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President FDR may have been onto something when he talked about the dangers of fear itself, and he wasn’t the only president to be aware of its effect, either. A recent article in TIME describes the fear that President Trump has spread as a means to justify his political actions. From Trump’s claims of Christians being executed in large numbers in the Middle East, to his assertions that illegal immigrants bring drugs and crime, and even wildly speculating that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years, Trump and his administration have used fear to galvanize supporters and threaten his critics.

By no means is Trump the first president to use this approach. President Bush used fear as a tool to deploy troops for the war on terrorism, and Clinton capitalized on myths about black delinquents to push his crime bills. In fact, Nixon once uttered the famous lines, “People react to fear, not love.” However, Barry Glassner, sociologist and author of The Culture of Fear, claims that Trump is the best he has ever seen at using fear, saying.

“[Trump’s] created an entire climate of fear through this constant social media work that then creates a feedback loop. He tweets. The media writes about it. Cable TV has a panel that takes it seriously … His formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid. And I am the cure.” 

Photo by Logan Ingalls, Flickr CC

A recent article in the Washington Post points out that Trump’s Cabinet holds fewer advanced degrees than any first-term Cabinet in the last 24 years, and is the least diverse of the last three administrations. Interestingly, the only two minorities that Trump has chosen are more educated than their white counterparts. This a classic example of minorities in America being expected to have more qualifications than whites, as explained by economist Darrick Hamilton, who says,

“Rarely will we find an example of an uncredentialed black person in an elite position … That black person is usually certainly qualified, if not overqualified, with regard to their education.”

Furthermore, education alone is not sufficient. Duke professor of public policy, William Darity, explains that education cannot close the huge wealth or unemployment gap between blacks and whites. Thus, according to sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, “African Americans have to be overeducated to be underemployed.”

During the election, Trump fared well among people without a college education. In fact, Obama’s administration was criticized by conservatives for being full of people with advanced degrees from elite universities, illustrating a negative shift in how people perceive those who are highly educated.  The fact that Trump’s cabinet is one of the least educated is not surprising considering campaign rhetoric and American political attitudes. Cottom continues,

“As higher education has become more accessible to more diverse groups of people, the general population has become more distrustful of education and expertise. They think there must be something suspect about education, because how great can Harvard really be if someone like Barack Obama got there?”

Photo by Mobilus In Mobili, Flickr CC

The first few weeks of the Trump presidency have been eventful, most notably because many of the political actions taken by his administration have been met with widespread protests and marches. With some help from social scientists, a recent article from Vox reviews some of the ways to make protesting more effective.

Though protests can be invigorating, they often fail to influence those in power, says Indiana University sociologist Fabio Rojas. That’s not to say that protesting isn’t worthwhile, however; it just has to be done well. As U-Penn professor Daniel Q. Gillion explains, protest can make a change, but it’s not easy. Some conditions have to be met, including persistence and a significant threshold of people.

First, ensure that that the message is as prominent as possible. The way protests normally go, things can be chaotic or confusing. U-Wisconsin sociologist Pamela E. Oliver states that it’s like having a dozen different sports teams on one field. Research does show, however, that longer and more salient protests predict more change than short-lived and unfocused ones.

Next, try to gather similar causes under one banner. U-Maryland sociologist Dana Fisher describes how the recent Women’s March was not just about women’s issues; many people were there to protest Trump’s comments regarding immigrants or LGBT groups as well. Holding separate protests for each individual issue would dilute their impact, and one large and multifaceted demonstration is more effective. Remember that protesting itself is just a small part of the puzzle. We often turn to the Civil Rights movement as a comparable, historical example of protests in action, but even the Civil Rights movement was about more than protest alone. Boycotting businesses and the bus system was also instrumental in bringing about change, for example, something today’s protestors may want to keep in mind.

Finally, remember that proactive protesting is also important; demonstrating to prevent something from happening is more effective than doing so after the fact. As movements continue to resist discriminatory policies, they would do well to recognize some of these sociological suggestions.   

Photo by mosaic36, Flickr CC

Serving in the military can lead to an array of physical injuries or psychological traumas. But the media most often focuses on one particular trauma when veterans commit violent crimes — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sociologist Ardath Whynackt talked to CBC Radio about how the media’s focus on PTSD can be counterproductive. 

To start, Whynackt points out that there is no evidence that PTSD makes an individual dangerous, despite the number of movies, TV shows, and characters wherein “PTSD” leads characters to do something crazy. The media’s obsession with PTSD often obscures deeper issues, like the way we socialize men to be aggressive in the first place. For example, news broke in early January that a Canadian veteran murdered his family and committed suicide afterwards; it was later revealed that this man was suffering from PTSD and the media focused solely on that aspect of the case. Whynackt explains,

“When we talk about PTSD and we frame the conversation in really narrow terms around a lack of care for veterans – and I do agree there is a lack of care for veterans and we do need more – but we end up talking only about him as if he wasn’t accountable for his actions … If we want to talk about programs and services to prevent incidents like this, we need to be talking about not only trauma supports for all men, not just veterans, but we also need to be talking about the ways in which we socialize young men to take their distress out on others using anger and violence.”

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr CC

American demographics are shifting — in less than 30 years, the majority of Americans will be nonwhite. Much of this shift is due to the influx of Asian and Latin American immigrants, many of whom migrate to traditional gateway cities such as Los Angeles or New York. At the same time, however, many of these immigrants go to smaller urban areas, suburbs, and rural communities. Using an abundance of research by sociologists, including Daniel Lichter, Merlin Chowkwanyun, Maria Krysan, and Samuel Kye, a recent Vox article reports that alongside this increasing diversification in suburbia is a parallel phenomenon: white Americans are beginning to self-segregate.

Lichter’s research indicates that although residential segregation within cities has remained stable for the past 25 years, segregation elsewhere has become increasingly common. Krysan’s findings suggest that white residents move towards less diverse neighborhoods than Hispanic or African American residents. Specifically, white families are moving to gated communities or more predominantly white rural areas, what Licther labels “exburbs.” Krysan states,

“In the last several decades, the demographic characterization is less about the flight — less about whites fleeing a certain type of neighborhood — and more about decisions that people make when looking at where they’re going to move next.”

This most recent iteration of segregation is distinct from the “white flight” out of cities and into the suburbs characteristic of 1960’s residential segregation, and more about neighborhood choice. Rather than simply fleeing from minorities, this new kind of residential self-segregation involves fleeing to a white neighborhood.

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Prospective college students consider a wide variety of factors when deciding on a university. While academics and career opportunities are often high on the list, colleges known as top party schools have a special appeal. Everyone loves a good time, but as Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade describes in her new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, this idea of college as “fun” is a fairly recent trend some troubling consequences.

In a feature with Time Magazine, Dr. Wade explains how American universities changed from predominantly strict, formal institutions to environments known for casual hookups and wild parties. Whereas in colonial America, colleges were highly regulated places, as the student body underwent a shift, so did campus culture. Wade explains,

“They [colonial college students] were generally obedient, but as the eighteenth century came to a close, colleges were increasingly filled with wealthy sons of elite families. These young men weren’t as interested in higher education as they were in a diploma that would ratify their families’ hoarding of wealth and power. Predictably, they had a much lower tolerance for submission.”

This rebellious attitude led to widespread expulsions across many elite universities, as well as the early foundations of Greek life. Fraternities became hubs for parties, alcohol, and casual sex, a legacy that still holds strong on many college campuses across the United States. And while the party scene can be tempting for many, American Hookup highlights how this emphasis on noncommittal and unemotional sex also sets the stage for widespread rape and sexual assault.

“Thanks to the last few hundred years, most colleges now offer a very specific kind of nightlife, controlled in part by the same set of privileged students that brought partying to higher education in the first place, and designed to promote, as much as possible, the ‘big four-year org’ that students both desire and dread.”

Photo by Matt Montagne. Flickr CC

“How long do you bake chicken?”

“Do whales sleep?”

“How many yards are in a league?”

The all seeing, all-knowing Google search engine has helped many of us find answers to our many questions. When we need something answered, we simply “Google it.” This popular search engine uses a complicated algorithm to generate results, but last year it’s legitimacy was questioned when it was revealed that the top link provided for the query, “Did the Holocaust happen?” was a neo-Nazi website run by white-supremacists denying its existence.

In a recent article on The Conversation, sociologist Thomas Maher describes the struggle that the Holocaust Museum had to go through in order to combat the false information online generated by the neo-Nazi website. Maher provides insight on how Google’s search engine, which tries to pinpoint the answers users are looking for, can be manipulated to spread false information, especially in the conspiracy theory community.

“(I)t’s clear to me that sites intentionally presenting misinformation and propaganda are preying upon Google’s eagerness to answer questions. These sites, peddling what is sometimes called ‘fake news,’ capitalize on people’s tendency to ask those questions directly on Google.”

Maher suggests that the best way for experts to respond to false information is to participate in public writing and blogging themselves, using relevant and searchable key words and phrases to ensure their research-based writing is seen. Maher points out that this will not stop false information from being presented, but the existence of credible facts alongside misleading information is a start.

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Everyone knows that having kids is expensive, and the dollars really start adding up when you consider lost wages or salary which comes with having to be a stay-at-home parent. Furthermore, even if you enroll in a daycare, the best facilities are often quite expensive and highly selective. What are parents to do? Though it rubs against the grain of conventional American wisdom, Germany offers an interesting model. Recently, as described in the Atlantic, a German court ruled that parents can sue for lost wages if they are unable to find a daycare facility for their children.

In the U.S., where families are considered a more private matter, this seems like a big move for the government to make. Remember, however, that Germany is one of many countries where the state is more involved in such matters; in fact, Germany has taken steps to ensure universal, low-cost daycare. Here in the U.S., where families looking for child care providers have to turn to a market with very little regulation, cheaper options are often imperfect solutions. The cheaper option — home daycare — can be risky. Research by sociologists Julia Wrigley and Joanna Dreby shows that the mortality rate for infants is seven times higher in home day cares versus daycare facilities.

Though the German model of daycare as a public interest seems removed from American norms, the day care system in the U.S. seems ripe for renovation.

Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC.
Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC.

Sociology thoroughly embraces the “social construction” of race — that the ways we see, interpret, and act upon people’s “race” are actually created and maintained because of social norms. This line of thinking hasn’t caught on everywhere and medicine — especially since the completion of the Human Genome Project — often treats race as a biological, scientific category. This misunderstanding of race can have detrimental consequences, particularly when medical students are taught to use race as a shortcut for diagnosis.

Law and sociology professor Dorothy Roberts described this problem to Stat News:

“Right now, students are learning an inaccurate and unscientific definition of race. It’s simply not true that human beings are naturally divided into genetically distinct races. So it is not good medical practice to treat patients that way.”

She goes on to explain the relationship between race and health:

“It’s not that race is irrelevant to health, but it’s not relevant to health because of innate differences. It’s relevant because racism affects people’s health.”

Sociologist and physician Brooke Cunningham has taken a hands-on approach, giving lectures to first-year students at the University of Minnesota Medical School about race. She says, 

“People have been talking about race as a social construction for years and years and years and years and years and years and years. But there’s been a slow uptake of that understanding in medicine.”

Cunningham teaches students about the history of racial categories, which have changed drastically over time and space, and she describes how stereotypes and misunderstandings of race have influenced medicine over time. With the lack of understanding regarding the social construction of race in the medical profession, lectures like Cunningham’s provide a key intervention in the future of health care and the treatment of patients of all races.

Photo by 401(K) 2012, Filckr CC
Photo by 401(K) 2012, Filckr CC

Although industrialized nations are believed to have better health care, fewer health risks, and longer life expectancy, a recent report from the National Center For Health Statistics reports that life expectancy actually dropped in the United States for the first time in two decades. Chief among the causes of this shift is an increase in death due to diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Numerically speaking, the drop in life expectancy was small – in 2014 the life expectancy was 78.9 years, compared to 78.8 in 2015.  Nevertheless, it is rather alarming, especially when comparing it to the World Health Organization report, which stated an increase in global life expectancy by five years since 2000. Whereas the rest of the world is, on average, living longer, this trend doesn’t hold in the U.S., particularly among white males, white females, and black males

The Huffington Post talked to Jarron Saint Onge, professor of sociology at Kansas University, about these findings. Saint Onge said that this drop in life expectancy challenges the very idea of what it means to be an advanced society. Saint Onge believes that the effects are most notable in poorer communities, saying, “It has to do with smoking, obesity, lack of quality diets and exercise, which are really responses to poverty.”