The Lost Battalion: Sociology Professor Establishes New Scholarship in Honor of Father’s Legacy

Lost BatallionTexans proudly “remember the Alamo,” but few remember the importance of the Battle for the Lost Battalion. Arthur Sakamoto, professor of sociology and Population Research Center affiliate at The University of Texas at Austin, wants to change that.

In honor of the Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who fought in the bloody World War II battle-including his own father-Sakamoto is starting an undergraduate scholarship called the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.

The Lost Battalion, also known as the “Alamo” Regiment for its lineage that traces back to the Texas Revolution, was a battalion of 275 soldiers from Texas. Trapped behind enemy lines on a steep ridge in the forest east of Biffontaine, France, they were cut off from the rest of their regiment and completely surrounded by Germans.

The 442nd was charged with the mission to rescue the cut-off battalion, even though they had just spent the entire previous week fighting to free two nearby towns. Engaged in the heaviest fighting they had seen in the war, the soldiers battled the elements as well as the Germans; dense fog and very dark nights prevented the men from seeing even twenty feet ahead of them. Rainfall, snow, cold, mud, and fatigue, plagued them as they slowly crept closer to the German frontlines.

When they could inch no closer, there was nothing left to do but charge up steep slopes, shouting, firing from the hip, and lobbing hand grenades into enemy dugouts Finally, the 442 soldiers broke the German defenses, allowing them to reach the 141st, rescuing 211 Texas soldiers at the cost of 800 Japanese American casualties in just 5 days.

“Since I was young I have heard the battle mentioned by members of my family because my father fought in it,” Sakamoto says. “For its size and length of service, the 442nd is the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history.  [Yet] the 442nd does not seem to be as widely known as it once was.”

Lost BatallionSakamoto hopes this scholarship will once again raise awareness and respect for the Japanese American men who faithfully, and voluntarily served their country in a time when their family and friends were rounded up and placed in internment camps despite their American citizenship-their only crime being their physical likeness and extended familial ties to the enemy.

“We just wanted to join to prove that we are loyal Americans,” one veteran of the 442nd recently told NBC cameras during a recent news segment on the regiment, echoing a line from the Japanese American creed: Although some individuals may discriminate against me, I shall never become bitter or lose faith, for I know that such persons are not representative of the majority of the American people.

The bravery of the 442nd not only saved the lives of captured American soldiers, but as news of their heroism spread, it helped Japanese Americans to begin to gain acceptance as full-fledged Americans. In 1963, the soldiers of the 442nd were named “Honorary Texans” by the Texas state legislature for their actions.

L&L Cover


During a widely publicized ceremony in 1946, President Harry S. Truman stood outside in the rain to welcome the returning heroes of the 442nd, saying “You’ve fought not only the enemy, but you’ve fought prejudice, and you’ve won.  Keep up that fight, and we’ll continue to win to make this Great Republic stand for just what its Constitution says that it stands for, the welfare of all the people, all the time….”

“What the Battle for the Lost Battalion helped to do was to sear into the national psyche the enduring American truth that all U.S. citizens are equal under the law regardless of their race,” Sakamoto says.

In order to promote a greater awareness of this momentous battle in American history, Sakamoto and The University of Texas at Austin are seeking to honor the valor and sacrifices of the brave Japanese American soldiers of the 442nd through the establishment of the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund.

Sakamoto’s hope is that the scholarship will become operational by 2014, which will be the 70th anniversary of the battle. The goal is to raise $25,000 for an endowment, whose income will be used to support scholarships for deserving undergraduate students in the College of Liberal Arts.

To learn more about supporting the Battle for the Lost Battalion Scholarship Fund please contact Professor Arthur Sakamoto , (512) 232-6338 or Assistant Dean Kathleen Aronson , Office of Development at the College of Liberal Arts at  (512) 475-9763.

Top image: Army portrait of Arthur Sakamoto Sr.
MIddle image: Arthur Sakamoto Sr. in the foreground holding a book
Bottom image: 442nd Regimental Combat Team Patch

Courtesy of Molly Wahlberg

Research Questions with Professors Javier Auyero and Simone Browne

This spring we are excited to launch Research Questions (RQ), a Q&A series profiling the faculty, graduate students, and alumni of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. In brief conversations, this series looks at the diverse projects, interests, and sources of inspiration within the UT-Austin sociology community. We kick off the conversation with Professor Javier Auyero and Professor Simone Browne.

RQ: Professor Auyero, what aspect of your current work means the most to you and why?

Javier Auyero: Research and teaching are, in my mind, part of the same meaningful process. I love being in the field and I also love being in the classroom – discussing the latest fieldnote with a student, her new interpretation of an interview, or her novel ideas about a research project. For the past decade and a half, I’ve been more or less obsessing about a few topics – they guide my research and teaching: political clientelism, its relationship with collective action, the role of clandestine connections in politics, urban marginality and environmental suffering, and poor people’s waiting as way of experiencing political domination.

RQ: Any exciting news you want to share with everyone?

JA: We are in the process of creating a new Center for Urban Ethnography in the department that will bring together under one roof all the existing energy and excitement about the craft of ethnography among faculty and students (and hopefully, new funding for graduate students!). I’m also thrilled about the progress of the new cohorts of doctoral students. Their projects show a daring combination of theoretical sophistication and socio-political relevance – it’s a true pleasure (and a wonderful learning experience) to work with them.

RQ: Professor Browne, what aspect of your current work means the most to you and why?

Simone Browne: Cases like that of Jakadrien Turner make the links to my current work on surveillance and black mobilities plain. I first heard about the case of Jakadrien Turner – the 15-year old African-American girl who was “deported” by ICE last spring to Colombia – through Twitter. That a US born teenager with reportedly little Spanish language skills was believed to be a Colombian citizen and rendered through the courts and the removal process is baffling, but in our times of extraordinary rendition, hospital deportations, and the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, among other measures, it must also lead us to ask about the institutional mechanisms that the state and private actors make use of to allow for such a situation: fingerprints, immigration law, banishment, sexism, racism.

Turner’s grandmother was able to find her through Facebook, and I find that to be a very important aspect of this case: the agential potential that social network sites allow for.

RQ: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?

SB: That’s a tough question, I could name about twenty people right now. Right now, I really like Nicholas Mirzoeff’s (@nickmirzoeff) The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality and the work he is doing with others around the Occupy movement. Right to Look has, I think, made a really important intervention in theorizing surveillance in plantation economies and what Mirzoeff calls ‘oversight’ and ‘revolutionary realism’. A dream collaboration would be to think through some of these concepts with him, making links to biometric technology, airports, CCTV and other surveillance practices. It would also be pretty neat to collaborate with visual artist Wangechi Mutu around some of the media coverage of black women who have been detained at airports, removed from airplanes, or subject to searches beyond the standard x-ray: for instance Laura Adiele who had her hair inspected by a TSA agent or Malinda Knowles who was removed from a plane on the suspicion that she was not wearing any undergarments. She was, incidentally. Mutu has said that “Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.”

I would probably just hold the adhesive in that collaboration, but I still think it would be neat.


Javier Auyero is the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin. He received his PhD from The New School for Social Research in 1998. His main areas of research, writing and teaching are political ethnography, urban poverty, and collective violence. He is the author dozens of articles (published in American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, Latin American Research Review, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Sociological Forum, etc.) and of Poor People’s Politics (Duke University Press, 2000), Contentious Lives (Duke University Press, 2003), Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and, together with Débora Swistun, Flammable. Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown (Oxford University Press, 2009). His new book, Patients of the State, will be published in 2012 by Duke University Press. He received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in 2000 and from the American Council of Learned Societies in 2008 and grants from the SSRC and NSF. He was the editor of the journal Qualitative Sociology from 2004 to 2010.

Simone Browne is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, joining in 2007. She is also affiliated with the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies (WCAAAS), and the Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at UT-Austin. She completed her PhD at the University of Toronto. Professor Browne’s book-length manuscript in preparation, Dark Matters: Surveillance and Black Mobilities examines surveillance with a focus on biometric information technology, airports and borders, slavery, mobile communication, black mobilities and creative texts. Her article “Everybody’s Got a Little Light Under the Sun: Black luminosity and the visual culture of surveillance” leads off the most recent issue of Cultural Studies and is available here. Professor Browne is also a member of the Steering Committee for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC).

Spring 2012 begins with lots of good news

We’re enjoying a cool, sunny day here in Austin, looking forward to our first Spiderhouse Salon of the spring semester tomorrow at 4:30. Camaraderie, productivity and collaborative discourse and research opportunities make life in Tejasarino (quoting Amanda) memorable and successful. A few good examples from this month alone:

Kudos to Angela Stroud who accepted a tenure track Assistant Professor position at Northland College in the Department of Social Responsibility’s focus on Social Justice! The trek from Austin, TX to Ashland, WI will be an incredible journey for Angela and her family. Send pictures!

Congratulations to Kate Prickett who received two awards at The 2011 Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting. For her paper entitled: “Contextualizing Mexican American Living Arrangements: The New Old Age and the Constraints of Culture.”

Great news for Tod Hamilton, 2010 UT SOC grad who has accepted an assistant professor position at Princeton! Kudos Tod!

A very hearty congratulations to Nicolette Manglos who has accepted an assistant professor position from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and to Erin Hofmann who will be an assistant professor at Utah State. Great news Nicolette and Erin!

We are indeed fortunate to enjoy both professional opportunities and success along with Austin’s fabulous quality of life. It will be a pleasure to welcome new members to our community in 2012 and share these victories both large and small.

Educational Disadvantages Associated with Race Still Persist in Brazil Despite Improvements, New Study Shows

Despite notable improvements in educational levels and opportunity during the past three decades, disadvantages associated with race still persist in Brazil, according to new research at The University of Texas at Austin.

Although educational advantages for white over black and pardo (mixed-race) adolescents declined considerably in Brazil, the gap is still significant, with whites completing nearly one year more of education.

Sociologist and Population Research Center affiliate Leticia Marteleto investigated educational inequalities using the nationally representative data from Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios from 1982 to 2007. Her findings will be published in the February issue of the journal Demography.

“Although the educational advantage of whites has persisted over this period, I found that the significance of race as it relates to education has changed in important ways,” Marteleto said.

By 2007, adolescents who identified themselves as blacks and pardos became more similar in their education levels, whereas in the past blacks had greater disadvantages, according to the study. Marteleto tested two possible explanations for this shift: structural changes in income levels and parents’ education, and shifts in racial classification.

Her findings suggest the educational gap has closed in part because of the large gains in family resources among black adolescents and a shift in racial labeling.

In 1982 only 13.2 percent of adolescents who identified themselves as black had finished primary school by ages 17 and 18, compared with 21.5 percent of their pardo peers. In 2007, the gap for primary school completion had disappeared.

The second potential explanation for the closing educational gap between pardo and black Brazilians is a shift in racial identity. Children of college-educated black fathers and mothers have a greater probability of being identified by their family as black in 2007, while in 1982 these associations were still considered negative. This seems to explain — at least in part  — some of the increases in the educational attainment of those identified as black in relation to pardo, since highly educated Brazilians now have a disproportionately higher likelihood of identifying their children as black rather than either white or pardo.

Marteleto said the current debate about recent race-based affirmative action policies being implemented in Brazilian universities has engaged its population at a national level and can offer valuable insights to the literatures of educational opportunity and race everywhere.

“My research shows that educational disadvantages have recently assumed a dichotomous nature based on black and white in Brazil,” Marteleto said. “While in the United States the growth in racial and ethnic diversity has led researchers to speculate that the black-white dichotomy is losing its salience for social inequalities — and that the country will soon resemble Brazil as a result of racial mixing — Brazil seems to be headed in the opposite direction, at least in regard to racial inequalities in education.”

For more information, contact: Michelle Bryant, College of Liberal Arts, 512-232-4730;  Leticia Marteleto, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-8302.

What Makes People Give?

During the “season of giving,” calls for donations are as plentiful as candy canes and eggnog. From bell-ringing Santas to toy donation drives, generous Americans make it the most wonderful time of the year for many charities.

What motivates this outpouring of good will? Americans donated nearly $300 billion in 2011, surpassing the gross domestic product of all but 33 countries in the world, according to a 2010 report by the Giving USA Foundation. Though the tradition of giving has existed for centuries, researchers have only begun to explore this question in the past 20 years.

At the forefront of this burgeoning field of study, social scientists at The University of Texas at Austin are examining the many reasons why some people give and some don’t.

Pamela Paxton, professor of sociology and government, studies how individual characteristics and social forces affect generosity.

With a $148,000 grant from the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, sociologist Pamela Paxton, the Centennial Commission Professor of the Liberal Arts, is breaking new ground in the science of giving. Using data from two cross-national surveys, she’s examining how the social, economic and political structures of nations affect generosity. She is among the first social scientists to look at both the personal factors and larger societal forces that drive generosity.

Although she recently embarked on this study in 2010, she has preliminary results that suggest three factors influence our charitable impulses: Resources, opportunity and social norms. Paxton speculates the surge in giving during the holidays comes from an abundance of opportunities to get involved.

“Being asked to donate and volunteer makes a big difference,” said Paxton, professor of sociology and research affiliate in the Population Research Center and the Department of Government. People are also more likely to give because the social norm of giving is more pronounced during this time of year.”

The social pressure to give is especially prominant among people with money and education.

“Well educated people are more likely to acquire the civic skills necessary to volunteer, and they’re more informed about social issues like poverty,” she said. “Social networks are also very important. If you’re surrounded by people who donate and volunteer, you’re more likely to do the same.”

It may come to no surprise that religious people are more involved in philanthropic activities, yet research shows that even nonreligious people are more prone to giving back if they live in communities where many people attend religious services.

“Social networks matter – even if you’re not involved in church or a philanthropic group,” Paxton said. When we’re surrounded by a social network of civic-minded people, we’re more likely to volunteer because of increased recruitment and motivation. We might see these processes when a friend asks if we’d like to help out at a homeless shelter, or if we hear about a church food drive from an acquaintance.”

Researchers have long questioned the existence of altruism, arguing that if people “feel good” after giving or volunteering, it cannot be truly altruistic behavior. Yet Paxton isn’t interested in weighing in on the debate.

“Whether altruism exists doesn’t matter to me,” Paxton said. “What does interest me is the fact that generosity and altruism are central to a well functioning society. I don’t think you have to answer this question in a philosophical sense to understand the causes and consequences of generosity.”

Learning by example

Whether anyone can truly be selfless remains a mystery. However, Marlone Henderson, assistant professor of psychology, found that when people see others demonstrating altruistic acts, they are more inspired to get off the couch and into the soup kitchen.

Over the course of five studies, Henderson and his research team looked at the ways people are motivated to give their time and money to a charitable cause. Respondents were more motivated to give to a cause, he found, when they learned of others helping the less fortunate in different countries.

“When people learn about others who are going outside their own communities to help people in need – standing little to gain – they are reminded of their own apathy,” Henderson said. “But rather than feeling guilty, they see these programs as glowing examples of good will.”As part of the study, the 626 respondents were given descriptions of university student civic groups that help disadvantaged children in a school mentoring program. The programs are fictitious, however the respondents believed them to be real and were prepared to donate money at the end of the study.

Watch Marlone Henderson, assistant professor of psychology, discussing the many factors that motivate people to give in this Knowledge Matters video.

Variations of the programs included volunteers helping children in various countries or assisting children in their respective countries. After viewing the programs’ websites, which included photos of volunteers with the children, the participants reported an increased interest in contributing to the programs helping children overseas.

“One of my favorite examples is a line from ‘Batman Begins’ when Bruce Wayne says, ‘People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy,'” Henderson said. “Although he’s talking about motivating himself to put on his bat outfit, the message is broader than that. We need something to shake us out of this apathy – and when we hear about something that’s different than what we’re used to, that motivates us to get involved and help.”

In another study, Henderson looked at how people decide to contribute to fund-raising campaigns. One of the most powerful factors that drives people to donate, he says, is the amount of money the campaign has already raised.

An image from Henderson’s study showing a fictitious student volunteer program involving Chinese students helping children in Beijing.

When soliciting donations, charitable organizations need to consider how much their constituants care about the cause. If they’re reaching out to people who already care, it’s important to emphasize what needs to be done to accomplish a goal, Henderson said.
In a series of studies of 1462 participants, Henderson and his team manipulated audience identification by describing the beneficiaries of a shared goal in distancing terms such as “they” or “them” or in close terms such as “we” and “us.” After the respondents were informed of how much money was still needed for a cause they cared about, donations almost doubled.

“When people hear about how much more is needed they’re more compelled to jump in and get involved, so this effort they care about doesn’t sink,” Henderson said.
However, he advises fundraisers to do the opposite when targeting those who aren’t particularly invested in the cause.

“The best way to motivate new people is to point out what others have done,” Henderson said. “When people see that a charity has already raised a good chunk of money – they’re likely to say, ‘Wow – people really care about this! Maybe I should care too.'”
To measure the effectiveness of this strategy, the researchers drafted a letter citing the success of a fundraising campaign. They found the donations more than tripled after the respondents, who didn’t identify with the cause, read the letter.

So what does this mean for civic groups, nonprofits and charitable organizations hoping to increase donations? Henderson said he hopes insights from his studies will help fundraisers craft better campaigns and tug at the heartstrings with greater precision. By showing examples of people demonstrating altruistic acts in foreign countries, or communicating a sense of urgency with their constituents, they can significantly expand their circle of potential donors.

Why study generosity?

Aside from philanthropic groups rallying for donors, what can be gained from these studies? For Paxton, the importance of this area of research is learning how to make the world work a little bit better.

“Social scientists often focus on social problems,” Paxton said. “But it’s nice for me to come in to work and focus on a social good. Personally, I enjoy this research because if we can increase a social good, it could potentially help a number of social problems at once.”
To help a new generation of generosity scholars learn about the broad causes of generosity around the world, Paxton is teaching a freshman signature course in the School of Undergraduate Studies during the 2012-13 academic year. Using a $100,000 gift, provided to the university by an anonymous foundation, students will decide how to allocate the money to a charitable organization of their choice. Since the challenge will be to decide where to give the money, Paxton will teach techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of charitable programming.

“This class has the potential to change their lives,” Paxton said. “It’s going to make students think about philanthropy at an early age. And they have the opportunity through this class to give a substantial amount of money to a good cause.”
From donating a sizable gift to a struggling nonprofit to dropping off a couple of soup cans at a food drive, any act of good will contributes to a well-functioning society. And people need to realize they don’t have to wait until the holidays to start giving back.
“During this time of year people are put on waiting lists to help out at soup kitchens,” Paxton said. “It’s great that philanthropy is pronounced during the holidays, but volunteering and giving is needed all year long.”

Courtesy of Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts

Rave reviews for “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?”

Early reviews for Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson’s new book: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?” are in and are effusive in their praise for this important study of issues surrounding Life and Death. Abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment and others are among the most contentious in many societies. Whose rights are protected? How do these rights and protections change over time and who makes those decisions? Based on the author’s award-winning and hugely popular undergraduate courses at the University of Texas, the book explores these questions and the fundamentally sociological processes which underlie the quest for morality and justice in human societies. Dr. Ekland-Olson’s goal is not to advocate any particular moral “high ground” but to shed light on the social movements and social processes which are at the root of these seemingly personal moral questions.

One reviewer calls it a “tour de force, one of the most interesting and thought provoking books he has ever read.” Another was brought to tears by the story of one father’s struggle with the decision to allow his 7 year old child to die. All mention the meticulous breadth and depth of the research, the non-judgmental tone and accessibility of the material. While Sheldon is a teacher’s teacher, his friends and colleagues know that despite his many titles and awards, he remains a happy mortal among men, inspiring not just respect but our profound appreciation.

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson is the Audre and Bernard Centennial Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, where he served as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Executive Vice President and Provost. He is the winner of numerous teaching awards, and one of his classes was listed among the 2009 10 Hottest Courses in the Nation. His previous publications include The Rope, The Chair and the Needle, Texas Prisons, and Justice Under Pressure.