Welcome to our 2012 Sociology Graduate Student cohort

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

Welcome 2012 cohort!

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

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

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

From the Board of Regents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ekland-Olson has been chosen because the student selection committee found he most reflects the purpose of the award: Dr. Ekland-Olson “demonstrates a warmth of spirit, a concern for society and the individual, and the ability to impart knowledge while challenging students to independent inquiry and creative thought, as well as respect for and understanding of the permanent values of our culture.” the http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/sociology/news/3846

Professor Ekland-Olson Honored with Prestigious Teaching Award

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson, Rapoport Centennial Professor in the Department of Sociology, is a recipient of the 2012 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Offered annually in recognition of faculty members at the nine academic and six health University of Texas System institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards are the Board of Regents’ highest honor. With a monetary award of $25,000, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards are among the largest in the nation for rewarding outstanding faculty performance. Given the depth and breadth of talent across the UT System, the awards program is likewise one of the nation’s most competitive.

Faculty members undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels consider a range of activities and criteria in their evaluations of a candidate’s teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.

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

Dr. Ekland-Olson will be recognized at an award ceremony on Wednesday, August 22, at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on the UT-Austin campus.

Way to go, Sheldon!!

Study Presented at ASA Reveals Link Between Marriage and Alcohol Consumption

New research finds long-term marriage linked to lower alcohol consumption in men, but higher alcohol consumption in women. The study was presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, CO.

Based on survey data and interviews, researchers revealed that married men reported consuming the lowest number of drinks, compared with single, divorced, and widowed men, in part due to their wives’ lower levels of drinking. However, married women consumed more drinks than long-term divorced or recently widowed women, probably because they lived with men who had higher levels of alcohol use.

The study was conducted by Corinne Reczek, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati, and University of Texas at Austin alum; Tetyana Pudrovska, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Demography at The Pennsylvania State University; Deborah Carr, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University; and Debra Umberson, Professor of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

For a feature of the study, visit CBS News.

Minority Reports: Asian Americans in Class and at Work

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize a well-known character from an acclaimed NBC 2006-10 drama in this TIME cover photo taken in 1987.

Regular Session on Asians and Asian Americans: Economic and Educational Processes. ‘Discrimination and Psychological Distress among Asian Americans: Exploring the Moderating Effect of Education’ (Wei Zhang, University of Hawaii; PhD, UT-Austin, 2008); ‘Are Asian American Women Advantaged? Labor Market Performances of College Educated Female Workers’ (ChangHwan Kim, University of Kansas; PhD, UT-Austin, 2006).

Zhang and Kim, respectively, revealed surprising findings about correlations between education level and psychological distress from discrimination, and between nationality and workplace inequality, among Asians and Asian Americans.

Zhang discovered that Asian Americans with higher levels of education experience more psychological distress from racial discrimination than those with lower levels of education. In addition, Asian Americans who received their education outside the US experience more distress from discrimination than those who received their education Stateside. One possible explanation is the disparity between others’ perception of the individual and the individual’s self-perception or expectation is exacerbated when the individual’s education level contributes negatively to his or her cognitive stress.

Wei Zhang (University of Hawaii; PhD 2008, UT-Austin) presenting during session.

Studying Asian and Asian American women in the workplace, Kim found that Asian American women do not hold an advantage over Asian-born women working Stateside in terms of employment, compensation and professional upward mobility, and both fare worse than white women in these aspects.

These results show the real discriminations and inequalities that Asians and Asian Americans face are often overlooked in favor of a model-minority stereotype that emphasizes only the positivity of educational attainment and cultural assimilation while ignoring their stress effects in context with other psychological and economic factors, and that, perhaps, it is still a ways to a racial and socioeconomic utopia realized.

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.

People Watching with Feynman

ASA Section on Mathematical Sociology: Models and Model Adequacy. ‘Models of Interacting Particle Systems for Social Processes’ (Joseph Whitmeyer, University of North Carolina-Charlotte).

In Metaphysics Aristotle proposed the idea that a whole may be greater than the sum of its parts, meaning that from a simple set of relations the workings of a much more complex phenomenon can be described or predicted.

In the 1970s sociologists began avidly looking to biology, physics and mathematics to model social phenomena from population migrations, the spread of disease and terrorism, revolutions, to fashion and social media today. The key is in identifying the components or ‘particles’ of an event and seeing how they interact to achieve overall change, equilibrium or formation of new ways of operating, with varying factors such as the speeds and sizes of such ‘happenings’–much like how subatomic particles would interact, probabilistically speaking, under a given set of conditions. Research continues today as part of a vanguard of sociology into new models and new applications of these models to human social processes.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental level of metaphoricity that needs further address within such investigations. In determining the parameters of these models for application, what can sociology bring to the table–or is it relegated to being a secondary discourse, capitalizing on, ‘interpreting,’ the findings of other disciplines? Of course its pragmatic uses are great, but sociology as a field should have a metaphoric primacy, a unique perspective it offers not as a mere theoretical supplement to, but in possible competition with other ‘ways of looking at the world’ and speaking about the world. Perhaps the modeling of a ‘social physics’ (Comte) needs itself to be subject to a ‘feedback system,’ wherein the point of such a sociology is not merely to interpret the models, but to change them.

ASA’s Departmental Alumni Night brings new and old friends together

Amid the hustle and bustle of thousands of Sociologists presenting research and schmoozing at the Hyatt Denver, UT friends gather round the DAN table to visit.  With so much happening at once, it was great to see our friends both old and new take time to say howdy.  Looking forward to meeting our new cohort in Austin next week and welcoming alums back for visits and a tour of our new digs!


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.

We’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain (in Denver)!

ASA 2012: Real Utopias officially kicks off Friday, August 17, in Denver, CO. We are proud to say UT Sociology is represented by more than 80 faculty, students and alumni this year!

Detailed program information will be available for participants upon arrival and registration at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. Join us for Department Alumni Night (DAN) on Friday from 9:30-11:30 pm–and pick up some fabulous Texas swag!

Don’t forget to check this blog for live coverage of the event by Evelyn Porter and Kevin Hsu, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

See you there!