UT Alumna Esther Sullivan featured at The Atlantic


Harbour Point Estates, Chicago

Recent UT-Austin Sociology alumna Esther Sullivan and her research are featured in “The Other Affordable Housing Crisis” at The Atlantic, discussing the “affordable housing crisis” that impacts those who live in mobile home parks:

Trailer parks are the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the United States, but they are on the radar of few policymakers, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver. Their number grew tremendously during the 1980s as direct federal funding for public housing was slashed, effectively privatizing much of the country’s low-income housing. There are an estimated 8,462,461 mobile homes nationwide, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

The vast majority of mobile home parks are located not in far-flung rural areas but in more populous metros, says Sullivan, who spent two years living in and being evicted from closing mobile home parks as part of her research. They predominate in Sun Belt states like Texas, Florida, and California, but you can also find them near New York City, or Cleveland, or Seattle.

Trailer park residents typically own their homes but not the ground beneath them, meaning most of the benefits of homeownership can be destroyed at someone else’s whim. It’s precisely this divided ownership model that helps make mobile home living affordable, but it also leaves residents vulnerable to eviction.

Read more on this issue and Esther’s work in Harris County here!

ON THE MARKET: Kate Henley Averett

Welcome to the new “On the Market” series, where UTAustinSOC will profile UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series will serve as a means of not only allowing the graduate community to learn more about the important work that our graduate students are producing; it will also be a place to share advice gleaned and lessons learned from the job search process.

Up first, Kate Averett, a 6th-year doctoral candidate and Urban Ethnography Lab Fellow:


Tell me about your research. What are you working on?

 My research broadly is around gender and sexuality in childhood and the family. More specifically, I look at how the social structures of gender and sexuality shape and inform experiences of childhood and experiences of parenting. I’ve done research in the past that has looked at LGBT parents and how they socialize their kids with respect to gender, particularly how they navigate the fact that a lot of the gender norms in childhood are based around very heteronormative assumptions. I looked at how they think about their children’s futures as not necessarily heterosexual and how they raise their kids with respect to/in resistance to gender norms.

My dissertation is on the homeschooling movement in Texas. It’s a mixed methods project that is looking at discourses of gender and sexuality in the homeschooling movement. Homeschooling has traditionally been this very bifurcated movement where you have people on the ideological “extremes”: religious conservatives – who have very specific beliefs about what gender and sexuality should look like and are very critical of the secularization of schools and the liberal influence around gender and sexuality – and liberal progressives – who have more of an education reform perspective and are critical of the way that schools encourage conformity in children, including gender and sexual conformity, and view schools as places where children are taught to lose their “true” selves. So, they’re both really critical of the gender and sexual “regimes” of the schools but from really different directions.

So, I’m exploring what discourses are going on and what do these have to do with how these two opposing “camps” are coming to the same decision to homeschool their kids. I look at the values and beliefs of the families but also the structural forces that are shaping this decision, such as the larger neoliberal divestment from public services like public education as well as the type of work that the parents do or whether they have workplace flexibility. Parents I’ve interviewed tend to have had one of two situations: either the husbands of these heterosexual wives make enough to support the family on one income or one or both parents have some sort of flexible work arrangement that allows them to work part-time, work from home or work odd hours in order to accommodate being home with their kids. There’s a lot about the structure of the economy right now that is enabling certain parents to homeschool, but it raises all these questions about who doesn’t have the access to this practice when they are dissatisfied with public education due to working multiple jobs or not having workplace flexibility.

The other major structural factor I look at is the gendered construction of motherhood and how the ways parents on both sides of the political spectrum talk about homeschooling is informed by what it means to be a “good” mother. Even among self-proclaimed “feminist parents” the pressure for the mother to be doing everything she can to provide for her children is something they feel very strongly about and to varying degrees, do and do not feel able to resist.

For my future research, I see myself remaining in this area of looking at gender and sexuality in the family. I’m planning a project looking at families with a transgender parent or transgender child, including both in the study to think about how children are part of the gendering process of the family itself and how children play a role as active social agents in gendering their parents and making the gendered space of the family what it is.

Very cool. So, how did you prepare for this process of applying for jobs and sending out applications this fall?

 I started preparing over the summer; as soon as job postings started going up on the ASA Job Bank (the earliest in May, but most in June or July and continuing into October) I was looking at them, even though there weren’t that many at first and most of them wouldn’t be jobs I’d be applying for in terms of not being in my area. I looked at what kinds of materials they are looking for, what kinds of materials do I need to have. One of the first things I did was make an appointment with my advisor and ask her what were the things I should be doing, at what point should I have drafts of various documents. Her advice was really helpful, in that the documents you produce for the job market are, for the most part, very short but they take a really long time to get them right. It’s easy to write a cover letter but it’s not easy to write a good cover letter; you have to allow time for multiples drafts, multiple rewrites.

I started working on the basics of my documents in July, so that by mid-August I had my basic cover letter, research statement, and teaching statement all set. This was helpful because then ASA happens and then, as soon as you get back, some of the deadlines are starting. I’ve found most of the deadlines are between mid-September and mid-October but there were some early-September ones, so you need to have stuff ready to go.

The other thing I did was contact the people I wanted to write letters for me in June, making sure I gave them plenty of lead time on that, even though as of June I didn’t know more than a handful of specific jobs, specific dates. I asked them, what information would you like from me, what can I do to make this easier? So, being in frequent contact with the letter writers has been really important in terms of checking in with what they need and keeping them informed of new deadlines or new openings that I am applying for.

How often is “frequent”?

It depends on what your letter writer needs. Some want updates whenever you add a new position to the list; others want weekly updates on what’s coming up this week. Every letter writer is going to be different in terms of what they want from you so I think it’s a good idea to just ask.

So, how are you balancing all the things on your plate right now, since the semester is back in session?

 I’m TA-ing this semester for Research Methods. It’s a course I’ve TA’d for before with different professors, so I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter. There’s a lag in the semester before any grading needs to happen on my part, so, even though the majority of my applications aren’t due until mid-to-late-September and early-to-mid-October, I’m trying to get all my applications done and out within the first few weeks of the semester. I know that once I start having to grade papers, it will be harder to balance all of that. For now, I’m trying to spend a couple days a week really focused on applications and getting them out. I have a calendar of what I want to get out each week. Also, I have a couple of days a week that I dedicate to working on my dissertation.

Any sage advice?

My biggest piece of advice would be to be super organized, even if you’re not normally a super organized person. Force yourself to be. I have several different spreadsheets having to do with the jobs I’m applying for, when their deadlines are, what’s required for each application since the portfolio looks different for each one. I have a separate spreadsheet for my letter writers that includes the position – what it is, is it targeted for a gender person, is it a joint appointment, that kind of thing – and what the deadline is, and how the letter is to be submitted. Some you submit through Interfolio or on the school’s website, others you send emails to specific people, and others delay letters until you’ve made it to a certain round in the selection process. I have another spreadsheet that tracks what’s been uploaded and submitted. I color-code to mark my progress of when I finish an application. So much is in the little details, so it’s helpful to mark your progress and know that you’re getting somewhere.

How are you practicing self-care?

The way I’ve been practicing self-care in general the last few years is being really good about my sleep. That’s one area that I just don’t sacrifice because I know that’s what my body needs. I’ve also been working on eating healthier, staying hydrated, stretching, doing yoga. I try to keep my body moving and pay attention to it because if you get sick or your back goes out, it’s really hard to get work done. Make sure you’re taking care of the basics so you can do everything else. People don’t think of scholarly work as being embodied work but it is. It’s tough on our bodies to be writing all the time, to be sitting, to be reading – the postures we hold ourselves in are hard on the body. You have to keep your body conditioned the way that anyone would for a job that requires physical labor.

Also, having a community of other people who are on the job market is really critical. There are a bunch of us in the department who are on the market right now and we bounce ideas off each other, we ask each other questions, we get advice, we talk strategy. There is a temptation to be competitive and not share advice; but I, and my colleagues, know that when one of us looks good, all of UT-Austin Sociology looks good. When we’re all strong on the market that makes us all look good. It’s a very solitary experience so it’s good that we’re all cheering for each other. The little bits of encouragement are really helpful and help with demystifying the process. #solidarityisforgradstudents


“This Is Men’s Work:” Lessons on How to Talk about Masculinity and Men’s Involvement in Ending Violence against Women

by Juan Portillo


“My Strength Is Not For Hurting,” read a poster that professor Christine Williams showed during the inaugural MasculinUT: Healthy Masculinities Project event on September 3, 2015. Williams was critical of the poster because of how it positioned men as subjects who can make a choice to be violent or not, while women were portrayed as silent objects to be protected. The poster is an example of recent efforts to involve men in the movement to end violence against women, contained in Michael Messner’s new book, Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women. The book, which came out earlier this year, was at the center of an “author-meets-critics” panel conversation between Messner, UT sociology professors Christine Williams and Ben Carrington, and undergraduate Student Government Chief of Staff Taral Patel.

Examples of the “My Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign posters referenced by Christine Williams

The conversation around this poster was reflective of the tone of the event, which did not focus purely on the successes or failures of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, but on the contradictions and lessons that can be learned about masculinity, race, and the institutionalization of the movement to end violence against women. The “Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign represents, to varying degrees, the state of men’s involvement (or attempts to involve men) in the movement: a depoliticized (read: distanced from feminism), sanitized (read: not messing with a gender hierarchy or questioning masculinity), professionalized and institutionalized effort that targets individual men, but is not critical of masculinity or patriarchy and the way they shape institutions and their logics. It stands in stark contrast with MasculinUT, which is a project headed by Voices Against Violence of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. MasculinUT aims to transform taken-for-granted understandings of masculinity on campus, and promote healthy models of masculinity with the ultimate goal of preventing interpersonal, relationship, and sexual violence on campus. The conversation over the poster and the history of men’s involvement in ending violence against women went in many directions that problematized taken for granted ideas about gender, race, and violence. Though not all questions were answered, the fact that we can have a complex conversation says a lot about the direction that anti-violence work can positively go in.

Messner’s co-authored book analyzes men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women from the 1970s to the present, separating the men into different cohorts. As Patel summarized during the event, Messner explains that in the 1970s some men listened to and collaborated with women who were leaders in the feminist movement, creating coalitions with them to redefine masculinity and fight for gender equality by reaching out to young men. Messner calls these men the “movement cohort.” Patel noted that a key difference between men in the 1970s and young men today was the use of political labels to identify themselves in the 70s, compared to almost a phobia of labels nowadays. The “bridge cohort” is what Messner terms the men who worked in anti-violence programs and institutions with anti-violence policies during 1980s and 1990s; Patel found this part of the book relevant to him as a student in an institution that has to follow laws and policies to prevent violence against women. Patel saw the institutionalization of anti-violence programs (in universities and the military, for example) as the success of feminism, and observed that coalition building means that allies must listen to movement leaders. He also highlighted how the book respects and centers the work of women, without which men who do anti-violence work could not operate.

The final group that Messner’s book discusses is the “professional cohort.” This cohort of men is the most diverse racially and economically; this is partly the result of anti-violence programs targeting communities of color and needing to recruit young men of color that their target audience can relate to. It is also a cohort distant from political discourses, as they do not identify with feminism for the most part, and work under a public health and social work umbrella to justify their involvement in anti-violence programs. In this vein, Patel’s questions focused on what students can do now to build on the opportunities afforded to them by feminist work and continue building coalitions that recognize how gender violence is not independent from racial violence and class violence, among other types of violence experienced by students.

One of VAV's new posters for the "Yes means Yes" campaign.
One of VAV’s new posters for the “Yes means Yes” campaign.

After reflecting on Patel’s comments and Messner’s responses, I see that MasculinUT is a mixture of both “new” and “not so new” ideas. Mesnner shared that in the 1970s, men had a vested interest in changing the definition of “manhood” to humanize men and fight against unquestioned gender assumptions (which society ascribes to boys and men) such as men’s aggressiveness, lack of emotions, and violent tendencies. Like Messner’s early experiences in the feminist movement, one of the goals of MasculinUT is to promote healthy models of masculinities that would afford young men on our campus a better quality of life by improving relationships, reducing violence (against women and among men), and improving men’s mental and physical health by encouraging the exploration of different emotions and interpersonal skills often thought of as feminine.

However, as Christine Williams pointed out during the panel, recent efforts by some men’s groups who stand against violence often reify the gender hierarchy by positioning men as subjects who have to be responsible for their male power, and women as objects to be protected. After showing the posters mentioned at the beginning of this post, she congratulated Messner on how the book operates with a framework that does not glorify or put down men’s efforts, but rather works to understand contradictions and tensions that arise out of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women. One of her most critical questions had to do with how much emphasis Messner puts on education programs to reduce violence, and whether or not education is a true site of transformation for masculinity. To this, Messner responded that education by itself is not an answer, and indeed it is wrought with problematic messages that rest on a gender binary and hierarchy. However, he pointed out that the book contains examples of men using educational and promotional materials as tools to start a conversation that is relevant to men’s lives. Moreover, he emphasized that the book also explores what it takes for men to get interested in the movement to end violence against women, and how much effort they have to put in to make it their career. By emphasizing this, he is not trying to glorify the men (who often are praised just for showing up to anti-violence programs), yet also not dismiss the complicated, contradictory, and often difficult work they engage in.

Professor Ben Carrington also highlighted parts of the book that discussed how anti-violence PR work is limited when the movement to end violence against women is institutionalized. Carrington reflected on how, as universities, non-profits, health organizations, and other institutions develop anti-violence policies and work to reduce gender violence, they often ignore how to transform powerful entities (such as athletics departments) and become complicit in the perpetuation of violence. Moreover, Carrington mentioned that the problem is individualized, as it is not seen as a cultural or structural problem, but a problem of individual men. Often, the men who represent violence in the eyes of the institution tend to be men of color, who become scapegoats that ultimately allow for assumptions of masculinity within the institutions to resist transformation. Carrington ended with a question about the limits of Messner’s definition of the “field” of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, particularly how limiting the genealogy of anti-violence work from the 1970s to today leaves out important contributions of women of color that span hundreds of years of work against the violence of European colonists, slave-owners, and other powerful entities. If these were to be included, asked Dr. Carrington, is a white, liberal, feminist framework still relevant?

There is a lot at stake when writing about men’s involvement in a movement primarily seen as headed by white women, because under patriarchy men’s contributions can be glorified and their privilege overlooked, silencing women’s needs and contributions. Moreover, in a society that privileges whiteness, it is easy to ignore women of color’s involvement and intellectual contributions in anti-violence work, and ignore power dynamics that result in men of color and working class men being labeled as the most violent in an effort to resist an overall transformation of patriarchy that affords elite men privilege. While the book does address some of these issues, Messner shared that after having conversations with many feminist academics and activists, he now sees loose ends left in his book. If given a chance, he would include more historical information about important anti-violence work, particularly work done by women of color. He explained that his original genealogy arose from a conversation with his co-authors while reminiscing about their involvement in the feminist movement and in violence prevention work. Thus, the genealogy represents their own social location. This reminds me of how Dorothy Smith1 and Patricia Hill Collins2 write about how the tools we learn as sociologists to conduct research are rooted in masculinist, Eurocentric logics. It is easy to forget or trivialize women’s intellectual contributions and work when the very tools of our field are already infused with logics that center (often white and middle-class) men’s experiences and standpoint, even when working with a feminist framework in a field constructed by feminists.

I am not accusing the authors of the book or pointing fingers particularly at them, but rather reflecting on what it takes to produce feminist work that includes sophisticated thoughts about men and masculinity in a feminist scholarly effort, from the point of view of men. As Smith and Collins argue, one way to account for the limitations of both our social location and masculinist, Eurocentric sociological methods and theory, is to trust and respect feminist work that arises from the experiences of women of all walks of life. This is something that, as a feminist scholar, Messner is doing since the release of the book. He has addressed questions such as Carrington’s by recognizing the limitations of his book and incorporating the tools and ideas of feminists of color to enrich the work without taking credit for those ideas. He wrote the blog post titled “Intersectionality Without Women of Color?” to engage in reflexivity sparked by listening to feminists of color. He starts his post by writing:

A book should never be treated as a statement of some final Truth. Instead, a book is best put to use as moment of condensed insight that focuses and clarifies ongoing conversations. Still, when you are the author of a book, and engaging in such public conversations, you sometimes learn things in the give-and-take that you wish you had known while writing.

This is where I see the success of this event and hopefully, of the new MasculinUT initiative on the UT campus: engaging in dialogue that results in meaningful transformations of our understandings of gender and violence, and the multiple intersections with race, class, and more. I foresee a lot of difficult conversations happening as Voices Against Violence moves forward with this project on the UT campus. When talking about the power inherent in relationships shaped by gender, race, and class (among other identities), and more importantly, about transforming those relationships to prevent violence, I don’t see an easy way to prevent disagreement or prevent MasculinUT from engaging in problematic discussions. What I do see is that it can be possible to have a dialogue where MasculinUT and the student body can learn from each other and together develop a fluid platform to address issues of violence, gender, race, class, and more. What this event taught me (in connection to feminist epistemology and methodology), is that this type of work requires an interrogation of logics and practices that exist through, and outside of, ourselves. We cannot rely on our experiences and our points of view alone to understand how violence works and how to prevent it. We need to trust, listen to, and respect what people with vastly different experiences have to say, whether this is in the form of theories developed by feminist scholars, or the solutions that activists of different backgrounds have come up with when engaging in anti-violence work. Being reflexive of our standpoint as we do research, having compassion for the people who engage in education programs that target men, questioning the rationalization for targeting men of color, and being critical of taken-for-granted notions of masculinity will only enrich the work that we do, and Messner’s responses (during the panel and in the blog linked above) are one way of transforming our narratives and our tools as sociologists. In line with his book, I do not want to glorify Messner for his work; however, I do want to celebrate the lessons to be learned in the contradictions and tensions that his work contends with, and the way that he listens to, honors, and works with other stakeholders in the movement to end violence.



1. Smith, Dorothy. (1987). The Every Day World As Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Northeastern University Press.

2. Collins, Patricia Hill. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge.


Juan Portillo is a Graduate Assistant for Voices Against Violence, working on the MasculinUT project. He is also a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT Austin.