A few words from Amy Wharton’s former students and colleagues
Amy Wharton influenced many students and colleagues over her career. While we could not ask everyone for their thoughts, we reached out to three individuals to contribute a short piece in honor of Amy for this issue. All three enthusiastically agreed! (We didn’t tell Amy about asking for their input.) These former students and colleagues were eager to share a few words about her deep influence on their careers and the discipline of sociology more generally. The co-editors thank the three contributors for their willingness to share these personal stories about Amy Wharton in honor of her retirement.
From former WSU graduate student Michelle Robertson:
Simply put, Amy was one of the main factors in my decision to join the Sociology program at WSU. She was one of the first people I met when I visited to get a firsthand look at Pullman and WSU. Amy has always been a highly respected and admired sociologist in the areas of gender, work and occupations, and social inequalities. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her in many different ways and to get to know her as a person. We shared a personal and sociological interest in sport. In fact, she was the first WSU faculty member I worked with as a teaching assistant, in her Sociology of Sport course. During that semester, she helped with my transition while I navigated the competing demands of my first year in the doctoral program.
Years later, long after that sport class and knowing my background in soccer, she invited me to join her family for a U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team game at the 2003 Women’s World Cup in Portland. I also had the good fortune of taking classes from Amy and having her as my dissertation chair. In those areas, she maintained that delicate balance of sharing critical feedback on my work and remaining supportive during my development as a scholar (all of Amy’s students will remember the famous “so what” question!). When I entered the academic job market, she served as a great sounding board during those challenging years of applications and interviews. Indeed, when I told her that I wanted to find a job and settle into the tenure track process while having children, she did not bat an eye.
As I have moved through the promotion and tenure process and into an administrative position, I have taken many of the lessons I learned from Amy with me, as I have grown and become a mentor to my colleagues and students. Moving to the Palouse from San Diego and entering the academic world was a bit frightening, and I always appreciated having Amy as a mentor and friend through that process. I wish her the best in this next adventure in her life, but know she will be sorely missed at WSU, and in the discipline of sociology.
Michelle Robertson (PhD 2006) is Professor of Sociology and Chairperson of the Department of Social Work and Sociology at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She co-authors Sociology: Exploring the Architecture in Everyday Life (with David Newman and Jodi O’Brien).
Reflections on Amy Wharton from Mary Blair-Loy:
As a graduate student in the 1980s, I was familiar with the research of Professor Amy S. Wharton, a highly respected sociologist of gender, work, and inequality. I first met Amy in person when I interviewed for an assistant professor position in the Department of Sociology at WSU Pullman. I was impressed by many people on the faculty, but Amy was the person I was most excited to meet. I was delighted to join the faculty and extremely fortunate to experience the generous and effective mentoring Amy provided to me as a new faculty member.
Amy showed me what it means to be a professor. She was my first role model of the ways in which the different strands of our profession—teaching, research, and service—can be intertwined into a joyful and productive life.
Close-up, I saw her mentor students and other junior faculty. I saw her lead a major section of the American Sociological Association. I saw her write research articles and a teaching textbook. I saw her assemble her file for promotion to full professor. I saw her navigate department politics and edit a major journal. At WSU Vancouver, I saw her add a significant administrative role to her faculty position. Aha, I thought. This is all possible. This is how it is done.
Amy invited me to join her on a grant application, which yielded funding and access to a hard-to-reach and theoretically important population. Her previous research on the importance of social context—including the demography of work groups—helped guide our research design, which included studying bankers nested within work units, within different national contexts. We collected amazing data, which I was frankly overwhelmed by. Amy showed me how to go back to our original research questions and systematically focus on the data threads that would allow us to write up the answer to those questions. Together, we published eight research articles, including two with WSU colleague Jerry Goodstein. This was invaluable experience, and I am so grateful for our collaboration.
Even after Amy moved to WSU Vancouver and I moved to University of California San Diego, Amy graciously agreed to serve on the Executive Advisory Committee of one of my new research projects. She generously gave her time and expertise, including trips to SoCal to support this project.
On a more personal note, Amy and her partner, Melinda Moer, provided friendship as I settled into Pullman. There were numerous dinners, glasses of wine, and much laughter. Amy and Melinda’s pathway to adopting Lucy helped open up for me, adoption as a realistic, workable plan. Aha, I thought. This is possible. And later in San Diego, when I adopted Louis, Amy visited and brought him one of Lucy’s favorite books—Peggy Ratham’s The Day the Babies Crawled Away. As she read this book—a brilliant expression of adventure and safety told in rhythmic poetry—I knew: This is how it is done.
Thank you, Amy.
Mary Blair-Loy is a former faculty member in the Department of Sociology at Washington State University. She is currently professor of sociology and founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at UC San Diego. She holds a BA and PhD from the University of Chicago and a MDiv from Harvard University. She uses multiple methods to study gender, the economy, work, and family.
From former WSU graduate student Sharon Bird:
As a sociologist, Amy Wharton’s influence on the discipline spans multiple subfields, including work and occupations, gender, emotions and emotion work, social stratification, and race/class/gender intersections. Through her scholarship, she has examined, critiqued, and advanced theories ranging from socialist feminism to labor market segregation to emotion labor to organizational change. Methodologically, Amy is recognized throughout the discipline for her meticulous use of quantitative data and statistical analyses to test and advance theories of inequality in the arenas of work, organizations, and occupations. Sociologists nationally and internationally have benefited as well from Amy’s extensive leadership—as president of the Pacific Sociological Association (2014), editor of the journal Social Problems (2005-2008), and as chair of multiple sections of the American Sociological Association and Society for the Study of Social Problems, including chair of the sections on sociology of emotions; occupations, organizations, and work; and sex and gender.
When I consider how and the extent to which Amy Wharton has influenced the careers of scholars like myself, it’s not only her scholarship and contributions as a feminist leader in academia that come to mind. I first met Amy in the early 1990s when I was a new student in the WSU Sociology PhD program. Amy was among a handful of women faculty in Sociology at that time, and I remember feeling incredibly lucky to have been admitted to a program where there were so many incredible women. By the spring of my first year in graduate school, I knew that Amy was the faculty member with whom I most wanted to work because I had read her published research in the area of gender and work. What I didn’t know at that time was that her approach to mentoring was to train-up independent feminist scholars, or that her approach to life was to squeeze as much intellectual and experiential adventure into each day as possible. Now, I don’t know if Amy herself views her approach to scholarship, mentoring, and life in the ways I have described them here, but I can say for certain that I credit her for teaching me all of these lessons—lessons for which I am tremendously grateful.
As a mentor, collaborator, and role model, Amy Wharton’s influence in sociology extends far beyond those with whom she’s worked at WSU. A common conversation at professional society meetings, especially among aspiring new PhDs, begins with the familiar question, “Who is your adviser?” The reactions one receives when answering this question reveal a range of sentiments about the name given. Over the years since I left WSU, I have been asked this question dozens of times. The reactions range from, “Wow, she’s amazing!” to “I just love that article about managing emotions on the job” and “Oh, I was on the (such and such) committee when she was elected—she’s wonderful!” One of my favorite reactions, which occurred more recently, came in the form of a text from another of Amy’s WSU PhD advisees, Marta Maldonado. Marta had texted to tell me to share that one of her PhD advisees (whom I’d also once advised while at Iowa State University) had just learned that his “intellectual grandmother” was Amy Wharton—and that one of Amy’s mentors was Joan Acker. The student was overjoyed to learn of his academic heritage! Likewise, I am extremely proud of my academic heritage, and am even more grateful for my friendship with Amy over the years. As Joan Acker once said at an ASA meeting after Amy had introduced us, “… she is an excellent feminist.” Yes, she is—and awesome scholar, mentor, leader and friend as well.
Sharon R. Bird (PhD, WSU, 1998) is professor of sociology and director of Women’s & Gender Studies at West Virginia University. Sharon’s research and teaching focus on gender and work, social inequality, and most recently in issues of equity in academic workplaces. Sharon has only recently begun her new position at WVU where she is excited about the many academic and outdoor opportunities that her new position affords.