The world is on fire, and we need to ask why

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Have you ever wondered what sociology is? It’s the study of society… okay, but so what? What do you even talk about in sociology classes? These were some questions that I asked myself when I first came to Muhlenberg with my eyes set on psychology or neuroscience. I knew my true goal was to work with people, and it wasn’t until finding sociology that I realized working with people would be easier once I learned the contexts in which people live and why they act, dress, talk, interact, etc., the way they do. Sociology would not keep me from working with people, but rather only further strengthen my capacity to be a mental health professional or expressive arts therapist (which is my dream). Sociology crosses paths with a wide range of other fields including political science, economics and psychology. Students who come out of sociology programs often go into social service work, education, research, business and industry jobs and policy social justice work. 

The skill set that is gained through the study of sociology is particularly important today. In our young, liberal, media consuming social sphere there are plenty of buzz words flying around. “Systemic racism,” the “construct” of gender, and class “hierarchies.” These are terms we reproduce and repurpose constantly, but do we know what they mean? Do we know the histories of these concepts and where the terms belong and do not belong? The questions we ask in this field and the ways in which we ask them are at the core of all that we think we know and expose the truths of our world that often go untouched. Sociology major Allison Piotte ’23 says “I see everything completely differently now.”

The “who are we” statement on the Muhlenberg website states that “Muhlenberg is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative citizens.” Our liberal arts curriculum at Muhlenberg is supposed to uphold ideals that are achieved through requirements such as the humanities where students “interpret and evaluate issues of human concern” or the Human Difference and Global Engagement requirement which aims to “broaden and deepen students’ understanding of human difference and to develop the intellectual and civic skills students require for participation in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.” And yet, not every student graduates from Muhlenberg with an understanding of the race, gender and class structures that dictate every moment of their lives. This is where a sociological perspective can provide a bedrock for what we may learn in these General Academic Requirements. 

Unlike many other majors, the things we learn in sociology classes apply to everyone. We learn how to practice civic engagement, why social dynamics that are embedded in our communities exist and how to navigate the implications of working with, against or around them. Today, we see a trend of institutions being criticized and challenged to make real structural change. Gen Z is calling for higher education to decolonize and make greater efforts toward diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Sociological understanding is crucial in making these efforts come to fruition and yet it is one of the smallest departments in colleges and universities across the board. The sociology department at Muhlenberg is undervalued and unsupported. Our department particularly deals with the pressing truths of our changing world and we look critically at the role institutions have played throughout history. This makes you think about why sociology, among other departments of a similar nature, might be pushed to the side. I don’t think it is a coincidence that our collegiate institution is failing to recognize a field of study that actively picks apart the dangers of social institutions–such as education–in the interest of understanding how we are defined by these structures. We pose a threat. 

There are many first-year students entering Muhlenberg who wish to know how people work and why they do what they do. There is a tendency to take this question into psychology or the hard sciences, but I would argue that what you learn in psych is only half of the full picture. Sitting in Intro to Sociology, I was invited for the first time to criticize and tear apart phenomenons that appeared to be set in stone. The way I now understand human social behavior, relationships and cultural aspects of day-to-day life is much different than what it would be if I had not gone through this department. In the words of Assistant Professor of Sociology Sahar Sadeghi Ph.D., “Studying sociology makes sure that the knowledge we are acquiring (in all fields) makes sense in the world. The world is on fire and there is a reason why.” If we claim to want to make change and support the most vulnerable people in our society, then my question is: why aren’t we more concerned with knowing the reason why? 

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is not only informative but also well written. It’s given me some points to think upon.
    Thank you for sharing your questions and your thoughts. I would think the college would want to lay claim to the issues Claire Spenard proposed and questioned.As an incoming student I would want to believe what was proposed is something I could look forward to,if not into a major ,certainly some kind of exposure in a class or two ,or a minor
    -margoT

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