sociology department

The sociology department at the University of Georgia offers free lectures to the public, spanning various sociological topics. 

I’m a senior. Like most seniors, I don’t realize what the University of Georgia offers until I’m about to leave it. There’s free movies at Tate, free documentary movies on Kanopy, free lessons on Lynda, access to Microsoft Office and a free subscription to The New York Times, among other things. This campus is a fruit basket I’ve left uneaten.

However, my most pressing regret is not attending the lectures series of various departments — particularly in sociology. I’m a human living among humans, so learning about the social system enshrouding us benefits all parties involved.

If you’re a human too, you should learn more about the society you live in, and the sociology colloquium series is an informative yet low time commitment way to do that.

Time is of the essence on a college campus, and many students fail to schedule self-learning into their schedules. James Coverdill, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator for the sociology department, said he has consistently prompted students to learn outside the classroom.

“We’ve had this first year odyssey seminar requirement. A significant requirement isn’t the one-hour meeting, but the constant drumbeat to feast on the offerings around the university, like our colloquium series and many others,” Coverdill said. “The university in general encourages consumption of extracurriculars, but my experience is that people don’t want to consume that way.”

And yet, the sociology colloquiums provide enriching fodder for the UGA community. Coverdill said the majority of people attending the colloquiums are sociology faculty, graduate students and some undergraduates. There’s an informal normalcy within the department to attend these extra-academic lectures as a community fostering activity, which makes sense when the discipline studies human communities.

But I think there’s value for all UGA students to attend these lectures.

Behind the social curtain

Coverdill describes attending a lecture from a UC-Berkeley sociologist who wrote a book on the construction of the racial category “Hispanic.” As Coverdill recalls, people from Mexico or Guatemala were called Mexicans and weren’t lumped into a larger category. And yet, people from Central America, Caribbean and even America in the Southwest were labeled “Hispanic.”

“Social scientists, and sociologists in particular, say that many things are social constructions, they’re not inevitable or by nature the way they are,” Coverdill said. “They’re things we create. Well, often time, good examples of how that happens are hard to convey, but this was a book on this exact topic of the construction of this category ‘Hispanic.’”

With such applicable consequences to our lives, students may find way to incorporate sociological findings into their lives too.

What I've learned from the sociology lectures

I’ve gone to the lectures a few times and have been pleasantly surprised by how informative the talks have been. One talk was from Sharyn Potter, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. She discussed the human capital costs of college sexual assault. Victims of assault  end up dropping out of school, accruing higher medical bills and lowering in economic class, among other repercussions, as a result of their trauma. Sexual assault isn’t just a grossly social problem, but an economic one too.

Not only that, but as someone living in the South, there’s rampant discussion over police-public relations. Jennifer Carlson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, came to UGA to describe how police officers embody their law enforcing position: as a warrior in a war zone versus a protective guardian over their community. I felt enlightened about an unspoken aspect of daily life after attending Carlson’s talk.

And with only an hour or two of your time, you can too. Stop by one of the future colloquiums. There are three more occurring with more populating future semesters. The earliest lecture will be on Friday, Mar. 29, and will be given by Coverdill and professor William Finlay describing headhunters — those who find job candidates for firms who will pay the headhunter a fee if the candidate is hired — and their effects on the labor market. The next two will be on April 5 and April 19.

Even if you’re not interested in sociology, you’re still a social being living in a social setting, and learning more about your world make you a better informed member of the society you live in.

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