Anna Mueller asked Eve Ewing the following questions about writing Ghosts in the School Yard, working for Marvel Comics, and authoring a children’s book.
AM: Your book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, came out to rave academic and lay reviews, including a comment from NPR calling it “superbly written and researched…at once poignant and deeply troubling.” Could you tell us about the book and your inspiration for writing it?
EE: The book comes from my dissertation research, which in turn was inspired by my own experiences of loss and uncertainty when the school where I had taught grades six through eight was slated for closure as part of the 2013 mass school closings in Chicago. I wanted to better understand the relationship between this policy decision and the history of racism and segregation in Chicago. I also wanted to provide a useful tool for teachers, community members, and young people to have a framework for thinking and talking about school closures and education policies more generally. And I wanted to provide an accessible text for people at all academic levels—undergrads, graduate students, and faculty members—to think through what racism actually is, how we talk about it, and the implications of that discourse or silence.
AM: On top of your outstanding academic work, you are involved in a substantial number of artistic endeavors (including writing the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics and books on poetry!). How do your sociological training and research and your artistic work inform each other?
EE: I often say that I am the least capable person of answering this question, because in my brain all of these things are kind of jumbled together. They manifest in different ways in the world, but they are all engaged in a similar set of questions and concerns. I think the best way that I can describe it is that all of these works draw on modes of close looking and inquiry. The poet’s job and the social scientist’s job are to look closely at the things that other people take for granted and ask why they are the way they are.
AM: I am really excited about your forthcoming children’s book. I am always on the hunt for books for my nieces and nephews that also teach deeper lessons about how the social world works. What was your inspiration for writing a children’s book and can you tell us a bit about it?
EE: Thank you! I love literature for young people and I always expected that I wanted to write some eventually but didn’t plan for it to be so soon. It’s just that a character came into my head and she refused to leave and so I had to write it all down. The book is called Maya and the Robot and it’s about a young girl who, through happenstance, becomes best friends with a sort of hodgepodge refurbished robot she finds in the back of the corner store in her neighborhood. In terms of deeper themes, without revealing too much, it’s also about the way that gun violence affects communities beyond just the nuclear family, the way that we struggle in our culture to deal with mourning and loss, and the ways that we are all accountable to our communities and that our work has meaning beyond each of us as individuals. But in a way that I hope is engaging, fun, meaningful, and relatable for kids between the ages of seven and eleven or so years old.
AM: There have been many debates recently about the relationship between sociology and social action/activism and how we can use our research and knowledge to effect change. What sorts of choices (e.g., professional and/or practical) have you had to make in order to be the sociologist inside and outside of academia that you want to be?
EE: I’m really befuddled by this debate. The first thing is that I am inspired by the Black intellectual tradition, which has always married theory, empirics, and social engagement with a variety of publics. The second, related thing is that I don’t understand what it would mean for someone to not be concerned with the way their work has an impact on the world. What would it mean to do work on, say, incarceration, or poverty, or educational injustice, and proclaim to be somehow neutral? As though these are issues where there are multiple reasonable sides to take on within any sort of ethical or moral framework? And the third, related thing is that for me, caring about social issues is why I entered academia. The purpose of rigorous study and inquiry, to me, is to make people’s lives better. That’s why I’m here. So I have a hard time engaging with those kinds of debates at face value or in good faith.
Any time you are engaged in any kind of knowledge production, that project is inherently a political project and an ideological project. None of us, no matter what folks may think, are actually capable of producing apolitical work, because we live and breathe and move in a dynamic social and political context. The question is, how do we make intentional decisions about the kind of political impact our work may have? To me, thinking through those questions isn’t “activism,” and I don’t identify as a “scholar-activist.” I identify as a scholar who cares about who my work helps or hurts, and who cares deeply in particular about the liberation of Black people.
I like the way you framed the second part of the question. I would reframe it just slightly and say that I am trying to move through the world as a certain type of person. An inquisitive person, an accountable person, a courageous person, a kind person, a hard-working person. I believe it’s an incident of good fortune that my efforts at striving toward those dispositions also strengthens my sociological work.
AM: What is next on your agenda (academic and non-academic)?
EE: I’ve got some projects cooking that I’m pretty excited about. This past year I’ve been working on a study of how middle school students understand and make use of concepts of consent in their interpersonal interactions, and I’m going to be working on a couple of papers related to that. I’m also beginning research for my next academic book project, which will be about Black out-migration from Chicago and a reframing of what people refer to as the “inner city.” The working title is Outer City Children: Chicago at the End of the Black Century.
~ ~ ~
Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side. She is also author of Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year's best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She also writes the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics. Ewing is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.
Getting into college seems harder than ever before.
As an alum college interviewer, I am often astounded by the caliber of prospective college students I talk to who are not only at the top of their classes but also competitive athletes, state-recognized musicians, and start-up founders.
Colleges across the country have seen massive increases in applicants and rapidly decreasing admittance rates. Take, for instance, my alma mater—Rice University—which has seen a 30% increase in applications between the 2018 and 2019 application cycles. At the same time, admissions rates have dropped from 16% in 2015 to 11% in 2018. From a lay person’s perspective, it does seem that college admission is an increasingly more competitive feat.
The difficulty of getting into the right school and the importance of college-going more generally are often discussed in the media in terms of meddling parents who over-schedule their children’s calendars with extracurricular activities or take more drastic measures to ensure their children gain admission to the colleges of their choice. Less attention, however, has been paid to how competitive college admissions also shape the opportunities youth have to identify themselves, find friends, and otherwise navigate the high school social landscape.
The wide array of college-level courses and extracurricular opportunities available to high school students has indirectly shaped the high school social landscape. Although classes and clubs are attractive to colleges, they are also important avenues by which youth are clustered into peer crowds that share similar characteristics, activities, and values (e.g., college aspirations). These peer crowds are the location of much of the identity work, friendship formation, and social ranking that are developmentally important for adolescents. In the current demographic moment, when college-going is more consequential for later life prospects and high school offerings are more diverse than ever before, peer crowds that value college-going are likely to increase in number and in social status.
In a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Adolescent Research, my colleagues and I set out to map the current high school landscape given the increased focus on college-going that characterizes adolescents’ current reality. We were particularly interested in the ways in which college-bound students—an ever-growing, diverse subset of adolescents—experience their high schools.
We find that college-bound youth do indeed identify multiple “college-bound” crowds, including familiar crowds like the Smarts, who have historically been viewed as college-bound, and the Populars and Jocks, who have only recently developed a newfound focus on college.
Several other “college-bound” crowds are newer on the scene, including the Fine Arts and Good-Ats, who are not just academically gifted but also “good at” other extracurricular activities (e.g., swimming, chess, dance). This crowd may be a response to adolescents diversifying their activities to become more attractive to colleges looking for “well-rounded” applicants, not just the highest-scoring youth.
We also see that adolescents who are themselves college-bound see explicitly college-focused crowds as higher on the social hierarchy than other—and consequentially “counterculture”—crowds like the Emo/Goths and Druggie/Stoners, among others.
Although college-bound students may see crowds without normative college aspirations less favorably, they do not view all college-bound crowds as having similar status. For example, Smarts are relegated to the bottom of the totem pole, compared to Populars, Jocks, and Good-Ats who occupy similarly high positions in the high school food chain. This hierarchy suggests that it isn’t enough to just have high test scores; adolescents ascribe more status to those college-bound youth who have interests beyond the classroom, which may also translate into higher odds of getting into competitive colleges.
Are these changes in high school peer crowds and social hierarchies solely the perceptions of college-bound youth? Maybe. But as more and more students have their eyes on attending college and as college admissions become increasingly more competitive, the perceptions of college-bound youth will likely become increasingly important in shaping what is considered “cool in school” and what activities youth choose to cultivate over others.
Lilla Pivnick is a fourth-year graduate student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a NICHD Pre-doctoral Research Trainee at the Population Research Center. Her research interests include gender and health, demography, education, and children and youth. Her work examines the ways in which high school peer crowds have changed over time and how adolescents use peer crowd heuristics to make sense of their social worlds. You can follow Lilla on Twitter at @1i11a.
"It's not fair."
If you spend time with kids, you probably hear those words a lot. And for adults, it's easy to respond with "Life isn't fair." But for kids growing up with privilege, that response is problematic.
It’s problematic, because when a privileged kid says, "It's not fair," what they almost always mean is "I'm not getting what I want." So if an adult responds with "Life's not fair," what the kid hears is "You're not getting what you want, and that's not fair."
That response teaches privileged kids to see fairness only through their own eyes. To ignore the real injustices that exist in the world, or, maybe worse, to see their own inconveniences as equally "unfair."
The recent college admissions scandal suggests that privileged kids—and privileged parents—may have a broken sense of what’s fair. Court documents revealed that dozens of celebrity and CEO parents cheated to get their kids into “top” colleges—by paying for fake test scores, fake learning disabilities, and even fake athlete profiles.
But the kids in those families weren’t just innocent victims of their parents’ crimes. George Caplan, one of the fathers named in the indictment, described how he (and other affluent parents) tried to game the system of legal accommodations for students with learning disabilities. Caplan arranged for his daughter to be evaluated for a learning disability and then coached her to “be stupid” during the test. Having a diagnosed learning disability would qualify Caplan’s daughter for extra time on tests. Not just on the SATs but on every test she took in high school and in college. And that extra time would give Caplan’s daughter a chance at higher grades and higher scores. Caplan’s daughter knew she didn’t have a learning disability, but she played along. And she got what she wanted in the end—a spot at a top school.
As Shamus Khan’s research shows, the kids of celebrities and CEOs have long had a broken sense of what’s fair. But they’re not alone. Plenty of mundanely privileged kids—the kids of lawyers and doctors and even college professors and teachers—have a broken sense of fairness, as well.
As I describe in my book, middle- and upper-middle-class white kids see themselves as above the rules. They demand support and attention far in excess of what's fair or required. They break rules with impunity. When they get caught, they try to talk their way out of punishment. And they often succeed.
They succeed because of the power of their privilege. Because teachers and school administrators are afraid of what privileged kids (and privileged parents) will do if privileged kids aren’t allowed to win the game.
As one of the working-class white parents I interviewed explained:
“Parents here don’t make their kids accountable or responsible for anything. They do everything for their kids. Everything. It’s ridiculous. They don’t make their kids responsible for anything. I remember when I was a kid that if something happened at school, the teacher would call and tell our parents, and we would be scared to death and we wouldn’t do it again. It doesn’t seem like that anymore. It seems like the teachers here are afraid of the parents.”
That parent was right. The teachers I worked with were afraid of the parents—or at least the privileged parents. And that’s because saying “no” to privileged parents (or privileged kids) came with real risks.
For teachers, saying “no” often resulted in a deluge of emails, complaints to the principal, or even threats from parents about getting lawyers involved. One teacher I worked with was even “blacklisted” by a group of privileged parents—they wrote letters requesting that their children not be placed in that teacher’s class in fifth grade, and one privileged parent even pulled her son out of that teacher’s class and had him moved to a different class one week into the school year. Why? Because the teacher was seen as “unresponsive” to parent requests.
Those risks extended to principals and superintendents, as well. In the schools I studied, privileged parents spent countless hours volunteering and raised tens of thousands of dollars annually for the PTAs. They also supported the schools during fights with the school board over resources and teacher pay. And their children’s high test scores helped maintain the schools’ status as “good” schools. If the schools said “no” to privileged parents or privileged kids, they risked losing those critical resources and support.
Given those risks, it’s not surprising that schools and teachers say “yes,” even when they want to say “no.”
And of course, no one likes to be told “no.” But when privileged kids hear nothing but “yes,” they feel entitled to “yes.” And they bristle at hearing “no.”
So if you’re the parent of a privileged kid, or if you work with privileged kids, don’t be afraid to say “no.” And when they (inevitably) respond with "It's not fair," acknowledge what they're feeling, but challenge their meaning of "fair."
What does that look like? As the parent of a four-year-old, I can give you plenty of examples.
The other day, for example, she demanded a second snack, and I told her “no”— she’d have to wait until dinner. Stomping her foot, she glared at me and insisted: “It’s not fair!” And here’s what I said in response: "You're not getting what you want. But that doesn't make it unfair. Fair is when everyone gets what they need, and when everyone has the same chance to get what they want."
And of course, that wasn’t the beginning or the end of the conversation. That night at bedtime, for example, we read Maddi’s Fridge, a beautiful (and not overly preachy) book about friendship and about families struggling with food insecurity. And we talked about privilege and about the difference between wants and needs.
And some might argue that it’s not fair to put all that on a four-year-old. But I’d say instead that avoiding those conversations is what’s really not fair. Avoiding those tough conversations isn’t fair to the other four-year-olds who don’t have the privilege of being blissfully unaware.
But avoiding those tough conversations also isn’t fair to my four-year-old—because she needs to understand the inequalities that exist in the world. And she needs to understand where she stands in that unequal system. And she needs to understand what she can do to make the system fair.
Essentially, I’m arguing that kids, and especially privileged kids, need what Durkheim calls a “moral education.” They need to be taught to believe in the public good. To be good citizens. To care about the collective as much as they care about themselves.
Some kids are getting that kind of “moral education” at home. As I’ve found in my research, parents from marginalized groups coach their kids to be respectful and responsible. To put a bright line between right and wrong. In an interview, Ben, a student from an upwardly mobile family, talked about his disdain for classmates who would ask teachers to check their work on tests before turning them in (something I saw regularly in the classrooms I observed). As Ben noted:
“I never really did that. Because I think that’s kind of like asking someone to do it for you. But they want to get a good grade, I guess. And I want to [do that too], but I think it’s kind of cheap. Like, it’s your work, you have to do it. Instead of having the teacher check to see if it’s wrong. And so I’ve definitely gotten a lot wrong.”
Even when the deck was stacked against them, the marginalized kids I observed were reluctant to cheat to get ahead.
And yet, marginalized kids are also the ones being targeted for “moral education” at school. They’re the ones who go to the kinds of “no-excuses” schools Joanne Golann describes in her research. And as scholars like Carla Shedd and Victor Rios have shown, they’re also the ones being disproportionately punished for breaking the rules.
Privileged kids, meanwhile, don’t appear to be getting that same moral education. At home or at school. Unlike Ben, for example, the more privileged kids I interviewed didn’t seem to see anything wrong with getting teachers to check their work on tests. Or asking for extensions on assignments. Or talking their way out of punishment when they forgot their homework or got caught running in the halls.
And so I would argue that we need to be asking: Why aren’t privileged kids getting that same moral education? And what would it take to teach them? That kind of moral education might not be what privileged kids (or privileged parents) want. But that doesn’t make it unfair.
Jessica Calarco is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University. She studies inequalities, especially class-based ones, in education and family life and is the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School (Oxford University Press 2018). Her work also has appeared in such journals as the American Sociological Review and Social Psychology Quarterly. She has received a number of awards for her scholarship, including the Distinguished Early Career Award from the ASA Children and Youth Section and the Doris Entwisle Early Career Award from the ASA Sociology of Education Section. You can follow Jessica on Twitter at @JessicaCalarco.
Three sociologists who study children and youth and race and ethnicity, Elizabeth Ackert, Margaret Hagerman, and Ranita Ray, answered questions from the ASA Section on Children & Youth’s Communication and Publications Committee about their work and about race and ethnicity in the contemporary United States. Check out their full interviews here.
Questions for Elizabeth Ackert: As someone who studies the experiences of Mexican-origin children and youth, could you comment on the current situation of Mexican and other immigrant parents and their children in the United States? What do you think is most important for children and youth scholars to keep in mind about the current situation?
EA: First, it is important to remember that there is a diversity of experiences among the immigrant population in general and among the Mexican immigrant population in particular. As social scientists, we often compare mean outcomes between groups, but when focusing on immigrant populations it is always important to think about within-group variability (by national origin, by citizenship status, by authorized/unauthorized status, by levels of acculturation, etc.). My current research looks at place of residence (immigrant destinations) as another source of diversity within the already diverse immigrant and Mexican-origin populations. Highlighting diversity in characteristics and outcomes among these groups should be fundamental to research in this area.
Second, we are in an era of political scapegoating of immigrants, including Mexican immigrants. This scapegoating involves the characterization of migrants and asylum seekers as “invaders” and attempts to link immigration to societal ills such as crime and disease. This scapegoating is not new, unfortunately, but the rhetoric is heightened right now. It is important for scholars to document both qualitatively and quantitatively how national and local dialogues and policies surrounding immigration are influencing development and wellbeing among the children and descendants of immigrants. One new area of my research, in collaboration with Stephanie Potochnick from the University of Missouri, examines how local immigration enforcement (287g agreements and deportations) varies across immigrant destinations and determines whether Latino/a families in areas with higher immigration enforcement are less likely to utilize health care. Click here for Elizabeth's full interview.
Questions for Margaret Hagerman: Your new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, is based on two years of ethnographic study of affluent, white parents and their children. Very briefly, you find that white racial socialization involves not only what affluent, white parents do for their children (e.g., choices about neighborhoods, schools, and extracurricular activities), but also what they say to their children (e.g., whether they talk openly to their children about race), and that white children do not always agree with their parents about race. What effect did this particular research and book project have on you as a sociologist?
On the positive side of things, I now believe that it is possible for our research to have an impact on the choices that individual people make and how people see the world. Honestly, I always feared that my work might be pointless in terms of actually challenging inequality. But I have had so many conversations recently with affluent, white parents who have told me that my book has influenced them, that they are thinking critically in new ways about their own complicity with white supremacy, and that they want to make different parenting choices moving forward. I hope that they do. However, on the negative side of things, I have also learned that the statement “all children should be worthy of consideration” is possibly the most controversial statement I could make. I have been absolutely horrified by the hateful response to my suggestion that all children should be valued in our society, even if they are not one’s own affluent white child. Click here to hear more about Margaret's experience.
Question for Ranita Ray: In your recent book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City, you draw upon your three years of ethnographic study of sixteen black and brown youth living in an economically marginalized community to challenge the commonly-held belief that targeting risky behaviors (drug use, gangs, violence, teen parenthood) is the key to ending the “cycle of poverty.” What should be done instead and why?
RR: I think it is imperative we not place inordinate focus on risk behavior prevention because not only does this come at the cost of supporting youths’ educational and occupational goals, but it actually causes harm by reinforcing racist and classist stereotypes. For example, many non-profits in Port City actually invested resources and energy on pregnancy and violence prevention at the cost of, say, providing assistance with college admission or mitigating food insecurity. But it’s not just that. This focus often lead youth to internalize the idea that they’re potential social problems—for example, even after being admitted to a four-year university, one youth chose to join the military to “become disciplined.” Teachers, non-profit workers, community members, and sometimes the youth themselves, policed and stigmatized youth as potential social problems.
This focus also places the burden squarely on the individual as it indicates that ultimately behavioral change is the answer to challenging inequality. In reality, it is wealth inequality, discrimination, low-wages, tax laws that benefit the wealthy, and profit systems that result in hunger and eviction as white wealthy people accrue wealth that hold youth back. Given drug use is evenly distributed across communities, for example, why do we primarily focus on drug use within communities of color instead of, say, raising minimum wage or focusing on estate tax reform to challenge the racial wealth gap?
When we construct Black and Latinx youth as social problems to be solved, even if through our benevolent desire to do good, we are ultimately reproducing systems of racism and classism. For more from Ranita, click here.
About the Contributors:
Elizabeth Ackert is a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her individual and collaborative work examines explanations for why racial/ethnic and immigrant-origin groups are unequally distributed across contexts—including schools, neighborhoods, and immigrant destinations—and evaluates the consequences of this contextual inequality for disparities in outcomes in domains such as education, residential mobility, and health. She is particularly interested in understanding how the attributes of immigrant-receiving contexts, including states, communities, neighborhoods, and schools, influence the educational and health outcomes of children and adolescents of Mexican origin.
Margaret Hagerman is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University and is a Faculty Affiliate in both the African American Studies and Gender Studies programs. Her qualitative research focuses on the study of racial socialization. In addition to her new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America (NYU Press, 2018), Hagerman has published articles in Journal of Marriage and Family, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Sociological Studies of Children and Youth.
Ranita Ray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is an ethnographer specializing in children and youth, women of color feminisms, urban inequalities, and education and policing. In addition to her book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City (University of California Press, 2018), Ray has published other work related to children/youth, urban inequalities, race, class and gender, including book chapters and articles in such journals as Social Problems, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Sociology Compass.
This ASA guide is a sneak peek of some our upcoming newsletter content:
Conferences can be intimidating for even the most seasoned researchers, let alone first-time attendees. Below are some tips—a list of what not to do at conferences and what to do instead—that we have put together from our experiences as graduate student conference attendees.
Don’t fill every time slot with an activity. Instead, give yourself time to rest. Conference burnout is real!
Don’t stay in every night. Instead, attend section special receptions and dinners.
Don’t only mingle with people you know. Instead, reach out to faculty who inspire you in advance via email and plan to meet for coffee. In our experiences, professors are more than willing to meet with students during conferences.
Don’t drone on and on about your dissertation. Instead, practice your elevator pitch before the conference.
Don’t only attend sessions in your subfield. Instead, attend sessions on topics that interest you but are different from those you study.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t book a room at the conference hotel. Staying at the conference hotel is preferred, but if that doesn’t work out, stay in an Airbnb in a quirky nearby neighborhood.
Don’t carry around the paper program. Instead, utilize the ASA app to help you keep track of talks and events you want to attend. To download the app, click here.
Don’t forget to enjoy the city. Instead, explore famous landmarks, do touristy things, and eat local cuisine. For some ideas on things to do in Philadelphia, click here.
Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes. Or if you do, make sure to keep a comfortable pair in your bag for foot emergencies.
Don’t worry if you are worried. Conferences can be anxiety-provoking experiences, especially if you are a graduate student who is attending for the first time. It’s perfectly normal to feel awkward, anxious, or stressed…everyone feels this way at points during a conference.
· Advice for Attending Academic Conferences
· How to Give a Fabulous Academic Presentation
· How to Work the Conference
· The 6 Ways You’re Acting like a Grad Student (And how that’s killing you on the job market)
Lilla Pivnick is a rising fourth year graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin and the student representative to the Children and Youth section for 2018-2019.
Michela Musto (PhD, University of Southern California) is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
What steps can parents, teachers, and students take to reduce the risks of a mass shooting in their community?
The most important thing community members can do is report any suspicious or concerning behavior or statements to law enforcement. Although many people are familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign “If You See Something, Say Something,” they often assume that it primarily applies to the behavior of strangers. In reality, you are far more likely to see warning signs among your family, friends, or acquaintances, because you spend so much more time with them, and they are more likely to let their guard down and reveal their thoughts or plans when they are with people they know.
What is the clearest sign that someone may be at-risk of committing a mass shooting?
Many people do not realize that public mass shooters often openly admit that they are interested in committing a mass shooting before they actually attack. In 2002, a joint study of school shooters by the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education (DOE) found that in 81% of cases, “at least one person had information that the attacker was thinking about or planning the school attack,” and, in 59% of cases, more than one person knew about the impending attack. In these cases, the person who knew was almost always a peer, friend, or family member. This should not be surprising, given that mass shooters are often suicidal, and previous research has similarly shown that approximately 80% of suicidal people tell someone what they are planning in advance. But it is extremely important not to dismiss these statements as “jokes” or solely attention-seeking behavior, because they may be our best chance to prevent a mass shooting.
Although the Secret Service/DOE study is now 16 years old, its findings are just as applicable today as they were in the past, and apply to all types of public mass shooters, not only those who attack at schools. The 2015 Charleston church shooting, 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, and 2018 Parkland school shooting are just a few of many recent examples where offenders made explicit admissions that they were interested in committing an attack. This information may be revealed in face-to-face conversations, text messages, social media posts, or other forms of communication.
What other warning signs should people be looking for?
In a recent journal article, I identified three major warning signs: (1) suicidal motives or life indifference, (2) perceived victimization, and (3) desires for attention or fame. School shooters, workplace shooters, and other public mass shooters (including those who claim terrorist motives) often want or expect to die, feel like they have been profoundly mistreated or disrespected by others, and hope to gain fame or notoriety through their attacks. However, these factors are not always easy for observers to recognize in advance, so in the article I provide detailed checklists with specific things to look out for. If anyone would like a copy of the article, they can request one here.
If I report someone who seems dangerous, will that person be arrested or committed to a psychiatric facility?
There are many potential outcomes from reporting people who are at risk of harming themselves or others, and in most cases, they do not involve arrest or institutionalization. Depending on the laws where you live, it is possible that the person you report will be prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms, which significantly reduces the risks to the community. And sometimes reporting someone actually leads to an improvement in that person’s life, through counseling or other positive interventions.
If I report someone to a teacher, administrator, boss, or law enforcement officer, does my responsibility end there?
Unfortunately, there have been many cases where members of the public have done their part by reporting suspicious or concerning behavior, but that information was not taken seriously enough to prevent the attack. The Parkland school shooting was just the most recent example of this disturbing trend. After you “see something” and “say something,” you should continue to pay attention to make sure that the authorities have responded appropriately. Ask follow-up questions about their response, if necessary.
If the potential threat has not been sufficiently addressed, you may be able to put pressure on the teacher, administrator, boss, or law enforcement officer by reminding them that you have documentation that you brought your concerns to them, and that if something tragic happens, they will be directly responsible for not doing their due diligence. If they still continue to dismiss your concerns, you can contact me directly for further advice or assistance.
Adam Lankford is Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at The University of Alabama. Prior to becoming a faculty member at The University of Alabama, Lankford helped coordinate Senior Executive Anti-Terrorism Forums for high-ranking foreign military and security personnel in conjunction with the U.S. State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. He conducts research on many types of social deviance and criminal behavior, including mass murder, mass shootings, and terrorism. He is the author of two books, The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers (published in 2013) and Human Killing Machines: Systematic Indoctrination in Iran, Nazi Germany, Al Qaeda, and Abu Ghraib (first published in 2009), as well as numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, Lankford has been interviewed many times by a variety of news outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, BBC World News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, NPR, and BBC Radio. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Justice, Law & Society from American University and his B.A. in English from Haverford College.
It's that time of year! Please don't forget to renew your membership to the Section, and consider gifting a membership to a student or colleague. Student memberships are $6, and $14 for regular members.
Here's a friendly guide on how to gift a membership:
GIFT MEMBERSHIP INSTRUCTIONS
ASA members can gift an ASA membership for students or section memberships for any membership type at https://asa.enoah.com (Login required).
To purchase a gift ASA membership for students
Once logged into the member portal, please click “Purchase a gift membership for a student” under the Contribute/Give heading. Students can be searched by name through the online member database. A new contact record can be created by the member if the student is not found in the database.
Your gift will be redeemable by the recipient for a ASA student membership (or a $51 discount on another membership type). Your gift recipient will receive their gift credit via email immediately after your purchase. Gift memberships are not refundable if unredeemed by the end of the 2018 membership year, September 30, 2018. Gift memberships are not tax deductible.
The deadline for a 2018 gift ASA membership for students is July 31, 2018.
To purchase a gift section membership
Once logged into the member portal, please click “Purchase a gift section membership” under the Contribute/Give heading. Select the section and search for your recipient by name. Section membership requires 2018 ASA membership. Only 2018 ASA members who do not already have a membership in that section are eligible to receive a gift. Your recipient will receive an e-mail immediately after your payment notifying them of the section gift. (Your name will be included in this message). If the recipient declines the gift within 30 days of receipt, you will receive a refund by mail. Gifts are not tax deductible.
The deadline for a 2018 gift section membership additions is July 31, 2018.
Webinar for Section Members: Helping Journalists Interpret and Use your Research, Associate Professor Amy Schalet
Most of us conduct academic research hoping that we can have a positive impact on society. Yet our scholarly writings reach only limited audiences. One way to engage publics beyond the academy is by sharing our research with members of the media. Yet, our academic training rarely prepares us to speak with journalists in a way that is effective and satisfying.
In this webinar, Amy Schalet discusses some of the “rules of the game” of interacting with the media, providing tips on preparing for and conducting an effective media interview, and discussing differences between writing for academics and popular audiences. Amy has written op-eds for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post. She has appeared on CNN, and she has been interviewed by over fifty journalists across different print, radio, and new media outlets. This webinar will present highlights from her chapter: “The Media: Helping Journalists Interpret and Use your Research” published in Making Research Matter: A Psychologist’s Guide to Public Engagement (Linda Tropp, ed.) out from the American Psychological Association inNovember, 2017.
1. Distinguished Early Career Award
Deadline: March 1, 2018
Contact: Grace Kao, Yale University, at email@example.com
This award honors individuals for distinguished contributions to research and teaching on the sociology of children and youth. Candidates must have received their PhD within the six calendar years prior to the nomination deadline (no later than 2012). Nominees must be current members of the American Sociological Association (ASA). While not a requirement, we encourage nominees to become members of ASA's Section on Children and Youth. Self-nominations are appropriate. To make a nomination, write a letter briefly stating why the person should be considered and submit with a copy of their CV to the committee chair, Grace Kao, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is March 1, 2018.
2. Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award
Deadline: March 1, 2018
Contact: Anna Mueller, University of Chicago, at email@example.com
This award recognizes an outstanding paper authored by one or more graduate students. In addition to recognition at our annual reception at the ASA meetings, the winner(s) will receive a cash award of $250. To qualify for this year’s competition, the author and any co-authors must have been students at the time that the paper was written. A paper is eligible if it made a “public appearance” in 2016-2017, defined as one of the following: 1) having been submitted for a class or seminar held in those years, 2) having been presented at a professional meeting in those years, or 3) having been accepted for publication or published in those years. Nominees must be current members of the American Sociological Association (ASA). While not required, we encourage nominees to become members of ASA's Section on Children and Youth and to consider posting a version of their paper on Socarxiv. If the winner posted their paper to Socarxiv by March 1, 2018, Socarxiv will award the winning student paper an additional $250; however, the choice whether to post to Socarxiv or not is entirely up to the student and should be made in consultation with mentors. Finally, self-nominations are strongly encouraged. To make a nomination, write a letter briefly stating why the paper should be considered and submit with a copy of the publication to the Committee Chair, Anna Mueller, at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 1, 2018.
3. Outstanding Scholarly Contribution Award (book)
Deadline: March 1, 2018
Contact: Kelly Balistreri, Bowling Green State University, at email@example.com
This award is given in odd years to an article and in even years to a book published in the preceding two years that has had a major impact on the field of Children and Youth. Books under consideration for the 2018 award should have been published in 2016-2017. Self-nominations are appropriate. Nominees must be current members of the American Sociological Association (ASA). In addition, a single author or one of the coauthors must be a member of ASA's Section on Children and Youth.
Please email a letter of nomination with a brief description of the book to the committee chair at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 1, 2018. In addition, nominators should also request copies of the book from the publishers to be sent to all four committee members. Nominations and books should be received no later than March 1, 2018.
Kelly Stamper Balistreri
Department of Sociology
218 Williams Hall
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
Department of Sociology
Patterson Office Tower 1569
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY 40506-0027
Department of Sociology
267 19th Ave. S, 909 Social Sciences Building
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
306A Eppes Hall
112 S. Copeland St.
College of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Florida State University, FL 32306
Recent award winners are listed here
Youth suicide is never far from the American imagination. It is featured regularly in sensationalistic media coverage, as well as in books, plays, movies, and TV shows. In some ways, suicide occupies a similar space in the sociological imagination. Durkheim’s Suicide was one of the foundational texts of our discipline, and his influence, on sociology and the scientific study of suicide (or “suicidology”), is still recognized today; particularly, Durkheim’s insight that suicide is deeply tied to social isolation. Yet, at the same time, since 1980, sociologists have contributed dramatically fewer papers on suicide than nearly every other discipline, essentially ceding knowledge construction to psychology, psychiatry, and epidemiology. Perhaps more importantly, when we do contribute knowledge, we are largely re-testing Durkheim’s theses rather than pushing analyses forward by (1) drawing on our diverse methodological and theoretical toolkit and (2) focusing on the social problems of today, rather than those from Durkheim’s era.
Nowhere is the lack of a sociological perspective on suicide more problematic than when considering suicide among children and youth. First, suicide among youth represents a major social problem. Though the rise in suicide deaths among middle-aged white men has received substantial attention, the group with the second largest increase in suicide is youth ages 10-25. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2014, suicide has increased about 200 percent among girls ages 10-14 and 36 percent among boys ages 10-14. Youth ages 15-24 are also demonstrating substantial and significant increases in suicide. Among girls ages 15-24, the rate has increased approximately 53 percent since 1999; among boys ages 15-24, the increase is smaller (only 8 percent), but still statistically significant. To drive home the magnitude of these changes, according to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from August 2017, the suicide rate for females ages 15-19 is now at a 40-year high. On top of these trends by gender, Native American and Alaska Native youth ages 15-34 have one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S. (31 per 100,000 according to the CDC, using 2012 data), which is 2.5 times higher than the national average for that age group.
Though rates of suicide ideation, plans and attempts (also called “suicidality”) have not changed as dramatically as rates of suicide deaths (an interesting trend in and of itself), a brief review reveals that though suicide deaths are rare, suicidality is not. For example, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey of U.S. high school students, 25.6 percent of Latina girls, 22.8 percent of white girls, and 18.7 percent of black girls seriously contemplated suicide in the past 12 months. Latina girls also have the highest prevalence of suicide attempts with 15 percent reporting a suicide attempt in the past year, compared to 9.8 percent of white girls and 10.2 percent of black girls. Though in the U.S., boys report suicidality at lower rates than girls (and have suicide deaths at higher rates), a sizeable minority of boys report suicide ideation (around 12 percent), with much less variation between race/ethnic groups. Additionally, research indicates that suicide is more prevalent in disadvantaged neighborhoods and among poor youth. These demographics clearly indicate that suicide is an important social problem among youth that warrants sociological attention.
The second reason that youth suicide warrants more research attention from sociologists is that social forces likely play a particularly important role because of youth’s developmental sensitivity to social pressures. Indeed, many of the top concerns around suicide in youth involve inherently social experiences. In addition to concerns about suicide clusters or suicide diffusion, substantial attention is being paid to the roles of social media and bullying in youth suicide and to TV shows like 13 Reasons Why. And yet, research has barely scratched the surface of how and why these social forces may matter. With regard to shows like 13 Reasons Why, many suicidologists and psychologists have cautioned that the show could encourage suicide as an option for youth, but in truth, very little empirical research explicitly examines how exposure to suicide via salient role models shapes youth’s vulnerability to suicide. (For my take on 13 Reasons Why, check out this essay.)
This is where my own work, with my colleague Dr. Seth Abrutyn (University of British Columbia) comes in. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, the goal of our research is to better understand how youth cope with and make sense of suicide after exposure to the suicide death or attempt of a classmate or friend. In brief, we have found that exposure to suicide can change whether youth see suicide as a justifiable action that someone like them might do to escape a certain set of circumstances. We also find clear evidence that suicide in adolescence has social roots.
In our qualitative case study of a community with a substantial and enduring suicide problem including repeated suicide clusters, we illustrate how social pressures amplify youth’s misery and diminish their willingness to seek help for their psychological pain. When combined with repeated exposure to the suicides of classmates, this ultimately reifies suicide as an option, or perhaps as the option, for escape.
Undoubtedly, the causes of suicide are complex and multifaceted and involve the intermingling of biological, social, environmental, and psychological risk and protective factors. But sociology is uniquely situated to shed light on how social forces and environmental factors condition biological risk, cause psychological pain, and ultimately shape suicide. As such, it is imperative that sociologists, and particularly sociologists of children and youth, return to studying this important and pressing social problem.
Anna S. Mueller is a sociologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development and the College at the University of Chicago. Her research on adolescent suicide won the Outstanding Scholarly Contribution Awards from the Section on Children & Youth in 2015 and 2017. For more about her research, visit www.annasmueller.com
Section on Children and Youth