on my work before it is formally published. Presenting research at conferences is one of the many steps toward constructing a study that makes sense to people and is methodologically sound.

How has your experience at UT contributed to your success as a student scholar?

The research opportunities available at UT are outstanding. Most UT faculty are active and successful, and expose their graduate students to high quality research and networking opportunities. I had participated in the non-academic side of these issues as a middle school teacher but it was exciting to discover that there were people who were trying to improve lives in a different way. UT was part of my realization that real change usually happens at the policy level rather than at the individual level, hopefully on the basis of well-conducted research.

Melissa Humphries

Rank: Graduate student, Department of Sociology, Population Research Center
Research Topic: The Political Socialization of Adolescent Children of Immigrants: The Roles of Schooling and Family

Please give a short description of your research.

Our research focuses on the political socialization of adolescent children of immigrants, and how it may differ from their third-plus generation counterparts. We focus on the relationships that family, community and schooling have on the decision to be politically active in young adulthood-specifically looking at whether an individual chooses to register to vote or identify with a political party.

We find that the parental education level of adolescents is not as predictive for many minority children of immigrants compared to white children of native-born parents for registration and voting. Additionally, the academic rigor of the courses taken in high school has a greater positive effect on the likelihood of voter registration, voting and political party identification for Latino children of immigrants compared to white third-plus generation young adults.

What spurred your interest in studying children of immigrants, and the social factors that contribute to their political participation?

Children of immigrants who are U.S. citizens are in a unique position in this country-especially with regard to political processes. They are personally connected to the immigrant community through their parents, but many of their parents may not be able to vote because they aren’t U.S. citizens. These first and second generation youth will be able to voice their opinions at the polls once they turn 18. For this reason, it’s important to explore the process of political socialization for these children of immigrants.

Most research that explores the political socialization of adolescents doesn’t consider the idea that the process may differ among groups, and for the reasons mentioned above, we feel that children of immigrants are an important group to understand.

In general, though, I’m interested in the returns to schooling and how they may differ between different groups-and political participation or civic involvement is one such “return to education.”

Have you come across any surprising findings in your research?

The patterns we found were what we hypothesized. But it is still interesting that the academic pathways that students take in high school seem to have even more of a positive effect on political participation for Latino children of immigrants than third-plus generation white students.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

Overall, this line of research is aimed at exploring how the schooling process affects the lives of immigrant and children of immigrant students in the United States.

What do you hope to accomplish at the American Sociological Association conference?

I’m looking forward to receiving feedback from others that will help me move forward with this research. It’s always great to be around people who are doing similar research and are thinking about similar problems. I always leave conferences with so many ideas for future research!

How has your experience at UT contributed to your success as a student scholar?

Working with the Population Research Center here at UT has provided me with many opportunities to explore different topics and methods of sociological research. I’ve also been able to get hands-on experience doing thorough research under the guidance of top sociologists. There are so many professors here (including my advisor, Chandra Muller, who is a co-author on this paper) who serve as great examples of how to think about and complete quality, interesting sociological research.

2012 UT Austin Sociology graduates ready to change the world

It is always poignant to say goodbye to our good friends at graduation, but we are very happy to celebrate their success.  Special thanks to Dr. Chris Pieper for his reflections on his time at UT – placements included in the photo details below.

I have taught at three universities since becoming a doctoral candidate at Texas in 2007 — Southwestern University, the College of William and Mary, and Baylor University. At each one, I found that my UT training had prepared me well for nearly every kind of classroom, intellectual, and departmental challenge. Many of these lessons were learned from my UT classmates through countless hours of conversation and bonding outside of the classroom. The great Gideon Sjoberg told me when I started the program in 2004 that this would be the case, and, of course, he was right, though I was skeptical at first. The importance of close relationships with fellow students cannot be overstressed, and UT is peerless in cultivating a climate that makes this possible and easy.

There have been innumerable occasions post-UT when I’ve realized that something good I just did in class or said to a student or wrote came directly from an experience in the department. I was too busy to appreciate these gifts at the time, sadly, but like many things in life, they become more obvious with time and perspective. For me, so many of these blessings came through involvement in “Power, History, and Society” — the affinity group for political sociology and comparative/historical students. Leadership and involvement in PHS gave me preview of what being a departmental citizen is like: building an academic community through service and love of knowledge. I hope this tradition is continued in the department in a variety of forms.

I miss Austin constantly, but it is now only 95 miles away — a distant but familiar companion I can always return to. Austin is like a family member now; I can’t imagine ever living too long or too far from it. But her memories and embrace are with me no matter where I go. Just like UT and the amazing sociology department I was fortunate enough to be part of for 7 years.

UT Blackademics: Embracing New Media by Shantel G. Buggs

Last semester, I had the opportunity to join a steering committee to develop a new graduate-level “action research” course in UT’s African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Department. In our weekly meetings, several other graduate students from various departments, myself, and our fearless leader, Dr. Kevin Foster, would break down our vision for “Black Studies in the Age of New Media,” always with an emphasis on how we could utilize various social media platforms within the course as well as to achieve the course’s ultimate goals: dissemination of scholarly work from Black faculty at UT beyond the 40 Acres and establishing a new way to engage with the community, both locally and nationally.

All of the work the steering committee put in during last semester came to fruition this spring, with the course culminating in its inaugural event — UT Blackademics — on Thursday night.

The event, consisting of an assortment of brief presentations by UT faculty, was recorded in the KLRU studios on campus (the event will be aired on KLRU in a series of several episodes). Faculty hailed from several UT departments (all of which hold partial appointments in AADS), including Educational Psychology, Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering, Curriculum & Instruction, and Theater & Dance. In true social media fashion, the audience was encouraged to “live tweet” the event using the hashtag #UTBlackademics (check out my Twitter feed here!)

The presentations began with Dr. Kevin Cokley’s assessment of the impact that racial identity has on the academic achievement of Black students. Challenging the rationale that Black students “fear” being perceived as “acting white” — which he labeled a gross oversimplification — Dr. Cokley noted that gender and the degree to which an individual’s racial identity was central to their self-concept seemed to have a strong relationship with academic success in college.

Following Dr. Cokley was Dr. Talia McCray, who discussed urban transportation planning and the benefits of active forms of transportation, like walking or biking. Dr. McCray noted that there are gender differences in how spaces (bus stops in this case) are perceived as “safe” or “unsafe,” and that these perceptions then have an influence on behavior. Considering that most of the traveling that people do is within a 20 minute radius of their home, walking or biking would be more sustainable forms of transportation — but how, she asked, do we “nudge” people, especially people living in low-income areas, into participating?

Dr. Foster returned to the stage to discuss the relationship between teaching, research and service in academia. Though it is often encouraged that the focus should be on teaching and research, Dr. Foster argued that engagement with the community can actually make academics better teachers and researchers. As he emphasized through his example of his community outreach work through ICUSP, “We are all thinkers. We are all teachers. We are all learners.”

Lastly, but surely not least, Dr. Omi Jones, aka “Sista Docta,” danced onto the stage accompanied by drums, encouraging the audience to think about what embodiment tells us about blackness. Performing/lecturing on the difficulties for persons of color in academia and the challenges of dealing with students who don’t feel that black feminist thought is for them, she had the audience repeat this refrain of “verbal self-defense”: be careful, your misunderstandings are dangerous.

The entire evening had a great energy about it and I was extremely proud to have played a small part in this event’s existence. As Dr. Foster stated during the brief Q&A session, it is important for events like Blackademics to eventually become normal — presenting Black scholarship and making it accessible shouldn’t be uncommon. Overall, the night was a great success and I can’t wait for the next Blackademics event!

KLRU will be airing episodes at some point in the future. I’ll be sure to post that info when it becomes available!

Shantel G. Buggs is a “Sista Docta in Training” in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include the lifecourse of multiracial individuals, interracial relationships and sexuality.

Dr. Christine Williams on the realities of the retail labor market

Sinikka Elliott, Christine Williams, Angela Stroud, Cati Connell and Dana Britton at ASA

Dr. Williams was honored with the Distinguished Feminist Lecturer Award in 2011 at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas

Christine Williams blogs about challenges facing retail workers in this months section of ASA Organizations, Occupations, and Work: “Upgrading Jobs in the Retail Industry”. You can read more about her research in an article Dr. Williams and UT Austin Alumna, Dr. Catherine Connell co authored “Looking Good and Sounding Right: Aesthetic Labor and Social Inequality in the Retail Industry,” in the Journal of Work and Occupations.