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SOCIOLOGY_DEPARTMENT

A Level Playing Field?

Sociology professor Matthew Hughey Matthew Hughey of the University of Connecticut will deliver a lecture on Monday, Nov. 30, about how media coverage of athletics perpetuates the myth of "black brawn vs. white brains."

The free, public lecture, titled "A Level Playing Field? Zombie Theories of Athletics, Genetics and Race in Media," starts at 7:30 p.m. in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Black and white image of Jesse Owens racingHughey will discuss the role the news media play in perpetuating the myth of "black brawn vs. white brains" – that blacks have an inherent biological disposition toward athletic excellence. Despite biological and sociological evidence that debunks this theory, Hughey contends that many still believe in a link between black athleticism and biological determinism. He will argue that while empirically impossible, this thesis is a zombie theory – an idea that just won't die.

The author of several books, Hughey has written extensively about race, including The White Savior Film: Content, Critics and Consumption and  White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists and the Shared Meanings of Race. He also serves as co-editor of The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America?

National media outlets such as NPR, ABC and CBS frequently call upon Hughey for his sociological expertise. He also is a contributing writer to The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the Huffington Post, among others.

Hughey has received numerous honors throughout his career, such as the Distinguished Early Career Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities. Hughey is a member of both the Africana Studies and American Studies departments at the University of Connecticut.

Assistant Professor Casey Oberlin, sociology, is organizing the event. Co-sponsors are the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; the Center for Humanities; the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights; the Instructional Support Committee; the Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies Department; the Department of Sociology; and the Department of Anthropology.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Finance Is Cool

While growing up in Islamabad, boys were encouraged to become engineers and girls to be physicians, recalls Ahsan Rahim ’11. “Everything else was just a waste of time, according to my family.” That’s why he intended to major in physics and math at Grinnell and study engineering through a joint program at Dartmouth College before going to graduate school in engineering.

But as an excuse to live in New York City, he couldn’t resist doing a summer internship in alternative investments for TIAA-CREF through the Grinnellink internship program. The experience surprised him. “I realized I liked the unpredictability of the financial markets.” Even so, he dutifully followed through with his plan to study engineering.

Trying out engineering

While spending his junior year at Dartmouth “in the cold hills of New Hampshire,” he thought often about how much he preferred the chaos of the trading floor to the order of the instructional machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering. The following summer in New York, he interned in market risk for securitized products with Deutsche Bank. For him, the experience confirmed that “finance is cool.” He decided to return to Grinnell with a new major: economics.

Until recently, Rahim worked as a portfolio analyst at AllianceBernstein in New York. In September 2015, he started his M.B.A. studies at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Storytelling with numbers

“Finance isn’t just about numbers and getting the right answers on math problems,” Rahim says about his work. “Finance is as much about the stories as the numbers, and there are often no right answers.”    

Take the Japanese auto market, for example. Maybe you see it has a bad day. “People think, ‘Oh, a big part of the auto market is Japanese cars, so demand for cars must be falling, so any supplying car maker will suffer, even a small U.S. auto-parts maker that only supplies U.S. car makers.’ But if you understand the story — that the yen had one poor day, but it was just a one-time event — then you may decide to buy when others are selling.” Emotions and feelings create a story and influence reality; that’s what keeps him hooked.

He credits the interdisciplinary approach at Grinnell with helping him value the interrelation of information, stories, and knowledge. While math skills are a part of his decision-making, principles from sociology and psychology help him factor in the ways fear, greed, and groupthink can dominate fundamentals and logic.

Rahim leads a multidimensional life outside of work and school — a pattern established at Grinnell. “In Islamabad, nobody cared about cocurricular activities; their future was based on their exam results.” But he quickly realized there was more than academics at Grinnell. Besides working on campus 15 hours a week — washing dishes in the dining hall, grading students’ work in calculus, and working in the art gallery — Rahim also volunteered at Grinnell Community Daycare, served as vice president of Mortar Board, was president and founder of the Muslim Student Association, played club and intramural soccer, and served on various committees.

Does he second-guess his decision not to be an engineer? Not at all. If not for his experience at Dartmouth, he wouldn’t have known for sure that he didn’t want to be an engineer.

“I had to try it out first. That’s the investor in me that always wants to be diversified.”

Intrigued by Rahims mention of the engineering programs at Grinnell? You can take advantage of our formal 3-2 agreements with some of the top engineering schools in America, or, like Rahim, you can request to make arrangements with another institution.
 

Yesenia Ayala ’18 honored by White House

The White House recently recognized Yesenia Ayala ’18 for her courage and contributions to the Latino community in Iowa. She and 10 other young women were selected from more than 1,000 nominees as Champions of Change for empowering and inspiring members of their communities.

Ayala said later that the experience helped her go beyond her comfort zone to advocate for the community she loves and that needs support.

“Through my personal experience,” she added, “I was able to bring awareness to not only the local, state, but national community of the importance of mentoring and supporting students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how we can all come together as one to make the movement work.”

As a service learning work-study student at Grinnell, Ayala works for Al Exito — a nonprofit group that empowers Latino youth in nine Iowa cities. She coordinates programming and mentoring for middle and high school Latino students, facilitates family programming and events, and engages other Grinnell students in encouraging Latino students to stay in school and plan for college.

Ayala also has designed and led workshops to inform Latino youth and their parents about the U.S. education system, financial aid, essay writing, and the college applications process. These activities promote more family involvement at school, greater civic engagement, and an increase in the likelihood that young Latinos will graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

A native of Los Angeles, Ayala is majoring in sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She plans to pursue a law degree in civil rights upon graduation.

This fall, she continues to work with Al Exito to develop ways to incorporate teachers into the program, which Ayala hopes will expand statewide.  

Ayala’s Inspiration

Ayala talking with Auñón (who is in a NASA suit) at a gathering At a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, Ayala joined other Champions of Change in a panel discussion moderated by MTV video blogger Francesca Ramsey. Ramsey noted that it’s often tough to get Latino students and their families comfortable with the college application process when it’s a completely new experience for them. Then she asked Ayala: “What have you done as a leader to overcome some of those fears from students and parents that you’ve been working with?”

Ayala said she was inspired to do the work she is doing because she is a first-generation Latina college student who had a difficult journey from high school to college. She often shares her story at Al Exito events to inspire others.

“I was working fulltime at McDonald’s as a manager while in high school, I was going to high school in a very low-income community, and I was striving to get A’s,” she said. “I was also taking the responsibility and the role of helping my parents raise my siblings.”

Thanks to the encouragement of a high school English teacher, Ayala applied for a Posse Foundation scholarship, as did more than 2,100 students in LA. She was one of 112 selected, winning admission to Grinnell, where she receives a full-tuition scholarship and additional financial aid.

“In most Latino families and communities,” Ayala said, “it’s very difficult for parents to let their children aspire for higher education, because they come from a community where they don’t know anything about the U.S. education system. … So every time we conduct a workshop, it’s our opportunity to let our parents know, our community know, our students know that it may be difficult sometimes to break those boundaries, those cultural oppositions, but it’s okay to do it.  If you don’t take a risk, you never know how far you can go.”