Sociology Welcomes New Faculty Members

Submitted by Ari Asercion on

We are delighted to welcome three new faculty members this year: Magda Boutros, Jelani Ince, and Theresa Rocha Beardall. These three promising scholars arrive at UW Sociology committed to using sociology to address social inequalities. We are excited to have them join us, and eager to learn from them. 

In 2011, Magda Boutros was in Egypt, working at a human rights organization focused on criminal justice, police brutality, fair trial rights, and prison conditions, when revolution erupted. Suddenly Boutros was participating in a pivotal moment in Egypt’s history, an experience that would change her personal trajectory. Instead of working directly on human rights, Boutros realized she wanted to understand how activists could navigate such a coercive police state. Shortly thereafter, Boutros, who already held a master's degree in criminology from Kings College in London, entered a PhD program at Northwestern. She shifted her focus to anti-police activists in her other home country of France. Perhaps because of her bi-national background, a comparative perspective runs through all of Boutros’ work: “In terms of policing, there’s a whole body of scholarship that looks at policing in western democracies as a public service to provide security for citizens. But when you begin to look at colonial forces during empire, you start seeing connections between colonial policing, which was designed to keep the colonized under control, and patterns of contemporary policing in the metropoles.” Boutros was attracted to the University of Washington because of our traditional strength in criminology as well as our interdisciplinary approach; this quarter, she is teaching Crime, Politics and Justice. Boutros considers herself lucky to be able to teach topics and issues that speak directly to students’ lives. And, because of her international perspective, she always encourages students to learn about how contemporary issues play out in places other than the US.

Jelani Ince was taking a Race and Ethnic Relations course at Wake Forest University when he first read W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk. It was a “light bulb moment…. This is what Sociology is!” he says now. Ince began to read more deeply about race while in graduate school at Indiana University, just as the Black Lives Matter movement was raising urgent questions about the status of Black people in the contemporary United States. He had always been struck by the importance of churches in the Civil Rights movement and began to wonder about the role of religion on BLM. His dissertation took up this question, drawing on extensive ethnographic research in an intentionally diversifying religious organization. Now as an Assistant Professor, Ince feels a duty to bring research about racial inequality and contemporary struggle back to his community. “I …see this job as primarily service-oriented,” he says. “This is not to say that I’m the definitive spokesperson for these issues, but I feel it’s my responsibility to transcend my own research areas.”

Ince is eager to get into the classroom with UW students this winter, where he plans to infuse his courses with current events and a variety of sources including podcasts, journal articles, empirical data, and music that reflect a wide diversity of voices. In the meantime, Ince is enjoying the warm welcome he’s felt from his new colleagues, and getting to know his new home. “Seattle is a great city,” he says. “[I]t’ll take some time to build relationships and learn the history, but it’s a ... reminder of the importance of supporting our students and the Seattle community.”

When Theresa Rocha Beardall started law school, she thought she would have a career focused on protecting Native peoples: seeking redress for those harmed by police; protecting families threatened with the removal of their children through foster care or adoption; and developing tribal legal systems. She began working on these issues in the summers, including one summer spent in Seattle. But as she got deeper into her legal advocacy work, she began to notice that power, privilege, and social inequality profoundly shaped all her cases. The centrality of these sociological issues led Rocha Beardall to Cornell’s PhD program in Sociology, which she began mere months after receiving her law degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

These days, Rocha Beardall studies how the law and agents of the state enforce different aspects of state violence, but the intersection of tribal sovereignty, policing, and inequality for American Indians remains front and center in all her work. She views UW Sociology as an ideal place for her, describing it as “uniquely and perfectly situated to take on new directions including dynamic and collaborative work with local tribal communities. Our discipline is beginning to ask critical questions about how the past informs the present, how the creation of the nation informs how we study social and economic inequality today, and UW Sociology is poised to lead that conversation.” Rocha Beardall is particularly excited about rekindling her relationships with local advocates on Native legal issues and providing opportunities for her students to do similar work.

Rocha Beardall is teaching two courses this fall: Race and Ethnic Relations and Law and Society. Both courses draw upon her diverse academic training, weaving lessons on how to read the law with examples of criticism and resistance to the law that highlight a sociological perspective. She also brings concepts from Indigenous Studies into her classes. “To be Indigenous is not a racial or ethnic category,” she says. “It’s a relationship to place and the responsibilities that we as Native Peoples have to our lands, waters, and next generation.”