June 01, 2015

Summer Vacation: Who Gets One?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As I write, summer break is just beginning at our university. “Have a good summer,” echoes through the hallways as many students and professors say goodbye for a few months. Some students speak of summer jobs, internships, and hanging out with family and friends. A few mentioned exciting vacation plans while classmates look on with envy.

How is summer vacation a sociological issue?

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May 27, 2015

You’ve Graduated! Now What?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

In the beginning of the spring semester, I asked students in my senior seminar class to write down one word that describes how they are feeling about graduating and then to share those words with the class. Although some students displayed words that I was expecting such as “excited,” “ready,” “pride,” and “relief,” many students were not so giddy about graduating. These students held up signs that read “conflicted,” “nervous,” “confused,” “indecisive,” and one of my favorites, “screaming internally.”

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May 18, 2015

A Super Sweet Quince Economy

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Growing up in Chicago, there were parts of the city that we’d go to to buy certain products. If we needed shoes or clothing, we’d walk or take the bus over to Maxwell Street to shop at places like Chernin’s, Mike’s, or the open-air market. If we wanted pan dulce (a traditional Mexican sweet bread) we’d go to Eighteenth Street to check out one of the many panaderias located there.  If my parents were looking for a piece of jewelry as a present for someone, they’d head over to Jeweler’s Row in downtown Chicago on Wabash.  

As I got older and had a little bit of pocket money, my friends and I would walk over to Cermak and Western to check out one of the many trendy (and affordable) clothing shops in that area.  Even now, on my trips back home, I often stop by Eighteenth Street in Pilsen to check out vintage items at one of the many second-hand shops, and by Twenty-Sixth Street to pick-up some traditional Mexican food items that I can’t find in Galesburg.

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May 14, 2015

Probability vs. Certainty

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent class discussion, we talked about the connection between children who have parents who are incarcerated and the likelihood of future incarceration for those children. One student had trouble understanding how all kids in this situation don’t end up in prison someday. After all, don’t we all just follow our parents’ examples?

Children with parents in prison do have a greater likelihood of getting arrested in the future, for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post. The real issue that this student needed to understand was the concept of probability, or the notion of how likely an event is to occur.

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May 08, 2015

Surrogacy: An International Birth Market

SrBy Sally Raskoff

News about the terrible earthquake in Nepal drew attention to the practice of Israeli citizens using Indian surrogates who give birth to their babies in Nepal. The newborns have been sent home with their Israeli parents, yet these surrogates, along with other pregnant surrogates, were left behind. Many of the news articles mention that 26 newborn babies just went home, some with their new parents, while the remaining 100 pregnant surrogates – and those 26 women who had recently given birth – are left in Nepal. Israel’s Interior Minister has evidently just approved allowing the other pregnant surrogates come to Israel to avoid the earthquake aftermath and give birth to healthy babies.

How do we interpret what’s going on here to make sense of it? Use your sociological imagination, of course! Think of theories, theorists, research, terms, and concepts that can help us make sense of this practice.

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May 05, 2015

How Can Sociology Help Explain the Civil Unrest in Baltimore?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

On our last day of class for the spring semester, I asked my classes this question, in order to apply what they learned during the semester to help understand the civil unrest in Baltimore in late April.

The events were triggered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody on April 12, leading many citizens to public protests. After his funeral on April 27, demonstrations took place, and not all of remained peaceful. The news filled with vivid imagery of clashes with police, destruction of property, fire, and looting. In a video that went viral, a mother shown hitting her son and dragging him away from the crowds received praise nationwide.

What was this all about?

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April 28, 2015

Extreme Inequality: Workers vs.CEOs

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman  

Imagine you work full-time as a customer service representative at a call center for one of the giant telecommunication companies. Your job is to help customers deal with a whole array of problems they may have with their wireless devices from poor reception to billing miscalculations to hardware malfunctions. At times, you must talk with irate and agitated callers but you must deal with these customers quickly and expediently or else your job performance will suffer and you may miss out on the potential for year-end bonuses.  You have been working for this company for nearly two years and you make just under $25,000 per year.

 Given the work you do for the company and the salary you earn, how do you think your income should compare to the CEO of this company? Would it be fair that the CEO makes 10 times more than you? 50 times more? 100 times more? 500 times more?  How about 1000 times more than what you earn? This would actually be the reality for you if you worked for T-Mobile. In 2013, the CEO of T-Mobile, John J. Legere, made over 29 million dollars in total compensation—an amount that is greater than 1,100 times what you earned.

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April 24, 2015

The “Starbucks Effect”: Correlation vs. Causation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Earlier this year, several news organizations reported on a study that found that homes near a Starbucks increased in value at a rate higher than others during a fifteen year period. Did Starbucks cause this larger rise in home values?

The headlines seemed to suggest it had: “What Starbucks Has Done to American Home Values,” “Living Near a Starbucks Might Double Your Home’s Value” and “Starbucks Increases Neighborhood, Home Values”—all imply that the presence of Starbucks led to the increase in home value.

This story caught my eye for a number of reasons. While I’m not a coffee drinker, a new Starbucks just opened down the street (okay, about two miles down the street, so not that close) but if its presence further increased our home values that would be a plus. But more to the point, it drew my attention as a sociologist. The headlines seem to confuse causation with correlation, assuming that one variable had a direct impact on the other, rather than coinciding with a number of other factors that come along with the decision to open a new Starbucks.

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April 20, 2015

The "Boy Problem" of the Twenty-first Century

Tigonzales Angel Gonzales head shotBy Teresa Irene Gonzales and Angel Rubiel Gonzalez

Gonzalez holds a Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley and is currently a social studies teacher in New York City

In 2013, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote an op-ed for the New York Times which discussed the growing educational gap between boys and girls within the U.S. Sommers blames much of this gap on what she terms “misguided policies” that perpetuate an educational gender inequity that favors girls over boys. In order to create more boy-friendly classrooms, Sommers advocates for increased play time (recess), single-sex classrooms, and male teachers.

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April 15, 2015

Getting a Job with a Criminal Record

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a competitive job environment, having a criminal record might effectively exclude someone from legal employment. For some jobs, it makes sense to exclude people who have committed specific offenses in the past. No one wants their cable installer to be a convicted burglar, their child’s teacher to be a sex offender, or their accountant to have committed forgery.

But for many people who have past offenses, the charges have less to do with their character than the communities in which they live. Check out this clip from Last Week Tonight, which examines how municipal fines like speeding tickets, parking tickets, and loitering charges can cause low-income residents to end up in jail if they can’t pay the mounting fines:

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