Indigenous solutions to intellectual violence – stop talking and listen

Ilarion_Libby

Ilarion Merculieff, director of Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways and Dr. Libby Roderick, Director of the Difficult Dialogues program at the University of Alaska

Intellectual violence in the academe is a hot topic and was the subject of an animated Sociology brownbag last year.  There was consensus about the problem, but no real solutions emerged.  So, when I signed up for the  Stop Talking – Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning workshop offered by the Humanities Institute, I was glad to discover valuable insights and techniques for creating civility in often heated academic discussions.

Co-presenters Ilarion (Larry) Merculief, the director of the Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and professor and Director of the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s difficult dialogues program Libby Roderick have co-authored and published two books.  The first provided the foundation for our meeting and the second, Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education is a companion piece for instructors teaching courses that deal with contentious issues. Ilarion, an Alaskan native, began by describing his life as a child growing up in a traditional aleut village. His family were hunters and fishers, members of a small Unungan community living on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. From an early age, the children were taught to open their minds and their senses to the earth and sea and to listen. A typical greeting, translated as “The morning tastes good,” reflects their sense of well-being living in harmony with nature. Parents allowed children the freedom to roam and they were not chastised or punished for misdeeds, but taught communal values by elders and by their Aachaa, with whom they had a special spiritual bond. Time, attention and belonging were predicated on nature, on place, and on being one of the people who kept the balance of life by honoring and protecting the earth. People spent a lot less time talking and much more listening and communicating non-verbally. The foundation for respecting all living beings was given to Ilarion along with the challenge to communicate this balance of life, self and other to non-natives.

He began with a list of values that he felt most Alaska Native cultures have in common:

  • Treat each other with respect
  • Keep in mind that everyone has their own truth
  • Listen without agenda
  • Be polite, courteous and thoughtful
  • Refrain from interruption
  • Affirm other speakers
  • Do not voice disagreement or use violent words; instead, say something positive about the previous speaker and then simply add your own thoughts
  • Respect privacy: everything shared in confidence needs to be kept in confidence
  • Be supportive of each other

Clearly, a very civil agenda and one sorely lacking in most academic discourse.  The foundation of respect comes from the knowledge that the community is completely interdependent and rooted in love of the earth.  One of the first things workshop participants were asked to do was go outside for a 10 minute exercise in listening and opening our senses to the environment. We went to the turtle pond by the main building to enjoy the beautiful day.

This re-centering  and re-energizing exercise was one suggested method for engaging the mind/body and including the heart in the conversations to follow. Giving participants a chance to reflect before answering questions and building in spaces for silence slows the pace and gives introverts more opportunities to be heard.  Another useful technique employed in the workshop was to create listening pairs, setting aside five or six minutes at a time for each person to talk about what they were learning with the other actively listening.  Research has shown that using wait time as a teaching strategy to facilitate think time produces better responses to questions. Even issues that are divisive and contentious can be discussed if we allow each person to have their own truth and we are willing to listen without formulating a response. There will be additional posts from this workshop,from the Stop Talking handbook and from the Start Talking engaging difficult dialogues handbook. The value of these lessons cannot be overestimated and I am grateful to Ilarion and to Libby for sharing their wisdom with their southern compadres.

 

The Financial Crisis, Gender, and Graduate School: An Interview with Megan Tobias Neely

crumbling-world

Recently, Dr. Christine Williams interviewed Megan Tobias Neely for the blog Work in Progress - the official blog of the ASA’s Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section.

Neely’s interview is part four of a four-part panel on the health of the Sociology of Work.

Synopsis of Neely’s Interview:

Christine Williams responds to Chris from a different angle, presenting an interview with Megan Tobias Neely, who just defended her PhD thesis proposal for an ethnographic study of hedge fund managers. Megan notes that professors, fellow grad students, and even those within the hedge fund industry have been very interested in her research. While there are differences in studying this industry versus others – most notably, a need to be careful to neither demonize nor glorify her subjects – she concludes that “My goal is no different than that of my fellow graduate students who are studying low wage workers—contextualizing their social worlds and learning about how they make sense of their daily work lives.”

The panel on the health of the Sociology of Work can be found here: A Health Check on the Sociology of Work

“The Other Side of Austin” Project

By Pamela Neumann and Caitlyn Collins

Book_Group

Photo Credit: Maggie Tate

It had been a lively, thought-provoking semester. Javier Auyero taught a course called Poverty and Marginality in the Americas, and we had reached the last day of class in Spring 2012 before we parted ways for the summer. Javier sat at the head of the table, cross-armed, leaning back in his chair. Although he often had a look of intensity about him, today he looked more deep in thought than usual. He began speaking slowly, his enthusiasm growing as he presented our class with an idea. What if, he said, we take what we’ve learned during this course about the nature and experiences of those living “at the margins” of society, and apply it to our own city of Austin by writing a book? Javier couldn’t promise us where the project would lead, whether it would be successful, or what the outcome would look like. But he was certain that the collective endeavor would be unlike anything else we had experienced in our years of schooling thus far: a pedagogical, intellectual, and political project that, as Javier writes, would chronicle “the lived experiences of inequality and social marginalization, the ways in which inequality and exclusion intertwine with individual lives and are embedded in intricate seams of biological issues.”

We jumped at the chance. The collective energy we had felt together over the semester, our faith in Javier, and the importance of the joint enterprise all felt compelling. This new endeavor came to be known informally as the “Other Side of Austin” project. Over a series of intellectually and sometimes emotionally intense meetings (held as potlucks on Friday evenings several times a month at someone’s home), we began to develop a consensus about both the aims and methodology of the project.

We decided that each of us would conduct a series of life-history style interviews with different individuals representing various dimensions of life in Austin, which, though hardly invisible, are rarely noticed or discussed in either popular or academic publications about this city, which tend to focus on the city’s reputation as a cool, trendy, creative, musically inclined, and environmentally conscious place to live.  While all of these descriptors are true to some extent, we felt that much more remained to be said about the issues and struggles confronting men and women who live at the margins of most people’s imaginations but who are in fact at the center of everyday life in Austin.

Javer_Katy

Photo Credit: Maggie Tate

We spent many months selecting and then getting to know the subjects of our respective chapters. We visited their homes, ate meals with them, spent time with them at work, and met their families and friends. We conducted many hours of interviews and transcriptions, and then began writing. In doing so our goal was to weave together the details of each individual story – a taxi cab driver, a migrant worker, a musician, etc. – with different structural forces or phenomena shaping their lives—e.g. gentrification, corporate labor practices, gender inequality, immigration policy, racial discrimination. We met regularly to workshop each other’s chapter drafts, offering feedback on style and content, as well as how best to incorporate relevant research and theoretical perspectives to illuminate what C. Wright Mills famously dubbed “the connection between biography and history.” The subjects of each chapter read, revised, and approved their respective stories.

OSAselfie

Photo Credit: Javier Auyero

In the introduction to what eventually became our book manuscript, Javier describes both the “economy of effort” and the “economy of feelings” that went into the completion of this project. For many of us, participating in this collective production of scholarship—a “labor of love”, if you will—has been one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of our graduate career. Much of the work we do (and will do) in academia is done alone, and that may always be the case. But these past two years proved that another model is also possible, one built on collaboration and sustained by common purpose and commitment. If all goes as planned, the seeds of this collective enterprise will bear fruit in the form a book published next year.

A Telling Two Days for Julián Castro

A double-wide home is split in preparation for it to be hauled out of a closing mobile home park in Florida.

Photo Credit: Edna Ledesma
A double-wide home is split in preparation for it to be hauled out of a closing mobile home park in Florida.

by Esther Sullivan

On Friday, news began to circulate from the White House that President Barack Obama would nominate San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  On Thursday, the day before, Castro and his city council members reviewed and voted on a zoning change that would facilitate the redevelopment of the 21-acre mobile home park Mission Trails. This redevelopment will result in the eviction of 300 low-income residents.

In 2011, I moved into a different 21-acre mobile home park as part of two continuous years of ethnographic fieldwork. I lived within, and was evicted from, these parks in Florida and Texas because of redevelopment. Like Mission Trails, the Florida Park where I lived was being redeveloped into a multi-million dollar mixed-use development. Like Mission Trails this required a single vote on a zoning change by our city council. Like Mission Trails the city council voted that the redevelopment was in the best interest of the city and evicted over a hundred poor and elderly homeowners.

In our case, however, the next director of HUD didn’t head a council that listened to “a lengthy citizen-comment session when scores of residents and advocates delivered emotional appeals, often laced with tears and sobs,” or watched as two residents were taken to the emergency room when they fell ill during this public testimony.

Read more here: http://www.expressnews.com/news/politics/article/Council-approves-controversial-zoning-in-split-5482254.php#/0.

In our case the city council voted unanimously to approve the zoning change on our park. In the case of Mission Trails, Castro not only voted against the zoning change but also urged his council members to do the same. Castro also urged the council to create a task force to address the issue of gentrification in San Antonio. He lamented, “We move mountains to create jobs in this city. We move mountains to preserve our aquifer. We move mountains to save bats. And we move mountains to preserve historic buildings … we need to move mountains for people.”

Castro made this plea in vain and the city council voted 6-4 in favor of rezoning Mission Trails and evicting its residents.

The concurrence of these two events – the news of Castro’s potential appointment to HUD and the apotheosis of the human toll of urban growth – might seem propitious if it weren’t for the fact that mobile home parks operate (and close) with minimal state oversight, and zero federal oversight.

Mobile home parks operate in a vacuum of federal and state regulation, and yet fulfill a crucial role in national affordable housing production.

Understanding the spread of manufactured housing, over half of which is installed in mobile home parks, requires situating the housing form within historic shifts in the provision of affordable housing in the last four decades. Mobile home communities are not accidental enclaves of individuals making similar housing choices; they are the material expression of the gutting of federal subsidy of low-income housing and the privatization of affordable housing provision.

The rise of manufactured housing occurred directly alongside successive cutbacks in direct federal subsidy for housing. Today HUD has experienced more budget cuts than any other federal level branch of government. And now manufactured housing makes up 66% of the new affordable housing produced in the US.

As mayor of one of the first US cities to receive a grant from the new HUD “Promise Zone” program,  Castro has experience leveraging  diminished HUD funds to reinvest in high-poverty neighborhoods. But the job of secretary of Housing and Urban Development requires balancing the need for housing provision and housing security, with the needs of urban growth and economic revitalization.

Here’s hoping Julián Castro can really move mountains.

 

Esther Sullivan is a doctoral candidate at UT-Austin who studies urban sociology, poverty and inequality. 

How to Build a Body of Research: A Workshop with Dr. Theda Skocpol

Skocpol pic

by Megan Neely

How often do we reflect on how to build a body of research? Pressed by our day-to-day deadlines, we easily forget that what we do in graduate school sets the foundation for an entire career.

Graduate students recently had the opportunity to ask questions of a preeminent scholar with a tenure spanning 40 years. The Power, History and Society (PHS) network sponsored a lecture by Dr. Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. For a broader audience, Dr. Skocpol spoke about her research on the Tea Party, but earlier in the day she provided graduate students with guidance on how to build a long and enriching scholarly career.

Her remarks touched on several themes:

Research Questions

  • Research questions should be driven by empirical puzzles in the world, rather than gaps in the previous literature.
  • Tackle projects where you notice something that does not fit or cannot be easily explained in the world.
  • It is not necessary to know the answer going into the research. Instead, identify something that needs to be figured out.
  • Research questions should not be motivated by a particular data or method, but instead by questions about the social world surrounding us.

Theory and Methods

  • Tackle a range of subject matters that are united by common theoretical threads.
  • A macro theoretical perspective should inform your research, regardless of whether you study individual cases or use comparative methods.
  • Spend time developing an understanding of the independent variable you study, rather than focusing your attention to variations in outcomes.
  • You must have a strong understanding of the empirical puzzle before you theorize the outcomes.

Interdisciplinary Work

  • Crossing disciplinary boundaries is very fruitful when addressing complex puzzles.
  • When you combine literatures or disciplines, it involves an exercise in showing how alternative explanations approach the puzzle at hand and demonstrating the value in your own interpretation.
  • It is better to have a counterintuitive explanation.
  • Talk in the language of your audience when you cross-disciplinary boundaries. For example, Dr. Skocpol explained how she used the term “class” to audiences in Sociology, but automatically shifted her language to “interest groups” when speaking to political scientists.

The Job Market

  • Demonstrate your versatility.
  • As departments contract, they will not be interested in hiring hyper-specialists, but scholars who examine different subjects and use multiple methodologies.
  • Learn and combine different methodologies.
  • Avoid jargon to make your work accessible to broader audiences.
  • Prioritize publishing. Depending on your stage in the program, this might be in print or through conference presentations.

During the workshop, I reflected on how quickly my thinking can become microscopic, focused on the details of conducting research, writing literature reviews, and operationalizing variables. Dr. Skocpol’s talk prompted me to consider my research from a broader perspective. I felt inspired by the original questions that piqued my interest, and reflected on what new theoretical directions I might explore. I hope her insights inspire you, too.

Happy end of semester and many thanks to Christine Williams

The end of the semester party was a perfect opportunity to surprise the fabulous Dr. Christine Williams, who will complete her term as Chairperson of the Sociology department in August.  Many thanks to Christine for her hard work on behalf of our community and special thanks to Dr. Deb Umberson and Julie Kniseley for pulling off the surprise!  Our incoming chairperson Dr. Rob Crosnoe presents the commemorative plaque on behalf of all of us.

Marc Musick: Rape prevention requires campuses to control what they can

Mandatory 11 p.m. classes, a requirement that students had to live on campus for orientation, and repeated messaging that if you see something, do something. Those were some of the changes my colleagues and I at the University of Texas at Austin implemented last summer in an effort to keep students safe during our summer orientation, well before the recent call by the White House for greater attention to sexual assault on college campuses.

As professors, administrators and, perhaps most importantly, parents, we knew it was essential to run an orientation that put safety first for our newest and most vulnerable students. But the unfortunate reality is that universities have limited means for policing conduct that sometimes occurs away from campus. Even with a clear- eyed recognition of the problem, change sometimes requires creative solutions that seek to identify the places where a university does have control. So changing what we could control is exactly what we did.

As noted in the report released by the White House Council on Women and Girls, many rapes occur at parties that are fueled by alcohol. At UT, these parties frequently happen in off-campus locations, thus limiting our possible responses. Criminologists have long understood that crime is not a simple function of the behaviors and intentions of perpetrators, nor is it simply about choices that victims make. Instead, situations create opportunities for crime, and we had to find a way to cut down on these opportunities. Simply telling 18-year-olds not to go to parties or to be careful when they did was not enough.

In the summer of 2012, we undertook a careful examination of how off-campus activities affect students who attend our summer orientation. We instituted several major changes that we hoped would cut down on opportunities that might endanger our students. We required that students live on campus for orientation. We required students to attend an 11 p.m. meeting each night of orientation, a period that conflicts with the timing of most off-campus parties. What was the motivation for students to attend these late-night classes? Only regular attendance at these night meetings preserved the students’ access to priority registration slots, which was a major reason students attended orientation in the first place.

Orientation had always included a mandatory session on campus safety, but last session we also included repeated messages about the importance of bystander intervention. Using the tag line, “I saw something, I did something,” we created a video with UT students that emphasized the need for all of us to look out for one another. By repeating our bystander intervention message through videos, small-group discussions, speeches and other programs, we hoped to shift the culture, so that students would come to believe that it is their job to look out for one another.

The results were dramatic: more than 99 percent of our orientation students attended those late night meetings, attendance at our other evening events increased significantly, and, most importantly, we cut down on opportunities for risk. Although we do not have hard data on the full effect of these changes, we heard nothing but positive stories from this past summer’s program.

I know that we, as a higher education community, have a long way to go. But with Vice President Joe Biden’s recent remarks on these issues and the guidelines put forth by the White House task force, I have hope that we will see progress.

As the students featured in our bystander intervention video proclaim, “At UT, we take care of each other.” I firmly believe that if all students across the country heard and practiced that message, and other universities adopted the same kinds of changes that we did at UT, we would be on a firm path to eliminating campus rape across the country.

Musick formerly directed summer orientation for all incoming freshmen students at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and a professor of sociology.

Spring 2014 Spider House Celebration

We’ve had so much good news this semester, it’s hard not to celebrate!

Anima Adjepong – Michael H. Granof Outstanding Thesis Award

Jorge Derpic –  Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies, Oxford University (£13,000) and the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) Fellowship (25K, approx.)

Jessica Dunning Lozano – $25,000 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2014-2015 academic year.  Since only thirty awards were made from a pool of over 400 applicants, this award is a strong expression of the organizations’ confidence in your potential contribution to the history, theory, or practice of education.

David McClendon – University Continuing Named Fellowship – full year of support

Eve Pattison –  $15,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood. The P.E.O. Scholar Awards (PSA) was established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for women of the United States and Canada who are pursuing a doctoral level degree at an accredited college or university. She was sponsored by Chapter CR of Austin, TX.

Marcos Perez: National Science Foundation  – $15,000

Vivian Shaw – Japan Foundation’s “Japanese-Language Program for Specialists in Cultural and Academic Fields” (6-month residential language program, tuition, accommodations, and other funding).

Chelsea Smith –  Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being—seeking innovations to prevent child abuse and neglect. $50,000 over two years.

Esther Sullivan – American Fellowships from the American Association of University Women. This is a $20,000 award for doctoral candidates in any field of study, and another $2,500 for outstanding field research.

Amina Zarrugh –  University Continuing Named Fellowship – full year of support

LLILAS Honors Professor Bryan Roberts

The Sociology department shares several distinguished faculty members with the  LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections. Dr. Bryan Roberts has made an unparalleled contribution to the scholarship and communities of both and will sorely missed when he retires in December. Please take a moment to honor Dr. Roberts by viewing the tribute from LLILAS’ “International Colloquium on Social Citizenship in honor of Professor Bryan R. Roberts”

21-1024x576From Sociology Department Faculty, University of Texas at Austin

Bryan’s intellectual breadth, his natural curiosity, his international background and education, in combination with his extremely easy manner, infused the Department’s Latin American area with vitality and humanism for over thirty years. He contributed to far more than one area, though. He is a Sociologist in the best European and American traditions and his work combines deep theoretical insights and solid empirical work. He deeply touched the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues and he leaves a legacy that will animate the department and Latin American studies at UT Austin for years.
–Ron Angel, Professor of Sociology

First-hand witness to momentous transformations in Latin America, Bryan Roberts was able to make sense of them by deftly combining on-the-ground observations with high level theorization. Anybody studying urbanization, citizenship, or development in the continent is now standing on this sociological giant’s shoulders.
–Javier Auyero, Professor of Sociology

Bryan Roberts is an exemplary scholar who has had a crucial influence in the sociology of Latin America and in making UT a leader in the field. In addition to his own scholarly contributions to research on urbanization, migration, inequality, development, employment and informality in the region, Bryan has been a champion of bringing scholars from the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds together. He has published extensively in both languages and, most importantly, he has led a number of collaborative research projects with Latin American scholars. The comparative nature of these projects has been crucial for the understanding of long term changes in Latin American cities. He has always tied detailed micro analysis of community change to the macro transformations experienced by the region. Bryan regularly returned to the communities in Guatemala were he conducted his early fieldwork in the late 1960s and 1970s to observe first-hand the changes brought by neoliberalism to those communities. As LLILAS director from 2006 to 2009, he expanded his commitment to collaborative research with Latin America and brought universities and research institutes in the region closer to UT. This also explains the huge number of friends he has made and the respect he commands in the world of Latin American social sciences.
–Daniel Fridman, Assistant Professor of Sociology

For those of us who have studied migration related topics he is definitely ‘maestro de maestros’ — he has mentored some of the most influential maestras and maestros in immigration studies in the social sciences. He is a kind spirit and will be missed.
–Gloria Gonzalez Lopez, Associate Professor of Sociology

Bryan has made enormous contributions to the Department of Sociology for nearly three decades and perhaps especially so in the graduate program. He has directed dozens of dissertations and served on many masters and dissertation committees. Over the years, he has given great attention to helping his students write high-quality dissertations and placing them into productive academic and non-academic positions following graduation. Perhaps most important, Bryan has been a model colleague and mentor. He is incredibly productive and smart, yet humble. He takes his work very seriously, but also has a great sense of humor and does not allow the seriousness of his work to override the joy with which he lives his life. He’s an academic superstar, yet he always pitches in to do his share of the grunt work that departments need to get done. And he gets along with everyone; he’s a genuinely nice, fair, and kind person who is as well liked and respected as it gets. Thank you Bryan…for all of your contributions, for one, but more than that, for being the humble, humorous, fun, hard-working, down-to-earth, fair, and kind person that you are. You will be missed.
–Bob Hummer, Professor of Sociology

Bryan has done an outstanding job opening roads for research in Latin America. In towns that I have visited in Mexico, Central America, and South America, people told me that Bryan had been there earlier. It is a privilege to follow in his footsteps.
–Nestor Rodriguez, Professor of Sociology

For almost thirty years, Bryan Roberts has anchored the program in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Less well-known to outsiders, he has also been a mainstay of our programs in Sociological Theory and Ethnographic Research Methods. Bryan taught generations of qualitative researchers at UT. He is a multi-faceted scholar who communicates across scholarly divisions of geography, theory, and methodology. His geniality and collegiality have made the Sociology Department an exceptional place to work.
–Christine Williams, Professor and Chair of Sociology

My neighborhood is haunted.

That life is complicated may seem a banal expression of the obvious, but it is nonetheless a profound theoretical statement – perhaps the most important theoretical statement of our time.

-Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters.

Photo Essay

by Eric Enrique Borja

For Dr. Sharmila Rudrappa’s Feminist Theory course the class was asked to bring in a photo or two for an essay we had to write. I immediately thought of two photos, only one of which I will show, which I took about a month ago for a photography workshop.

For the workshop we were asked to take seven to ten different photos of anything. The idea was to create a photo essay out of these seven to ten different photos and then present them at the workshop. When I originally took the photos I knew I wanted to capture “something” about my neighborhood, but that “something” was unclear. That is until I read Gordon’s book Ghostly Matters for Dr. Rudrappa’s course.

Gordon writes, “Ghostly Matters is about haunting, a paradigmatic way in which life is more complicated than those of us who study it have usually granted. Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life… To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (Gordon 2008, 7). I realize now that what my photos were trying to capture were the ghosts that haunt me in my neighborhood.

Bus Stop

This photo is of the Camino la Costa UT shuttle bus stop. It may look like any other bus stop, but for me this bus stop is haunted. Gordon writes, “The ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (Gordon 2008, 8). For me, it is the ghost of the Austin Police Department that haunts this bus stop.

This bus stop is located across the street from where I live, so every morning I catch the CLC UT shuttle there. The funny thing about the CLC shuttle is that it was formerly the Cameron Road shuttle, but last semester Cap Metro decided to stop servicing my area – because a lot of brown people live in my neighborhood, so why help them get to UT, right?

The neighborhood I live in (Census tract 1812) is located just off of Cameron Road, east of I-35, and south of Highway 183. Compared to the demographics of Austin, my neighborhood is overwhelmingly brown. The racial makeup of Austin is: Whites 48.7%; Blacks 8.1%; Hispanics 35.1%; Asians 6.3%; and Other groups 1%. My neighborhood is: Whites 14%; Blacks 15%; Hispanics 69%; Asians 1%; and Other groups 1%. A day does not go by where I haven’t seen and heard the police in my neighborhood.

Around this time last year, I was stopped, questioned and frisked by APD on my way to school. It was a cold rainy morning and I wasn’t feeling too well. So when I woke up I was debating between staying in and sleeping more or going to class. I decided to go to class about ten minutes before I had to catch the bus. I quickly threw on a hoodie, a pair of jeans, and shoes, and bolted out the door. As I came out of my house, I saw a cop across the street in his car.

I couldn’t really see his eyes, but my body knew he was staring at me. I ignored it because, why would the cops stop me? I was just going to school. I crossed the street and waited for the bus.

Directly behind the bus stop is a large parking lot for ITT Tech. The cop must have driven past me three times that morning, each time staring at me. Finally, he stopped and parked about ten feet away from me.

At this point I was really confused and nervous.

The bus came.

As I began to board the bus, the cop stopped me.

“Come here,” he said.

“Ok.”

As I approached him, I put down my hoodie and I began to recollect all of the things my father taught me when I got my driver’s license – be respectful, keep your hands where the cops can see them, and never give them an excuse.

I walked up to the cop, and he began questioning me

“What are you doing around here?

“I live here.”

“Where you going?”

“I’m going to UT. That’s the bus I catch.”

“What’s in the backpack?”

“My laptop and some books.”

By now there are three other cops around me. I showed the cop my ID, which has my home address – which, if you don’t remember, is across the street – but he is not convinced.

“Can you show me what’s in the bag?”

“Sure.”

I open my backpack and show him my laptop and books. Still not convinced I open my laptop, and unlock it to demonstrate to him that it is indeed my laptop. He’s finally convinced. He takes down my information and lets me go. As I walked away, one of the other cops said while laughing, “We’ll call you if you turn out to be the bad guy.”

At some point between me waiting for the bus and the cop questioning me, I almost ran back home to get my headphones. Imagine what the cop would have done if I ran back home that morning.

So, really it is two ghosts that haunt my bus stop: the Austin Police Department and me.

Life is complicated indeed.

Graduate Sociology Blog