209 posts categorized "Social Institutions: Work, Education, and Medicine"

December 09, 2019

Teaching in the Shadow of Slavery

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

On a warm day in the spring, a colleague and I walked into Hilton Hall located on the Catonsville campus of my college. The campus was once a plantation and Hilton Hall, which more commonly is known as “the mansion,” had been renovated over the past 3 years for $10 million. I had never been there before and it was an eerie experience. It reminded me of growing up in Eudora, Arkansas, a small rural town that also was once a plantation, and had evolved into a segregated town separated by railroad tracks. There is spiritual weight to these places. History has mass – you feel it, see it and taste it. I felt it in “the mansion.”

I was there giving a lecture for a program, Invisible History: Exploring CCBC Hilton Center, a program created to address complaints expressed by some students, faculty, and staff concerning the college embracing a symbol of trauma and oppression. The program featured a panel of professors from different disciplines as well as the college president. When I heard about the program, I was afraid that it would glance over or romanticize history, so I insisted on being a part of it.

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November 11, 2019

Lower Ed: Replicating Inequality

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What do you get when you combine the increase in low-wage work, the increase in people earning college degrees, and the decrease in state funding for higher education?

You get something sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom calls Lower Ed, which she examines in her book of the same name. Lower Ed refers to for-profit colleges and universities, which are on average twice as expensive as public four-year colleges and four times as expensive as community colleges. As public colleges and universities have lost a good deal of their state support, for-profit colleges have stepped into the void, offering easy year-round enrollment and assisting with financial aid applications.

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November 04, 2019

No STEM without MESH

author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

I am fond of saying that I don’t necessarily want my students to become sociologists, but that I do believe that sociology will make them better at whatever it is that they will end up becoming. (Don’t get me wrong: I love it if you want to be a sociologist!)

When I see campus and nation-wide emphasis on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum, I am somewhat disappointed that there is not a wider definition of Science. Occasionally someone will make the argument for arts training to add an A in there: STEAM.

First, sociology is a science. I like to joke that it’s right there in the “-ology” at the end of it. And our national organization, the American Sociological Association (ASA), published a document to develop standards for sociology-based high school curriculum and makes the case that sociology “is a STEM field.”

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October 14, 2019

Libraries and Social Change

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I have vivid memories of visiting the library as a child, going to story hour and then being allowed to choose a few books to read that week. With age came the ability to take out more books and then eventually to have my own library card.

I still use the library all the time, but mostly online, whether it is my university’s library system or the public library to download e-books and audio books. While the way many of us use the library has changed, it is still a public institution whose importance we often overlook.

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October 07, 2019

The Blue Light of Privilege

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While eating lunch recently, I accidentally bit down on the fork and heard a crunch. I felt a crunch too: it was my tooth. When I went to look in the mirror I could see a tiny jagged little chunk missing from one of my front teeth. You really did have to look to see it, and probably no one would notice unless I pointed it out, but I figured I’d better do something.

I did what most of us with Internet access probably do: I Googled “what do I do if I chipped my tooth” and most sites basically said, “Call a dentist.” But at the top of the page were a seemingly endless—and cheap—lineup of products that I could buy for DIY dental repair. YouTube also hosts numerous videos on how to fix your teeth yourself.

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July 15, 2019

"Are You an Athlete?" The Social Construction of Identity

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

No one had ever asked me if I was an athlete until recently. While checking my vital signs before a routine procedure, a nurse noted my low resting heart rate and asked this question. I didn’t know what to say; I must have had a puzzled look on my face.

“Do you get a lot of cardiovascular exercise?” she clarified. “Oh, yes,” I told her. In fact, fitness is probably what occupies most of my time, after sleeping and working. But I never think of myself as an athlete.

This got me thinking about how identity is constructed in a variety of social contexts. The identity of “athlete” is often related to social institutions, particularly those that have a special designation for this social category. For collegiate athletes, there is a governing body that creates rules and guidelines that schools must follow.

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July 08, 2019

The Intersection between Biography, History, and Health

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We often think about our health as profoundly personal, rooted in individual choices regarding what we eat, how much we exercise, and how well we comply with medical advice. Federal laws protect the privacy of our health information, and many people opt not to share information about their health with anyone but family and close friends (and sometimes not even with them), reinforcing the notion of health as personal.

And yet much of our health status is beyond our personal control, as I wrote about last year. Whether it is access to healthy food options, the time and space to exercise, or the availability of regular medical care, many aspects of our health are tied to public policy decisions and historical changes.

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June 18, 2019

Canopies and Contact Zones

Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Last month, the Speaker of the House for Ohio, a Republican named Larry Householder, was upset by a local library story time hosted by a drag queen. He said, “Taxpayers aren’t interested in seeing their hard earned dollars being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens.” But taxpayers should absolutely be interested in the idea that a public space like a library can be places where people who are different from one another can meet and engage with each other. In fact, State Rep. Householder should visit a few places like that.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently published a wonderful book on this very topic, called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The idea is as simple an idea as it is profound: societies need public places for people to engage with others in meaningful ways. Parks, libraries, public places of all sorts are where people from different places can come together. This idea has really taken off in the last few months, and I know that librarians are happy to have Klinenberg write in a New York Times op-ed that the effort should start with libraries!

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April 01, 2019

Culture, Conflict, and Politics

Author photoBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

The 2016 presidential election sparked a nation-wide period of cultural conflict characterized by the working-class’s rising frustrations towards “elites.” President Trump himself has fostered a spirit of anti-intellectualism, at times even celebrating his own lack of intellectualism. These tensions go deeper than just economic class; rather, they are grounded in differences in cultural proclivities.

The differences between the often culturally conservative working-class and the often liberal upper-middle class may therefore be deeper than political affiliations. To understand this particular political moment, we must thus understand the cultural tensions beneath political divisions.

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March 20, 2019

The College Admissions Scandal: Can We Be Honest about Social Class in America?

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

I’m teaching a Social Stratification course this semester. One of the themes in our course is whether social class is an ascribed or achieved status. The popular conception is that social class in America is earned and accomplished and therefore an achieved status.

Sociologists beg to differ, because to say that social class is primarily an achieved status ignores the advantages given to the children of those who are better off in society. We can’t disregard the basic fact that children inherit the social class of their family. In other words, social class is ascribed in that it’s an involuntary status for the child who is raised in the social class surroundings of their family.

This is not to say that a person born into the middle-class is guaranteed to stay middle-class throughout their life, or that the child born into a rich family will surely reproduce their family’s social class position, or that being poor in one’s childhood inevitably means one will stay poor. No doubt there is movement up and down the social class system in the United States.

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