Sociology Matters Autumn 2020

Letter from the Chair

What a year 2020 has been! A global pandemic, ongoing protests for racial justice, an epic smoke and wildfire season, the death of an icon of the Supreme Court, schools moving online for students of every age, and this pivotal Presidential election? Amid all these shifts and disruptions, we need social scientists more than ever to help make sense of the world.

Back in March, UW was among the first American universities to switch to online instruction. Since the final week of Winter Quarter we have been physically distanced, holding classes, seminars, research meetings and even social events on Zoom. Luckily, over the past several years we have moved most files and administrative processes to electronic formats, which enabled our wonderful staff to continue supporting faculty and students without missing a beat.  Few of us love remote teaching, but as you can read about below, many instructors have done some impressively innovative things in their classes.

The pandemic has disrupted so much for so many, and here in the Sociology Department two of our beloved traditions were particularly hard hit.  When the Covid outbreak ravaged Italy in late winter, we were forced to shut down our popular Study Abroad program in Rome and evacuate all the students. We managed it, thanks largely to the dedication of our graduate student teaching assistant who stayed in Rome until everyone else got home. And then in Spring Quarter we, like so many others, struggled with how to adequately celebrate our students’ accomplishments and mark their graduation with due pomp and festivity when we couldn’t gather together. In the end, we decided that something was better than nothing, and created a streaming video ceremony that I think captures much of the spirit of the department and of our students. You can watch it here (fast forward two minutes to skip the intro).

Even in the midst of the pandemic and the struggle for racial justice, the heart and soul of our department is our active and engaged research and scholarship.  I’m exceptionally proud of how faculty and students alike have approached this moment as a new lens through which to study existing fault lines in society, and of the timely and critical research they are conducting. For example, over the summer Professor Adrian Raftery led a rapid consultation project for the National Academy of Science’s Societal Experts Action Network that provides important guidance on the strengths and limitations of different types of data for the Covid-19 epidemic.

Other faculty members are working on new Covid-related research projects that address housing, gender dynamics, the effect of testing on disease spread, and the effects of economic insecurity on families and children. As is always the case at UW Sociology, many students will be joining these projects.

And now here we are, and the fall quarter is well under way.It’s certainly been a strange time to welcome Pat Louie to the faculty, and to figure out how to integrate a new cohort of graduate students. But, our classes are all full and our undergraduates are eager to learn. So, we’ve jumped back into virtual mode, doing our best to spark those sociological imaginations! Patience, compassion, and flexibility have guided us this far, and we’ll draw on them as we navigate the coming year. Most of all, we miss bumping into each other in the hallways, the casual conversations after meetings, and all the informal interactions which, as you remember, have long characterized life in the department. We certainly look forward to the time when we can gather together in person...

Katherine Stovel

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