Caroline Wozniacki, Race, Sports and Humor: Is It Funny Yet?

by Letisha Brown

While in Brazil for an exhibition match against tennis player Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki stuffed her bra and tennis skirt with towels in an attempt to impersonate Serena Williams. Since then, there has been quite the buzz. Online commentators, however, seem split, some arguing that the impersonation was “hilarious” while others define it as “out and out racism”. Whether or not Wozniacki intended for her impersonation to cause this much of a stir is irrelevant, as things seem to have hit the proverbial fan.

Taking the impersonation at face value, Wozniacki’s “transformation” is much closer to a blonde Jessica Rabbit than an actual representation of tennis star Serena Williams. Nevertheless, those who condemn Wozniacki believe that her actions were racist, and intended to make yet another public spectacle of the black female body. That said, regardless of Wozniacki’s intentions, her stunt (and the comments that have been made since) brings a host of intriguing questions to the table; especially in light of the recent reelection of President Barack Obama and the continued tensions surrounding the subject of race in America.

Insofar as we live in a “post/racial” society, to what extent can antics such as the performed by Wozniacki be read as racist? The real question is, when it comes to sorority girls dressing up as “illegal aliens” for Halloween, or white girls in black face just for fun, is the subject of race something that people will just “get over,” or move beyond?

Regardless of your stance on the way in which Wozniacki attempted to portray Serena Williams it is difficult to ignore the fact that when it comes to race in America, the subject is still a touchy matter. Nevertheless, it leaves room for sociologists, and human beings in general, to ask hard questions, seek answers and make change. My personal opinion on Wozniacki’s performance is irrelevant. There was no black face involved, and aside from the padding of certain areas of her body, her caricature of Williams is far from convincing. Nevertheless her intent is clear. So, what are we left with when we take stock of all that has happened, in the public eye, as well as in private when it comes to the discourse on race?

From where I sit, it all comes back to one question: is it funny yet?

Tips on maintaining health work/life balance for end of semester and holidays

From Sociology Graduate Students, Faculty and Staff:

When I am confronted with a difficult task or an academic challenge that seems insurmountable, it really helps me to think of all the previous objectives that I achieved that seemed impossible at the time.

Daily exercise first thing in the morning at least an hour of it.

My best tip, for perfectionists:
The best paper is a done paper.
My second best tip:
Nothing is more important than exercise and eating.

My biggest suggestion is to get enough sleep, especially before exams. Making time for sleep is as important as reviewing your notes and way more important than checking Facebook. If you have time for social media, you have time for sleep.

Give random grades according to the sounding of students’ last names
Answer all students’ mails with a poem
Stop checking email after 11 AM
Quit reading sociology texts-articles (I stopped doing that a while ago anyway)
Invite graduate students to drink and drink and drink
Drink with spouse
Drink alone

Taking Comps in October, and only having pass/fail classes definitely makes for a healthier end of semester 🙂

Take walks, breathe and use all your senses to feel alive. Hum, sing or dance when the mood strikes. Take time to be alone, quiet and open every day and get away for a day or two by yourself every season, if possible.

Cross dress every Wednesday at 9 pm.

Nothing like a cold beer in your hand and a warm dog at your feet to put things in perspective

Believe me, you don’t want my tips!!!!

Stop in the middle of the day and make sure you have a proper lunch. Also, go outside even if for 10 minutes. Repeat the mantra: there is light at the end of this tunnel!


The truth is what keeps me sane during the holiday break is doing something I’ve never done before. The holiday break (exams, papers, dissertation chapters, grants) can get SO hectic. And people always seem to be forcing smiles on your face because it’s a cheerful time of year. Why not turn that forced smile into an actual real dazzling smile by trying something new? For example, I am running a 5K on Saturday and I’m taking burlesque and pole dancing classes everyday for the entire months of December and January. Though I’ve got tons of stuff to do, I’m always really excited about the next day and the new spin, grip, or twirl I’m going to learn in class. That way I come to school with a smile even when students drive me crazy!

Refuse to take your profession seriously, ask your colleagues provocative questions like: Can “hot” and “demography” can be used in the same sentence? Propose a panel: “Carnal Accounting. On the libidinal vagaries of an emerging sizzling profession.”

Tip for Staying Healthy:

1. This time of the semester invariably involves early mornings and late nights. With Texas being such a temperamental state in terms of the weather, it’s important to be prepared for any and all weather conditions. Check the weather before you go out: a sunny morning could easily turn into a chilly evening, and exposure to large temperature changes are an easy way to get sick. Whether on campus or at a coffeehouse, make sure you have the proper clothes to stay warm.

2. In an ideal world, you would be able to finish the semester while still making yourself nutritious and delicious foods in the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately – and in the “department of things you already knew”, especially if you’re a sociologist – this is not an ideal world. However, still make an effort to eat healthy by avoiding heavy amounts of fried or fast food. Make that extra effort to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet by packing them as snacks. Try to snack healthily and often while you study so you can avoid both the binge of fast or processed foods when you’re absolutely starving as well as the “food coma” that may come after a big meal (which will be sure to put a cramp in your productivity)

Tips for maintaining sanity:

1. Make small goals that you can meet on a daily or weekly basis. Parcel out your big projects so they don’t seem so big.

2. Solidarity! Everyone feels the crunch of the end of the semester, from the neophyte freshman to the overworked graduate student to the harried professor. Lean on your fellow academics, and let them lean on you as well. Misery indeed DOES love company.

3. Own a pet! Not only are they endless sources of affection and adoration, but consider this: your pet does not care HOW you did on that exam nor does he care if you met the deadline for NSF funding. They love you regardless.

4. And on a related note, remember: the anxiety and stress you feel is self-produced and socially constructed. We put expectations on ourselves (often deriving from social expectations, or expectations others have of us), internalize these expectations, and then discipline ourselves when we fail to meet these. That’s all well and good to a point, but it’s equally important to give yourself self-compassion. Your grades, your funding, your publication count: these things do not affect or reflect the quality of person you are or your worth as a human being.

Sit in the sun. Hug a cat. Go for long walks. Bake. 🙂

I am glad to study here. People are friendly to international students. I learn a lot not only from classes but also from people I meet.

I still struggle for English. I did not do well as I expect this semester. However, I keep trying. I think it will get better. I often take a walk alone. I love autumn here. Immersing in sunshine and beautiful nature helps to release depression. I also like to jog, which helps to refresh my brain.

Beyond the lots of great and helpful things listed below, a couple of others:
Spend time with people not in academia.
Talk about something totally unrelated to sociology with your friends. If this is hard for you, play board games or darts at a bar.
Make the bed every day. An uncluttered room is an uncluttered mind.

My tip is to listen to 90s music.

Eat Clementines. Take a three-minute dance party break to your favorite song. Do yoga. Don’t sacrifice sleep. Spend time with people who make you grin. Study near a window. Remember that our work always gets done, and that school is only one part of what defines us as human beings. Reflect upon and revel in what makes your life wonderful!

Sociology of Sport scholars represent UT Austin at NASSS

A Perspective of Three: The 2012 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, Conference New Orleans, LA

The University of Texas at Austin’s sociology department had a strong presence at the annual North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference this year in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Ben Carrington and graduate students Letisha Brown, Lady Adjepong, and Nick Szczech all presented their sociological research projects centering on different aspects of race, ethnicity, and gender in the context of sport. The conference provided Letisha, Lady, and Nick with opportunities to receive feedback from scholars, network, and gain experience organizing a scholarly presentation. Each graduate student reflected on what they found most valuable about the NASSS experience.

Letisha Brown:

This year’s North American Society for the Sociology of Sport Conference (NASSS), was my second foray into the world of sports sociology, and my first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. For me, this conference was more about networking and getting my name out into the world of sports sociology. On day two of the conference I was nominated and elected to the position of Graduate Representative on the NASSS Board, a two year position that will enable me to engage closely with faculty from across the globe; as well as the graduate students who have entrusted me to serve as their voice. This nomination was a happy surprise, and an opportunity to build my experience within this organization.
In addition to this honor, I was also privileged enough to have lunch with Michael Messner, a guru of gender and sport sociology and author of several publications including: Out of Play: Critical Essays on Gender & Sport, Sex, Violence, Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity, and Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity. During the lunch I received sage advice, support and encouragement for my work as a young scholar and my participation on the board of a respected organization. Attending conferences and making connections is one of the most rewarding parts of the graduate experience. Having the opportunity to do it in a city as eclectic as New Orleans, with other people from the department to share the experience with (Lady, Nick and Ben), is a plus!

Nick Szczech:

Utilizing a Community of Scholars as Preparation for NASSS

As a first-year graduate student in the UT sociology department and with NASSS being my first academic conference, I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, the sociology department and my fellow graduate students provided invaluable insights and support throughout the entire process. In early August, Letisha Brown, my graduate student mentor and fellow NASSS conference attendee, originally alerted me about submitting an abstract before the start of my first semester at UT. In my opinion, the department’s graduate student mentor program is one of the department’s strengths because these student mentors provide the “first years” with insights, perspectives, and advice on a multitude of topics—from how to prepare for classes to tips for publishing to networking advice—since they have already “walked in our shoes,” so to speak.

After having our abstracts accepted, we scheduled an informal “brown bag” for Letisha, Lady, and myself to present our research a few weeks before the conference. In front of a group of staff and fellow graduate students, we received feedback about our presentations’ theoretical content, our presentation styles, and tips for improving the visual layout and organization of our power points, among other critiques. This audience was comprised of a mix of qualitative and quantitative graduate students with all of them having a variety of subfield specialties from gender to social movements. The diversity of subfields also provided us, as scholars, with unique insights and created a discussion that forced us, as presenters, to critically analyze how we presented our research to scholars who might not understand our theoretical frameworks or sociological subfields.

For me, this “brown bag” was an important experience, since it forced me to think critically about my presentation style and organization while also acquiring an outside perspective on and critique of the research project I had been revising for over a year. Letisha, Lady, and myself all utilized the critiques to improve our presentations, so that we arrived in New Orleans confident in the strength of our presentations—knowing we had already clarified any issues with our peers.

Lady Adjepong:

Spending a three-day weekend with scholars of sports was an amazing experience. NASSS in New Orleans was the second time I presented my research on women’s rugby to an audience of sociologists of sports and it yielded a very rewarding dialogue.
I arrived in New Orleans on Thursday, after Nick and Letisha had already spent the day getting to know the graduate students and socializing with the other scholars. When I got to the conference site, I was pleased to find several rooms overflowing because so many people were interested to hear the material being presented. The first presentation I sat in on was so packed that several of us sat on the floor. The discussion centered on U.S. media coverage of women in the Olympics, Nigerian women’s access to sports, and perceptions of violence in women’s tennis. Following the presentations, the conversation was lively as most people in the room had critical perspectives on gender, race, and ethnicity in sports.

Nick and I were presenting in the same session on “Multiple Femininities/ Multiple Masculinities.” Unfortunately, Letisha was presenting at the same time as Nick and so we were unable to hear her. But as Nick mentioned, we had the chance to hear each other’s presentation and provide feedback, which truly was invaluable.

After attending ISSA and NASSS conferences, I have come away convinced of the value of specialization conferences. In the summer of 2012 I presented at ISSA in Glasgow (thanks to Dr. Christine Williams and Dr. Sheldan Ekland-Olson for their support in funding my trip!). Like NASSS, ISSA was an opportunity for me to meet scholars of sports from different disciplines and across geographic locations. There I made connections with other scholars who study women’s rugby and remain in touch with them. For me, these specialization conferences allowed me to learn what other kinds of work are happening in the field of sports studies, and at the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality. These conferences also highlight the need to speak across disciplines and within our discipline of sociology.

Overall lessons from NASSS:
1. Present to your peers! As Nick said, the brown bag was a fine way to get feedback about our presentations and allowed us to stand in front of other scholars and share our work.
2. Network at conferences: Letisha highlights the importance of meeting scholars and participating in different groups within conference organization.
3. Seek out specialization conferences: Lady shows us how these conferences allow us to think broadly about the work that we do.