For many, the "American Dream" seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.
For many, the “American Dream” seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.

Immigration is a hot topic, especially with elections coming up. Donald Trump has called immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”, perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric. Common immigration myths include that immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs, burden the economy, and refuse to speak English. The Washington Post covers a report written by a group of Harvard professors, led by sociologist Mary Waters.

  1. “Immigrants are picking up English just as quickly as their predecessors”
In fact, today’s immigrants are learning English faster than their predecessors. This is partially due to how global English is, which means that immigrants are more likely to have been exposed to it or to have taken English classes already. Additionally, American schools are becoming better at teaching English to immigrant students.
  1. “Immigrants tend to have more education than before”
Historically, immigrants were low skilled workers from southern and eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Recently, however, immigrants are more likely to have four years of education on average. Approximately, 28% of recent immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a 19% increase since 1980.
  1. “Immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes—but they soon learn”
In fact, immigrant neighborhoods are considered to be some of the safest neighborhoods as immigrants are least likely to commit crimes. Native-born men aged 18-39 are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than immigrants. While immigrants are initially fearful of picking up criminal influences, by the second and third generation, they are more likely to engage in criminal behavior.
  1. “Immigrants are more likely to have jobs than the native-born”
Immigrants are determined to find employment, and they are more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts. Between 2003-2013, 86% immigrants were employed compared to 82-83% native-born Americans. This also holds true for men who have not earned a high-school diploma, where 84% immigrants are employed compared to 58% native-born Americans.

While the report combats common myths about immigration, it does not give a concrete answer as to whether today’s immigrants have the same opportunities as earlier generations of new Americans, despite being educated, staying away from crime, holding jobs, and paying taxes.

An Italian State Television interview with Dr. Orsini.
An Italian State Television interview with Dr. Orsini.


In light of recent terrorist attacks by Da’esh (ISIS, ISIL) on Paris, Beirut, Yola, and many more cities, the world is paying attention to the terrorist organization’s activities outside of Iraq and Syria. Conversations have focused topics from who these terrorists are, whose deaths we mourn, and what these attacks are meant to accomplish.

Alessandro Orsini, a political sociologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, told Sputnik Italia News that Da’esh is choosing to launch foreign attacks because they want to split societies and public opinion, causing civic and political arguments around military interventions. The group is very intentional about which countries it chooses to terrorize. Orsini references the attack on Madrid by Al Qaeda in 2004, which resulted in Spain withdrawing from Iraq (and a reprieve from Al Qaeda in Spain).

Additionally, Orsini points out a change in Da’esh’s approach to recruitment. Where initially they were focused on “importing” terrorists to fulfill their goal of creating a Caliphate, now the group is also “exporting” terrorists to attack foreign cities. Orsini concludes with some hope: he believes the changes in recruitment and stretch to attack European cities is proof of Da’esh’s weakness as a terrorist organization.

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Photo via Flickr

“Sketchfactor,” “,” “,” and “Operation GroupMe” are just a few of the digital services available to city dwellers hoping to monitor their neighborhood’s crime rates and connect business owners and community members to law enforcement with greater ease. But are they just a more efficient method of racial profiling and criminalization?

That’s the question that Leslie Hinkson, associate professor of sociology at Georgetown University, grapples with in a recent interview in a Washington Post article that investigates the effect of these surveillance applications in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood:

The group has codified its own language and operating culture. African Americans are referred to as “aa.” Hundreds of images of unaware African Americans circulate in the group.

“We should be honest here,” Hinkson continued:

Crime does occur in Georgetown. And quite often when people describe the perpetrators of those crimes, they’re usually young men of color. But that doesn’t mean every person of color is an automatic suspect.

Read the article here.

Protest at the closing of the Chowchilla Valley State Prison for Women in CA, 2013. Daniel Auraz, Flickr CC.
Protest at the closing of the Chowchilla Valley State Prison for Women in CA, 2013. Daniel Auraz, Flickr CC.

Women account for about 7% of the U.S. prison population. Compared to men, they are much more likely to experience poverty, mental health issues, and various forms of victimization prior to being incarcerated. And while they’re in prison, women are more likely to experience mental health problems, chronic medical conditions, and sexual misconduct by staff members. These issues do not disappear after release, but are coupled with difficulty finding adequate employment, public assistance, and health care.

Sociologist Susan Sered was recently featured in Sojourners, which explored her advice to faith communities helping formerly incarcerated women. Drawing on eight years of research with criminalized women in the Boston area, Sered suggests churches and communities of faith can provide shared knowledge and support in the form of information about housing, employment, health systems, and social networks. She believes faith communities can help women make meaning out of their suffering by reframing their incarceration as experience that can provide them with special insight, rather than a reason to blame or ostracize them. Sered says, “criminalized women need to hear these powerful messages from religious communities.”

Read the full article here.

CNN covers the Word of Life death in upstate NY. Click for report.
CNN covers the Word of Life death in upstate NY. Click for report.

Recently in New York, two siblings were severely beaten—one to death—by their parents and other members of the congregation of the Word of Life for wanting to leave the “faith.” This cult is based in a former school building in which members of the church live and congregate in isolation from the greater community.

Sociologist Bernadette Barton told Broadly Vice:

When a group is isolated, they’re not beholden to a larger organization. If they’re part of a hierarchy, they’ll answer to other folks, so there are more likely to be other eyes on abuse and interventions into it. The more isolated a group is, the more likely violence can emerge.

Barton describes a “sin/fall” paradigm, where members of the cult are faced with psychological, emotional, and physical threats if they deviate from church ideology. She elaborates:

It excludes people, creates a climate of fear, scares participants, makes people monitor their own and other’s behaviors and thoughts, enables physical and sexual abuse, while absolving all individuals of wrong-doing since all of this is done (presumably) by divine order.

Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Image via Flickr
Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Tony Webster, Flickr CC. Click for original.

Gun violence has become a constant in American life. As of October 13th, there have been 10,348 shooting related deaths and 21,012 shooting-related injuries in 2015 already, per the Gun Violence Archive. What happens to the thousands who are shot and injured each year? Jooyoung Lee is a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies the lives of gunshot victims. In a recent interview with The Trace, Lee talked about the different difficulties his subjects—mostly young, working-class black men—have faced navigating their lives and treating their pain since being shot:

Getting shot really changes a person’s social world; it makes them suspicious of other people. You see them going from young and vibrant to reclusive. They go to public settings, see a crowd, and get anxious that someone is affiliated with the person who shot them. The Fourth of July is a very stressful day for gunshot victims. A lot of the young men talk about how the sound of fireworks would give them flashbacks. I had one guy who told me he was out at a bowling alley with friends, the first time he’d been out since he’d been shot, and he was having a great time, and then the sounds of pins crashing caused a flashback. He had the feeling that everyone in the place was potentially the killer. This kind of thing makes it very difficult to resume everyday life.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Photo by Gideon Tsang via
Photo by Gideon Tsang via

Following yet another mass shooting, social scientists and the American community at large are engaging in some familiar conversations. While some folks are looking at mental illness as a trigger to violence and others are asking for gun laws that would put restrictions on gun ownership, sociologist Tristan Bridges wants to draw some focus on the role of masculinity in violence.

Bridges told The Christian Science Monitor that he believes the mass shooters are “over-conforming to masculinity, because they perceive themselves, in some way or another, as emasculated… It’s a terrible statement about American masculinity, to say that when you’re emasculated, one way to respond is to open fire.”

A found notebook photographed by Thomas R. Stegelmann, Flickr CC.
A found notebook photographed by Thomas R. Stegelmann, Flickr CC.


Acting out in class? Your race could be an influential factor in whether you’re referred to the school psychologist of the local police force, says a new study featured in Sociology of Education. According to study author David Ramey, disadvantaged school districts—those with low graduation rates, high unemployment, and low incomes—are more likely to punish black students for behavioral issues than they are to seek medical or psychological support services.

Ramey recently explained his findings to The St. Louis American, noting that despite decreases in overall crime rates since the 1990s, the increase in media coverage of crime and the rash of school shootings have increased concerns about school safety. However, some students are being policed significantly more than others:

The bulk of my earlier research looked at how, for the same minor levels of misbehaviors—for example, classroom disruptions, talking back—white kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problems, while black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn.

As a result, school districts with higher percentages of black students also have significantly higher rates of expulsions, suspensions, and law enforcement referrals than predominantly white schools.

For more research on how school punishments affect later educational achievement, see “The Social Costs of Punishment, From Prisoners to Pupils,” and, for research on how grade retention affects learning, see “Held Back.

Not your average "going-to-the-chapel" story. Clinton Correctional facility's "Church of the Good Thief," built by prisoners in the 1930s. Image via Boston Public Library.
Not your average “going-to-the-chapel” story. Clinton Correctional facility’s “Church of the Good Thief,” built by prisoners in the 1930s. Image via Boston Public Library.


They say that some people look for love in all the wrong places. For Joyce “Tillie” Mitchell, one of those places may have been prison. When inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, it was later revealed that Mitchell, supervisor of the prison tailor shop, had provided tools and assistance to the escaped inmates and was romantically involved with Matt. Mitchell’s actions seem shocking, but within prisons, this phenomenon is surprisingly common.

As explained in an article by Slate with a little help from criminologist Stephen C. McGuinn of the sociology department at Quinnipiac University, “absolute rule enforcement [in prison] is probably inappropriate (and unlikely). Context generates situations that warrant departures from codified rule. And autonomy allows prison staff to appear human and reasonable—moved by situational factors.” Just like the average workplace, a prison’s employee rules aren’t strictly enforced; employees have some freedom in how they conduct themselves and with whom they interact.

Slate details research on prison inmate-employee relationships specifically. For female prison employees in male prisons, harassment from inmates and distance from male colleagues are both common, and when a prisoner makes a romantic gesture toward a female staffer, it is occasionally well received. For her part, Mitchell has been arrested for aiding and abetting the prison escape, and, after weeks on the lam, prisoner Richard Matt has been killed by police and David Sweat has been taken into custody as he apparently attempted to make his way to the Canadian border. In the media, Mitchell has been castigated, called everything from foolish and unprofessional to criminal and crazy. Sociologically speaking, though, her actions aren’t isolated.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Minneapolis, MN, April 29, 2015. Click for original.
Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Minneapolis, MN, April 29, 2015. Click for original.


As the nation’s gaze is set on Baltimore, sociologists have begun to talk to the press about the massive peaceful protests, outbreaks of rioting and violence, and media depictions of the city as it mourns the death of Freddie Gray (as of today, Friday, May 1, ruled a homicide and under investigation). Much of the emerging public criticism is aimed at media sources and public officials depicting protests as nothing but violent, unfounded riots led by “thugs.” Stefanie DeLuca sees these language choices as important, telling the Washington Post,

I thought the governor calling Baltimore a “state of emergency” was a colossal fail. These framings don’t help us—they take away from the humanity of the people here who have grievances. It takes away from the incredible potential of a city that has been struggling and fighting for everything it has.

Paul Bagguley, whose work focuses on race and social movements, also spoke to the Washington Post, contributing to a piece on looting during riots. He focused specifically on how small outbreaks of crime can happen once large-scale, otherwise civil protests become riots:

During riots, the normal rules of behavior are suspended—participants often describe a sense of freedom—so that normal respect for private property is suspended. In addition, contemporary societies are consumer societies where one’s status and participation in society is defined by consumer goods, hence those excluded from consumption—the poor—are during riot conditions able to obtain valued items.

Other sociologists spoke more broadly to the systemic inequalities that have long divided Baltimore and put men like Freddie Gray in increasingly subjugated, vulnerable positions. In a recent article at Mother Jones, Peter J. Cookson explained how it’s not just physical segregation that creates and reifies inequalities in health, wealth, education, and incarceration, but also disparities in housing safety, extracurricular activities, and educational programs in schools.

In an Op-Ed for The Tennessean, Tony Brown suggests paying closer attention to the evidence of ongoing racism in everyday American life:

We must document the significance of race and racism before we can address it. Make it routine to collect evidence that allows us to address it. Otherwise, we are bound to run in circles debating whether a problem exists, while things get worse.