On Purpose: Portrait of Sociology

To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

Two graduate students stand in the newspaper archives in the basement of Wilson library.

Often it’s difficult to know whether we tell our stories or they tell us. Today’s sociologists are not only interpreting the complex social issues affecting our communities, they’re enabling us to better understand ourselves. In an increasingly diverse and ever-evolving society, sociology encourages us to see the world through a broad lens and helps us address the critical questions that shape our everyday lives.

In the Department of Sociology, we embrace both lived realities and an uncertain future. We’re committed to exploring the problems and concerns affecting every aspect of human life, from the criminal justice system to the workplace to race relations, immigration, and globalization. Cited by the American Sociological Association as a national model of the “engaged department,” our commitment to forging connections and making diversity a core value has found us at the forefront of CLA’s pursuit of research and creative excellence.

With 30 tenure-track faculty, 8 full-time staff members, 70 PhD graduate students, and over 500 undergraduate majors, we embrace a broad, “big tent” vision of sociology, where critical interpretive work happens alongside grounded, fact-based science and is sustained by our deep commitment to collaboration and public service.

These community bonds and our collective spirit strengthen all of our important new initiatives. The University of Minnesota Advanced Careers initiative (UMAC) program, led by professor Phyllis Moen, educates and trains retirement-eligible Boomers for fulfilling “encore careers.” Human rights activist and professor Cawo Abdi works tirelessly to further public understanding of the international refugee crisis by writing op-eds, consulting on policy, and serving pro bono as an expert witness for asylum cases. Our Diversity and Equity Committee, in collaboration with historically black colleges and universities including Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Howard University, is organizing symposiums to help recruit and retain students of color. The Society Pages, an open-access social science website featuring the latest in news and scholarship, brings social science to a whole new audience of academics and laypeople alike. These efforts exemplify our mission to effect positive social change, both locally and globally.

Our shared stories and histories, our human belonging, have deep roots and long lives. In the Department of Sociology, we recognize that a diverse community promotes equity through respect for, and opportunities to learn from, people with a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. Our students are constantly expanding new pathways to conduct cutting-edge research and gain opportunities for advanced training through close, collaborative relationships with faculty and our community partners. We truly are a department without walls.

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