randlesWelcome from the Chair

Dr. Jennifer Randles 

When you were a child, did anyone ask what you wanted to be when you grew up? What if they instead had asked: What problem do you want to solve? Sociology can help you find the answer.

Sociology is a discipline devoted to studying, measuring, and theorizing social interactions, institutions, and inequalities. It provides a unique lens to understand our individual position in a larger social context and how seemingly personal troubles have social causes. Sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959) described the sociological imagination as the ability to comprehend how “[n]either the life of the individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. . . . In many ways it is a terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one.”

 Thinking sociologically can feel terrible when it compels us out of our comfort zones. We learn that our lives unfold largely according to circumstances over which we have little control—the families into which we are born, the neighborhoods where we live, the color of our skin. Yet it is also magnificent in that it allows us to grasp the larger social forces shaping our lives and what is needed to create more equitable and just social conditions across lines of race, class, gender, and other characteristics. As sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (1990) explained, sociology confronts us with how: “Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone’s lives.” Developing a sociological imagination requires an intersectional perspective that recognizes how we are all implicated in interlocking systems of oppression and privilege. With that privilege comes the obligation to discover which problems you want to solve and the conceptual tools needed to solve them.

Our department comprises committed, caring, and accomplished faculty who offer a wide array of courses that will allow you to do just that. Our courses cover all aspects of social life, including but not limited to: race and ethnicity; sex and gender; popular culture; social movements; health and medicine; education; urban and rural life; families; religion; politics; death and dying, and the environment. We also offer numerous internship, field experience, and collaborative and independent research opportunities that enable you to develop skills for critical thinking and quantitative and qualitative social analysis. Graduates from our program have gone into various fields too numerous to list here, including: teaching; community-based organization leadership; law; medicine; counseling; criminal justice; social work; and public health.

Which problems do you want to solve? Do you want to address how people of color are more likely to live in areas with unhealthy air, water, and housing because of racism and residential segregation? Do you want to help fix the gendered wage gap through which women still earn only $.80 for every $1 earned by men? Do you want to work on how children born into poverty are less likely to graduate from high school and go to college? Another terrible lesson of sociology is that these social problems are socially constructed, meaning that they result from human choices, prejudices, and deliberate policies and institutional structures that create and maintain inequality. The ultimate magnificent lesson of sociology is that, once we understand these problems and their social causes and consequences, we can start to solve them. 

So instead of asking, “What can I do with a sociology degree?,” the better question is “What can you not do with a sociology degree?” If you’re ready to find out, please come join us!