Sociology Newsletter -- Fall 2017

The Sociology Program invites you to see....

Chair's Corner: The Myth of Fairness and Racism
Course Bio: Social Movements
Get to Know Our Faculty: Professor Liz Stygar
Meet an Alum: Mel Binion
Senior Showcase: Jordan Harting
Thinking about Sociology: Articles You May Enjoy

Chair's Corner: The Myth of Fairness and Racism

Talking about racism is tricky for White people. One important reason is that instead of being something descriptive, the word racism tends to be construed as something moral – moral in the sense that "racism is bad." Because racism is conceived as something moral, White people are not really honest about it. Here's the moral reasoning that keeps us from being honest: "Racists are bad. I'm not bad. Thus, I'm not racist." So I'd like us move away from the moral reduction of racism to a description of racism. Maybe then White people will feel more comfortable thinking about racism in our own lives.

While there are lots of ways to think about racism in our lives, in this newsletter, I'd like to talk about the term "fairness" and how that term relates to racism. 

The notion of fairness emerged as a cultural ideal during the enlightenment period, when the belief in rationality supplanted our commitment to the traditions and authority of the monarchy. Early enlightenment thinkers believed that since people have the capacity to be rational, people could be neutral and fair.

I love the notion of fairness. And I know I'd like to live in a fair society – one where there were justice and equity and where everybody got what they deserved. However, if we are going to be honest (which I hope we can be together) the truth is that fairness is impossible, for a number of reasons. Here are two of the most important ones... Read more....

Course Bio: Social Movements

It's Assistant Professor Kiana Cox's fourth year at SIUE. She has been done a great job of introducing students to the world of statistics – a world most of our students adore (well...sort of). Further, Cox has helped shape our Diversity and Social Justice program. Her social movements class is one of the required courses in the program.  

Overall, my central goal with the class is to teach social movement theory and teach students about the national, global, and local forces which all work together to create movements. My goal is also to reframe social movement theory so that it is in conversation with histories of marginalized and colonized peoples. Much of the classical social movement theory canon focuses on European movements against monarchies or labor movements composed predominantly of white people. My goal is to add nuance to this narrative to show how movements interact with each other as well as other macro and meso level forces. The lecture that I have attached, which covers how European monarchy and imperialism account for the emergence of social movements around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, captures this approach. To expand on this, students sign up to be online discussion leaders and select one week in which they would like to post a topic, an image from a movement, and questions about the readings in our Blackboard discussion forum. Keeping in mind that some students will never talk in class, I use this approach to get everyone involved and invested in the class on some level.

Social Movement Lecture

Get to Know Our Faculty: Professor Liz Stygar

1)  Before you began teaching in the sociology department at SIUE, you were a student here.  What is the biggest surprise you faced transitioning from student to professor?

When I first started teaching here in August 2008, I was 26 years old and had a bit of imposter-syndrome. I wanted students to know I was friendly, but not their friend. I was insecure about the lack of age difference and the fact several of those students were older than me. I overcompensated by being what I consider a bit harsh as an instructor, and I am not a harsh person. This insight led me to alter my approach to teaching.

When I was hired to be part of the faculty fulltime in January 2010, I was overjoyed and flattered that my mentors were willing to become my colleagues and saw in me the potential to be their peer. Now here we are nearly a decade later,and ironically I long for the time when there was less of an age-gap between most of my students and I. I want to remain relatable as I most value my role as mentor.  

My students know that I can be long-winded! I’d have to sum my biggest surprise to be: how much I continue to learn as instructor. I loved being a student, and I used to long to continue to be a student, but the pace at which I continue to learn is quite high. I am continuously learning more about our social world and effective teaching strategies. Best of all, my students teach me valuable information so I can remain relatable!

2) What do you love most about sociology?

This question is easy: sociological mindfulness and intersectionalities. I love teaching and witnessing the passion students gain when learning about social inequality. It gives me such fulfillment to see students' faces light up when their sociological imaginations click. It delights me when students share the thoughts and experiences they have outside the classroom; sociology is impacting them in their everyday lives!

3) You have two young children at home. How do you introduce sociology into their lives?

While they are young, I’m focused on making them aware of the wider world out there. Their day-to-day worlds are very small: our home, day care, the grocery store, etc. Our suburban neighborhood is not diverse, and I'll explain sociologically why that is so when they’re older, whether they want to hear it or not. I have to go out of my way to introduce them to diversity. The older they grow, I feel like I can take them to more places in St. Louis. For example, at the Soulard Market they can regularly hear languages other than English, and I introduce them to diverse food choices.  

Our four-year-old is rather obsessed with using the men’s restroom right now. I endlessly insist that anyone can use any restroom they want. My emphasis does not impact my child’s peer socialization on this issue. The school is overtly teaching that boys and girls are different (read: opposites). In fact, my child’s pediatrician measured his cognition by asking if he is a boy or girl and if mommy a boy or girl. I don’t like all of the explicit binary teaching. Thus, here’s some of what I’m doing now: I asked the preschool teacher why the children’s cubbies were gender segregated. She did not have an answer, but a few weeks later they reorganized the room!  I’ve yet to find a preschool-appropriate (or any!) books about lessons in trans-bathroom rights. Perhaps I’ll be the first to write it! If anyone wants to write this book with me, please reach out!

I have a list of book suggestions to introduce young kids to sociological mindfulness and intersectionalities:

A is for Activist and Counting on Community, both by Nagara; Grace for President by DiPucchio; It’s Okay to be Different, The Family Book, The Earth Book, The Peace Book, and any other book by activist-philanthropist Todd Parr; This is How We Do It: one day in the lives of seven kids from around the world by Lamothe; Women in Science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Ignotofsky. 

4) You have lived in the area for most of your life. What kind of food reminds you most of "home,” and where do you like to eat it?

I’m lucky enough to live about 15 minutes from my parents and my childhood home. My mom’s cooking is my favorite. As she ages, I do not get to eat it as often, but she makes the best fried okra and soups! She’s taught my brother, sister and me to cook, and we’re getting quite good! We often get together and share food and drink recipes. Overall, Asian food is my “comfort food,” specifically Vietnamese and Thai, but Japanese and Indian, too! I often go with Mama to eat at restaurants in St. Louis. Pho Grand and Mai Lee are our favorites.

Meet an Alum: Mel Binion

You’ve been in Los Angeles now for about two years producing music.  Tell us about one exciting musician you’re producing. 

They say your current project is always your favorite. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many singer-songwriters to help them explore their sounds, but I have always been a huge fan of Ashley Lusk and her voice. She is from Eureka, Mo., and was on American Idol XV. None of that matters to me. Her voice does something really special in her lower ranges that reminds me of Sade. I believe she is the future of music in St. Louis, and I’m excited to help Ashley explore her potential. Check out Ashley Lusk on social media.

Also, you are working to help create a new genre of music.  What’s the new genre of music called and can you tell us about it?

I would not call it a new genre. I am working on introducing a new format. My company is exploring options with immersive solutions to create a new listening experience. As of now, we call it the virtual sound experience. I wanted to make music more than something that you can hear. Music has lost value because we only experience music through one sense. Music was meant to be an experience. The virtual sound experience begins to incorporate additional senses to the equation to create a listening experience via virtual reality where sound can be seen, heard, and felt, like at a concert. The great thing about this is that the users can manipulate what they hear and experience as the VR system tracks their head position. Our R&D department is extending the research to introduce a fully immersive solution for sound and music. Non-disclosure agreements within the company prohibit me from saying any more, but imagine if a deaf person can experience music without hearing a single note. The applications are endless.    

You recently agreed to mentor one of our new graduates interested in music, Josh White. Can you tell me what it was like to work with him?

I enjoy being able to share my knowledge and network with anyone, so Josh White and I have crossed paths many times. We have been in three studio sessions together -- my experimental production session, the gaslight sessions with Maggie McClure and Shane Henry, which should be released soon, and the session with Ashley Lusk. In all instances, I wanted to introduce him to a network of talented individuals who have musical knowledge and technical capabilities that are an asset to reference. I enjoy learning from other people to help craft my own sound, and even though Josh and I are two completely different types of producers, I hope that he can value the connections, knowledge and experiences through every session. He’s very talented, has a great work ethic, and he is very responsive and eager to learn. This is great because I think a lot of recording artists, musicians, and producers fail when they assume that music is a solo act.

 Let’s talk food.  What does Los Angeles have that the St. Louis area doesn’t?

In-N-Out! Every time I return to the Midwest, I crave In-N-Out so much.  I don’t know what it is because I generally don’t eat fast food. Another thing that LA has is an endless supply of healthy options. You literally have to go out of your way to maintain a poor diet in LA. (I allow myself a Double-Double and Animal Fries from In-N-Out on occasion.) Since there are so many different cultures represented in LA, we get to experience real Brazilian cuisine, Korean cuisine, Mexican street food, etc.  There are places in St. Louis that deliver a high level of authenticity but still falter in comparison.

Senior Showcase: Jordan Harting

Rape culture is a highly salient topic right now. Rape culture molds the way people react to rape and victims of sexual assault. Rape culture is also spread through social media, which is how people are socialized about rape culture. For my senior capstone course, I studied Tumblr blogs about rape culture, using qualitative content analysis to discuss the nature of these blogs and what was being said about rape culture. It is important to me to study rape culture because rape culture is directly linked to patriarchy, and with patriarchy still in place, no one is really equal.

Thinking about Sociology: Articles You May Enjoy

What If

"What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?" Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages, but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to. Read more in The New York Times.


"It's time to celebrate the fact that there are many ways to be male and female"  Sex categories – whether you have female or male genitals – are fundamental for reproduction. They are also the principal way we carve up the social world. No surprise then that scientists and the general public alike often assume that sex categories are no less essential to how we think, feel, and behave, taking it for granted that there are female and male natures subserved by a “female brain” and a “male brain”, respectively.  Read more in The Guardian.

race "No, I Won’t Stop Saying 'White Supremacy'" I am white. When I give talks on what it means to be white in a society deeply separate and unequal by race, I explain that white people who are born and raised in the U.S. grow up in a white supremacist culture. I include myself in this claim, as I enumerate all of the ways in which I was socialized to be complicit in racism. I am not talking about hate groups, of which I am obviously not a member. And no, I don’t hate white people. I am addressing most of the audience to whom I am speaking, white progressives like me Read more in Yes! Magazine.