Updated August 1, 2018

As the annual job market season rapidly approaches for sociology, you may be wondering if you want (to apply for) a job at a liberal arts college. None of us earn our PhDs at liberal arts colleges and if you did not attend one for undergrad you may just be relying on myths about what it means to be a liberal arts professor. Some of those myths may come from people who don’t know much about liberal arts colleges either or want you to only apply to large research institutions.

Like so-called R1 institutions, professors at liberal arts colleges are responsible for and assessed based on their research, teaching, and service, but at liberal arts colleges, the emphasis is different. The best way I have heard it said is that at R1s when you are evaluated (possibly for tenure) they start by looking at your research. If that is not up to their standards, they don’t care how good you are as a classroom instructor. At a liberal arts college, they first evaluate your teaching. If your teaching does not reach high standards, they don’t really care if you are a rock star researcher. Occasionally, you will see a news story of students at an R1 in an uproar because their favorite professor was denied tenure, even though they were incredibly engaging and inspiring, readily available for advising in office hours, and taught them how to think critically unlike anyone else.

This doesn’t mean that you are free to completely focus on teaching at a liberal arts college.

Most liberal arts colleges that hire tenure-track positions still want/require you to be engaged in your field of research. However, this may mean they expect that you will publish 2-5 articles or a single book before tenure (applied for in year six), not per year. Additionally, some R1 departments have expectations that your work will be published in a very limited number of top-tier journals (AJS, ASR, etc.). Liberal arts colleges want you to publish your work in double-blind, peer-reviewed journals, but many will provide much more leeway regarding the journal’s rank.

Some liberal arts colleges are better at facilitating research than others. What is the teaching load? Are you required to teach two, three or four classes a semester? If you teach a 2:2 you should have ample time to also engage in more research and you will likely be expected to produce more. A 3:3 load? Well, you can crunch things out in the summer. A 4:4 load? Forget it. Does the college provide a pre-tenure research leave or course reduction? Some now give tenure-track faculty a semester without teaching responsibilities in their fourth or fifth year. This can be a huge help in getting new projects underway or finalizing revise and resubmits. Are there internal research funds available? Can you hire students as RAs? When considering these jobs, look for the signals the liberal arts colleges are sending regarding the importance of your research. Are they setting you up for success? Do the resources they provide align with their expectations of productivity? Hopefully, the Dean of Faculty is professional and clear regarding their expectations. I was fortunate enough to have a very clear picture from a Dean of what was expected of me to increase my chances of tenure (a ballpark number of articles, positive or improving course evaluations, and being an engaged member of the faculty/campus community). I know of others who are not as fortunate. Sometimes a new Dean wants to raise the ranking of the college and places the responsibility on the faculty to publish in the highest ranking journals, even though there is no other institutional support to help you make that happen. Others I have talked to get only vague, even opaque responses when asking about the expectations for tenure and one colleague even said her Dean wouldn’t count publications from her dissertation!? Of course, the Dean of Faculty is not the only one contributing to that decision, but can certainly be a hurdle.

Thinking about the tenure process, they are offering you a job for life. They likely want to make sure you are not a “one-hit wonder” in regards to your research. Did you squeeze a book or a few articles out of your dissertation? Great. That’s definitely the first step, but then before tenure, your department and if you have a promotion committee will want to see that you have at least taken the initial steps in establishing another line of research. What else can they expect from you?

In the past six years at a liberal arts college, I have had numerous research assistants (paid for by the college), received money from the college to help collect survey data and travel to distant research sites, and had a semester free of teaching to work on new projects and wrap up articles from my dissertation. This institutional support matches their expectations that I publish from my dissertation and begin new projects.

At a liberal arts college, you will need to take teaching seriously.

They want you to do more than give a multiple-choice midterm and final exam. You will spend a lot of time grading paper assignments, essay exams, and other more engaging assessment tools. You will not be able to use TAs to help you grade. Fortunately, your class size at a liberal arts college is typically much smaller than what you have seen or experienced at an R1. Introductory courses may be as many as 30 students but advanced undergraduate classes may only have 10-12 students. I typically run upper-level undergrad courses more like a graduate seminar with lots of discussion, more extensive research papers, and, at least in part, the direction of the course led by student’s particular interest in the topic. Faculty at R1s that teach undergrad courses with hundreds of students are understandably limited in their pedagogical choices.

Service at a small liberal arts college is also more extensive than at an R1. Many liberal arts colleges are extensively faculty governed.

Our entire faculty, of the college, not just the department, meet once a month to go over policies and other college business. Depending on the size of your department, you will also likely serve as the advisor to at least a dozen, maybe several dozen students. Other examples among the numerous committees include a sustainability committee, human subjects research committee (in lieu of a full IRB), disciplinary judicial committee, curriculum committees, and MANY more. Expect to spend more time in meetings as part of being a liberal arts professor. Committees I am on meet once a week throughout the entire school year.

What are the students like?

Coming into the job, I held onto the myth every student at a liberal arts college was well-prepared, dedicated, and politically engaged. Nope. I have both amazing students and I have some that are clearly still not sure they want to be there. I have some that are intellectually curious and some that the class assignments are a low priority on their long list of things to do. My point is, just like the R1 students you may have served as a TA for, at liberal arts colleges there is a mix of students. A professor from Northwestern University once told me that he thinks that the top students at every college are fairly similar, there are just more of them at elite institutions.

Additionally, like larger R1 classrooms, your students will come to college with a wide range of educational experiences. Some will have attended college prep high schools and be ready to write a research paper from day one, others will not have been exposed to or given the opportunity to develop the skills needed to succeed in the college classroom. Be prepared to spend some time teaching writing, reading, and critical thinking skills.

What kind of colleague do you need to be?

At a liberal arts college, you will likely be in a small department, sometimes VERY small. In my department, there are four other faculty members. Collegiality serves a prominent role in such a small group. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you need to be professional and expect to see plenty of your colleagues. You will likely be THE expert in your subfield. Nobody else in my department teaches (or does research on) globalization, environmental sociology, or social movements. My colleagues are engaged scholars and can often offer a completely different angle in discussing my work with me, but if I want to get into the nitty gritty depths of ecosocialism or world society theory, I need to reach outside of the college and stay in touch with others by attending national and regional conferences.

What can you do now to qualify yourself to be a professor at a liberal arts college?

You need to teach. A CV without ANY teaching experience will get quickly passed over as an applicant. If you have the opportunity, teach as many different classes as possible while in graduate school. Yes, course prep is difficult and takes time away from your dissertation, but you need to show how you will contribute to a small department. This may be contradictory advice from what you receive from your advisor who wants you to focus on research. In just my first four years as a faculty member, I taught 9 different courses! You will be expected to teach foundational required courses like Introduction to Sociology (and maybe anthropology) and maybe a methods or theory course.

Additionally, you can’t just teach the same elective course over and over every semester. You can’t just be an instructor of a single subfield. Electives may rotate back into the schedule in a small department only every three years. I teach three courses a semester. Every spring I teach Survey Methods and Analysis with a lab, and I usually teach one, maybe two sections of Introduction to Sociology and Anthropology every year. That leaves me as many as three other courses per year. So, for example, since leaving graduate school, I added Race and Ethnicity to my repertoire of courses and developed a first-year studies class on climate change. I also regularly teach Environmental Sociology, Social Movements, and Globalization.

If you have limited opportunities to teach during graduate school, you can show that you take teaching seriously in other ways.

For your application to a liberal arts college, prepare a few additional course syllabi for classes you are prepared to teach, even if you have never taught them. This demonstrates that you are thinking about teaching. Additionally, you can attend teaching related sessions at ASA and indicate that on your CV. If your university has a Preparing Future Faculty Program, participate in the seminars. Find a liberal arts college near you and approach a faculty member about being a mentor or shadowing them so you can say that you have a good understanding of what it means to be a professor at a liberal arts college. While I was at IU, I shadowed someone from DePauw and went to IU’s PFF conference every year. You should also customize your CV and cover letters to each school. When applying to liberal arts colleges, be sure you talk about teaching first in your cover letter and do not bury any teaching experience deep in your CV. I usually list it very early – right after my educational credentials.

Teach well, it matters.









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Additional resources (click on the images below to be redirected to the site):


Updated August 24, 2018

Data collected by the Washington Post on the use of lethal force by police officers since 2015 indicate that, relative to the portion of the population, Blacks are over-represented among all those killed by police under all circumstances. As is evident in Figure 1 below, (looking at the top blue bar) according to the US Census estimates, Blacks made up 13% of the population. However, in 2015 they accounted for 26% of those that were killed by police, in 2016, 24%, and in 2017, 23% of all those killed by police. In other words, Blacks were the victims of the lethal use of force by police at nearly twice their rate in the general population. Whites make up the plurality of victims of police use of lethal force (47% in 2017), BUT they also make the majority of the population (61% in 2018). For the first half of 2018, Blacks make up 20% of all those killed by police under all conditions. The “other” category for so far in 2018 is noticeably larger than previous years. Currently, 86% of this category is the result of no racial or ethnic category being listed. This may change as further details emerge in each case.

The incidents that drive the protests and organization of Black Lives Matter are largely focused on the police use of lethal force on unarmed blacks. Figure 2 below, shows the cumulative number of unarmed Blacks (no weapon of any kind) killed by police in from 2015 through half of 2018. While the number of unarmed Blacks killed by police dropped by half between 2015 and 2016, from 38 to 17, in 2017 and the trend so far in 2018 shows no sign of further decline. While lacking data-backed statistical analysis, it is no stretch to imagine that the Black Lives Matters protests contributed to the decline. The impact of protests likely drove police departments (in locales of protest or distant police departments wanting to avoid the same lethal errors) to adopt new policies seek out new training, or more widely distribute less lethal tools like Tasers.

In comparison to the number for Blacks illustrated in Figure 2 above, 25 Whites were unarmed when killed by police in 2017, down from 30 in 2015. Twelve unarmed Hispanics were killed by police in 2017, down from 19 in 2015.

As of the end of June 2018, of the 102 Black individuals killed by police, eleven were completely unarmed (11% of the Blacks killed by police). Fifteen of the 211 Whites killed by police were unarmed (7.1%). Of the 68 Hispanics killed by police so far in 2018, two were completely unarmed (3%). Blacks account for 38% of the unarmed citizens killed by police so far this year. That’s three times the percentage of Blacks in the US population. Whites account for 52%of the unarmed citizens killed by police so far this year and Hispanics 7%.

While someone confronted by police without any weapon certainly does not deserve to be killed by police gunfire, I would argue that even those with a weapon other than a gun, should be able to be apprehended by police without the use of lethal force. Police should have the training, skill, and expectation that an encounter, even with a non-cooperative or fleeing citizen, should be resolved by means other than lethal force. Unfortunately, as is evident in Figure 3 below, compared to Black victims with no weapon at all (as seen above in Figure 2), those with no gun that were killed by police show a less dramatic decline between 2015-2017. In 2015, 115 Blacks who had no gun on them (but may have had a knife, a pipe, or been driving a vehicle) were killed by police. In 2016, the number of victims under the same conditions was 88 and in 2017 it was 92. Through the end of June 2018, 49 Blacks that were killed by police this year had no gun. That’s 48% of the Blacks killed by police.


Figure 4 above shows the percentage of each race/ethnicity that was unarmed when killed by police from all of those killed by police by race/ethnicity. In other words, in 2015, of all the Whites killed by police, 6.04% were unarmed, in 2016 4.51% were unarmed, and in 2017, 5.69% were unarmed. In 2015, of all the Blacks killed by police, 14.67% were unarmed, in 2016 we see a significant drop to 7.30% that were unarmed when killed by police, and in 2017, 8.76% of Blacks killed by police were unarmed when killed. Of all the Blacks killed by police, a higher percentage of them are unarmed compared to Whites and Hispanics. While we see a decline from 2015, in 2017 Blacks were still 54% more likely to be unarmed when killed by police compared to Whites.

Teach well, it matters.

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Here is an attempt at documenting all the unarmed people of color killed by police from 1999-2014

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.10.41 PMAlso, see some of my other related posts on this topic (click on the titles below to go to the full post):

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Click on the image below to go to the full story and polling data

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A recent study arguing that the militarization of the police helps neither them nor the community’s view of the police. Read more here

A recent article on the predictors of Black Lives Matter protests. Click on the image to link to the full article.

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“A review of the shootings of unarmed people shows that officers were reported to be under physical attack in about 40 percent of the cases. The remaining 60 percent involved a variety of circumstances, including individuals’ making provocative movements or verbal threats (31 percent) or fleeing, or being shot unintentionally or in undetermined circumstances, according to a review of news reports and video of the incidents. The news accounts cited in the Post database are typically summaries based on information provided by police at the time of each event.”

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“Instead of making officers more accountable and transparent to the public, body cameras may be making officers and departments more powerful than they were before.  …  First, many officers are (either earnestly or conveniently) forgetting to activate their cameras when they’re supposed to. Take the case of Terrence Sterling, an unarmed 31-year-old black man who was fatally shot this month by local police officers in Washington, D.C., after his motorcycle crashed into their car. Contrary to District of Columbia policy, no officer at the scene activated their body camera until after the shooting. The city released footage of Sterling’s final moments this week—but that video begins more than a minute after shots were fired. …. The third threat is that many states have introduced or passed new laws that restrict public access to footage while preserving police access.”


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The federal government will soon require police departments and law enforcement agencies to report information on the deaths of any citizens when interacting with police – during a traffic stop, after arrest, in jail, etc. The data will be gathered quarterly and will hopefully address any the gaps in the data that others, like the Guardian above, have tried to fill.

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The Washington Post also kept track of people killed by police in 2015 and they continue to do so in 2016. Their final count for 2015 was 990 people killed by police, compared to the Guardian’s count of 1,136 for the same period in the US. The lists will have to be analyzed more closely to determine the discrepancies between the lists. Similar to the Guardian, The Washington Post allows people to sort by race, gender, weapon (if any possessed by the victim), and age. However, they also allow for the sorting by any signs of mental illness of the victim and “threat level” that includes under attack, other and undetermined.

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The Washington Post data for 2015 indicates that there were 38 unarmed Black people (compared to 32 unarmed Whites) killed by police in the US, the Guardian reports 79 unarmed Black people (compared to 103 unarmed Whites) killed by police.

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And from earlier, this article explains why other national data is highly problematic, click on the image to link to the full article

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Also from last year, an article exploring the weakness in the FBI data on civilians killed by police. Click on the image to be linked to the full article.

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“With increasing use of police body cameras come new tests of transparency and trust. This half-hour documentary looks at the consequences for law enforcement and communities, from the rollout to the courtroom.”


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As a new semester is about to begin, here are some of my most popular and effective tools for teaching the early-semester topic in most Introduction to Sociology courses, the sociological imagination.

This first one compares marriage in other cultures in order to help students practice using their sociological imagination. Marriage is a topic that many students may fall into the “trap” of thinking there is something “natural” about it or that the form it takes is a highly individualized one.

The second one examines higher education and the act of deciding to come to college through a sociological lens. Many students in intro courses are first-year students, so this one resonates particularly well with them.

During the spring semester, I help students understand the sociological imagination by analyzing the Super Bowl through this lens. While certainly not all students are interested in professional concussions football, the pop culture and social event of the Super Bowl at least grabs their attention.

The last tool that I use to get their attention and teach them about the sociological imagination is the nipple. Yes, the nipple… and the social construction of the body. Nothing like talking about this topic on the very first day of class to get their attention.

Finally, here are two other tools that you may find helpful. The first is a series of questions to get students thinking critically about any topic. I make it available to my students as a tool to refer back to throughout the semester.

The second explains the system I have developed to grade student participation.

Teach well, it matters

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For tools beyond the intro classroom or for topics other than the sociological imagination, see here.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it is an issue of inequality, environmental justice, globalization, and consumption – it is an issue of climate justice.

How can we teach others about global warming through the lens of climate justice? Here are some resources:

One of my previous posts explores the variation in the causes and consequences of climate change. Below, the emissions of select nations on a per capita basis from 1960 to 2013 are updated. Click on the image to go to the Google public data tool.

Here you can see that among the dominant economies of the US, Germany, the UK, and China and especially compared to a few developing countries, like India, Bangladesh, and Kenya, the US emits the greatest amount of per capita greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and others that contribute to global warming. We see that different nations have contributed different levels of emissions to the problems we currently face and will continue to deal with for at least the rest of this century. Click here to read that full post and see other ways that we can consider nation’s contribution to the problem. This is the foundation of the arguments of climate justice.

There is vast inequality in the CAUSES  of the problem of climate change.

I also recently did a TEDx talk on climate justice that provides a brief overview of climate justice. Click on the image below to be directed to an embedded link.

If we look at climate change emissions from a per capita basis we see that it takes two people from China, the UK, or Germany to generate the same emissions of the average person in the US.

Per capita, in 2014, it took six people from Brazil, nine from India, or thirteen from Honduras to emit the same level of emissions as the per capita emissions of a single person in the US.

For the small island nation of Kiribati, which is already being inundated by rising seas and in the coming decades will have to move its people and culture elsewhere, it would take 30 of their citizens to emit the same per capita emissions as a single person from the US. It takes 50 Kenyans or 56 Nepalese to emit the same level of emissions as a single person from the US from an annual per capita basis!


For a basic introduction to the issue, you can also use this analogy that I created to help students understand the perspective of developing countries that have contributed little to the problem.

Read the full post here.

Many doubt the US commitment to address climate change.

Survey research I have done with the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) shows that civil society actors throughout Africa had little trust in the US to fulfill its emissions reductions commitments. Even before the election of Trump and the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, members of PACJA doubted that the US would reduce their emissions, provide sufficient finance or transfer sufficient technology.

Click here to read the full post and see more figures of the results.

It is not just in the causes of climate change that we see inequality, but also in the consequences.

Wealthy, developed nations have the resources and infrastructure to better buffer the negative consequences of climate change (see my TEDx talk above for some examples). So while the US has been the primary contributor to climate change, it will also be able to avoid, delay, or dampen the severity of many consequences of climate change, while developing nations (that contributed little to the current problem) are already suffering life threatening consequences.

Teach well, it matters.

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The current administration is reportedly going to take action targeting affirmative action programs in college admissions.

What better time to teach the issue of race and affirmative action from a sociological point of view?


The New York Times reports, “The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.”

Here’s an assignment that I created to help students engage in the topic of affirmative action in college admissions. It is also available on ASA’s TRAILS  teaching resource site.

You can download a Word document of the assignment instructions and rubric HERE from a shared Dropbox folder.


You will be able to customize it for your needs and I and highlighted the areas in the text that you will need to add specifics.

I have the students read the ASA’s Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case challenging the affirmative action policies of the Michigan Law School. This document provides an excellent summary of the sociological research on educational inequalities and racial inequalities that impact the educational experience and subsequently one’s application to college.

The students are asked to summarize the key findings of the brief and take a stance of their own regarding affirmative action policies in college admissions. I reassure them that their grade is not impacted by which stance they take on affirmative action, but rather by the thoroughness of their argument. Depending on which side they take, they then have to make an argument either for how racial inequalities in access to higher education will be overcome (if they argue that affirmative action should not apply)or how affirmative action policies would be implemented in admissions decision policy (if they argue that affirmative action should apply).

This assignment has an additional element to it, that is peer grading. Students learn from each other during class discussion or formal class presentations and they get feedback from professors on their papers, but they never really get an opportunity to read each other’s written work. In this assignment, I collect the physical papers and anonymize them and hand them back out for peer grading. This reinforces learning, as the students need to be really sure they know the material to grade someone else’s work. Additionally, they get to compare their writing to someone else’s. It is all done anonymously and I have the final say on all the grades. I have found that students typically end up grading their peers with very high standards. Peer grading can also expose students to an opposing argument. After the process is complete, there is ample opportunity and material to generate discussion in class. I also use it as an opportunity to discuss the double-blind peer review process of academic research.

You could also add a counter argument against affirmative action in college admissions decisions with articles such as these:

Or you could have students research their own.

I have found that engaging students in issues in the news or in public debate helps the become more engaged and learn to see issues from a sociological perspective. Apparently, the current justice department wants to revisit the issue of affirmative action.

Below see some additional resources for your use in classes about affirmative action in education. Click on the select images to be redirected to the full article.

Teach well, it matters

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Updated April 25th, 2017

In the fall of 2014, the largest climate protest to date occurred at the People’s Climate March in New York City. An estimated 400,000 people marched demanding action on global warming. On April 29th, 2017 Washington, DC and dozens of other cities around the country and world will host the second People’s Climate March: March for Climate, Jobs and Justice.

See the celebratory video of the 2014 New York People’s Climate March by clicking on the image below.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.33.44 PMWhile the march was declared a success by the organizers, questions remain about whether the climate change movement is successfully overcoming past criticism that the mainstream environmental movement is too white, too wealthy, and too male.

Various media outposts have pointed out that the environmental movement, in general, is lacking diversity, that is, it is too white. In particular, Brentin Mock wrote about it extensively as a columnist for Grist (he recently moved to The Atlantic).

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This is far from a new issue, but rather is something that organizations have supposedly been working on since at least the 1970s.

This lack of diversity has also been documented by several academics, most notably Dr. Dorceta Taylor at the University Michigan. Her 2014 report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations, examines mainstream environmental NGOS, foundations, and government agencies for their degree of diversity of race/ethnicity, class, and gender.

The trends in Taylor’s data show that the percentage of minorities in leadership position in the environmental movement have increased since the 1990s but may have plateaued at a rate lower than the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the US population. See a key figure from her report below:

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However, the report focuses on the organizations’ leadership, not the members.

Concerns about the diversity of the environmental movement more broadly continue as we head into the People’s Climate March in DC.

According to Lindsey McDougle, “The number of environmental groups has increased in recent years, growing nearly 20 percent from 11,233 in 2003 to 13,283 in 2013. Despite this growth, people from communities of color engage in environmental volunteerism at lower rates than whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2015, for instance, 3.1 percent of white Americans volunteered for green causes, while only 1.6 percent of Latinos and 1 percent of black Americans did so.”

Others have been critical of Earth Day, as lacking an appropriate edge, based on the current state of the planet. Emily Atkin writes in the New Republic, “Why is Earth Day so benign and toothless when the immediate threats to the planet—particularly to its most vulnerable populations—are so severe?”

Previously, in response to Trump’s executive orders and proposed budget decimating the EPA, she wrote, “Largely missing from [the] attacks were fears about how Trump’s executive order could disproportionately hurt people living in low-income, minority, and indigenous communities. Environmental justice advocates say they’re used to this issue being overlooked. And perhaps there is some logic to the broader focus on global warming; after all, if the planet gets too hot, we’re all doomed.


What about the people who are being mobilized in the streets demanding action on climate change. Who’s voices are these?

Are organizations doing enough to ensure the movement represents the increasing racial and gender diversity of US society? As income inequality grows in our society, is the climate change movement an income-diverse movement or is it the wealthier voices that are being heard?


With the help of a team of nearly 20 research assistants I collected just over 1,000 surveys from a random sample of protestors at the 2014 People’s Climate March. Anecdotally, looking at the crowd that was in New York City that day it was diverse in a number of ways: race, gender, issue orientation, and age. However, random sample survey data provides more accurate information than one’s individual observations.

The general population of the US is a majority white (at least for another decade or two), so we would expect that whites are still the most predominant in number at such an event. However, we can look at the proportions of different races and ethnicities in the US as a whole and compare that to the proportions at the 2014 People’s Climate March to examine the level of diversity at the march.


Despite the awareness that the environmental movement has historically lacked diversity, the People’s Climate March was still disproportionally white. In 2014, whites (according to US Census estimates) represented 62% of the population as a whole, yet they were over-represented as 71% of the protesters at the People’s Climate March. Hispanic and Latinos were well underrepresented as they make up 17% of the US population but only 7% of the protesters that day in New York City. Blacks made up only 7% of the People’s Climate March activists, while making up 13% of the total population in 2014. Native Americans were also underrepresented as only 0.5% of the marchers but 1.2% of the US population. Asians were slightly over-represented as 6% of the marchers and 5% of the overall population. The “other” category represents bi-racial identities and (in the data below) Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

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It is not just racial and ethnic diversity that is of concern, but also economic diversity. Is the climate change movement, like the mainstream environmental movement, disproportionally upper-middle and upper class? One way of measuring the income distribution is dividing the population by five, or into clusters of 20% of the population (quintiles). The survey data indicates that participants in the 2014 People’s Climate March disproportionally fell into the upper two quintile income brackets in the US. The income ranges in the figure below each represent 20% of the US population. If the protesters were evenly distributed across incomes, each of the bars in the figure below would be at 20%. Instead, the data shows that just over 50% of the protesters were from the top two US income quintiles in the US. Just 32% of the protesters were from the bottom two quintiles.

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Lastly, the gender distribution within environmental organizations has also been criticized as disproportionally male. Dorceta Taylor’s research shows that the boards of organizations remain disproportionally male, while the staff are disproportionally female, as seen in her charts below.

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The participants in the historical 2014 People’s Climate March were split in roughly the same gender proportions as the US population (see the figure below). The gender distribution of marchers shows greater equality than either the race/ethnicity or income distribution.

Regarding leadership, 350.org is the main organizer of the People’s Climate March both in 2014 and 2017. A quick count of the staff listed on 350.org’s web page (as of October 2015) indicates that 57% of their global staff are women. Of their seven board members, four are women.

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. . .

Climate organizations need to make a greater and continued effort to ensure that all the communities being negatively impacted by climate change have a voice and are present in the mass mobilizations. We continue to live in a racialized society (see my previous posts if in doubt, here, here and here among others) and overcoming that will take intentional effort, reaching out to minority groups with specific rather than open invitations, and ensuring that they are part of the planning not just invited at the last minute. As Naomi Klein, prominent author and board member of 350.org writes in the article linked to below:

“What does #BlackLivesMatter, and the unshakable moral principle that it represents, have to do with climate change? Everything. Because we can be quite sure that if wealthy white Americans had been the ones left without food and water for days in a giant sports stadium after Hurricane Katrina, even George W. Bush would have gotten serious about climate change. Similarly, if Australia were at risk of disappearing, and not large parts of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be a lot less likely to publicly celebrate the burning of coal as “good for humanity,” as he did on the occasion of the opening of a vast new coal mine. And if my own city of Toronto were being battered, year after year, by historic typhoons demanding mass evacuations, and not Tacloban in the Philippines, we can also be sure that Canada would not have made building tar sands pipelines the centerpiece of its foreign policy.”

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This piece has focused on the movement in the US and around one particular mass mobilization. It is important to remember that the lack of diversity at the People’s Climate March was not because the working class and racial minorities don’t care about the issue (nor was it that the organizers did not care about diversity). The NAACP has a campaign called the Climate Justice Initiative that “works at addressing the many practices that are harming communities nationwide and worldwide and the policies needed to rectify these impacts.” Nations of the Global South, predominantly not white and less developed than the advanced industrialized Western nations (read greenhouse gas emitters) have been mobilizing against climate change for some time now. On the African continent, there is the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA). Others include Focus on the Global South, La Via Campesina, and many others. See some survey data on the views of organizational members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance here.

The US climate movement must stay focused on the principles of climate justice if it wants to be inclusive and not just the mass mobilization of wealthy, white, males. While improvements in this area have been made, much remains to be done.

I’ll have another research team collecting survey data at the 2017 march in both DC and Chicago. Watch for updated data as those results come in. See you at the protest!


Teach well, it matters.

. . .

A couple of “thinking critically” caveats about the data that need to be considered. First, in conjunction with the main event, the People’s Climate March in New York City, there were a few hundred other smaller protests held in cities throughout the country and world. My data is limited to the New York City event. While we could speculate that these other events may have been more racially and economically diverse (but we have to reason to believe so), the bulk of the organizing efforts seemed to go into the march in New York City. The main march, with an estimated 400,000 people is the event that received the media attention, the primary purpose of the event. So, even if the smaller, more local events were of greater diversity, they were peripheral.

Secondly, the event was held in New York City and the income distribution within the metropolitan area is skewed slightly upward relative to the nation as a whole. While the organizers made a herculean effort to bring in people from all over the country, there is a still a chance that the crowd was predominantly from New York City. If we only considered the income distribution in NYC, this would likely result in a more even distribution among income quintiles.

. . .

When students participate in classroom discussion, they learn more than when they just listen. Students should leave any college having learned the ability to not only write well, but also to speak well in front of their peers.

But how do we get students to participate?

In larger sized classes, the sheer number of students generates a free-rider problem, where each individual student can assume that someone else will do the talking and they will not be called out. There must be an inverse relationship between the number of students and the rate of participation. If you don’t even know all their names, it will be difficult to grade participation. You’ve likely had classes where there is rich participation, but it is only a handful of students who do all the talking. You’ve also likely had classes where you feel like you’re are pulling teeth trying generate participation. What to do?

If you have a very large, lecture-hall-filled kind of class, it may seem like an impossible task that you wrote off long ago. The most innovative way I have seen this handled was when I was a TA for Professor Melissa Wilde, then at IU, now at UPenn. She taught an introduction to sociology course of about 400 students! On the first day of class she handed out 4-6 different colored index cards. Each student took 4 of the same colored card, wrote their name on them and then stored them away in their notebooks. Each day the class met, a different group of students, based on the color of the index cards, was given the opportunity to participate. When a student did, they would hand in their card with their name on it to be recorded as part of the course grade. Now, this required Professor Wilde to navigate the lecture hall with a microphone like a talk show, but that kept things lively and the student engaged. Of course, this is not the depth of discussion that you would hope for in a class of 20, but we shouldn’t ignore opportunities to generate even a little engagement.

Even in small classes, without some sort of accountability, it can be hard to get all but the most confident extroverted students to participate. Over the years, I have come to realize that, in many ways, students are like faculty: they have too many demands on their time and subsequently are going to focus on fulfilling the tasks that those above them have deemed important. As faculty, we signal to students what we believe to be important by the portion of the course grade we assign. Without being held accountable by a grade, students will turn their attention to another task, possibly in another class that is making more graded demands of them.

Using grading as a more immediate feedback tool

When I first started awarding points for participation, I  had just one grade that was awarded at the end of the semester. This was quickly abandoned because of the flurry of shallow efforts to participate at the end of the semester. I then switched to awarding grades three different times evenly spaced throughout the semester. Each of the three sections is graded independently in order to reward consistency.

My most recent iteration is to continue with the three sections but at the beginning of each one, everyone is awarded a zero and must earn their way up.


This way they do not think they will get a C (or even 50%) just for being present. At the end of every couple weeks or so, I update their grade in an online grade book they have access to as an indicator of where they stand. This allows them to alter their level and depth of participation until the grades are finalized on the posted date. This serves as a signal to them of my expectations for a less quantifiable expectation.

This has resulted in increased student understanding of my expectations, a more reflexive awareness of their contribution, and higher rates of participation. It has not resulted in full participation. Some students are more than happy to ride out that zero, despite office hour suggestions of how they participate more/at all.

Even within this structure, I think it remains important to be a creative facilitator. A lesson I learned from one of my teaching mentors, Professor Brian Powell at IU, was to ask, “What questions do you have?” This sets the expectation that there are questions and it is perfectly normal as a student to ask them. Additionally, the most basic exercise to let students who are more reflective have time to think is to give the class the question(s), ask them to take a minute or two and jot down notes, and then call on people. You can also give the class a minute to talk to their neighbor before asking someone to speak alone before their peers. This gives students who are nervous a dry run to compose their thoughts and gain more confidence.

You can also provide students with the discussion questions as a prelude to the next class. That way, as they do the reading, they can write reflective notes that might facilitate their participation in the next class. See my previous post for critical thinking questions that will help prompt participation.

Teach well, it matters.

In the early and mid-70s the then newly established US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired a couple dozen freelance photographers to document environmental problems in the US for a project they called Documerica. These 15,000 images are now part of the national archives and available here. As the EPA budget, staff, and regulations are being severely slashed by Trump and the Republican controlled House and Senate, it is worth reflecting on some of the problems that the EPA has served to address to make our air, land and water cleaner and safer for humans and other species.

Below is a selection of illustrative images from the collection.

Original Caption: Mary Workman Holds A Jar of Undrinkable Water That Comes from Her Well, and Has Filed A Damage Suit Against the Hanna Coal Company. She Has to Transport Water from A Well Many Miles Away. Although the Coal Company Owns All the Land Around Her, and Many Roads Are Closed, She Refuses to Sell. 10/1973

Original Caption: There Is Some Local Opposition to Stripping the Land in Southeastern Ohio. Most People, However, Are Employed by the Coal Companies and Are Afraid Any Demands for Reform Will Cost Them Their Jobs. Off Route 800. 10/1973

Original Caption: Loaded Coal Cars Sit in the Rail Yards at Danville, West Virginia, near Charleston. Awaiting Shipment to Customers. It Is One of the Largest Transshipment Points for Coal in the World. A Constant Stream of Rail Cars Is Moved in and Out of the Small Town 04/1974

Original Caption: The Atlas Chemical Company Belches Smoke across Pasture Land in Foreground. The Plant Is Referred to as “Old Darky” in the Community Because Black Soot from the Plant Covers Everything Near-By. One Farmer Claims He Lost Several Cows Due to Soot and Chemicals from Atlas, 06/1972

Original Caption: Exhibit at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development Held at the Marriott Motor Inn, Ann Arbor Vehicles and Hardware Were Assembled at the EPA Ann Arbor Laboratory. Part of the Exhibit Was Held in the Motel Parking Lot General Motors Urban Electric Car Gets Battery Charge. in the Background (Left) Is the Ebs Electric “Sundancer” 10/1973

Original Caption: Miner Wayne Gipson, 39, with His Daughter Tabitha, 3. He Has Just Gotten Home From His Job as a Conveyor Belt Operator in a Non-Union Mine. as Soon as He Arrives He Takes a Shower and Changes Into Clothes to Do Livestock Chores with His Two Sons. Gipson Was Born and Raised in Palmer, Tennessee, But Now Lives with His Family near Gruetli, near Chattanooga. He Moved North to Work and Married There, But Returned Because He and His Wife Think It Is a Better Place to Live 12/1974

Original Caption: Children Play in Yard of Ruston Home, While Tacoma Smelter Stack Showers Area with Arsenic and Lead Residue, 08/1972.

Original Caption: Trash and Old Tires Litter the Shore at the Middle Branch of Baltimore Harbor, 01/1973.

Original Caption: The Goergetown Gap, Through Which Raw Sewage Flows into the Potomac. Watergate Complex in the Rear, 04/1973.

Original Caption: Illegal Dumping Area off the New Jersey Turnpike, Facing Manhattan Across the Hudson River. Nearby, to the South, Is the Landfill Area of the Proposed Liberty State Park, 03/1973.

Original Caption: Dead fish at Pahranagat Lake, a wildlife refuge, May 1972

Original Caption: Decker Coal Company strip mine, 06/1973

Original Caption: Sign in a restroom along Interstate 25 south of Colorado Springs, Colorado, warns that water is undrinkable, 04/1974

Original Caption: Polluted Androscoggin River in the “Shelburne Birches” Area near the Maine – New Hampshire Boundary 06/1973

Original Caption: Outfall from Berlin’s Industries Produces Islands of Foam in the Androscoggin River 06/1973


Original Caption: Open Garbage Dump on Highway 112, North of San Sebastian 02/1973


Teach well, it matters.

In 1967 (seven months before his assassination) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to the American Psychological Association at their annual conference. According to APA, the text of his speech was reprinted in the Journal of Social Issues (Vol. 24, No. 1, 1968). While the speech was in galley proofs, the shocking and numbing news of his assassination was released.

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The text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech (see in full below) is unfortunately still all too relevant, even 50 years later. Quotes that caught my attention in particular include, “White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. … All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.”* Too much of US society continues to see the social, political and economic disadvantages of blacks as their own fault rather than the result of systematic and structural racism. Of late, ‘blaming the victim’ emerged in the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown among many others (see my previous post: RACISM AND THE POLICE: The Shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson). A piece in the BBC by Stacey Patton and David Leonard points out this errant logic when applied to historical and more recent cases of black victims of police or vigilante violence:

  • Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.
  • Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.
  • Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.
  • Jonathan Ferrell should not have run toward the police after getting into a car accident.
  • Renisha McBride should not have been drinking or knocked on a stranger’s door for help in the middle of the night.
  • Jordan Davis should not have been playing loud rap music.
  • Michael Brown should not have stolen cigarillos or allegedly assaulted a cop.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.38.11 PMLater in his speech, Dr. Martin Luther King states, “Negroes want the social scientist to address the white community and ‘tell it like it is.’ White America has an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the reality of Negro life.” Today, are we collectively doing enough to “tell it like it is”? Are we speaking to a wide enough audience? Do our students and the public that we engage still lack knowledge of the reality of persistent racial difference? Certainly. Should any student be able to graduate from college (or high school for that matter) without a thorough education of our society’s systems of race, gender, class, and sexuality? As academics we all have our areas of specialization, my doctoral training is not in race and ethnicity, but we can certainly find ways to address race and “tell it like it is” in at least one course we teach each semester.

Dr. Kings continues… “The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements, misled us. Everyone, activists and social scientists, underestimated the amount of violence and rage Negroes were suppressing and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising.” Maybe not among social scientists, but the media and most politicians seemed complacent and strong in their belief that our society was “post-racial”. The protests in Ferguson and subsequently across the nation seemed to catch many off guard wondering why the black community was so angry.

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“Our most urgent task is to find the tactics that will move the government no matter how determined it is to resist.” As the #blacklivesmatter movement makes an effort to revive and strengthen the ongoing civil rights movement, creative tactics must emerge that find powerful points of leverage in social and political institutions. A Republican majority House and Senate, especially with Trump in the Whitehouse, are likely to be “determined to resist.” The NYPD has already demonstrated that it is “determined to resist.” Moving entrenched social and political institutions will involve exploring new creative tactics; tactics that avoid ‘permitted’ and ‘police approved’ demonstrations that are confined to ‘free speech zones’. There have been some truly disruptive tactics emerge so far…several instances of blocking rush hour traffic, as well as widely broadcast “I can’t breathe” t-shirts on NBA players, and the collective sourcing of teaching materials with  #fergusonsyllabus among many others.

While I end with a final quote I encourage you to take the time to read the full text below. Fifty years later and much of what Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of, much of what he called for social scientists to do, still rings true and still should serve as a call to action, a call to do more.

“There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation.” 

– Teach well, it matters.


. . .

The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr.

It is always a very rich and rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned friends of good will all over the nation. It is particularly a great privilege to discuss these issues with members of the academic community, who are constantly writing about and dealing with the problems that we face and who have the tremendous responsibility of molding the minds of young men and women all over the country.

The Civil Rights Movement needs the help of social scientists.

In the preface to their book, ‘Applied Sociology’ (1965), S. M. Miller and Alvin Gouldner state: ‘It is the historic mission of the social sciences to enable mankind to take possession of society.’ It follows that for Negroes who substantially are excluded from society this science is needed even more desperately than for any other group in the population.

For social scientists, the opportunity to serve in a life-giving purpose is a humanist challenge of rare distinction. Negroes too are eager for a rendezvous with truth and discovery. We are aware that social scientists, unlike some of their colleagues in the physical sciences, have been spared the grim feelings of guilt that attended the invention of nuclear weapons of destruction. Social scientists, in the main, are fortunate to be able to extirpate evil, not to invent it.

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions-the Negro himself.

White America is seeking to keep the walls of segregation substantially intact while the evolution of society and the Negro’s desperation is causing them to crumble. The white majority, unprepared and unwilling to accept radical structural change, is resisting and producing chaos while complaining that if there were no chaos orderly change would come.

Negroes want the social scientist to address the white community and ‘tell it like it is.’ White America has an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the reality of Negro life. One reason some advances were made in the South during the past decade was the discovery by northern whites of the brutal facts of southern segregated life. It was the Negro who educated the nation by dramatizing the evils through nonviolent protest. The social scientist played little or no role in disclosing truth. The Negro action movement with raw courage did it virtually alone. When the majority of the country could not live with the extremes of brutality they witnessed, political remedies were enacted and customs were altered.

These partial advances were, however, limited principally to the South and progress did not automatically spread throughout the nation. There was also little depth to the changes. White America stopped murder, but that is not the same thing as ordaining brotherhood; nor is the ending of lynch rule the same thing as inaugurating justice.

After some years of Negro-white unity and partial success, white America shifted gears and went into reverse. Negroes, alive with hope and enthusiasm, ran into sharply stiffened white resistance at all levels and bitter tensions broke out in sporadic episodes of violence. New lines of hostility were drawn and the era of good feeling disappeared.

The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements, misled us. Everyone, activists and social scientists, underestimated the amount of violence and rage Negroes were suppressing and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising.

Science should have been employed more fully to warn us that the Negro, after 350 years of handicaps, mired in an intricate network of contemporary barriers, could not be ushered into equality by tentative and superficial changes.

Mass nonviolent protests, a social invention of Negroes, were effective in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma in forcing national legislation which served to change Negro life sufficiently to curb explosions. But when changes were confined to the South alone, the North, in the absence of change, began to seethe.

The freedom movement did not adapt its tactics to the different and unique northern urban conditions. It failed to see that nonviolent marches in the South were forms of rebellion. When Negroes took over the streets and shops, southern society shook to its roots. Negroes could contain their rage when they found the means to force relatively radical changes in their environment.

In the North, on the other hand, street demonstrations were not even a mild expression of militancy. The turmoil of cities absorbs demonstrations as merely transitory drama which is ordinary in city life. Without a more effective tactic for upsetting the status quo, the power structure could maintain its intransigence and hostility. Into the vacuum of inaction, violence and riots flowed and a new period opened.

Urban riots.

Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act. This may explain why most cities in which riots have occurred have not had a repetition, even though the causative conditions remain. It is also noteworthy that the amount of physical harm done to white people other than police is infinitesimal and in Detroit whites and Negroes looted in unity.

A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’

The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.

Vietnam War.

There is another cause of riots that is too important to mention casually-the war in Vietnam. Here again, we are dealing with a controversial issue. But I am convinced that the war in Vietnam has played havoc with our domestic destinies. The bombs that fall in Vietnam explode at home. It does not take much to see what great damage this war has done to the image of our nation. It has left our country politically and morally isolated in the world, where our only friends happen to be puppet nations like Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea. The major allies in the world that have been with us in war and peace are not with us in this war. As a result we find ourselves socially and politically isolated.

The war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has seriously impaired the United Nations. It has exacerbated the hatreds between continents, and worse still, between races. It has frustrated our development at home by telling our underprivileged citizens that we place insatiable military demands above their most critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America, and strengthened the military-industrial complex, against which even President Eisenhower solemnly warned us. It has practically destroyed Vietnam, and left thousands of American and Vietnamese youth maimed and mutilated. And it has exposed the whole world to the risk of nuclear warfare.

As I looked at what this war was doing to our nation, and to the domestic situation and to the Civil Rights movement, I found it necessary to speak vigorously out against it. My speaking out against the war has not gone without criticisms. There are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place. I can only respond that I have fought too hard and long to end segregated public accommodations to segregate my own moral concerns. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. For those who tell me I am hurting the Civil Rights movement, and ask, ‘Don’t you think that in order to be respected, and in order to regain support, you must stop talking against the war?’ I can only say that I am not a consensus leader. I do not seek to determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallop Poll to determine majority opinion. And it is again my deep conviction that ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?!’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?!’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right. And that is where I find myself today.

Moreover, I am convinced, even if war continues, that a genuine massive act of concern will do more to quell riots than the most massive deployment of troops.


The unemployment of Negro youth ranges up to 40 percent in some slums. The riots are almost entirely youth events-the age range of participants is from 13 to 25. What hypocrisy it is to talk of saving the new generation-to make it the generation of hope-while consigning it to unemployment and provoking it to violent alternatives.

When our nation was bankrupt in the thirties we created an agency to provide jobs to all at their existing level of skill. In our overwhelming affluence today what excuse is there for not setting up a national agency for full employment immediately?

The other program which would give reality to hope and opportunity would be the demolition of the slums to be replaced by decent housing built by residents of the ghettos.

These programs are not only eminently sound and vitally needed, but they have the support of an overwhelming majority of the nation-white and Negro. The Harris Poll on August 21, 1967, disclosed that an astounding 69 percent of the country support a works program to provide employment to all and an equally astonishing 65 percent approve a program to tear down the slums.

There is a program and there is heavy majority support for it. Yet, the administration and Congress tinker with trivial proposals to limit costs in an extravagant gamble with disaster.

The President has lamented that he cannot persuade Congress. He can, if the will is there, go to the people, mobilize the people’s support and thereby substantially increase his power to persuade Congress. Our most urgent task is to find the tactics that will move the government no matter how determined it is to resist.

Civil disobedience.

I believe we will have to find the militant middle between riots on the one hand and weak and timid supplication for justice on the other hand. That middle ground, I believe, is civil disobedience. It can be aggressive but nonviolent; it can dislocate but not destroy. The specific planning will take some study and analysis to avoid mistakes of the past when it was employed on too small a scale and sustained too briefly.

Civil disobedience can restore Negro-white unity. There have been some very important sane white voices even during the most desperate moments of the riots. One reason is that the urban crisis intersects the Negro crisis in the city. Many white decision-makers may care little about saving Negroes, but they must care about saving their cities. The vast majority of production is created in cities; most white Americans live in them. The suburbs to which they flee cannot exist detached from cities. Hence powerful white elements have goals that merge with ours.

Role for the social scientist.

Now there are many roles for social scientists in meeting these problems. Kenneth Clark has said that Negroes are moved by a suicide instinct in riots and Negroes know there is a tragic truth in this observation. Social scientists should also disclose the suicide instinct that governs the administration and Congress in their total failure to respond constructively.

What other areas are there for social scientists to assist the civil rights movement? There are many, but I would like to suggest three because they have an urgent quality.

Social science may be able to search out some answers to the problem of Negro leadership. E. Franklin Frazier, in his profound work, Black Bourgeoisie, laid painfully bare the tendency of the upwardly mobile Negro to separate from his community, divorce himself from responsibility to it, while failing to gain acceptance in the white community. There has been significant improvements from the days Frazier researched, but anyone knowledgeable about Negro life knows its middle class is not yet bearing its weight. Every riot has carried strong overtone of hostility of lower class Negroes toward the affluent Negro and vice versa. No contemporary study of scientific depth has totally studied this problem. Social science should be able to suggest mechanisms to create a wholesome black unity and a sense of peoplehood while the process of integration proceeds.

As one example of this gap in research, there are no studies, to my knowledge, to explain adequately the absence of Negro trade union leadership. Eight-five percent of Negroes are working people. Some two million are in trade unions but in 50 years we have produced only one national leader-A. Philip Randolph.

Discrimination explains a great deal, but not everything. The picture is so dark even a few rays of light may signal a useful direction.

Political action.

The second area for scientific examination is political action. In the past two decades, Negroes have expended more effort in quest of the franchise than they have in all other campaigns combined. Demonstrations, sit-ins and marches, though more spectacular, are dwarfed by the enormous number of man-hours expended to register millions, particularly in the South. Negro organizations from extreme militant to conservative persuasion, Negro leaders who would not even talk to each other, all have been agreed on the key importance of voting. Stokely Carmichael said black power means the vote and Roy Wilkins, while saying black power means black death, also energetically sought the power of the ballot.

A recent major work by social scientists Matthew and Prothro concludes that ‘The concrete benefits to be derived from the franchise-under conditions that prevail in the South-have often been exaggerated.,’ that voting is not the key that will unlock the door to racial equality because ‘the concrete measurable payoffs from Negro voting in the South will not be revolutionary’ (1966).

James A. Wilson supports this view, arguing, ‘Because of the structure of American politics as well as the nature of the Negro community, Negro politics will accomplish only limited objectives’ (1965).

If their conclusion can be supported, then the major effort Negroes have invested in the past 20 years has been in the wrong direction and the major pillar of their hope is a pillar of sand. My own instinct is that these views are essentially erroneous, but they must be seriously examined.

The need for a penetrating massive scientific study of this subject cannot be overstated. Lipset in 1957 asserted that a limitation in focus in political sociology has resulted in a failure of much contemporary research to consider a number of significant theoretical questions. The time is short for social science to illuminate this critically important area. If the main thrust of Negro effort has been, and remains, substantially irrelevant, we may be facing an agonizing crisis of tactical theory.

The third area for study concerns psychological and ideological changes in Negroes. It is fashionable now to be pessimistic. Undeniably, the freedom movement has encountered setbacks. Yet I still believe there are significant aspects of progress.

Negroes today are experiencing an inner transformation that is liberating them from ideological dependence on the white majority. What has penetrated substantially all strata of Negro life is the revolutionary idea that the philosophy and morals of the dominant white society are not holy or sacred but in all too many respects are degenerate and profane.

Negroes have been oppressed for centuries not merely by bonds of economic and political servitude. The worst aspect of their oppression was their inability to question and defy the fundamental precepts of the larger society. Negroes have been loath in the past to hurl any fundamental challenges because they were coerced and conditioned into thinking within the context of the dominant white ideology. This is changing and new radical trends are appearing in Negro thought. I use radical in its broad sense to refer to reaching into roots.

Ten years of struggle have sensitized and opened the Negro’s eyes to reaching. For the first time in their history, Negroes have become aware of the deeper causes for the crudity and cruelty that governed white society’s responses to their needs. They discovered that their plight was not a consequence of superficial prejudice but was systemic.

The slashing blows of backlash and frontlash have hurt the Negro, but they have also awakened him and revealed the nature of the oppressor. To lose illusions is to gain truth. Negroes have grown wiser and more mature and they are hearing more clearly those who are raising fundamental questions about our society whether the critics be Negro or white. When this process of awareness and independence crystallizes, every rebuke, every evasion, become hammer blows on the wedge that splits the Negro from the larger society.

Social science is needed to explain where this development is going to take us. Are we moving away, not from integration, but from the society which made it a problem in the first place? How deep and at what rate of speed is this process occurring? These are some vital questions to be answered if we are to have a clear sense of our direction.

We know we haven’t found the answers to all forms of social change. We know, however, that we did find some answers. We have achieved and we are confident. We also know we are confronted now with far greater complexities and we have not yet discovered all the theory we need.

And may I say together, we must solve the problems right here in America. As I have said time and time again, Negroes still have faith in America. Black people still have faith in a dream that we will all live together as brothers in this country of plenty one day.

But I was distressed when I read in the New York Times of Aug. 31, 1967; that a sociologist from Michigan State University, the outgoing president of the American Sociological Society, stated in San Francisco that Negroes should be given a chance to find an all Negro community in South America: ‘that the valleys of the Andes Mountains would be an ideal place for American Negroes to build a second Israel.’ He further declared that ‘The United States Government should negotiate for a remote but fertile land in Equador, Peru or Bolivia for this relocation.’

I feel that it is rather absurd and appalling that a leading social scientist today would suggest to black people, that after all these years of suffering an exploitation as well as investment in the American dream, that we should turn around and run at this point in history. I say that we will not run! Professor Loomis even compared the relocation task of the Negro to the relocation task of the Jews in Israel. The Jews were made exiles. They did not choose to abandon Europe, they were driven out. Furthermore, Israel has a deep tradition, and Biblical roots for Jews. The Wailing Wall is a good example of these roots. They also had significant financial aid from the United States for the relocation and rebuilding effort. What tradition does the Andes, especially the valley of the Andes Mountains, have for Negroes?

And I assert at this time that once again we must reaffirm our belief in building a democratic society, in which blacks and whites can live together as brothers, where we will all come to see that integration is not a problem, but an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

The problem is deep. It is gigantic in extent, and chaotic in detail. And I do not believe that it will be solved until there is a kind of cosmic discontent enlarging in the bosoms of people of good will all over this nation.

There are certain technical words in every academic discipline which soon become stereotypes and even clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. This word is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is a good word; certainly it is good that in dealing with what the word implies you are declaring that destructive maladjustment should be destroyed. You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But on the other hand, I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

In a day when Sputniks, Explorers and Geminies are dashing through outer space, when guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can finally win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence, it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. As President Kennedy declared, ‘Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.’ And so the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a suspension in the development and use of nuclear weapons, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and eventually disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. Our earthly habitat will be transformed into an inferno that even Dante could not envision.

Creative maladjustment.

Thus, it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women should be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’; or as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of his vacillations finally came to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; or as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history, words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

I have not lost hope. I must confess that these have been very difficult days for me personally. And these have been difficult days for every civil rights leader, for every lover of justice and peace.

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* I stick with his direct quotes but the language becomes a bit outdated at times. “Negro” is not a socially acceptable term as much as black and/or African American. Interestingly, the US Census continues to use “Black, African Am., or Negro”.

I and several others sociologists were recently invited to write reflective pieces on the election of Trump. You can read the full text of all the pieces here in the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, Footnotes.

Below are snippets of the engaging pieces:

Climate Change and the Election by Todd Beer

“2016 will be the hottest year on record with every month thus far setting an average temperature record high. As a discipline, is the span of our engagement in the issue broad enough and deep enough considering the predicted consequences of inaction? Climate change received just six minutes of attention in all three presidential debates. As a discipline, are we giving it more than that?”

Islamophobia and the Trump Campaign by Charles Kurzman

“During the presidential campaign, one survey firm (Public Policy Polling) fielded the question, ‘Do you think the religion of Islam should be legal or illegal in the United States?’ In October 2015, 36 percent of Republican respondents said Islam should be illegal,  … If these samples are representative, then around half of Republicans — who normally support religious freedom — are unwilling to grant this freedom to Muslims.

Where did this animosity come from? …” read more to find out

How Sociology Helps to Process the 2016 Presidential Election by Lisa M. Martinez

“In response to my students and the audience members, there is a lot we can do. For starters, we can use the tools of our discipline to understand and analyze the factors that led to the deep divisions in our country. We can translate what we know into informed action whether this occurs through political strategizing or activism. We also have an obligation to our students to teach public sociology and bring social issues to light. Through our scholarship, we can counter racist and xenophobic scapegoating by providing counter-narratives around the pain marginalized communities will and are experiencing. We can also focus our energies on social movements, disruption, and resistance. But we must also engage in long-term planning by mobilizing, registering voters, and getting out the vote in 2018 and 2020. …” read more

Masculinity, Inequality, and the 2016 Presidential Election by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

“Sociological research and theory on masculinity and gender inequality explain, in part, the success of a man who uses “locker room talk,” regularly objectifies women, calls them “nasty,” and looms over them in a way that is recognized as dangerous by survivors of violent relationships or sexual harassment. The easy answer is that men are voting for the continuation of an unequal gender system that privileges them. …” read more

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Additional resources and initial thoughts from sociologists on the 2016 election can be found on the ASA blog, Speak for Sociology.


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Click on the image below to access the full essay.


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Click on the images below of a selection of other essays to be take to the full text.


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Teach well, it matters.