The office drive by is the worst. A student walks by my office door, sees me inside and says, “Hi, Prof. Palmer are you busy?” Then there eyes fill with this look of vulnerability. In the past I used to just say, “Yes I am. Could you send me an email or come back during office hours?” This was always followed by an awkward moment. Students either were angry that I was being so selfish with my time or they just looked sorta heartbroken.
But now I know the secret to deflecting the office drive by.
“Prof. Palmer are you busy?”
“I am, but I always have a moment for a student like you.” I say with a smile.
“I’m having a problem. I [insert student problem].”
Then if I can answer the question in a snap I do so, but if the question requires even 2 minutes to answer I say, “You know what? That’s a really important question. I think that we should schedule some time when both of us can give our full attention to this. Can you send me an email about this or do you want to come back during my office hours?”
This approach works because it 1. allows a student to feel heard and 2. it screens out questions that can be answered instantaneously.
I’ve often thought how funny it would be to go over unannounced to one of my student’s dorm rooms and just knock. “Hi, are you busy? I wanted to talk about our class for a minute.” The look on the student’s face would be priceless.
“How can I get started on social media? Who should I follow on Twitter? What blogs should I be reading?” I must have heard some variant of those questions two dozen times at ASA this year. That will probably sound strange until I tell you that, I was an instructor for the JustPublics@ASA Media Camp Pre-Conference Workshops. As always, I’m here to help. Below are some suggestions for sociologists looking to dive into social media. Want a pdf version to email a friend? Here ya go.
First, you should check out the JustPublics@ASA Media Camp Workshop website for the handouts, resources, and best practices given out at the pre-conference workshop.
Who Should I Follow on Twitter?
You should follow people who are tweeting about your scholarly area of interest. That was the advice that Tressie Mcmillan Cottom, my Media Camp colleague, had for her workshop attendees. I’d echo that. The value of twitter is it’s ability to bring you people and information related to the things that interest you.
That said, if you’re looking for a list of sociologists active on Twitter, you could do a lot worse than the list that Rosemary F. Powers created on her webpage The Paradox of Society.
What Blogs Should I Read?
Below are all of the sociology blogs that I can think of. I’m sure I’ve left some off. This list has a clear bias toward the U.S., but I’m not up on sociology blogging outside the states (though I would like to be). Email me if you’ve got a blog you’d like me to add.
- A Backstage Sociologist
- Citings & Sightings
- Conditionally Accepted
- The Cranky Sociologists
- Creative Sociology
- Everyday Sociology Blog
- Family Inequality
- Feminist Reflections
- Girl w/Pen
- Japan Sociology
- Org Theory
- Public Criminology
- Racism Review
- Reading List
- Social (In)Queery
- The Society Pages
- Sociological Images
- The Sociological Cinema
- Sociology In Focus
- Sociology Sounds
- Sociology Source
- Sociology Toolbox
- Teaching TSP
- There’s Research on That
Systematic racism has been made evident again in the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Pulling stories directly from recent news headlines is one way to get students’ attention and demonstrate the abundant relevance of the sociological perspective. The New York Times has a timeline of the events that serves as a useful starting point (from the mainstream media) to share the events with students that may have not kept up with the story.
The community of Ferguson, Missouri (the site of the shooting) has responded with on-going mass protests.
Ferguson cannot be understood in a vacuum. These events are rich with sociological issues – inequality and poverty, racial profiling, the militarization of the police, protester and police interaction, social media (#Ferguson and hashtag activism) and the “criminalization of Black male youth”.
Looking first at the disproportionate levels of poverty and subsequent exclusion from the economy of many Blacks in the US, Brookings, a Democratic leaning think tank, analyzed census tract data of changes in the poverty rates in Ferguson (and the surrounding area) between 2000 and 2008-2012. They state:
“But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.
Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.”
The community of Ferguson, one of many that have been disproportionally hurt by the economic downturn, has experienced long term poverty, and this undoubtably was part of the mass frustration that contributed to the emergence of the protests. See Brookings web site for their full story.
However, the key grievance that seems to have inspired mass protest is the relationship between the police and the community. In previous posts I have explored the disproportionate number of Blacks incarcerated, arrested for drugs, and racially profiled under programs such as “Stop and Frisk”. While the population of Ferguson is 63% Black, 90% of the police officers are White. As noted by the New York Times (see below), Blacks in Ferguson are disproportionally stopped and arrested by the predominantly White police force.
An FBI and federal justice department investigation is on-going and reports of the events present conflicting stories – an eye witness that was with the victim at the time says Michael had his hands up, but slowly emerging (which certainly adds to the distrust) police accounts argue that an unarmed Michael was in a confrontation with the officer. The job of the police is to make arrests and allow a court system to decide guilt. The police later released images from a video of a suspect robbing a convenience store (no weapons were used). Let’s just say it was Michael (that would still have to be proven). A police officer should be able to subdue a suspect without shooting him six times. In essence, (presuming guilt instead of innocence) Michael was sentenced to death for supposedly stealing a handful of cigars.
The police responses to the protests in Ferguson have exposed the results of the militarization of municipal police forces. Images of police in full military gear, helmets, armored vehicles, sharp-shooters, high caliber weaponry, and military fatigues certainly garnered the attention of the media.
The distribution of military weaponry to local police departments began after the terrorist attacks of September 11th under the guise of preparing communities for foreign attacks. Now we see this weaponry and accompanying tactics used in our own communities. The saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail” comes to mind.
This weaponry has been widely distributed.
Click on the map above to have students go to an interactive version that allows them to see the distribution of the weaponry in their county. For example, I can see that in Cook county, home to my city of residence, Chicago, the police have obtained over 1200 assault rifles and even three “mine resistant” vehicles.
The use of these weapons and tactics is not limited to Ferguson. In June of 2014, the ACLU published the following report:
In it they report the increased use of SWAT tactics for search warrants for low level drug investigations and that the “militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies” (p.3). These tactics and mentality have resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including infants and children (see the report for numerous stories).
Do these tactics pay off? According to the ACLU’s research, the majority of the time they do not. Drugs are only found about a third of the time.
And these tactics are used disproportionately in cases involving racial and ethnic minority suspects.
So, was this an isolated event among two individuals – the officer and Michael Brown? No. Sociologically, the impoverished community context likely leads to community members feeling disconnected from the rewards of mainstream society, the stereotyping of Black males as “thugs” and criminals likely added to the officer’s fear of Michael and activated socially constructed cognitive cues of “danger”, the community’s response is generated by local and national racial profiling by the police and a lack of minority representation among the officers, and the type of police response to the protests was a result of the militarization of the police driven by the “war on terror” and the power of the military industrial complex in our economy (and foreign policy).
Teach well, it matters.
Elijah Anderson, Editor. 2009. Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male
Kate Harding. 2014. “Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet “
Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson. 2005. “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime and Inequality” in Race, Crime, and Justice: A Reader edited by Shaun L. Gabbidon and Helen Taylor Greene
August 20th, 2014
Recent Gallup survey results show vastly different perceptions of the police. These are not skewed by the events in Ferguson as the data is from 2011-14, but they certainly explain some of the resulting protests.
August 21, 2014
Below is a link to a good article on the challenges and weaknesses of the data on the number of people killed by police each year. It’s great to inspire critical thinking about facts.
Here is polling data specific to this event from the Pew Research Center…
Monday August 18th -- ASA Section Day8:30-10:10
Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Paper Session. Connection, Transfer, and Reflection: How Community Engagement Enhances the Sociological Imagination10:30-12:30
Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Invited Session. Mapping the Sociology Curriculum2:30-3:30
Hans O. Mauksch Award Speech, Betsey Lucal, “Getting Real about Private Troubles as Public Issues: Students, Teachers and Higher Education in the 21st Century3:30-4:30
Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Business Meeting4:30-6:10
Section on Teaching and Learning Roundtables6:30-8:30
Reception, co-sponsored with AKD at the Parc 55 Hotel (room not assigned yet) with cash bar.Tuesday, August 19, 2014: 8:30 - 10:10
Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology Paper Session. Capstones, Culminating Experiences, and Senior Seminars: Meaningful Teaching Ideas that Help Students Put It All Together.