I used to write columns for Inside Higher Ed, for example, that pinpointed practices that can help grad students, postdocs, and faculty not just survive, but thrive in the academy, even in the midst of crises.
Both the academy generally and the social sciences specifically are rife with inequality. Black and Latine people are underrepresented among sociology PhDs and faculty; people who’s parents have PhDs are dramatically overrepresented; women are awarded less grant funding than men; and academia can be a hostile environment for LGB and especially trans scholars. Yet, despite considerable interest in these issues, it is remarkably difficult to study demographic inequality in critical parts of the academy like publishing for the simple reason that the necessary data either do not exist or cannot be linked. The NSF collects data on students and faculty. Professional associations collect data on members. But journals and publishers generally don’t collect and share data on authors. Christin Munsch and I are changing that.
Every year as the academic job market gets going, someone posts online about what it “takes” now to get a job (or tenure). Think you needed a top-3 publication? Think again: now you need 20! People predictably flock to the post, sending waves of anxiety across graduate students, both those on the market and earlier cohorts watching the horizon. This week, twitter (as always) delivered the panic.
Underlying this roiling are real increases in productivity demands. As my colleague rob warren recently demonstrated, the volume of work produced by recently hired and tenured Assistant Professors at the top-20 Sociology programs has gone up significantly (and will probably inch upward again this year due to the pandemic-related hiring freezes). New Assistant Professors hired at these schools in 2015-17 had, on average, published 0-1 articles in the top-2 sociology journals (AJS and ASR) and 5 articles and/or book chapters. That is a lot of work to complete in the usual 6-8 years of graduate school (and, for some, a post-doc). But those averages mask a significant amount of heterogeneity that make it difficult (and even counter-productive) to give “one size fits all” advice to graduate students seeking academic jobs.
I was recently reminded of the racial blinders of assimilation theory while reading an article by Richard Alba, Morris Levy, and Dowel Myers published in The Atlantic. The article is titled “The Myth of a Majority-Minority America”. The article argues that the “narrative that nonwhite people will soon outnumber white people is not only divisive, but also false.” I find the authors’ argument problematic and revealing of the racial unconscious (or not so unconscious) of assimilation theory.
I never thought I would leave; I’ve loved my 20 years on the UNC faculty. I was hugely fortunate to be hired at UNC directly out of graduate school, and I’ve stayed since. I’ve had fantastic students (undergraduate and graduate), amazing colleagues, and great opportunities to learn and grow. Despite the seemingly never-ending string of crises UNC keeps facing, particularly since some big changes around 2010 (more on that below), it’s a wonderful, truly mission-driven, important place, and I’m proud to have been part of it.
Last month, Sociologists for Trans Justice released a statement condemning the wave of anti-trans legislation that has been proposed in state legislatures across the United States. The statement includes a link to a new reader titled #ProtectTransYouth which collects valuable resources for those interested in learning more.
One section of the statement struck me as especially well-phrased and useful for thinking through the relationships between science and activism and between facts and values. This topic is of perennial interest but has been especially salient in sociology in the wake of, among other things, the 2016 election and the Trump administration, the 2019 American Sociological Association annual meeting theme on “Engaging Social Justice for a Better World”, and the growth of the Du Boisian Scholar Network with its mission of “scholarship at the service of emancipation & liberation.”
Tomorrow marks one year since the murder of George Floyd at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, sparking a rebellion that burned a police precinct and much of a nearby commercial strip. In the days that followed, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council declared their intention to “dismantle” the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). This declaration seemed to place the city at the forefront of a national conversation to reimagine public safety and redress racialized police violence. And yet, although the people of Minneapolis largely agree about the need for systematic changes in policing, residents, activists, and policymakers continue to disagree about the nature and scope of those transformations. These political struggles have complicated efforts to dismantle the MPD.
As I wrote on scatterplot last summer, periods of upheaval rarely produce total abandonment of the status quo, but political leaders, activists, and community members can use such openings to shift the direction of policies, practices, and institutional and cultural arrangements. Those words ring even truer today. Nearly a year following the declaration, the MPD remains standing, but changed, as the city continues to struggle over how to create “safety for all” in a starkly unequal society. Fights over public safety are central to the upcoming election, where city residents will vote on a new charter amendment to replace the MPD with a Department of Public Safety and re-elect or vote out of office the council members who have fought for (or resisted) these changes and the Mayor who has rebuffed calls to dismantle the MPD.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator and early leader in the civil rights movement. Born July 16, 1862 she dedicated most of her life combating prejudice and violence with the goal of achieving African-American equality. She researched and documented lynching in the United States in an attempt to bring awareness across the country and the world. Using data, she exposed the increasing use of lynching of African American men following the emancipation proclamation.
I highly recommend Monica Prasad’s recent piece in Socius advocating for problem-solving sociology as our era’s pragmatism. I cannot emphasize enough how smart it is and how much I love the idea of pragmatism as an escape from philosophical debates that are fun to have late at night, but more often than not lead nowhere in terms of getting stuff done. And I think the examples at the end, like Aliza Luft’s work on genocide, are great examples of sociology done well and summarized in the piece fantastically.
To try to summarize a complicated, in-depth piece in a quick paragraph or so (please read the whole thing), Prasad convincingly identifies three themes in how sociologists conceptualize the goal our work: rationalist, skeptic, and emancipatory. The rationalist studies for the sake of knowledge itself—the ultimate and exclusive goal of study is to understand society, regardless of whether or not society improves (or gets worse) thanks to that knowledge. The emancipatory studies for the sake of improving society—arguing that we should search for knowledge to create a better society, else it be squandering our efforts. The skeptic questions both whether or not sociology and academic discourse itself is at all useful, merging in some ways the critiques of rationalists toward emancipation and emancipatory scholars’ critiques of rationalist inaction into an almost meta-analysis of why and how we study and how that explains why reason is inadequate both as a driver of social change and as a means toward truth.
H.P. Lovecraft was an influential science fiction/fantasy and horror author in the early 20th century United States. His popularity has been on the rise for some time now, with his work and ideas featured in everything from board games to TV shows. My morning walk to the office in Providence passes though H.P. Lovecraft square, and monuments to him litter the East Side of Providence where he lived.
Lovecraft was also a massive and unapologetic racist. And his racism was not somehow an incidental and unrelated aspect of his persona, it was central to the themes of his work: xenophobia, fear of the unknowable other, threats to civilized men lurking at the edges of the Earth, and so on. Recognition of Lovecraft’s racism has led to two interesting and parallel kinds of reevaluations: on one hand, trying to remove him from a pedestal like a Confederate monuments (e.g. in 2015 the World Fantasy Award was changed to no longer resemble Lovecraft) and, on the other, producing a set of modern “Lovecraftian” works that explicitly reject his racism and xenophobia and re-read his works in that light. Two notable projects are Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, a book and then TV show that offers a kind “Get Out” rereading of Lovecraft where the real horror is racist white people, and Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy series, so far containing a pair of novels that reimagines a classic Lovecraft story by connecting it to the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII and retelling that story from the perspective of the marginalized racial others whom Lovecraft so feared.
What I want to do in the rest of this post is, in that spirit, offer a re-reading of a fairly popular Lovecraft quote (from the opening “The Call of Cthulhu”) through the lens of Du Bois’s understanding of the veil to make sense of a recurrent dynamic in discussions of American history. First, here’s the quote:
Since the graduate student strike and related protests by faculty, staff, and undergraduates at the University of Michigan in Fall 2020, I’ve noticed that open letters and petitions in google docs and signed through google forms seem to have replaced slower, more traditional petition technologies for (at least campus) social movements. Having signatures from a google form automatically and instantly appear at the end of an open letter is pretty straightforward, but I wasn’t able to find a good guide for it. So in the “unruly sociologist” spirit of this blog, here is my lay person’s guide to automatic signatures in a petition using google docs and forms.
Earlier this month, Sekou Tyler, Anthony Starks and myself launched a #DuBoisChallenge on Twitter. With Anthony’s github repository, we were able to curate a 10 week challenge where we’re asking participants to recreate Du Bois’ iconic visualizations. Our goal is to celebrate W.E.B. Du Bois as a data visualization pioneer and bring more recognition to his accomplishments. W.E.B. Du Bois is a well known author and civil rights activist but his accomplishments as a sociologist who leveraged data visualization to tell a narrative of resilience and perseverance for Black America is just beginning to gain traction mainstream.
The following is a guest post by Abigail Andrews and Ariana Thompson-Lastad.
When we began writing this piece, it was August 2020, and the skies in California were thick with smoke. As we breathed the toxic air with our preschool-aged children, we felt the climate crisis anew. The feeling intensified our agony about what we should do – as activists, as white people, as women, and as sociologists. We try to read the latest science and learn about what we can do. We’re making lifestyle shifts, like flying less and re-using bags. And we use our spare time to press lawmakers for pro-climate policy. But as parents of little ones, we don’t have much spare time. We wanted to make changes that cut more to the core of our work. Was sociology just the wrong field? (Why didn’t we study biology?!) Ariana studies healthcare and health equity, and Abigail studies gender and migration. Should we drop our current research and focus on environmental sociology? Either of those answers seemed to obscure the scope of the changes upon us.
The climate emergency is our existential disaster. The social costs are here: pandemics, toxic air and water, violence, mass migration, and grief, among many others. The devastation is terrifying, and it’s going to get worse. In the face of great fear, how do we find hope – for ourselves, our students, our children, and all the world’s children? How do we manage the rapid transformation of society with creativity, intelligence, and grace? And how do we come together (especially amidst a pandemic and ongoing racism and anti-Blackness), instead of hunkering down to protect the few?
As the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, schools across the U.S. have responded in varied ways. Some are offering only remote instruction, while others are giving students the choice between remote and in-person instruction, either through a traditional in-person model or through a hybrid model involving a mix of in-person and remote instruction.
The US Department of Education recently announced plans to gather data on school instruction in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a much-needed effort, given the previous administration’s failure to support research on pandemic schooling. And yet, these efforts are likely to take time.
In the short-term, then, and particularly in context of heated debates about pandemic schooling, scholars, policymakers, and educators need data to understand which families have access to in-person instruction and what decisions families make when they have the choice between in-person and remote instruction.
My goal with this post is to help fill that gap. I’ll share some basic descriptive findings from a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 US parents with children under 18. The survey, which I fielded through Ipsos’s iSay panel in December 2020, included questions about how parents’ youngest school-aged child (those old enough to be enrolled in K-12 education) was participating in school and, if they were participating remotely, whether they had the option for in-person school. Recent news reports have highlighted racial/ethnic and socioeconomic differences in parents’ support for in-person schooling. Building on these reports, I’ll present a basic descriptive overview of: 1) how students are participating in school, 2) which students have the choice between in-person and remote instruction (among those who are currently enrolled in a school; i.e., not homeschooling or delaying kindergarten), and 3) which students are choosing in-person instruction when they have the choice between in-person and remote school. A more detailed description of the methods can be found below.
When we’re thinking about students and schooling during the pandemic, the first key question to ask is: How are students currently receiving instruction?
As of December 2020, and among school-age children:
24% were receiving traditional in-person instruction
17% were receiving hybrid instruction involving a mix of in-person and remote learning
42% were receiving fully remote instruction
17% were homeschooling or not in school (i.e., because they delayed kindergarten until next year)
Of course, those remote instruction numbers need some unpacking. Some of those students had the choice between in-person and remote instruction and chose remote instruction; others did not have a choice and could only receive remote instruction from their school. Among those receiving fully remote instruction:
48% did not have the option for in-person instruction from their current school
26% had the choice between traditional in-person instruction and remote instruction and opted for remote instruction
26% had the choice between hybrid instruction and remote instruction and opted for remote instruction
Access to In-Person Instruction
This raises our next question: Who has the choice between in-person and remote instruction, and whose schools are still closed?
To answer this question, let’s look at students who were enrolled in a school (i.e., not homeschooling or delaying kindergarten), and let’s separate students who had the choice between traditional and remote instruction, students who had the choice between hybrid and remote instruction, and students who did not have a choice because their schools were only offering remote instruction.
Overall, roughly 43% of enrolled students had the choice between traditional and remote-instruction, 33% had the choice between hybrid and remote instruction, and 24% could only receive remote instruction.
Not surprisingly, these numbers vary for students from different groups. The chart below offers a breakdown based on students’ racial/ethnic backgrounds and parents’ education (whether either of the child’s parents has at least a bachelor’s degree). With the exception of Asian/Pacific Islander students, students whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to have access to in-person instruction than are students from the same racial/ethnic group whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree. White students and Black students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees are also more likely than Hispanic/Latino students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees to have access to in-person instruction (87% and 92% vs. 73%). Hispanic/Latino students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees are the least likely to have access to any form in-person instruction (62%).
Decisions Regarding In-Person Instruction
Now, as we saw above, not all students who have a choice between in-person and remote instruction take the in-person option. Some students opt for remote instruction, instead. And that brings us to our next question: When students have the choice between in-person and remote instruction, who chooses the in-person option?
Once again, it’s useful to look separately at students who have the choice between traditional and remote instruction and at students who have the choice between hybrid instruction and remote instruction. Between these two options, families with the choice between hybrid and remote are more likely to stick with remote instruction (38%) than are families with the choice between traditional and remote instruction (32%).
First, let’s look at families with the choice between traditional instruction and remote instruction.
Given the choice between traditional instruction and remote instruction, the majority of families took the in-person option—69% overall. Only 31% of families with choice between traditional and remote instruction opted to keep their children home for remote instruction.
Those overall patterns, however, do hide some differences by race and parent’s education. As we see in the chart below, and among students who have the choice between traditional and remote instruction, those whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to choose in-person schooling than students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees. Among students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, white and Black students are roughly equally likely to opt for in-person instruction (76% and 86%) when they have the option for traditional instruction. Among students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degree, white students are more likely than Black students to opt for in-person instruction (73% vs. 59%).
Next, let’s look at families with the choice between hybrid instruction and remote instruction.
Given the choice between hybrid and remote instruction, a little more than half of families took the in-person option—62% overall. Roughly 38% of families with the choice between hybrid and remote instruction opted to keep their children home for remote instruction.
Once again, though, these overall patterns hide some differences by race and parent education. When given the choice between hybrid and remote instruction, white children whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree are most likely to take the option involving in-person schooling (78%). White students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees are less likely to take that option (56%), as are students from all other racial/ethnic groups. Black students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees (45%) and Asian/Pacific Islander students are particularly unlikely to take the option involving in-person instruction (BA: 38%; <BA: 43%).
Overall, these findings suggest that there are wide variations in families’ access to and decisions regarding in-person instruction.
When given the choice between traditional in-person instruction and remote instruction, nearly seven in ten families take the option involving in-person instruction. Families in which at least one parent has a bachelor’s degree are particularly likely to take the in-person option. Black and white students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, for example, are roughly equally likely to opt for in-person instruction when they have the choice between traditional in-person schooling and remote instruction.
Hybrid instruction is less appealing for families than traditional in-person instruction, and that’s especially true for families of color and families in which parents do not have bachelor’s degrees. When given the choice between hybrid instruction and remote instruction, only about six in ten families take the in-person option. White students whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree are most likely to take the in-person option when given the choice between hybrid and remote instruction. Other students, especially Black students whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees and Asian/Pacific Islander students are less likely to take the in-person option when given the choice between hybrid and remote.
Obviously, these are just descriptive data – weighted to be nationally representative, but not controlling for other factors that might influence families’ access to or decisions regarding in-person instruction. My next step, then, will be to consider the factors that contribute to the patterns we see here. Certainly, there are lots of factors to consider and lots of variations to explain.
One thing to unpack here is why so many families are opting for in-person instruction and especially why parents with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to opt for in-person instruction, particularly when they have the choice between traditional and remote school. Evidence from the interviews my team and I have conducted with mothers during the pandemic suggests that the stress of working from home while supporting students in remote instruction may be one factor for families in making these decisions. Just yesterday, for example, I interviewed a mom I’ll call Janet.
Janet initially opted for remote instruction for her kindergartner and 2nd grader (and took her toddler out of childcare), because her mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer over the summer, and Janet wanted to reduce the possibility of exposing her to COVID-19. Janet’s husband, meanwhile, is an essential worker. So opting for remote instruction meant that Janet was working from home while also being the parent primarily responsible for helping the big kids with remote schooling and providing full-time care for her toddler.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement took a huge toll on Janet. She gained 40 pounds in three months. She was drinking more heavily than usual. Yelling at her kids. Resentful toward her spouse. Eventually, Janet’s therapist told her she had to send the kids to school/childcare.
Janet’s kids are now back in in-person school/childcare. And Janet is doing much better. It’s not perfect. There’s no aftercare because of the pandemic, so Janet can only work 9-3 unless she stays up late. But she’s sleeping more, eating better, drinking and yelling less.
And Janet isn’t alone. Preliminary analyses point to similar patterns in the national survey data. Compared to parents without bachelor’s degrees, parents with bachelor’s degrees were more likely to be working from home during the pandemic. They were also more likely to report high levels of stress and frustrations (including frustrations with their children) during the “worst two weeks of the pandemic,” and more likely to report that their stress and frustrations increased during the pandemic, as well. Preliminary analyses also suggest that parents who experienced more stress and frustration during the “worst two weeks of the pandemic” were more likely to opt for in-person instruction if they were given the choice between traditional and remote learning.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents who keep their children home aren’t stressed or frustrated. Many of those parents – especially mothers – are struggling, as well. And that’s why we need to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus and ensure that families are getting the support they need through this deeply difficult time.
This study uses data from the Institutions Trust and Decisions (ITD) Study, a nationally representative, online survey which was conducted from November 30 through December 30, 2020 and which includes data from 2,016 US parents with children under 18. Participants were recruited through Ipsos’s iSay panels. iSay panel members are invited to take surveys in exchange for points which can be redeemed for incentives. Recruitment quotas were used to ensure that the demographics of the sample roughly correspond with the demographics of U.S. parents with children under 18. Post-stratification sample weights were then developed and applied in all analyses to further ensure the representativeness of the sample.
In this analysis, I focus on parents with school-age children. That includes children who are old enough to enroll in K-12 schooling, even if they are not currently enrolled (e.g., because they are homeschooling or because they are delaying kindergarten entry until the 2021-2022 school year). Surveys asked parents to name and discuss their youngest school-age child. 1,786 parents named a school-age child. Of these, 1,778 provided information about their child’s participation in school.
The primary dependent variables in this analysis measure families’ access to and decisions regarding various instructional options at the time of the survey (December 2020).
Type of Instruction Received. Surveys asked parents to report the type of instruction their child was receiving at the time of the survey. Options included traditional in-person instruction, hybrid instruction, remote instruction, homeschooling, and other arrangements (including not receiving instruction).
Access to In-Person Schooling. Parents who indicated that their child was receiving remote instruction were asked to report whether their child had the option of receiving in-person instruction from the school where they were currently enrolled. Parents could indicate that their child had the option for traditional in-person instruction, had the option for hybrid instruction, or did not have any option for in-person instruction.
The primary independent variables in this analysis are indicators are indicators of race/ethnicity and social class.
Child’s Racial/Ethnic Origins. Surveys asked parents to report the racial/ethnic origins of their youngest school-age child. Responses are grouped into five categories: 1) Asian, non-Hispanic, 2) Black, non-Hispanic, 3) Hispanic or Latino of any race, 4) white, non-Hispanic, and 5) Multiracial and other racial or ethnic or origins.