238 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

November 19, 2015

Aging on Campus

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

While attending a faculty meeting several months ago, some of the attendees commented about how fast time goes by upon hearing that a colleague’s son had recently married. When I commiserated, the others laughed and mentioned that I was too young to really know what they were talking about.

Where else but in academia is someone in their 40s a “young person?” Outside of a retirement community, academia may be one of the few places where aging is relative. I didn’t argue with them—I am old enough to feel good about being called young.

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October 30, 2015

Urban Legends: Scary Stories and Halloween

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Year after year, sociologist Joel Best is inundated with calls from reporters during Halloween season. They call for a single reason, to debunk a story that you might have been told was true your whole life. Best has researched the claim that children are regularly poisoned by eating tainted Halloween candy, and found no evidence to support this widespread fear. (Check out his piece in The Society Pages on his experiences talking to reporters this year).

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October 19, 2015

Sociology and Infamy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The news coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 was one of the events that inspired me to write my first book, It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, which was published in 2003. I had purposely decided never to mention the shooters’ names, which my editor didn’t quite understand. “Everyone already knows their names,” she said. The information was out there, she insisted. I would just be providing a historical account of the event.

But I didn’t want their names in my book. I didn’t want to type them, and I didn’t want those individuals to get even a modicum of attention from my readers. The book wasn’t about them anyway, it was about the problem of coming up with simple solutions like blaming popular culture for complex social problems like youth violence.  I stood my ground, and their names do not appear anywhere in the book.

I thought of this upon hearing of the Twitter hashtag #dontsayhisname, a request from many survivors and residents of Roseburg, Oregon, in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Obscurity may be the ultimate form of shunning in the internet age. Sadly, we all-too-often remember the names of perpetrators and forget the names of the victims as time goes by. Perhaps this hashtag will help change that.

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September 25, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A.

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a graduate student, I worked as a research assistant on several projects for criminologists. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging project I participated in was a study of homicides in Los Angeles.

This was a comprehensive, multi-faceted study. I was given a great deal of responsibility for collecting data from police homicide files. The senior researchers had gained a court order that enabled us to have access to hundreds of files from 1993 and 1994, peak years in homicides for the city and county. I led the team that went to police and sheriff’s headquarters, reading files along with a team of students that I supervised who would read the files and then use a coding sheet to note key details about the incident. Over the course of the study I personally read hundreds of police murder files.

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September 10, 2015

Adding and Dropping Classes: Another Lesson in Social Structure and Social Institutions

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Without a doubt, for me the most challenging part of being a college professor takes place during the first three weeks of the semester, part of what is known as the “Add/Drop Period” at my university. I get dozens of emails asking to for a spot in my classes—even when the class is closed—and have to explain to frustrated students why I can’t add them to a class.

These challenges result from the difficulty many people have in understanding social structure and social institutions. On the surface, although seeking admission to a course seems like a transaction between individuals—an individual student seeks a single spot in a course—this process is not as much about individuals as it is about broader institutional forces.

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August 26, 2015

The Price of Partying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Can partying give you a leg up after college?

For most of us, probably not. But for well-connected, wealthy students, honing social skills and networking with similarly well-connected students provides advantages that few have access to.

This is one of Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton’s interesting findings in Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. In their long-term study of students at a Midwestern state university, they found that for college women from well-to-do families with ample business connections, academic achievement—or even a student’s major—mattered very little in the long run.

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August 10, 2015

Choosing Your Classes: The Importance of Social Structure and Culture

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Registering for classes can be both exciting and stressful. I remember being excited by the possibility of new classes and would be among the first to pick up the schedule of classes in the days when it was only offered in print. I know that registering can present challenges too: the classes you hoped to take might be full or you might have some financial aid or payment issues that prevent you from registering.

Registration can also help us understand some basic sociological concepts: social structure and culture.

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July 30, 2015

Consuming Home

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Would you be excited to have a high-end brand of shower valve?

Most of us probably wouldn’t know the brands of shower valves to be excited one way or the other. I certainly don’t. But when a contractor came to give us an estimate for replacing our shower, he said he had connections and could “upgrade” us to a specific brand, assuming that I knew it signaled high-end plumbing. He promised that if we hired him we could have fancy branded tile at a discount too, giving us “the wow factor I know you’re looking for.”

The only “wow” came when we saw how much he would charge us for our new high-end branded shower, which we passed on.

This experience reminded me of sociologist Juliet B. Schor’s book The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. She has a chapter called “The Visible Lifestyle,” where she explores how consumption is connected with identity. We make statements about ourselves through the products that we consume, and the more visible the product, the more brands matter to consumers.

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July 01, 2015

Water and Inequality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

All living beings need water; it is perhaps the most universal of all needs. Water is also one of the key markers of inequality, locally and globally. It may be easily taken for granted, but when there is too little or too much water, it usually impacts people disproportionally based on wealth.

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June 22, 2015

Internships and Inequality

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s summer break now for most students, many of whom are using this time to do a summer internship. Internships can be a great way to learn firsthand about what it’s like to work in a particular industry. They might be a foot in the door for future employment. Or they might be a costly waste of time.

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