Student-centered public sociology and contemporary racial projects
CALS Impact Statement
Since 2004, students in the course Comparative U.S. Racial and Ethnic Relations have been producing final group projects on the contemporary relevance of race by analyzing pertinent topics and presenting them as authoritative websites on the relationship between race and, for example, higher education, mass media, bilingual education, transnational identities, art, prison industrial complex, anti-immigrant legislation, and civil rights. In many ways confirming a long tradition of engagement as the first rural sociology department in the nation, Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology was born under the auspices of the land grant mission of the university, and the applied social sciences have a long and well-regarded tradition in the department. Often conceived of as the extension mission of the land grant university, the presently proposed project is designed to combine the efforts of educating the public on what W. E .B. DuBois identified in 1903 as “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” and using public sociology as a pedagogical tool for educating students and the public alike.
Sociology has gone through an exciting renaissance in its reaffirmation and recommitment to conducting engaged research in the public interest. From the Chicago School of Sociology, with its incipient interests in race and immigrant incorporation, U.S. sociology has a venerable tradition of conducting systematic empirical research that is guided by both its theoretical and practical impact. Students in the course Comparative U.S. Racial and Ethnic Relations are expected to complete a group research project on any contemporary racial project and present an authoritative website on their topic. A racial project is defined as “simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines. Racial projects connect what race means in a particular discursive practice and the ways in which both social structures and everyday experiences are racially organized, based upon that meaning” (Omi and Winant 1994:56). In the course, students are introduced to a comparative approach to U.S. race relations and how the historical formation of racialization of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and European Americans influences contemporary race relations. With that knowledge, they embark upon group research projects to analyze the contemporary relevance of race. The websites based on that research are made available to the public.
Students have completed group web projects for three consecutive years, which are available at http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/dsoc375/DSOC375Mize-Home.htm. Additionally, students in the course Latino Communities and the course Comparative Social Inequalities have also completed similar public education web projects that are being launched in 2008. The aim is twofold: to engage students in research beyond the confines of the institution and to meet the larger public education goal that the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is committed to.
Impact of websites can best be measured by their effectiveness in educating the public on relevant social issues of the day. The number of hits is one measure that has not been implemented to this point but is in the works. Searchability is another impact indicator that has been verified on major search engines like Google, Yahoo, ask.com, and Live Search. Finally, shifts in public awareness about the contemporary relevance of race is the ultimate indicator we strive to assess in the future.