We’ve Got Work to Do

Thursday, November 12, 2015 | Jeff Olick

Jefferson Statue

For once, UVa is not topping the news about outrageous problems on college campuses.  I suppose that’s some relief.  But the question is what we make of the momentary reprieve from being the center of attention.  For surely we know that the issues at stake at Mizzou and Yale this week, along with many others, are ours as well.  

What can we do?  It may sound too self-assured, but I believe one extremely important thing we can do is to keep studying, teaching, and producing sociology, locally as well as nationally. To be sure, and as recent debates make clear, there is nothing close to consensus on what is happening in our society—or on our campuses—and how to react to it.  But certainly many of the challenges we face—and outrages that occur on a daily basis—are not too hard to see. Sociology has a crucial documentary as well as explanatory function, and is thus a crucial part of its communities. Sociology also provides us the tools to make the hidden visible, both to those who don’t see what we see and to those who can’t or don’t want to. What is clear is that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  

Of course, being a sociologist is no guarantee that one is not oneself part of the problems. Sociology begins at home, and we do it for ourselves as much as for others. So we must remember to point the lens as critically at ourselves as at others and to be open to those who see things that WE don’t see or see things we do see otherwise (and surely everyone has blind spots).  Admittedly, this puts burdens on some more than others.  One of the things I’ve learned as a teacher, and even more as a chair, is that it is often more important to listen than to speak.  I think it is time we talked with each other—and listened to each other—more vigorously than we sometimes have.  I hope we will find more ways to do so in the near future, certainly before we end up back on the front pages. 

Nota bene: On the advice of those who know better, we have disabled the comments section on this blog; we’ve been led to expect unmanageable spam and trolling from outside.  But if you are a member of the UVa sociology community (Faculty, staff, undergrads, grads, alums, etc.) please don’t hesitate to respond to me as I work on finding a way to make such electronic discourse feasible.