Introducing the New Grad Student Cohort
Kacey: I identify as a queer person, and I grew up in an area that I would say is semi-rural. It was a suburban community, but it was surrounded by agriculture, and there were certain norms in my hometown that were very fundamentalist. I had a lot of queer peers growing up, and it was interesting to see how people coped and navigated that landscape and how different everyone’s experience was, even though we were all in the same community. I’ve always been curious about how various facets of people’s identity impacts their experiences of other identities they might have. So, it’s very close to home.
Sadie: I think this is a really good place to study that.
Sadie: Stepping away from sociology—I know you are a plant person, so if you were a plant, what kind would you be?
Kacey: I almost feel like it depends on the day, but I would say a monstera. I’m very attracted to them, and they make me feel happy. I love watching them grow. I have a few different monsteras that I keep around, the mama plant and the baby plant.
Sadie: If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would you do?
Kacey: I would find a nice corner in a coffee shop and bring a pile of books and hang out and read. Maybe go for a hike. Those are the main things that I enjoy doing, hanging out and reading, and going outside and enjoying nature.
Sadie: Do you have a book to recommend to the newsletter audience? Are you reading anything good right now?
Kacey: I just bought Bodies That Matter by Judith Butler. I’ve read excerpts, but I haven’t actually dug into the whole thing so I’m excited. I would recommend anything by Judith Butler. They’re one of my favorite theorists.
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Education: BA Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
Research interests: Race/ethnicity, criminal justice system, intersecting social statuses
Sadie: Were there experiences in your undergraduate education that kindled your interests?
Emma: I took a course that really ignited my interest in race and ethnicity. And then I conducted a research project that furthered my interests in the area. I created a cross-sectional survey to ascertain the factors that influence undergraduate students’ perceptions of their personal experiences with racialized advantages and racism in the context of their interpersonal relationships. An interesting finding from this study was that respondents’ gender, race/ethnicity, and political orientation were strong indicators of their perceptions of racialized privilege, race relations, and racial identity.
As an aside, I also got the opportunity to do research with one of my professors, and work as a co-investigator to examine the use of empathy as a pedagogical tool in courses that deal with American cultural diversity. We used syllabi to evaluate how professors were using empathy as a pedagogical strategy and if it was a goal or course outcome in their class, and then we also did one-on-one semi-structured interviews with the instructors who were teaching American cultural diversity courses. We found that often instructors do not use empathy explicitly as a strategy but they use it implicitly and hope that students develop skills of empathy in the classroom.
Sadie: I completely believe that sociology develops empathy and that it is connected to building a sociological imagination.
Sadie: What would be your ideal way to spend a weekend, if you didn’t have schoolwork on your plate?
Emma: I would say hiking. There’s a lot of great trails in this area and the Pacific Northwest in general. I’ve only traveled in the South and the Midwest, so it’s nice that there’s a lot of different hills and mountains to hike through, because you don’t really get that in other regions of the country. I went to Magpie Forest in Pullman recently. It’s nice and beautiful scenery.
Sadie: What about the best job you’ve ever had?
Emma: Probably working at an apothecary store. I got to learn how to make bath bombs and then run workshops teaching people how to make them. I met a lot of interesting different types of people there and I think it’s the people that make the job. Even if you don’t love the work itself, as long as you have good coworkers it makes the experience enjoyable.
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Education: BS Psychological Sciences, Northern Arizona University
Research Interests: Incarceration, crime and deviance, law and society, demography, public sociology
Sadie: Tell us about your background.
Safiya: My parents are from Fiji, and that has influenced everything about my personality, my life, and the work that I do. They immigrated to America, so I had to face a lot of challenges, and growing up I was always very different. Pullman is the same way. I’m different than a lot of the people I see here, and I don’t know if I’m going to meet somebody from Fiji because we’re very rare in the first place. While I was growing up, my parents were trying to figure out American culture as I was trying to figure out the world. I would come to them, “Who is Santa?” And they’re like, “We don’t know” (laughs).
Sadie: Can you tell us a bit about your research interests?
Safiya: I ask questions such as, why do we incarcerate? And are there better alternatives? We default to incarceration, and I am curious if we could default to something else. Rather than diversion from incarceration, incarceration is the diversion; we have to incarcerate you if we need to rather than that’s what we’re going to right off the bat.
Sadie: That’s important reframing.
Sadie: What’s something you have strong opinions about?
Safiya: My strongest opinion, and it offends most people, is that if you enjoy The Office and it is your favorite TV show, you need to get a better personality. Because the setting is just a workplace, and it simulates the environment of having coworkers and funny things happening, so it’s just like life in that sense. The point of the show is that there’s all this fun in the ordinary. But if your favorite show is ordinary, then you need to up your game. Eight seasons of people working should not be your favorite TV show.
Sadie: Wow you aren’t pulling your punches! What do you recommend these Office lovers watch instead? What’s your favorite TV show?
Safiya: Well, Office lovers should watch honestly anything else (laughs). My favorite TV show is True Blood. It’s sexy but at the same time it has political implications. It talks about being another kind of person in America, like they’re trying to fight for rights as vampires. It sounds silly, but it mirrors American politics and it’s very entertaining. And hot vampires? Best show ever.
Sadie: You could teach a sociology of True Blood! You mentioned you like to bake in your free time—is there a dish that you’ve mastered?
Safiya: I like to take recipes that I’m pretty sure I can’t do and see if I can. Usually it doesn’t work out well, or it’s very ugly, but it tastes good. I’ve nailed every type of scone. I’m terrified of trying it up here because I’ve had to adjust every recipe in the past four years for elevation since I was at 7,000 feet. I got everything down, but it took some trial and error. I don’t know what they’re going to be like here, so I’m a little scared to try. My two favorites are white chocolate and dark chocolate scones and raspberry lemon scones.
Hometown: Overland Park, KS
Education: BA Sociology and Global Studies, University of Kansas
Research Interests: Gender, political economy, globalization
Sadie: Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up.
Zoey: I grew up in the suburbs in Kansas City, Kansas. Most surrounding cities were 30 minutes from each other. I drove up through Idaho and then through South Dakota with my mom to get here. After I graduated from the University of Kansas, I took a gap year because of COVID, and I am still getting back into the groove of college after being out of the loop for so long.
Sadie: What song would you sing for karaoke night?
Zoey: Well, I don’t do Karaoke much and the one time I did I chose a song that didn’t match my vocals. But a good song is “Vow” by Garbage.
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Education: BS Natural Resources, Oregon State University; MS Food Systems & Society, Oregon Health Sciences University
Research interests: Labor organizing in the restaurant industry, collective action
Sadie: I know you have a master’s degree, can you tell us about that research?
Whitney: My master’s thesis was on labor organizing in the restaurant industry, looking at the intersection of gender, race, and class, and how that plays a role in labor organizing. I looked at unions and worker centers. At first I was trying to see which of those avenues for organizing was better, but I realized that question was extremely limited, and that the union and the worker centers work together based on the restaurant context or people’s access to organizing. For example, a union is a very traditional way of organizing, whereas a worker center might be able to support people who are undocumented. And some industries or sectors of the restaurant industry are challenging to organize. Such as fine dining – these are individually owned restaurants where there’s not a lot of money to organize, and people are scared of organizing in those places. However, there’s a lot of inequality and injustice in these places, like wage theft, and the biggest thing that’s on the line for a lot of these restaurants is their reputation. So, worker centers can organize around that, whereas it might not necessarily be full-on union organizing but it’s an opportunity for the workers to get their wages back. It could be a steppingstone towards unionizing, but that’s not the end goal. Worker centers and unions definitely coalesce in ways and work with one another, and they’re on the same continuum, but it’s not that one is better than the other. One of my biggest takeaways was that reframing questions as we learn more is essential.
Sadie: Where did your interest in this topic come from?
Whitney: I started working in the food industry as a dishwasher a week after I turned 14. I came of age working in restaurants and I worked all the way through high school. Well, the high school years—I’m not a high school graduate. I dropped out very early on and got my GED. At about the age of 20, I was encouraged by one of my chefs to go to culinary school. I did and the seed of education was planted back in me. Before, I had given up on school, and I think the biggest failure of education system is when it leads people to believe they are not able to perform or not worthy of an education. Culinary school brought me back into education. I had amazing educators that believed in me, and I was able to perform in ways that I had never been able to in the later part of my k-12 education. I got into high-end cooking and did that for about six years in Portland. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I was not learning anything anymore. I wanted to understand more about where the food that I was cooking came from. While I was still cooking, I went back to school to study horticulture at this community college which has an amazing horticulture program. It was small and cohort-based, and it felt like culinary school in that they believed in you and put a lot of time into making sure you learned you were part of a community.
Then I was fortunate to receive the largest scholarship in the state to attend a four-year university. I went to Oregon State and realized I wanted to study the systems that plants are a part of rather than plants themselves and moved to natural resources. I got to do an internship in India, where I studied agroforestry systems in a women-run seed-saving collective, and that got me deeper into the social aspects of natural resources and the people, as well as food justice.
One of my mentors recommended the master’s program through food systems and society. Through that program the idea of positionality was imprinted in me and this idea about changing the things that you care about and that you have been a part of as an important part of social science. So, I began looking at my own time in the restaurant industry and things I and the people around me experienced. My positionality gets me a foot in the door, and I care and want to help people in the food industry and change the ways of thinking in that system.
Sadie: Thank you for sharing.
Sadie: Maybe this is something you would never actually do now, but if you were to open a restaurant, what would the house specialty be?
Whitney: No, I would never open a restaurant now. I would have early in my career. But if I were going to, it would be a pay-as-you-can, work/co-op type business model similar to Sisters of the Road in Portland, that serves the people of the area rather than the elite. It would be focused on what the people of the area like to eat, because it’s about the collective and community recipes and not me pushing an agenda. I like strong, salty, acidic flavors, but that’s not for everyone and that’s fine. I’m not trying to have this chef ego that if you don’t like that, you’re less of a human, because that had been hammered down my throat. So, I would want to counter that.
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia
Education: BA Sociology, Wake Forest University
Research interests: Crime and race-ethnicity, white-collar crime
Sadie: What were you doing before you came to grad school?
Seth: I went to Wake Forest and graduated in 2020 right as COVID started in the U.S. My original plan was to go to grad school immediately, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I worked for a couple of years doing ABA (applied behavioral analysis) therapy, so I worked with kids with autism and helped them with tasks that they would need to succeed. Things like brushing your teeth and sitting down in class. It was stressful work, but the best part was working with the kids. They were great, so I loved doing that.
Sadie: What got you interested in white-collar crime?
Seth: My advisor in undergrad studied white-collar crime and I took a class in that subject that was impactful. I don’t think many schools have a white-collar crime class and that was the advantage of having a scholar in that topic and learning the differences and the disparities between white collar crime and street crime in terms of how its seen by the public and everyone really. There’s more focus on street crime, despite the evidence that white collar crime is more impactful to society.
Sadie: I see the connections to Dr. Jennifer Schwartz and some of her work. Did you do research with your undergraduate advisor on that topic?
Seth: Dr. Schwartz went to Wake Forest as well, which is cool. I didn’t get to do research with my undergraduate advisor on that topic, but I did get the opportunity to do research with a faculty member related to the Indian Child Welfare Acts. I went through legal documents and looked at arguments related to ICWA and how various terms and definitions were used. I also did some work on social movements related to race and immigration and did archival research for that as well.
Sadie: On a different note, do you have a favorite music era? And if so, what song from that era?
Seth: You opened a can of worms with a music question. If I had to choose one, it would be the ’80s and my favorite song would be “The Great Curve” by The Talking Heads. Prefab Spout is also one of my favorite bands and I was listening to The Cure today.
Sadie: Why the ’80s? What is it about that era?
Seth: It had an interesting mix of genres. When a lot of people think of the ’80s, they think of one thing that they recognize from it like synth pop, but there’s so much variation that I really appreciate. The Talking Heads is a little more post-punk new wave, Prefab Spouts is much more pop oriented.
Sadie: Clearly, you’re very into music. Is there an album you would recommend to the newsletter audience?
Seth: My favorite album from this year, which I tell everyone to listen to constantly, is Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman. He’s a guitarist and songwriter from Asheville, North Carolina. He writes songs that have country and shoegaze, so very noisy, cool guitars. He’s a great songwriter, but also an incredible guitarist. He has songs that are heartfelt and songs that are funny. I can’t recommend that album enough.
Hometown: Shanghai, China
Education: BA World History, Wuhan University, MA Social Sciences, University of Tokyo
Research interests: Migration, family, education, health, and well-being
Sadie: Can you tell us about your master’s thesis and what you found?
Xinyue: It’s about re-migrant children in China. It’s a very special group, because this group’s occurrence is closely related to China’s household registration system, which is very different from countries like Japan or America that don’t have such a system.
I did a quantitative study using the China Education Panel Survey (CEPS) and found that the migration process itself can increase re-migrant children’s educational investment and educational aspirations. I think this phenomena can be accounted for by the inequality they suffer from. Re-migrant children do not have urban hoku, which is like a passport, so they have to go back to their hoku location to receive education.
Sadie: Very interesting work and topic.
Sadie: On a totally unrelated note, If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Xinyue: If it can be a drink, I’m crazy for boba tea, which is milk tea with boba. It’s sticky and delicious. When I was in Shanghai, I would get it every week. They also have it at Popo in Pullman.
Sadie: Is there anything else you want to highlight?
Xinyue: I really want to make friends with local people, and I would love to join in on weekend activities.