Tag Archives: social networks

Social Networking and the National Movement to “Know Your IX”

I absolutely love this photograph of a collage on the wall of an activist in the rather new national movement to hold colleges and universities accountable for sexual assault.  Referencing Title IX and the “bigger picture,” it documents cross-college efforts to use the amendment to ensure that sex crimes on campuses don’t interfere with women’s rights to equal access to education.

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What is exciting is that this is a national movement. The many college names pinned to the board are just some of the schools that have filed, are filing, or will file Title IX complaints with the Office for Civil Rights. “Oxy” is my school.

I’ve been somewhat involved with Oxy’s role in this movement — the credit goes to Drs. Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks and the dozens of survivors who, as part of the coalition, have publicly and confidentially shared their stories — but I’ve had the pleasure of talking to journalists about our case.  Regarding the national movement, they often ask me “Why now?”

Why Now?

This is a tough question to answer and, first and foremost, credit goes to the extraordinary people at the center of this fight, such as Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, Dana Bolger, and Alexandra Brodsky at Know Your IX.  As Margaret Mead famously said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

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Importantly, though, the efforts of this small group have been greatly enhanced by the internet and, specifically, social networking sites.  Students (and sometimes faculty, staff, and administrators) are no longer confronting these issues alone.  They are reaching out across campuses and talking with each other; they are teaching each other how to file federal complaints; they are building and sharing templates; they are sharing stories of institutional foot dragging and spin and developing effective resistance and protest strategies.

For example, Annie Clark, who filed federal complaints against the University of North Carolina, helped Profs. Dirks and Heldman at Occidental College file their complaints: “Over the past few months,” she writes:

I have spent countless hours with them on Skype and the phone in order to share information and help the[m] write their complaints. Yet, six months ago, I had never even heard of Occidental College — and many of the 37 women there who filed had not yet heard about Title IX protection against gender discrimination beyond athletics.

These coalitions are creating both activist networks and fast friends. This is a picture of students at Swarthmore (Swat) showing their love for students at Occidental (Oxy). Both campuses filed Title IX complaints on the same day:

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As Prof. Dirks explains, this collaboration is a big deal:

[L]earning the stories of other survivors who are actively pushing their colleges and universities to create safe and equitable learning environments has opened the floodgates of what students now feel empowered to do.

This is all possible, of course, because the internet is still at least a somewhat democratized technology. You and I are equals on the internet, at least in principle.  So we all have the opportunity to produce content.  In contrast, other forms of media — TV, radio, movies, magazines, books — typically offer us only the opportunity to consume.

The activists in this movement have a platform and a megaphone, then, metaphorically speaking.  The technology — and our regulation of it in ways that preserve its democratic nature — is helping enable this movement.  Just as the TV made a huge difference in shifting popular opinion about the Civil Rights Movement.  Accordingly, we need to remember this when corporations fight to own and control the internet and its distribution.  For reasons like this one, we should be fighting back with the goal of making the internet a public utility.  Democracy depends on it.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Social Class and the College Choices of High School Valedictorians

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Pacific Standard.

Sociologist Alexandria Walton Radford has some new research that is rather disheartening.  Radford was interested in the college choices of ambitious and high-performing high school students from different class backgrounds.  Using a data set with about 900 high school valedictorians, she asked whether students applied to highly selective colleges, if they got in, and whether they matriculated.

She found a stark class difference on all these variables, especially between high socioeconomic status (SES) students and everyone else.  Over three-quarters of high SES valedictorians (79%) applied to at least one highly selective college.  In contrast, only 59% of middle SES and 50% of low SES valedictorians did the same.  Admission and matriculation rates followed suit.

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Interviews with a smaller group of these valedictorians shed light on why we see such dramatic differences in the application choices of low, middle, and high SES students.  Radford explains that most students applied to schools with which they were already familiar. High SES students were much more likely to know people who had attended highly selective colleges, so they were more comfortable applying.  They also felt more confident that they’d be successful at such an institution; less affluent students were more intimidated by these schools.

Radford concludes by arguing that it’s a mistake to leave decisions about whether and how to apply for college admission to families.  Doing so, she writes, “allows the advantages (and disadvantages) of one generation to be passed on to the next generation.”  School-based college guidance would go some way towards evening out the differences and making higher education admissions more meritocratic.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Family Members in Need: Why Some Middle Class Blacks Can’t Get Ahead

Cross-posted at Policy Mic and The Huffington Post.

The gap between the household wealth of Black and White families is massive.  Today the median wealth held by White households is 20 times that of Black households.  There are lots of reasons for this difference and a new study offers great data on one of them: the need to assist poor relatives.

Kevin Hartnett, at Braniac, writes:

Middle-income blacks are more than twice as likely as middle-income whites to have a poor sibling and more than four times as likely to have parents below the poverty line. And because of these relationships, they’re called upon more often to provide financial assistance.

Sociology graduate student Rourke O’Brien used data on spending and other financial patterns among Americans to test whether this is a significant source of the wealth gap (link).  He found that, at all but the most low income level, Black households are more likely than White households to give money to struggling relatives.  And the wealthier the Black household, the more likely they were to help others.

The graph below illustrates this.  The vertical axis represents the proportion of households offering assistance and the horizontal axis represents increasing income levels (in thousands of dollars).

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The lesson is simple, but all too often unnoticed.  Due to hundreds of years of enslavement and discrimination, African Americans are more likely to be poor than Whites. If you grow up poor then most of the people in your family are poor.  Accordingly, even if you “make it out” and arrive in the middle class (income-wise), you will likely be less financially secure than a person that earns the same income but came from a middle class family.  That person can put all of their extra money towards buying a home (and earning equity), retirement, additional degrees, starting a business, and sending their kids to college.

But the poor person who earns a middle-class income might use a significant portion of their income keeping their parents’ heat on, helping their little brother go to college, or buying back-to-school clothes for their nieces and nephews.  This makes it much harder for poor and working class people who become middle class to stay that way.  And the cycle continues.

Via Citings and Sightings.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

On Twitter, It’s Beer Before Liquor*

At the journal Epidemiology, John Cunningham published a proof-of-concept article aimed to show that Twitter is a useful and viable method of data collection.

His data captured the incidences of the words “wine,” “beer,” and “vodka” over the course of a week.  The figure shows that people are tweeting about these spirits more-or-less in unison, that they tend to do so increasingly towards the end of each day, and that wine and beer are weekday favorites, but vodka comes out ahead on the weekends, especially as the night wears on:

So, I thought that was kinda neat!  Now we know something about when and what people are (tweeting about) drinking and also that Twitter is good for something other than sending people messages that everyone else can see, but no one else can understand.

*Via Neuroskeptic, from whom I borrowed this great title.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Network Effect

Network effect is a concept from economics that explains situations in which something becomes more valuable as more people use it. The classic example is the telephone; as more people and businesses adopted telephones, they became more useful (you could call a larger number of people you might wish to contact). More usage increased the value of the product, both for existing users and potential users. Social media work much the same way — an issue Google has faced as they try to pull enough users into Google+ to make it competitive with Facebook.

Over the weekend Matthew Hurst posted a video at Data Mining that illustrates the network effect…with dancers using an open area at the Sasquatch music festival. The video starts out a little slow; one guy starts dancing in the field, and a second guy joins him. For about a minute, it’s just the two of them. At 0:54, a third dancer appears. Through all of this, the surrounding crowd mostly ignores them, showing no inclination to participate. But at 1:12, a couple more people arrive, following immediately by more, and suddenly we’ve reached a tipping point: that open area is now a highly desirable spot to dance. People start running in from all directions, and many who had been ignoring the dancers suddenly jump up and join. It’s a great illustration of instances in which use drives more and more use:

Are Social Networking Site Users Compassionate?

Cross-posted at Compassionate Societies.

new study from Pew, based upon a large national survey, found that people reported a lot more cruelty and the absence of kindness that many would expect. This implies that social networking sites (SNS) could use a lot more compassion.

Among adults, 85% say that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind. Fewer teens said the same, only 69%.  More, social networking sites contributed to real life problems: including arguments and physical fights with friends, family members, teachers, or co-workers.  In all categories, teens were about twice as likely to report that SNS got them into trouble:

Racial minority populations encountered an even more cruel environment on SNS. Forty-two percent of Black and 33% of Hispanic SNS users said they frequently or sometimes saw language, images, or humor that they found offensive, compared with 22% of White SNS users.

Interestingly, people who used social networking sites on a daily basis were far more likely to report experiencing negative things:

SNS users also reported positive experiences, suggesting that, for many, social networking is a mixed bag of good and bad:

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Ron Anderson, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, has written many books and hundreds of articles, mostly on technology. In his retirement, he is doing research and writing on compassion and suffering and maintains the website CompassionateSocieties.org.

The Bias of Objectivity in U.S. Journalism

Scholars who study journalism, myself included, have found that efforts by journalists to stay neutral often backfire, resulting in exactly the opposite effect they desire.  Journalists, for example, may try to balance “both sides” of a contentious issue, seeking out authoritative sources to give a credible account of each position.  But, in seeking out authoritative people, they simultaneously offer a public platform to the very people who are already powerful.

Along these lines, Describing early coverage of the Vietnam War, Hallin (1986: 25) writes:

…most of the reporting, in the best tradition of objective journalism, ‘just gave the facts.’  But they were not just any facts.  They were official facts, facts about what the president said and what ‘officials here believe.’  The effect of ‘objectivity’ was not to free the news of political influence, but to open wide the channel through which official influence flowed (my emphasis).

More, because journalists need highly-authoritative sources in order to do their job, they need to cultivate relationships with them.  Likewise, authorities need reporters to help them get their stories to the public.

Powerful reporters and powerful people, then, become… friendly.  Reporters may try to avoid saying these that their regular sources wouldn’t want said, partly because they like them and are influenced them, and partly because they need them for the next story and the next.

I thought of this research when Jay Livingston posted this picture, on the Montclair SocioBlog, of Alan Greenspan and David Brooks having lunch together:

Note: The photo was removed at the request of the person who took it. Sorry.

Greenspan is the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Brooks is a decorated journalist.

Source: Hallin, D. (1986) The ‘Uncensored War’: The Media and Vietnam. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

How Insular are Academic Departments?

Academic disciplines sometimes seem isolated from each other.  Like seems to speak to like.  This, it is sometimes worried, may lead to stultifying agreement within fields. Meanwhile, each field solves the same problem in different ways, unbeknownst to the next.

It simply isn’t true, it turns out, that scholars don’t cite research in other fields.  Nor do all fields have the same level of insularity.  Illustrating this is the network map below, featured by the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The connections between disciplines represent how often academic articles published by scholars in each field link to other fields.  The results are pretty interesting:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.