Category Archives: Political Sociology

Mounira M. Charrad and Maro Youssef in the Baker Institute Blog on Feminism in Post-Revolution Tunisia

Professor Mounira M. Charrad and doctoral student Maro Youssef have a new post on the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy blog. The piece focuses on feminist associations in post-revolution Tunisia, specifically the transition of women’s associations from the Ben Ali regime.

They write:

While the ATFD [Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates] and the AFTURD [Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et le Développement] remain highly active on women’s issues in post-revolutionary Tunisia, they are no longer working on their own as they did prior to the fall of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime in 2011. They are now operating in partnership with newly emerged associations. The new associations cover a broad range of issues and address the concerns of women in diverse constituencies. Many are open to a dialogue between Islamist and secular women, and some are actively engaged in efforts to construct bridges between ideological tendencies.

You can read more from the authors here. 


Mounira M. Charrad, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program and an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on state formation, colonialism, law, citizenship, kinship, gender politics and women’s rights.

Maro Youssef is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on gender politics, democratization and civil society.

Alex Diamond in NACLA on Murder in Colombia’s Peace Laboratory

Doctoral student Alex Diamond has a piece up on North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) based on summer fieldwork on farmers and dissident violence in Briceño, Antioquia.

Hunger and lack of opportunity aren’t the only things driving youth to join [the dissidence]. Community leaders say the dissident group harnesses fear and anger against state institutions, including the military and the government’s failure to follow through with the promises of the peace process. The people of Briceño understand the substitution as a quid pro quo agreement: we pull out our coca plants, in exchange, the government gives us the necessary support to develop new economic activity. They feel cheated, tricked into pulling out the coca plants that fed their children based on the expectation of government aid that has yet to materialize.

You can read more from Alex at NACLA in both English and Spanish.


Alex Diamond is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the implementation of the peace accords between the FARC and the Colombian government and the transition in areas previously under insurgent control.

Eldad Levy in OpenDemocracy on Violence in Mexican Society

UT Austin sociology doctoral student Eldad Levy has written an op-ed for OpenDemocracy on the effects of violence in Mexican society.

He writes:

After Syria, Mexico is today the most violent country in the world. What is worse: Mexico is falling apart as a political community. For over a decade now, as a result of the drug wars, Mexico has been systematically disintegrating as a territorial sovereign state in many parts of the country. Poverty, impunity and the ensuing violence are tearing apart any remnants of a sense of social solidarity. […]

The neoliberalization of the Mexican economy has not only failed miserably in bringing prosperity to the population, it has also failed in terms of much simpler standards such as economic growth: since 2000, Mexico has grown on average at a yearly rate of 2%. While President Trump is fond of focusing his rhetoric against trade with Mexico, the Free Trade Agreement has been a disaster for the Mexican working class and the farmers.

Read more from Eldad at OpenDemocracy in both English and Spanish.


Eldad Levy is a graduate student in the department of sociology at UT Austin. His research interests are social movements, Latin American societies, and political violence.

Maro Youssef Explores Civil Society, Democracy, and Women’s Participation in Tunisia

By Maro Youssef

Maro Youssef, Strauss Center Brumley Fellow and Doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, is currently researching civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia as part of the Brumley program. Over Spring Break, Maro visited the country to perform interviews with leaders of Tunisia’s women’s movement. She fills us in on her work and more for us here:

Maro: “My Brumley research project is on civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia. My trip to Tunisia this spring helped me better understand the environment and landscape in which women’s civil society associations operate. The findings from my interviews with key leaders in the women’s movement highlighted their participation in the democratic transition; they join coalitions composed of different women’s groups and government ministries, draft legislation related to women’s issues, and serve on committees and commissions related to transitional justice. This trip also helped me clarify the issues women are currently working on including: giving women equal inheritance rights as men, eliminating violence against women, increasing women’s political participation, and combatting violent extremism.”

What led to your interest in this research?

“There is a right-wing conservative trend that is taking place on a global level where national figures use rhetoric on religion, nativism, xenophobia, or nationalism to marginalize other groups and monopolize resources. In Tunisia, Tunisians are attempting to reconcile sharp divisions among religious conservatives and nationalists that became visible in both politics and society after the 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution. Civil society and women’s groups help ensure that the democratic transition from authoritarian rule is pluralistic, participatory, and representative of all Tunisians. Other nations struggling with their own ideological and ethnic differences could learn how to resolve some of their issues by studying the Tunisian case.”

What challenges have you run into?

“Some of the challenges I have faced include learning how to switch between academic and policy-style writing. Another issue is identifying what busy policymakers need to know and how to draw their attention to important “soft” issues such as women’s political participation that affect American interests and stability.”

Maro’s faculty mentor in the Brumley program is Professor Paul Pope, Senior Senior Fellow with the Intelligence Studies Project. In general, mentors provide research and career guidance to their Brumley Fellows in a hands-off manner so that the Fellow is the ultimate director of their own research.

Has Prof. Pope opened up new ways of thinking for you, or perhaps changed the direction of your research? If not, how has he helped you generally in your project and professional development?

“Professor Pope has been very supportive of my work. He has given me the space to create my own project and highlight the importance of women’s issues and their link to democracy and stability. In terms of my professional development, he has introduced me to several influential figures in my field. He also helps me refine and tighten my policy-writing skills.”

What do you predict doing with your research at the end of the academic year?

“My research will be integrated in my doctoral research as part of my dissertation.”

What do you have in store after receiving your PhD?

“I am interested in working in foreign policy at the government level or at a Think Tank institution. My background as an Arab-American woman who lived in the Middle East and North Africa and researched the region over many years inspired me to want to have a voice and have an influence on US foreign policy.”

We thank you Maro for your time!

See here for more information on the Strauss Center’s Brumley Fellowships.


Maro Youssef  is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.

Russia in the Middle East: It’s Not All About Syria

By Maro Youssef

On Tuesday, April 3, 2018, the Robert Strauss Center welcomed Peter Clement, Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University, for a talk on Russia in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Photos of the event can be accessed here. A video of the event can be found here.

Dr. Clement discussed Russia’s diverse economic and political interests in the region. President Putin’s desire to have a voice on all geo- political issues is perhaps one of the main drivers behind Moscow’s interest in the region, according to Dr. Clement. Russia also has major economic and political interests that affect both its international standing and domestic affairs.

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Russia has several economic interests and investments across the MENA region that have domestic ramifications on the Russian economy. Its economic interests include: 1) diversification and expansion of its energy sector; 2) expansion of its nuclear energy program; 3) and an increase in arm sales. Since the price of oil determines the annual Russian budget, Russia is now cooperating with Saudi Arabia on stabilizing oil prices globally. It is also becoming a share-holder in several foreign companies in MENA in order to further become integrated into the global economy and protect its revenues even if its own supply becomes volatile. It seeks to be deeply entrenched in the nuclear energy sector and has agreements with both and Egypt and Jordan. It has also entered into negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Finally, Russia is the United States’ major competitor for arm sales on a globaly. It has arm sale agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Cooperation Council states such as Bahrain.

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According to Dr. Clement, Russia also has major political interests and relationships in the MENA region that have global and domestic ramifications. Its political interests include: 1) increasing its counter terrorism efforts; 2) becoming or maintaining its status as a power player on a global scale; and 3) improving public opinion of President Putin in Russia. There are over 9,000 foreign fighters in Syria from Central Asia, 4,000 of whom are Russian. Russia is improving its counter-terrorism measures and increasing its cooperation with MENA actors in order to prevent a spillover of foreign fighters and violent extremism into mainland Russia.

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In addition to its domestic concerns, Russia seeks greater involvement and a louder voice on a geopolitical scale at the United Nations and other avenues where its cooperation with MENA region and efforts on Syria can be interpreted as a sign of its strength as a political actor. Finally, Putin seeks to improve his public opinion ratings by keeping the financial costs of Russia’s efforts and casualties low in Syria. Once the conflict ends, Putin is concerned about the reconstruction costs required to rebuild Syria. Finally, Putin fears the return of Russian foreign fighters and increased terrorist events in mainland Russia.

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Peter Clement is a senior research fellow and adjunct professor at Columbia University. He recently retired from CIA, where he held a number of senior analytic and management positions, including eight years as Deputy Director for Intelligence for Analytic Program, Director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis, and most recently, Deputy Assistant Director of CIA integrated Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. Mr. Clement served as the PDB daily briefer for Vice-President Cheney, NSC Adviser Rice and Deputy NSC Adviser Hadley in 2003-2004 and did a brief tour at the National Security Council as the Director for Russia and later as the senior CIA representative to the US Mission to the United Nations. Mr. Clement has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2001 and is a longtime member of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies. He has taught Russian history and politics for over 10 years at the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia’s northern Virginia campus, and two years at Columbia’s School of International and Public affairs. Mr. Clement has published some 10 journal articles and book chapters on Soviet and Russian foreign policy, Central Asia, and the Cuban missile crisis. He holds a PhD in Russian history and an MA in Modern European history from Michigan State University, and a BA in liberal arts from SUNY-Oswego.

Maro Youssef is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.

Power, History and Society Kicks Off the New Year

by Andrew Messamore

The Power, History and Society (PHS) network held its Fall Social last week on September 20th  to network and have fun in the field of political, historical and comparative sociology at UT Austin. Founded in 2006, PHS is now entering its 11th year in the Department of Sociology and continuing to foster a space for intellectual exchange around both classic themes in sociology and new subjects including revolutions in the Middle East, environmental issues and land rights in Latin America, call-out culture in queer activist movements and the global politics of disease and epidemics.

With a full room, drinks and pizza in the Glickman Center, PHS coordinators described opportunities for involvement from first-year students in coordinating events and our successful speaker series. Past speakers PHS has brought include Randall Collins, Theda Skocpol and Ann Swidler, to name a few. Interested students and PHS coordinators also considered resurrecting the Middle East Working Group and Social Movement and Collective Behavior Working Group (SMCB), co-sponsoring events with other Sociology working groups and working towards a workshop on applying for funding in historical and political sociology.

For the fall, PHS is preparing to host a workshop with Dr. Rita Stephan, a UT Austin Sociology alumnus and PHS founder in the U.S. State Department on applied political sociology. Stay tuned for another PHS meet and greet off campus in October!

If you are interested in learning more about PHS, make sure to sign up for the listserv with Mario Venegas at Mario.venegas@utexas.edu


Andrew Messamore is ​a first-year doctoral student in Department of Sociology. His research interests center on welfare states, credit markets and political sociology. 

What Disney’s Andi Mack Reveals about Asian Americans – Kara Takasaki’s blog post in Racism Review

Andi Mack, a television show that features three generations of Asian American women, premiered on the Disney Channel earlier this month.  The lead character “Andi” is a thirteen-year-old, mixed-race girl, who lives with her barely-middle-aged grandmother, and—spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the first episode—her mother, “Bex”, short for Rebecca, who looks and dresses, as if she could be in her early thirties.

The premiere of Andi Mack is noteworthy because Asian Americans in mainstream American entertainment are so rare. When they do appear, Asian Americans are usually “white-washed,” replaced by white actors or actors of mixed-ethnicity, most recently in ‘Doctor Strange,’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell.  In the few American films where there are Asian American protagonists, like “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “21 and Over,” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,”Asian American women are veritably absent and silent; they exist to develop men’s characters.   Click here for full post.

 

Travel Ban Sham

by Andrew Krebs

Alternative fact: We’ll be safer if we ban Muslim travelers and deport undocumented immigrants.

Fact: Terrorism and terroristic threats are most likely to come from radical right-wing, white nationalist groups within the United States.

 

A “Not My President’s Day” rally drew several hundred protesters to the Texas Capitol on Monday (Source: American-Statesman).

February 20th was “Not My President’s Day” for many people who continue to be dissatisfied with the current administration. Here in Austin, TX, folks gathered for an afternoon rally at the state capitol to lament the otherwise renowned holiday, and similar demonstrations occurred across the U.S. Indeed, over the course of the past month – President Donald Trump’s first in office – oppositional rallies and protests have been a large piece of an even greater resistance movement. For myriad reasons, #manypeoplearesaying they are unhappy with the new administration… from the unqualified Cabinet nominations to feuds with foreign leaders and every little concern about the security of our nation’s intelligence in-between. Perhaps most upsetting are the recent executive orders (EOs) pertaining to travel and immigration.

President Trump’s administration received huge backlash following the EO that was signed on January 27th. This specific EO, titled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, called for 1) a 90-day temporary bar on all entrance into the US from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), 2) a 120-day hold on all refugees seeking asylum in the U.S., and 3) and an indefinite hold on refugees from Syria. While the full text of the EO can be read here, it is important to note that The White House published a misleading version of the EO on its own website. Nonetheless, as the title suggests, President Trump and his aides contend that the travel measures outlined in the EO are necessary to secure public safety. Critics, in response, have challenged that assertion and successfully argued against the EO in federal court. As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the lower court’s temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration, effectively freezing the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the travel ban. While the technical and legal justification for maintaining the temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration is in line with the “immediate and irreparable harm” caused by the travel ban, there is a separate empirical question pertaining to whether or not travelers coming from these countries actually pose a real threat to public safety. In these terms, the Trump Administration has failed 1) to provide evidence of a terroristic threat from the seven countries named, and 2) to prove that the current refugee vetting process is insufficient.

People at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017 protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration plan. (Photo: Jason Puckett, KVUE)

To protest the EO, I joined a group of several hundred for a rally at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on January 29th. There, I heard from other people who were sharing their own frustrations, fears, anger, and resentment towards the Trump Administration. One by one, individuals in the crowd passed around a megaphone and shared why they had come to protest that day. Some folks proudly disclosed that this was their very first protest and that the recent EO had galvanized their political action.

Standing outside of the airport that day, I imagined what it looked like behind the scenes of airport security. Most ominous to me was the fact that some of our nation’s top law enforcement agencies (specifically the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Patrol) proved willing and able to carry out President Trump’s likely unconstitutional agenda, and that this authority went unchecked for a not-inconsequential-period of time before the federal court’s ruling. This made me think generally about power, and specifically about the transfer of authority. It made me think about the excuse of, “I am just following orders”. And it made me think of the classic Milgram Experiment, which tested human obedience to authority. Perhaps I’ve grown cynical in these times, but it was Stanley Milgram (1963: 371) who referenced Nazi Germany as inspiration for his research: “Obedience, as a determinant of behavior, is of particular relevance to our time… Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded… These inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders.” Yes, Donald Trump signed the EO, but he had to rely upon other agencies and officers to enforce it.

As it stands right now (with the original EO blocked by the courts), it seems the Trump Administration has resigned to drafting a new order. In the meantime, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers continue to carry out massive raids in dozens of cities across the nation (including Austin), searching for undocumented immigrants because – you guessed it – President Trump signed an EO on January 25th titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”. This is, of course, despite no real evidence to warrant such action. In fact, the research on crime and immigration in the United States is unequivocal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Immigrant populations are less likely to commit crime compared to the native-born population, and areas with high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of crime. In other words, undocumented immigrants do not pose a specific or immediate threat to public safety or national security. The crime just isn’t there, but the fear of crime and public anxiety towards ‘the other’ is real and has been fostered by a culturally and historically deep sense of racism and xenophobia that has never been or yet to be truly reconciled. Until then, we have to resist the fear and misinformation. As scholars, teachers, and researchers, we are poised to let our work be our resistance.

References

Milgram, Stanley. 1963. “Behavioral Study of Obedience.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4); 371-378.


Andrew Krebs is a 4th year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His research examines peer influence in crime, and the particular benefits of mental health peer support in the community re-entry process. You can follow him on Twitter at @A4Andrew.

Past and Present: Some Insights from Sociology on Democracy and Protest

By Robert Wayne Ressler

2017 Women’s March on Washington, D.C. (Source: The Pancake Life)

Recently, I was looking for inspiration to better understand how nonprofit organizations, a focus of some of my research, might be capable of engendering social change. As organizations that operate within the capitalist system but are different from typical business ventures because of the non-distribution clause that forbids the sharing of “profits” outside of the organization, the tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations and the fact that many of them are driven by a “mission” to change the social landscape makes nonprofits appeal to me as a rich field for investigations using the sociological imagination. A natural place to start, in my mind, was a look back at Max Weber’s discussions on the rise of capitalism through the Protestant work ethic and the entrenchment of the accumulation of wealth in modern society.

Imagine my surprise when what I ended up coming across, while still relevant for my research, was an article that resonated more with the current political climate of the United States of America. No doubt R. Bruce Douglass, the author of “‘Shell as Hard as Steel’ (Or, ‘Iron Cage’): What Exactly Did That Imagery Mean for Weber?” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, was thinking of the recent election when he penned the following in regards to Weber’s writings on democracy:

Protestors gathered at the JFK Airport in New York City to protest the Trump Administration’s executive order that detained dozens of people at airports across the U.S. (Source: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

“Even if (democracy) did enable some of the (social) movements in question to acquire power, therefore, it would hardly be appropriate to interpret such a development as a means by which the masses could actually take control of their lives. And he believed it was almost certain that the consequences of the conquest of power by any such movement would prove that to be the case. It would not be the masses who would end up running things, but their leaders. And in its own way the rule of such people was likely to be just as autocratic (if not more so) as the one it replaced, even toward its own supporters,” (p. 513).

Not only does this quote illuminate some of the processes that people in the U.S. witnessed leading up to the election and the executive orders of the new administration, I think it is particularly relevant in light of the mass protests that have happened in Washington, other state capitals, other world cities, and airports across the country. Weber, as Douglass points out, was very critical of the sort of “herd-mentality” that democratic politics create. My question, then, is what makes us, the individuals participating in the Women’s March and other demonstrations, more able to ensure that any democratic victories are victories for the masses and not just our leaders?

Protestors decrying the immigration ban executive order, dubbed the “Muslim Ban.” (Source: REUTERS/Patrick Fallon)

Last week, Dr. Rashawn Ray visited UT to discuss racism and the criminal justice system, but also took some time to share the results from, and media coverage of, a survey he helped to conduct of Women’s March participants. Two main conclusions were particularly interesting that might help to point the way towards distinguishing an active citizenry from a herd of cows: that the marches drew many first time protestors, and that the issues represented were multi-faceted and intersectional. A quick glimpse at the best protest posters from around the country helps to qualitatively verify these points. These facts, in addition to the global nature of the protests, suggest that a social movement can be based on more than just the election of certain leaders over others and instead focus its efforts on the promotion of certain ideals such as fairness, equality, and inclusion.

2017 Women’s March protestors outside of Trump Tower in New York City (Source: The Pancake Life)

I don’t think Weber’s writings anticipated this shift in the focus of the reasons for social mobilization, moving beyond certain groups merely electing individuals who will then pass laws that are in line with their own political views. Instead, the Women’s March and similar demonstrations, broadens to include activism to create a vision of society in which basic human dignity and worth are fundamentally incorporated into laws and into institutions. This perspective opens the possibility that individuals interested in facilitating the realization of a more just and responsible society may succeed in escaping the sort of political serfdom that Weber pessimistically predicts. I’ll close with a quote from the well-known French political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, from his work Democracy in America: “The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.”


Robert Wayne Ressler is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology. His research interests concern how nonproft organizations provide opportunities to reduce inequalities with a special interest in educational stratification and inequality.  

Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond

by Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. Professional athletes have worn "I Can't Breathe" messages in protest of a grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of a New York man. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James warms up at the Barclays Center, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in New York. He and his teammates wore “I Can’t Breathe” messages in protest of the grand jury ruling not to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner. (Source: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

The last few years have seemingly seen a rise in outspoken “activist” athletes. In late-2014, LeBron James and most of the Cleveland Cavaliers wore “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirts in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement to protest the murder of Eric Garner, a 43-year old Black man who was choked to death by Staten Island police in July 2014. Similarly, the University of California – Berkeley women’s basketball team took to the court wearing homemade black T-shirts with the names of Black Americans who were either lynched or killed by the police in the Golden Bears’ game against California State University – Long Beach. Also in 2014, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins entered FirstEnergy Stadium with a black sleeveless T-shirt worn over his uniform and pads inscribed with the message “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.”

On the left, Andrew Hawkins entering the Browns’ stadium with his “Justice” shirt; on the right, Cal’s Lady Golden Bears in their homemade t-shirts before their game. (Source: Tony Dejak/Associated Press, Cal Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

In 2015, in a show of solidarity with other students, the University of Missouri football team refused to take to the field unless their university system president, Tim Wolf (who had not adequately addressed issues of racism on campus), resigned. Within 36 hours Wolf was gone, prompting Missouri state legislators to engage in what sports journalist Dave Zirin terms “plantation politics”; in putting forth a bill that would revoke scholarships for any scholarship athletes who fail to perform for “any reason unrelated to health,” Missouri legislators aimed to silence Black dissent, specifically the actions of the Mizzou Tigers football players.

It is in the midst of this particular activism-inclined sports climate that several journalists, activists, academics, and former athletes gathered in Austin this March to discuss the relationships between sports and politics. On March 11th, the co-sponsored event (co-organized by UT-Austin Sociology professor Ben Carrington), “Athletes as Activists: Lessons from Black Lives Matter and Beyond,” brought together a panel of athlete-activists. Moderated by British journalist Keme Nzerem, the panelists Shireen Ahmed (athlete, writer, activist), Michael Johnson (former English Premier League and Jamaican national team football player), and Etan Thomas (former NBA player) facilitated a discussion about the role of athletes as activists. The room was full, with an audience of faculty, students, staff, sports writers, and curious residents of Austin, as well as SxSW visitors. The panel began with each panelist discussing their personal experiences as both athletes and activists and the intersections therein. From there, Nzerem asked a few more pointed questions to facilitate discussion, and then opened the floor to the audience itself.

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The panelists discussed the ways in which athletes have acted as activists throughout history, while simultaneously connecting their own experiences to contemporary instances of athletes as activists. One of the central stories shared was that of the Mizzou Tigers football team, and their successful stand against former university-system president Tim Wolf. The Tigers operated in solidarity with the student population of the university, including one student who had engaged in a hunger strike against the president. What their stand contributed, as noted by Etan Thomas, was a form of collective power. As student athletes, the football team generates revenue for the university, and by refusing to play, that revenue was put in jeopardy. Though their actions were later met with backlash and antagonism, they showed in that moment that power that comes from a unified front of student athletes—the power to get things done.

The panel highlighted the Mizzou action as a recent example of athlete activism, but also made it clear that taking such measures is not an easy thing to do. The act of being both an athlete and an activist simultaneously provides a platform and runs the risk of taking serious heat. Nevertheless, each panelist, in their own way, made clear the value of being both an athlete and an activist, especially in instances of solidarity and support.

The conversation was rich and varied, drawing on topics such as the lack of representation of people of color and women on athletic organizational boards, the continued issues faced by women in sport – particularly as they intersect with race, religion and sexuality – as well as the importance of all students (athletes and non) advocating for their own rights. The panel brought to the fore many diverse voices – faculty, student athletes, graduate students, sports writers and more.

One thing that was made particularly clear during this panel discussion was the intersection of sport and politics, and the interconnectedness of social movements and sports. Athletes have the ability to bring attention to larger societal issues on a major scale, and though using their voices to bring issues of injustice is often met with backlash, it is important to remember that the platform, power, and privilege does exist.


Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown is a 6th-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests include race, embodiment, social relationships, food practices, and sport. Her dissertation explores middle-class Black American food practices in Austin, TX.