Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

Rosio-Colored Glasses : Lessons in Community and Recognition


By Pamela Neumann

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the annual winter meeting of Sociologists for Women in Society in New Mexico. Despite a fair amount of experience at professional conferences, this was my first time to attend an SWS meeting and I was admittedly nervous. Within the first hour, however, I realized that I had no reason to be. During the two days that followed, I met a diverse range of feminist scholars who in different ways made me feel at home. Women who asked me thoughtful questions and shared openly, not only about their research, but also about other aspects of their lives. In the midst of serious conversations about current and future feminist scholarship and projects for justice, we ate (huge) leisurely meals, did yoga, hiked, sang, laughed, danced, and cried. Our minds were deeply engaged, but so were our spirits, our bodies, our emotions.

Back here in Austin, I have continued to reflect on the spirit of community, learning and shared struggle that I experienced in that space. I ask myself: Was it some kind of utopia? Can similar kinds of spaces be recreated in our everyday worlds? Inclusive spaces where intellect and emotions are equally valued in the process of producing both knowledge and

Pamela Neumann, left, with fellow SWS meeting attendee Jenny Korn
Pamela Neumann, left, with fellow SWS meeting attendee Jenny Korn

greater mutual understanding?  I believe the answer is yes, because I have experienced such spaces both inside and outside my academic community here at UT. However, sustaining them is no easy task. When one considers our diverse social locations, epistemologies, practices, and the matrix of power within which they are embedded, even the most idealistic among us might be tempted to simply throw in the towel. Then, in a seminar last week led by Dr. Christine Williams, I learned about a concept known as “recognition of self in other” (or rosio). Deceptively simple in its formulation, rosio is nothing less than the ideal sustaining our attempts at communication and relationships: the sense that some kind of mutual recognition is possible in spite of the complex web of power and inequality that structures our society.

When I learned about rosio, I realized that it captured not only what I had experienced at the SWS meeting, but also among women in Nicaragua. Although I may not have had the vocabulary to articulate it quite this way before, the possibility of mutual recognition across difference is a fundamental part of why I am here, and why I do the research I do.

A longtime San Antonio (Texas) resident, Pamela Neumann earned her B.A. cum laude in political science from Trinity University. She has held several different positions since then, including AmeriCorps member and Program Manager with City Year San Antonio, Service-Learning Coordinator at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Communications Specialist for Food for the Hungry in Nicaragua. Pamela’s thesis research examined the trajectory and effects of women’s participation in community development in Nicaragua.

Scouting and Homosexuality : A Case for the Gender Police?



Over the past few weeks, the Boy Scouts of America’s policy on gay Scouts and Scoutmasters has been featured heavily in the news.  I am an Eagle Scout who studies masculinity here at the Sociology department and thus feel compelled to weigh in on this important issue.  But to properly unpack why heterosexuality is so near and dear to the Boy Scouts, we need to establish a bit of historical context.

Allow me to set the scene:  It’s the year 2000.  Y2K has passed, Britney Spears is still culturally relevant, and we’re still seven long years from the iPhone.  Over on the Supreme Court, the issue of gays and Scouting is already at hand.  In the 2000 case Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, the court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)  were legally able to exclude homosexuals from BSA participation under the constitutional right to freedom of association.  Because BSA operates as a private organization, the court saw exclusion as justified when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public of private viewpoints.”  According to the court arguments, opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA’s “expressive message” and thus allowing gay male leaders or scouts would interfere with that message.

Which begs the question: What does “expressive message” mean, and why is homophobia part of the message?

Boy Scouts was first founded by Sir Robert Baden-Powell in England.  Baden-Powell formulated a militaristic and authoritarian vision for the British Boy Scouts, stressing obedience and duty.  Scholars have likened this version of Boy Scouts to a factory producing uniform men “under detailed specifications for particular uses [with] both supplied by a coherent ideology stressing unquestioning obedience to properly structured authority” (Rosenthal 1986).  Essentially, the job of Boy Scouts was to make “manly” men who would then slide easily into discipline-heavy, autonomy-light positions like factory work, middle management, and ideally the ranks of the military in the service of the British Empire.

In the transition from British Boy Scouts into the Boy Scouts of America, we see a reformulation of Scouting to fit its new American setting.  The secular and imperial social context of England produced a Boy Scouts that was equally secular and aspired to produce future soldiers for the British Empire.  In the US, we took the militaristic garb and organization, added copious amount of quasi-religious morality (aided by the essential part churches have in hosting Scout troops), and put it in the service of shoring up a “crisis in masculinity.”  Hold on a sec:  crisis in masculinity?  Where did that come from?

Let’s think about the beginning of the 20th century in the United States.  Industrialization and wage labor were fundamentally changing domestic and work lives.  Instead of a family owning a farm and working it together to put food on the table, men now went to work to earn the money that would put food on the table while their wives sat sequestered at home.  The creation of separate (public/domestic) and unequal spheres of life for men and women created a new basis for male privilege.  At the same time however, fewer men owned their businesses, their homes or farms, or even controlled their own labor.  According to sociologist Michael Messner, “these changes in work and family, along with the rise of female-dominated public schools, urbanization, and the closing of the frontier all led to widespread fears of ‘social feminization’ and a turn-of-the-century crisis in masculinity” (Messner 2007: 35)

With the “feminizing” effects of the big city, female teachers, and a life of waged labor seemingly entrenched into modern social life, men looked for ways to “masculinize” boys early in their development.  This, they hoped, would inoculate them against the deleterious and emasculating winds of 20th century existence.  And HERE is where Boy Scouts enters stage right.  Boy Scouting in America – like its British counterpart – was created with the express purpose of “masculinizing” boys.  We might think of Theodore Roosevelt as the personification of the kind of masculinity the BSA was hoping to produce: strong willed, adventurous, self-sufficient, knowledgeable about nature and camping, definitely not feminine and DEFINITELY not gay.

And thus the good ship BSA continued to sail for many a decade.  It should come as no surprise that being “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight” and spending weekends with your Dad became quite uncool over the years.  Equally uncool was the idea of spending the night in some mosquito infested park instead of hanging out at your friend’s house eating delivered pizza in the air conditioning.  When I first came to Scouting in the 1990s – no doubt partially borne from my father’s own observed “crisis in masculinity” in his overweight, clumsy, bookish son – it was clearly a social world operating under Fight Club rules: no one talked about being in Boy Scouts, no one actually wanted to be in Boy Scouts, and in fact, there IS no Boy Scouts.  My troop was populated by awkward young boys, and many of them – like me – were pushed into Scouting by their fathers as a way to bond and learn about being a man.  We learned outdoor skills to be self-sufficient.  We learned what to do in emergencies and gained a sense of agency.  We took turns being patrol leaders and learned leadership.  We even dutifully absorbed guidelines on personal hygiene, grooming, and ethics.  In some ways, you might even call Scouting “Masculinity for Dummies,” albeit a masculinity that seemed more suited for a bygone age where the square knot and orientation-by-compass were essential daily tasks.  The point was, the popular guys, the guys who got girls, the guys who were on the football team – these were NOT the guys at my troop meeting.  We were guys who knew more about Lord of the Rings than women or sports; we named our patrol after the Warg, a vicious animal from Tolkien’s series.  That is what our fathers sensed, and that is partially why we all gathered in that room on a weekly basis.

As any good sociologist knows however, norms are socially and historically contingent and what is “good, true, or possible” in a given social context will always change, if given enough time.  To be sure, the contemporary BSA experience still attempts to turn boys into normative, masculine men.  But the boundaries of normative masculinity change.  Most of us live in big cities, work for a wage, have been taught be female teachers…..and yet there is no dearth of masculine men.  While not completely normative, it’s even OK for men to be fashionable, be sensitive, be vulnerable.  Thanks to those Peter Jackson films, it might even be cool to like Lord of the Rings now!

Other things have showed less progress, however.  One of the most universal aspects of masculinity is its tendency to define itself as whatever is not feminine.  Thus misogyny and female objectification are still rife in our society, and we have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, not People Scouts.  Hegemonic masculinity and heterosexuality are also deeply associated.  Thus homophobia – especially among adolescent men, according to CJ Pascoe – continues to exist. On this last point however, all is not lost: Pascoe’s work on high school masculinity revealed that while a gay identity was frequently used as a feminizing epithet, attitudes towards actual gay and lesbian students were more complex and even respectful.  According to Pascoe, while calling other teenagers “fag” is a powerfully stigmatizing word used to hurt and demean, it is primarily deployed to chastise teenagers that are acting feminine instead of those who choose a gay identity.

OK, now we’re caught up to the recent kerfuffle over gays and Scouting.  Less than two weeks ago, the BSA announced a shift in their “no gays allowed” policy upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000.  Rather than a blanket “gays allowed” reversal, their shift was to be based on a quasi-“state’s rights” approach, where each local Scout council would be allowed to decide the policy that best suited their social and cultural context.  That way, the troop in San Francisco could march in the Gay Pride Parade, the troop in Oklahoma City could tell their Scouts that homosexuality was neither moral nor straight, and the BSA could wash its hands of any responsibility.  The liberals get social equality, the conservatives get the right to their own views, and the libertarians get “Big BSA” off of their backs so things can be decided at the local level.  Everyone wins, right?

If you’ve paid any attention to the “culture wars” surrounding gay marriage and abortion, you probably already know the answer: Of course not!  Progressive supporters of the change said this would revitalize the dwindling interest in Scouting; conservative opponents said this would produce a wave of departures from church sponsored troops.  Change supporters said this would create important dialogues; opponents said this would create ideological walls between troops.  The companies that use liberal ideology to sell their products cheered and gave the BSA money; the companies that use conservative ideology to sell their products jeered and threatened to deny funding.

But with our historical context and sociological imagination up and running, we can see that this is slightly more complex than the media narrative.  The Boy Scouts of America were generally founded to inculcate masculinity in boys and specifically to endorse a hegemonic masculinity that is heterosexual at best and homophobic at worst.  So when the Supreme Court or Random Conservative Pundit says that allowing gays in Scouting goes against its foundational “expressive message,” this is quite a bit of truth in this.

The rub is the aforementioned sociological truism that gender norms are dynamic, fluid, and subject to change across time.

Eagle Scouts deliver petitions to BSA Headquarters. (Courtesy AP)
Eagle Scouts deliver petitions to BSA Headquarters. (Courtesy AP)

If today’s society, today’s Boy Scout leaders, or today’s Boy Scouts decide that excluding gay people on the basis of sexual orientation is no longer acceptable, that truth is as valid and real as the “truth” of masculinity the BSA was founded upon.  If the hard fought legal battles and cultural visibility the GLBTQ community have won in the decades since Stonewall mean that homosexuality is no longer seen as immoral or unclean to today’s Boy Scouts – as evidenced by the 1.4 million signatures a group of Eagle Scouts delivered to BSA headquarters –  then that is something their leaders have to deal with honestly, responsibly, and with an open mind.

Perhaps that will still be the case even with the decision Wednesday from the BSA to have more deliberations before a final decision.  On one side stand people who no longer see a conflict between social acceptance of homosexuality and “being a man” in the year 2013.  On the other side are people who sense that something fundamental about masculinity and Scouting is changing.  Both may be right.  But as our trip through history shows, this has as much to do with masculinity and gender policing as it does with homosexuality.

Further Reading and References:

Denny, Kathleen E. 2011. “Gender in Context, Content, and Approach : Comparing Gender Messages in Girl Scout and Boy Scout Handbooks.”  Gender & Society 25: 27

Messner, Michael. 2007. Out of Play: Critical Essays on Gender and Sport. Albany: SUNY Press

Pascoe, CJ. 2007. Dude, You’re A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley: University of California Press

Rosenthal, Michael. 1986. The character factory: Baden-Powell and the origins of the Boy Scout movement. New York: Pantheon.

Opening the Blinds: A Convesation with Juan Portillo

In the final part of our series looking at the “Opening the Blinds” panel – dealing with the experiences of students of color here at UT and previously highlighted here and here – we offer a conversation between Juan Portillo, organizer of the panel, and Amias Maldonado, blog editor and fellow scholar of gender and critical race theory. 

What was your reason for organizing this conference in the first place?

Lately I had noticed events happening this semester that may not be new but that students were definitely reacting to.   I’m thinking of everything from the bleach bombings and the problematic fraternity parties to the struggles of students of color on the campus at large.  These ideas of micro-aggressions and the invisible ways that students become marginalized and experience marginalization worried me.  I wanted to understand more about it from a professional point of view as a scholar but also from a personal point of view as someone who is a student here, someone who works with students.  Someone who has gone through some of these micro-aggressions

Obviously UT has had a checkered past when it comes to issues of racial aggression macro or micro: you can still see the segregated bathrooms in the main building, you can still see the statues of Confederate nobility around the South Mall, but at the same time, it seems like there’s something new or different in the sort of ferocity or intensity of things that are going on right now. 


So do you see there being something new going on here in terms of the climate of the University or do you see this as ultimately part of a larger trend that we haven’t been paying attention to but has been festering in the shadows?

I think it’s a little bit of both.  I mean, it’s definitely something that never stopped.  I mentioned a book during the presentation called “Integrating the 40 Acres,” and that book delineates the history of integration at UT and how the issues that students face today are still the same, they’re just being played out differently; we’re no longer fighting for the right to be here, but for the right to be really included.  One way that I explain it is that students of color, female students, queer students, any kind of non-normative student is tolerated, right?  That’s the kind of discourse around them.  These are bodies that are supposed to be tolerated on campus, but that’s not the same as integrated, or included, or having the same kind of presence as others, right?

Definitely.  Sara Ahmed has this notion of institutional passing, where she talks about how in the diversity world, what’s important is for bodies to produce sameness, and insomuch as you don’t produce sameness, as you show yourself as different, that’s immediately read as threatening and racist in itself.  So the responsibility is on the non-normative student to act in line with everyone else and sort of disavow or cover up their cultural heritage, their sexual orientation, etc. 

And that’s something that’s been going on.  This sameness denies students a voice to actually speak up against injustice that is very real.  People highlighting racial bias, gender bias, class bias at UT goes against some kind of fantasy that we’ve all bought into that everybody should be the same and that everybody is the same and that if we just don’t talk about the differences, marginalization will go away.

I think another important part of the panel and your work is the role of space. A lot of times people think about race or gender as attached to bodies, you know, but it’s really not just on bodies, it’s also in matters of space, so I was wondering if you could talk a little about that, about how space can become raced and gendered.

So most of my ideas about space and the way space is gendered and racialized came from Nirwal Puwar’s Space Invaders.  Just listening to students of color or female students in male dominated fields like engineering and their experiences in the class – what they feel, how they feel, what people tell them – kind of uncovers or untangles all these forces of oppression that are still around.

So just to be clear for the non-critical race scholars out there, when we’re saying that the University is a white male space, what do we mean by that?

First of all, those bodies were inhabiting the space.  It’s kind of a philosophical tradition to think that knowledge is disembodied.  But in fact, knowledge happens through experience, through the person who is writing the book, through the lecturer talking to his class.  So this space physically was reserved mostly for white male bodies from the inception of the University.  They were creating knowledge and in doing so, they defined what counts as “real” knowledge.  And this tradition carried on until finally it was challenged to include other bodies.  Black bodies, female bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies.  And their inclusion transgressed this boundary that was set up around the University space.  The only real bearers of knowledge were the white male bodies, but now we have women and people of color here and that crates an anxiety over who has the right to say what counts as the real truth.  It’s a challenge to authority and to the authorship of knowledge.

I want to go back to the importance of privilege real quick.  To me, when you’re an ally for racial or social or sexual justice, it’s not that you will always say the right thing or you will always recognize your privilege but that you have to be open to interrogating yourself and interrogating the ways in which your own assumptions are informed by your privilege and be willing to critically analyze yourself.  I think there’s a lot of tension around that for allies who believe in social justice that they want to sort of “cleanse themselves” of their complicity in these structures but the fact is, you can’t cleanse yourself.  You just have to be open to recognizing your privilege.  Would you agree with that? 

Yeah, I think one of the things that we wanted to also spotlight in the panel was that it’s important to turn the lens around on yourself.  And whether you’re a researcher or not, we’re usually very comfortable analyzing others or analyzing situations as though we were not in it.  But starting to understand how we are part of these institutions will have large repercussions on how we shape our institutions and communities.

So talking about tackling oppression in the institution, one of the things I was struck by in the talk was how the women on the panel navigated their relationship to the University.  In a class recently, we read a book about Black Panther Party health care initiatives.  One of the things that they struggled with was this tension between wanting the legitimacy that came with federal funding and the desire to maintain a critical perspective on the medical-industrial complex as a whole.  In the talk, you saw these same kinds of dialogues occurring within La Collectiva Feminil.  They want to critique UT as an institution but at the same time there are some things to be gained by being part of the institution, so I wondered if you could speak to that tension of being a critic and being a revolutionary from the outside on the institution but at the same time wanting to sort of use institutional structure to create change from within as well.

Well, the way I’ve heard a lot of people talk about this idea that to be revolutionary, you have to kind of oppose the institution.  That once you become part of the institution you stop being revolutionary.  That does explain part of it, but I feel that at a deeper level, what the panel exposed was that their resistance to being institutionalized is also an effort to maintain a particular consciousness.  These are students coming from an experience that is way outside what we think the mainstream student would be or the mainstream professor would be.  It’s almost like inhabiting a different dimension if that makes sense.

It does.

These are women who identify as, or have created, a queer feminine space.  Most of them are first generation college students.  So I think there’s hope there in the sense that – and I can’t even begin to describe exactly what I think they’re doing and what I think their goals are because I haven’t had that experience – but I just know that they have something very special going on that necessitates further analysis with theories created in the margins.

Yeah. Because there’s also another tension at work here that activist organizations have.  This one is between wanting to change the system on a larger level but also for the members of that group, just wanting to have livable lives and to have that space to practice self-help, self-health, and to have a community that you can call your own without having to compromise.  And that takes priority sometimes over these larger institutional issues because ultimately they’re just students that are trying to get through college.

But I think both structures can co-exist as long as we don’t try to impose a particular definition of what they are right now and what they should be if they become part of the institution.  They have a space and a consciousness through the members of that group that’s fluid, that recognizes – that thrives, actually – in ambivalence.  Their very survival depends on embracing ambivalence which is something that UT as an institution doesn’t necessarily do.  But UT doesn’t have to understand it to be able to work with the students.   They don’t have to submit to all the rules to still work with UT and still be a positive influence at UT.

So what was the experience of the panel that you organized?  What did they think about the experience, what did they say to you afterwards?

They were extremely happy.  They felt like somebody listened to them, I think that was the main thing.  That somebody was listening.  I felt the same way.  That somebody is listening and that transformations can happen.  The fact that the panel was composed of a mixture of undergraduate and graduates students and a staff member of UT showed how we can have an intellectual and rigorous conversation that doesn’t have to be structured in a rigid academic way.

Good point.

So not just what we said, but how we said it and how the audience responded made all of us extremely, extremely happy.  Even the audience members came to me later and they were like, “We never thought that these conversations could happen in this room, in this building, in this department.”  But as far as the panelists go, they were very… was almost therapeutic in a way.  It was a way to reconstitute themselves as human beings.

Yeah, totally.   And it was great in the audience to see that it was just as diverse as the panel.  There were undergraduates, there were graduate students, there were professors like that lady in the back…


Who gave that amazing and troubling historical perspective on women of color faculty at UT.  You don’t expect that kind of critical voice coming from an older white woman, but there she is.  That’s an ally that if you just saw her passing in the hall, you would never know that you had that ally there.  I also saw a man I know that does diversity work for the Division of Housing and Food at UT, so it speaks to the idea that there was a hunger and a need to sort of address the silence around these sorts of issues.

Yeah, and the panelists definitely want to do more.  Whether it’s just us talking about what happened and what to do next or whether it’s a new conversation entirely.  And I know that here in the department, we also want to do more.  Just follow this format – a format that’s more fluid, that can address different issues, different interests.  There’s definitely some momentum here that we can take advantage of.

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.


Timely Sociology: Gay Rights at the Ballot Box

On Tuesday evening, Dr. Amy L. Stone, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University, gave a reading and discussion of her recently released book Gay Rights at the Ballot Box at Bookwoman, one of the many vibrant independent bookstores here in Austin.  It was a great event well attended by UT sociology students as well as by the Austin LGBT community at large, and given the impending election, incredibly timely as well.

Outside of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, which protects gay, lesbian, and transgendered people from crimes based upon their sexual or gender identity, LGBT persons have no rights codified on the federal level.  As a result the LGBT community has engaged in a state strategy.  This has led to some results, but these results are always vulnerable to recension and are heavily dependent on the sways of public opinion.  Dr. Stone’s interest lies in the ways in which these state campaigns interact with the larger LGBT movement, and at times, how they reveal tensions between those who feel they may benefit from these rights and those who feel they may not (such as transgendered individuals and gays/lesbians of color).

To explore the interactions between national and state based activism, Dr. Stone researched over two hundred anti-gay ballot measures across the United States in a six year study.  How do state based LGBT organizations fight discriminatory political measures?   Stone’s work identifies three main strategies.  One, they identify and mobilize.  This can be as simple as “feet on the ground,” door to door activism in smaller states, or it can be a complex process of finding, tracking, and micromarketing to progressive voters in a large state such as California.  Two, they create effective messaging.  Early messaging focused on anti-gay measures as being invasions of personal privacy and infringements of “big government” onto the lives of individuals, but these met with little success.  More recently the message has been that anti-gay measures are about discrimination, and Stone reports that this framing is much more effective.  As Stone astutely pointed out to us however, the message is anti-discrimination, not pro-equality, as full equality is still seen as radical.  And three, in states looking to pass enhanced Defense of Marriage Acts that would divest marriage rights from heterosexual civil unions and domestic partnerships as well as gays and lesbians, effective messaging makes the “Super DOMA” as much about the rights of unmarried heterosexuals as it is about same sex marriage.  This takes the “gay” out of “gay marriage,” and as a result, the messaging is both highly effective and highly problematic.

More recently, anti-gay and gay rights ballot measures have expanded from states where ballot initiatives are common or where the LGBT community is demographically strong – Oregon or California, for example – out to heartland states.  But unlike the former, the lack of prior ballot measures has meant these new states do not have the stable and robust activist organization that comes after a series of protracted political battles.  As a result, these LGBT communities face an uphill battle fighting the measures and receive little support from national organizations, who see these campaigns as losing bets.  Nonetheless, Stone demonstrates that while these battles indeed often end in defeat, the legacies are robust statewide organizations that prime the community and produce the structures for more effective political mobilization in the future.

Part of Dr. Stone’s analysis also looks at the ways in which the religious right has modified their argument against LGBT rights to fit the rapidly changing culture.  Here we see a move from virulent, openly homophobic rhetoric painting gays and lesbians as deviant, possibly pedophiliac predators to more subtle messaging.  For example, Stone related to the audience one ad where a young girl returns from school to happily inform her parents  that “two princes can marry each other and I can marry a princess too!”  The underlying message: big government is using public education to socialize your children into morals you may not agree with.  Another ad Stone discussed highlighted a gay man opining that he doesn’t really need gay marriage, he’s perfectly fine with civil unions!  Stone suggests that this ad works towards telling “on the fence” voters that it’s OK to vote against gay rights, that their ideals of equality and their desire to keep marriage “heterosexual only” are NOT in contradiction.  (I found this line of messaging eerily similar to some presidential ads I have seen recently, where the focus is on convincing the independent white 2008 Obama voter that it’s OK to not vote for Obama this time)

In sum, Dr. Stone’s work offers one of the first truly comprehensive sociological analyses of state based LGBT political mobilization and as a result is an essential text for those interested in LGBT rights specifically or public policy generally.  Furthermore, her attention to the interaction between national and state organizations should offer interesting data and insights for scholars of social movements and political change.  A special thanks to Bookwoman for hosting such an informative and important event.

Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is available for purchase in Austin at….wait for it….Bookwoman (5501 N. Lamar)!  For those not lucky enough to live in Austin, Gay Rights at the Ballot Box can be purchased at amazon.coms everywhere. 

ASA 2012 Visions of Graduate Student Utopias

UT Austin citizens past and present: Dana Britton (Professor, Rutgers), Christine Williams, (Chair, UT Sociology), Kirsten Dellinger (Chair, Univ of Mississippi), Jeff Jackson (Assoc Prof, Univ of Mississippi), Kumiko Nemoto (Associate Professor, Western Kentucky University), and Patti Giuffre (Professor, Texas State)
Graduate Coordinator Evelyn Porter’s ASA report:

My focus this year at ASA was the Director of Graduate Studies meeting and networking with UT Austin alums at the Departmental Alumni Night. Many thanks to those of you who stopped by our table to say hello, it was great to see you! Next year in New York, we will have a reception, so plan to attend.

The most valuable part of the conference for me was the DGS meeting. I discovered (much to my delight) that UT Austin has substantial student support systems in place that many other universities have not developed. These include: an annual reporting system for students and mentors; a blog and other social media outlets; student-led brown bags, panel discussions and research presentations; health and well-being forums and other community building events (Spiderhouse salon, lunch on the patio, afternoon teas). Most of these programs are collaborations between students, faculty and staff. UT Austin is better able to focus on graduate student health and well being because staff are willing and able to provide support that faculty are often too busy to initiate. Twenty-seven colleges and universities had representatives at the meeting and we were one of two with an annual reporting system in place for students and mentors. I was one of two staff members attending and it made me very appreciative of the resources UT Austin has at its disposal. Considering our 80 ASA presenters (primarily graduate students) at the conference and the department’s multi-year funding of admitted students, what we offer to students academically and financially far surpasses most other universities. Most universities are dealing with overt competition among students for TAships and RAships and are unable to offer multi-year funding packages. Additionally, we have been fortunate to fund professional development opportunities for conference presentations and workshops thanks to university and faculty largesse.

The DGS report this year was from the ASA Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Sociology. I was again impressed by the way our department embraces and exemplifies diversity in a healthy, collaborative community-minded environment.

From the Graduate Student Under Represented Minority survey:

Grad School to Faculty – career paths for Underrepresented members
How does physical and mental health among minority students and faculty impact their career paths? Too many students and faculty of color are dying young. Second tier publications from minority faculty include a lot of titles about marginalization and troubled journeys. What are the characteristics of mentoring that advance the career path of URM grad students into faculty roles? Support for URM students must include building cultural and institutional capital.

URM students want to give a different lens to social problems. Students reported that the university did not value what they wanted to study. This was portrayed as having to fight for what they wanted to do. The framing was “we’re supportive” but nothing was done to further their research goals. Core committee members told one person to avoid controversial issues. Mentoring should include learning about health disparities, equity issues and language issues as well as gender and sexual minority perspectives.

What worked best was when students found the opportunity to learn the language of context, to conceptualize social change in a way that was understood by the academe. Supporting intellectual needs was found to be as important as funding and other forms of support. More focused support for the development of social and cultural capital, knowing how to ask questions, for instance is recommended. First generation students often don’t have the background or the desire to leave their cultural enclave. Discomfort must be acknowledged and assisted, class differences should be considered and thoughtful responses offered. Giving future faculty an understanding about how academia works, the dynamics of the academy is vital. Mentors who praise their students in front of their peers offer a boon to anyone on the market. Being merciless with insistence on the quality of writing while communicating that you care is also vital.

Positive experiences improve confidence and give a sense of belonging. Mentors can provide buffers to micro aggressions and perceptions of URM students as undeserving of “special” consideration:
• Provide practical skills for writing, analysis, grant-writing and collaboration techniques.
• Provide dominant cultural capital including: how to act and how not to act; what to expect; formal and informal rules of the academy and how to negotiate comments of racism, elitism, sexism and ethnocentrism.
• Reveal the supports, processes and dominant culture “inside scoop” that leads to success in the academy.
• Respect and support for diversity of thought and scholarship. The values and perspectives of new members of the academy must be incorporated.

SREM reported grad student advice to programs:
• Listen to minority student voices – groups should meet with faculty to convey feelings
• Peer mentoring – other students providing social support
• Funding Support – systematic support for students with fellowships and research
• Better communication among various departmental constituents
• Faculty should publish with their students
• Adjusting and accounting for socioeconomic /cultural backgrounds
• More support for peer networks
• Inadequate race scholarship, need more courses on race theory
• Have a graduate student annual conference in which graduate students present their work.

While the graduate student survey addresses URM specific issues, most of the mentoring suggestions apply to all graduate students. I am heartened by the Sociology department’s dedication to furthering the scholarship and well being of its graduate students and look forward to collaborating with all of you to ensure our quality of life here at UT Austin remains superb.

Sociology of Ghosts

ASA Session on Visual Sociology.
‘Representing Social Invisibility: Aesthetics of the Ghostly in Rebecca Belmore’s Named and Unnamed’ (Margaret Tate, The University of Texas at Austin); ‘Visual Representations of Abu Ghraib: Fashionable Torture, Gender and Images of Homoerotic Power’ (Ryan Ashley Caldwell, Soka University of America).

From Tate: During the 1980’s and 1990’s, more than 65 women went missing from the Downtown East Side area of Vancouver, British Columbia. As the poorest neighborhood in Canada, this inner city space is conceptualized within Vancouver as an unproductive space. A majority of the women who disappeared were First Nations women and thus were historically marginalized from the imaginary of Canadian citizenship. Because some were also sex workers and drug addicts, their disappearances garnered little attention from the police or from official media outlets. They had already disappeared from the respectable Canadian social body by being situated in this area. This paper analyzes a street performance by a First Nations artist named Rebecca Belmore, who was haunted by the disappearance of these women and by their invisibility as bodies that mattered. The artist produces a haunting, a concept described by Avery Gordon as “an animated state in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known” (2008, xvi). In relation to the history of colonialism in Canada, it is significant that the performance is both embodied by the artist and situated within Downtown East Side Vancouver. This paper considers problems of representation that some social events pose and suggests that Belmore’s performance rethinks representation and points to possibilities for transformational aesthetics in relation to vulnerable or marginalized subjects.

From Caldwell: Approaching society, culture, and art in a critical manner allows for the questioning of power, value, and authority—allowing for a critique of some contextual reality. Critical art allows for an evaluation of existing power structures, and an opportunity to change the world through its interpreted and exposed messages. Critical art is also a means for further informing the public about situations that are unfair, illegal, or unethical—it can give a voice to those who have been marginalized. In this piece, I analyze power in relation to gender, homoerotic torture, and the depiction of women by interpreting representations associated with the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison—from aesthetics to advertising.

Ontology, since its inception as the science of being qua being, has always been a project of division, of delimitation, of inclusion and exclusion. If the purpose of a door or gate by definition is to keep others out, then the ascent of the kingdom of being is inextricably bound up with the animals, the barbarians in the pagus beyond Athens, the demons and ghosts, and the shadows it leaves behind on the very horizon of intelligibility.

Ernest Jones saw in human symbol-making a return of the repressed under improper signifiers. It is the coded speech of the Sphinx in face of the ‘ultimate stupidity’ or dumbness [Urdummheit] of man (Cassirer). Contrary to the banal formulation, the essence of art does not lie in a ruse of technique or even a cunning of imagination (the pedestrian flash or stroke of genius), but rather in its very stupidity, its inexplicability, its futility, its silent smile amidst a clamor of injunctions to speak, to write, to paint, to think, to render visible.

Marx had said alienation is first and foremost a ‘feeling.’ But if the malaise of modernity is not our dispossession, as Marx said, by the other, but of the other, the other in ourselves, then art as the exercise of pure potential can perhaps finally open up, render sublime, those affects mercilessly suppressed and forever trailing in the torrential wake of being.

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.

Sinnika Elliott’s book about parents, teens and sex reviewed in this month’s Slate Magazine

Emily Yoffe reviews Dr. Sinikka Elliott’s new book Not my Kids:What Parents believe about the Sex Lives of their Teenagers in this month’s Slate Magazine.

Dr. Elliott is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University and a graduate of the UT Austin Sociology program (2008). Elliott compares the discomfort of parents in America as they broach the topic of sex with their teens to the more open approach taken in Holland, leaving the reviewer to wonder if she could imagine her daughter’s boyfriends staying in their home for weekend sleepovers. Provocative questions for both parents and their sexually curious teens.

Dr. Sinikka Elliott (PhD, 2008)

Catch Dr. Elliott at ASA presenting:
Regular Session. Food and Agriculture
Unit: Food and Agriculture
Scheduled Time: Fri, Aug 17 – 8:30am – 10:10am
Presenter on individual submission: “Bringing Sociology to the Table: A Case for a Sociological Approach to the “Obesity Epidemic”