2018 Senior Dinner

The Department of Sociology hosts an annual dinner for graduating seniors at the end of the year.

Below are remarks from the Senior Dinner for the Class of 2018:

Opening words by Professor Timothy Wickham-Crowley

The richness of the discipline of sociology is well embodied in the riches of the original researches undertaken by our current group of 28 thesis writers.  Perhaps I can provide a very terse “map” of their efforts, by using our life-course trajectories in order to see – very obliquely, not directly — where those students have taken us this term. We are all born into worlds located in specific space and time and within specific social structures: our students’ analyses this term took us into refugee camps of western Asia; also to those first born in Africa, and then by emigration come to the U.S.; into a southern mega-city where access to housing for African Americans has long been problematic; and into other cities where the processes of gentrification are drivers of and driven by macro-social changes, yet also disrupt previous residential patterns, and not in race-neutral ways. Once born, we enter into two rather different “educational” environments.  First are the familial transmission and nurturing of educational aspirations and achievements; these are hugely connected to the status and interventions of our very own parents in our lives, a topic explored by three different students, albeit in different ways.  Thereafter we enter formal school systems: we find that they may go to extremes to nurture already extant educational advantages among elites; alternatively we can find students of that same age in public schools imposing strict disciplines and even “zero-tolerance” policies which, as in the education of elites, is never found to be race-random in practice. Some of us then proceed into college years, where further elements of social selectivity are always to be found: what of those young entrants of modest incomes who are first in their families to go so far? What of students who arrive to play intercollegiate sports, only to witness vast inequalities of funding across different sports? What of opportunities on campus for cross-racial closeness, whether in dorm-mate selection or dating choices? 

We all live in a richly diverse symbolic world of mass media and more individualized social media, all of which may be deeply implicated in shaping our world views and even behaviors. At young ages, involvement in video games may well foster aggression in those deeply involved in such play. Also beginning at young ages, cross-racial exposures to and the embrace of hip-hop music are made problematic: just how do/can white Americans embrace a musical genre so deeply rooted in African American lives? Later, as the young grow somewhat older, they then may have selective media exposures which use celebrity-promotions to sell new “wellness” commodities, often more noteworthy for their exoticism and high prices, not for their efficacy. As is true of the typical wellness-consumers,  women’s symbolic presence in many media are the subjects of multiple theses pursued this spring: they may “drown” in imagery telling them they need to “fix” their bodies; they may find themselves marginalized or – surprisingly over seven full decades – increasingly sexualized in the gendered imagery found on covers of the premier golf periodical in America; women’s roles and also positions within filmdom, a full half-century since publication of The Feminine Mystique, still seem to do a poor job in passing The Bechdel Test; and the subset of “women-in-prison” movies also have an historical set of blinders all their own, including racial ones.

The realities of American prisons also became a core topic for two other theses, one focusing on the policies vs. practices of solitary confinement, the other on the mismatch between stated policies toward, and the actual experiences of, women in prison. Two arenas of intensely contested national values also received careful thesis treatments:  the access (or not) to legal abortion services in two very different U.S. states, and the access of transgender Americans to equal treatment in the public realm, with restroom-access remaining an area of deep political tensions. Speaking of political tensions, the political attitudes and engagements of Latinx Americans in south Florida get very careful attention in one thesis, which meticulously goes far beyond the old stereotypical simplisms we have all encountered, about conservative Cuban Americans.  Finally, the world of work and its current or future discontents get two thoughtful treatments: one explores the lesser levels of workplace-linked happiness found in the USA than in Scandinavia; a second carefully considers a near-future of advanced technologies where robots, automation, and artificial intelligence may profoundly alter the world of work itself.

Sociology on parade indeed! Many congratulations to you all for many weeks of fine work.

Comments by Sociology chair, Professor William F McDonald 

Greetings everyone, and special greetings to the members of the class of 2018!  Welcome to our Sociology Department dinner which we hold to honor the accomplishments of our majors and especially our graduating seniors.  We have been holding these dinners annually since 1990. They have flourished into a major event on our calendar.

For the faculty, it is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to visit with you in a social setting such as this, rather than the classroom.  Here we can get our “good-byes” in early before your friends and family arrive and start that long good-bye process. Here we can talk to you like aunts and uncles and tell you how proud we are of what you have accomplished and how happy we are for you that you wisely chose the right major.  You did not throw your shot away on majors like… or one of those others. Here we can also remind you of some fundamental sociological insights that you have undoubtedly acquired and that seem particularly suitable for this moment. I am thinking of C. Wright Mills’ famous description of the imagination that sociology helps you develop.  Let me quote him:

So this point in your life is a good time to gauge your fate, to locate yourself in your own period, to see how your biography intersects with history.  What can I say? Yes, it can be a terrible lesson. We live on the brink of a nuclear war and the people with their hands on the triggers do not inspire much confidence that they will do the right thing.  On the other hand, it can be a magnificent lesson. Bias and hate are being condemned as evil in an increasing part of the world. There is hope.

My parting thoughts for you seniors are these: 

  1.  You are welcome to as many letters of recommendation as you need.  Never hesitate to ask.
  2. Let us know what you are doing.  Future soci majors want to know what the alums are doing.  
  3. When you eventually endow a chair at Georgetown, please get the spelling right.  It is McDonald, not MacDonald.

Student remarks by Maydee Martinez, Class of 2018

Distinguished Faculty, and peers, Thank you for you being here today. 

My name is Maydee Martinez and like all of you here, am a Senior studying Sociology with a minor in Government — But unlike many of you, I transferred to Georgetown as a Junior in Fall 2016, two years ago. 

I remember when I first heard about Sociology, I was a freshman in high school in the French Baccalaureate program, and was presented with three strands of study to “specialize in.” The first was French Literature and Philosophy, the next was Mathematics and Science, and last but not least, Economics and Sociology, also known as “ES” – I think you can infer which strand I chose. 

I began to see Sociology in ALL aspects of life. When I entered college, I began doing grassroots organizing in my community for the 2014 Midterm election and began to use the introductory theories I learned in my sociology class to strategize… anywhere from recruiting volunteers, creating powerful messages, or simply empathizing  with someone from a different viewpoint. 

When I finally enrolled at Georgetown, I knew exactly what major to pick. Not Government, History, or let alone Economics – but Sociology. I saw the variety of courses and electives online and I was sold… classes on Race and Ethnicity, Food, Japanese Culture, Gender and Sexuality, Poverty and Inequality, Law and Society, Education, and even Beyoncé – but honestly, the list goes on. 

And to some extent, that’s why we’re all here today. We all saw an opportunity to combine our personal and academic interests – and those interests are reflected in all of our senior theses (sorry to remind you guys).  Whether we’re looking at how Georgetown funds it’s athletic teams, how our peers interact with rap and hip-hop music, how gentrification has affected our hometowns, or how Afghani refugees assimilate in different countries.

I’d like to take this time to thank our fearless and entertaining advisor, Dr. Wickham-Crowley, for making our last semester on the Hilltop memorable and putting on this wonderful dinner, the Professors in the Sociology department who had to put up with us for a semester or two, and my classmates for making it all worthwhile.

In these past four years, we have learned a lot and lived a lot – it’s now time to take what we have learned into the “real world” to do something good, and do that well. Each of us are headed in different directions, but we can look back at our experience here at Georgetown, as students of the sociology department, and know we are better prepared for whatever is yet to come. 

Thank you, and best of luck to you all.