Diversity

Conducting research and teaching in sociology provide a rare opportunity to seek and share knowledge to advance social justice. I began a sociology PhD because my experiences as a teacher in a rural, under-served, diverse public high school so mirrored my own youth in another rural, under-served school halfway across the country that it convinced me we needed to know more about how the social structures of education determine life chances. As a researcher and instructor, I support scholarship and students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds, gender and sexual identities, socioeconomic statuses, and other lines of difference that reflect voices rarely heard in social science. I am committed to including broader perspectives in my research and to creating a safe environment where all students can discuss the often personal and contentious issues that arise in a sociology classroom.

  As a teaching assistant and instructor, I have taken concrete steps to support diversity and inclusion. One such step is recognizing my own biases that might influence my actions in the classroom. Accordingly, I endeavor to be aware of and to fight the consequences of implicit biases I may hold. For example, as a high school teacher, reflecting upon my classroom practices showed that I sometimes allowed male students to interrupt (if on topic) with impunity, while I often asked females students to wait their turn or raise their hand. After noticing my own bias, I enforced equitable procedures for all responses, using signals for turn-taking and distinguishing closed and open talk times, so male voices were no longer given preference. Another important step I have taken as an instructor is remaining open to critique, criticism, and suggestion from students and colleagues through a variety of avenues, such as having multiple anonymous student surveys throughout courses, to ensure that I continue to check my own privilege and evolve my perspectives and pedagogic techniques as needed. I work toward an inclusive, supportive classroom environment via explicit expectations of mutual respect and a zero tolerance policy for hate speech, enabling students to share critical opinions and unique perspectives on contentious social issues while respecting different experiences and voices, particularly those at risk of marginalization.

  In line with these goals, I have planned (or successfully encouraged professors I have assisted to plan) courses to consciously support a variety of voices in the classroom. To do this, I have made sure syllabi include readings by authors representing a range of identities or perspectives from typically under-represented groups, including women and scholars of color. I have also included scholarship explicitly addressing issues of diversity and equity, such as theories of cultural capital and intersectionality. Finally, I have explicitly acknowledged expectations of inclusivity in course syllabi and materials I have developed for future implementation. In addition to course design, I have also worked to develop classroom structures and activities that organize student participation and collaboration in inclusive ways across social differences or levels of social privilege to challenge all students to participate, so that privileged voices cannot dominate a classroom. These organizational structures provide one essential component of maintaining a classroom that supports critical viewpoints and explicit recognition of issues of social justice and diversity.

  Beyond classroom practices, I believe teaching sociology itself can support diversity and equity by helping students develop a lens for viewing structural inequalities in society. As an instructor, I strive to guide students in applying this lens to social constructions of race, gender, class, and other lines of difference that shape daily life. My goal is to implement courses that address social problems in ways that recognize diversity and link to structures of opportunity and oppression to aid students in carrying a social justice lens into their future life and careers. As a graduate student, I have also supported diverse voices by working with several programs reaching beyond the academic bubble. This work includes helping to facilitate an undergraduate-led service-learning course that seeks to develop a sustainable tutoring program partnering with a local under-resourced middle school while undergraduates study issues of inequality and local education history, with the goal of more informed community engagement.

  In addition to fostering social justice by teaching sociology, my research in sociology has provided a powerful opportunity to support diversity and inclusion in the discipline and the wider academic realm. Broadly, this has included incorporating theories of gendering practices, social construction of gendered health, rurality, and other sociodemographic differences that impact both health and sociality into my research on adolescent social networks and health. Considering these socially salient lines of difference as more theoretically substantive components rather than merely something to control away in a regression expands the practice of empirical global social network analysis in ways that begin to support a more inclusive, socially aware, and diverse sub-field within the discipline.

  My research agenda, together with my involvement in community engagement, practices for classroom inclusivity, commitment to including under-heard scholarly voices, and ongoing work to check my own biases, present concrete steps supporting my commitment to teaching and researching in sociology in ways that further educational equity, promote diversity, and seek social justice.