Posted by: soanstolaf | November 20, 2014

Senior Profile: Katherine Fitzgerald

When Katherine Fitzgerald was a freshman she, like many underclassmen, was unsure of what she wanted to major in. All she knew what that she wanted to do something business related, but not economics. “I wanted to create my own path [in that area] without having to create my own major” she says. Spring of 2012 she took Intro to Sociology with now-retired Professor Michael Leming (his last So/An class, her first) and she was hooked. Now a senior, she’ll graduate in the spring with a degree in Sociology/Anthropology and two concentrations: management students and media studies. “They all work really well together” she tells me, describing how several semesters she’s taken classes in each are and discovered a wonderful liberal arts experience of all her classes relating and connecting in new and exciting ways. “They all blend really well together.”


Katherine Fitzgerald, class of 2015, had an internship at the Hershey Company this past summer.

Her two favorite classes so far have been Sociology of Knowledge with Professor Ibtesam Al Atiyat, which she is taking currently, and an interim trip to Thailand with Professor Ryan Sheppard. The abroad experience was transformative. “I loved it” she says. “I thought it was really awesome to put the knowledge we gained in the classroom to use in a hands-on way.” She loved how involved they were in the culture, and learning to do ethnography not in a classroom setting. “It’s not a bad way to spend January either” she laughs.

Another great experience the So/An major has given her is the opportunity to present at the Midwest Sociological Society conference last Spring. Her group presented their research on the relationship between Socio-Economic Status and students decisions regarding taking on debt and the types of jobs they look for.

This past summer she got the chance to use her three areas of study at an internship at the Hershey Company in Pennsylvania, where she helped them plan a track meet, one of their big benefit events every year. “It combined So/An, Media Studies, and Management Studies really well” she explains, adding that it was also interesting because she worked with many students from large universities and learned how different the liberal arts experience is from their experiences.

Besides studying in three areas, Katherine does track and field, is on the executive board of Alpha Phi Omega (a service fraternity), is co-chair of the senior giving campaign, and works in Residence Life and Admissions. She says “I would advise everybody and anybody at school to take at least one So/An class.” Among other things, “you’ll become more of a critical thinker as well as improve your writing.” Plus, she says, the department is “like a wonderful family”, tightknit, and supportive. The professors have challenged her, and are “preparing us for our paths after college.”


Katherine on the Thailand interim trip.

Looking back on her four years here, Katherine says she can see her development as a student and person through her So/An classes. “I’ve been able to see my progression through it.” As a freshman, she never could have imagined that she would someday be challenging herself with complicated texts in Sociology of Knowledge. But here she is, looking toward the future, knowing that her experiences in the department will stay with her as she moves forward.

Questions for Katherine? You can contact her at

Posted by: soanstolaf | November 18, 2014

Sociology/Anthropology In the News!

Anthropologist Barbara J. King writes for NPR about gay marriage and the problems that have arisen and may arise because of the single-issue focus on marriage, and gives a critique of Suzanna Danuta Walters’ new book : The Tolerance Trap.

Sociologists examine the dynamics of modern fatherhood in the U.S., saying fathers are rewarded for some parenting actions, but are penalized for taking time off work. This discussion is a major part of the debate over paternity leave in the united states.

Sociologists and anthropologists have been some of the major players in discussions about catcalling following a viral video.

Wellesley and other women’s colleges are facing challenges to their understandings of gender with the rise in trans* students.

Anthropologists have been helping Senegal and other nations in an interdisciplinary effort to prevent desertification by planting indigenous trees.

This article takes readers inside a “body farm” at Texas State’s Forensic Anthropology Center in it’s look at how human bodies decay.

Three years ago, a small group of passionate students –several of them So/An majors- with a shared passion of eradicating human trafficking began their own student organization. They called it SOLAS – St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery.


SOLAS members at Breaking Free’s benefit breakfast last fall.

To be a student organization at St. Olaf isn’t easy, because there is a plethora of new and old orgs every year, and many new organizations find themselves falling through the cracks, lacking members and funding, and slowly disappearing. Yet three years after its inception, SOLAS was given the coveted Caf Fast by SGA, an opportunity to make money through people donating their cafeteria meals and Bon Appetit donating the proceeds from those un-eaten meals to the organization. They then proceeded to get a record number of people fasting, with 792 students donating their meals. In the words of SoAn major and SOLAS member Kathryn Ravey, “it’s just soared this year, it’s been phenomenal!” Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | November 11, 2014

Senior Profile: Sophie Dekker

Sophie Dekker came to St. Olaf from the United World College in Norway four years ago knowing she wanted to study Sociology/Anthropology. She’d never taken a class, but felt certain it was for her. “It just sounded interesting!” the Haarlem, Netherland native says. This spring, she’ll graduate with a So/An major and not one but three concentrations: Latin American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Women and Gender Studies. There are no regrets, and she knows she made the right choice her freshman year, beginning with Introduction to Cultural Anthropology with Chris Chiappari.

When asked about what she loves about So/An, she struggled to find one answer. The classes “make me think” she says, and you’re “never really done with So/An” but leave classes still thinking, and you begin to notice everything around you. An added benefit is the professors, she says, “I think the professors are some of the best professors here.” Her favorite class so far? Islamic Feminisms, one of the earliest classes she took, during interim of her freshman year. This interim, she’s planning on doing an independent study in the department in an area of interest for her: linguistics.

Sophie has had a busy four years at St. Olaf. She spent several years being very involved with the International Students Organization, and helped plan International Night two years in a row. She continues to be an International Student counselor, arriving before Week One to help with orientation of international students, and continuing to meet with a group of students as they adjust to college and life at St. Olaf and the U.S. She has also studied abroad, taking an interim trip to Greece and Turkey her sophomore year, and spending first semester of her junior year in Quito, Ecuador.

As for future plans, she says she’s applying to grad schools in Europe, mostly in the UK, as well as jobs in Europe. Her hope is to study International Development. “I want to find a way to connect it with Anthropology” she says. Her time in the St. Olaf Sociology/Anthropology department has taught her many things, she says, including “thinking critically” and to “find things that are intellectually interesting.” These skills will continue on with her as she leaves St. Olaf in the spring.

Her advice to students interested in the major is simple: “Explore and take many different types of classes.”

Questions for Sophie? You can reach her at

Posted by: soanstolaf | November 6, 2014

New Life and Identity for Social Deviants

Years ago a group of St. Olaf Sociology/Anthropology students began a club they dubbed “Social Deviants”, a group for Sociology/Anthropology majors to explore interests and issues. Throughout the years it’s been inconsistent in its existence, getting restarted each time interest arose. It is rising in its newest form with junior Kathryn Ravey at the helm, and she’s giving it a new vibrancy and vision.


Kathryn Ravey, class of 2016, is president of the Sociology/Anthropology club this year.

Ravey, a double major with SoAn and Women and Gender Studies from Bloomington, MN., became interested in the leadership position last semester, as she was studying abroad in Northern Ireland. The HECUA program in Northern Ireland that she took part of taught her to understand the role of identity in conflict and relationships. After a professor suggested she take on the open spot of Social Deviants president, she began to see how her new knowledge could pair with the club to create new learning and community-building activities for majors and non-majors on campus. “It’s kind of a division between doing things on campus that are soc/anthro related and having events that are more for people who are interested in soc/anthro” she says.

They already have plenty of plans for the year. There are discussions about documentary showings and panels, and meetings for majors to just come and chat with each other and professors. There’s also her pet project, which she has dubbed the “Identity Initiative” a movement which strives to bring groups of varied students who don’t normally have conversations together to share a meal or an event to talk about topics of identity and division. It incorporates a desire by Ravey and others to engage a wider range of people into conversations about social issues. The first Identity Initiative event planned for some time in the next week or so, will involve GLOW and Oles for Public Health.

November 6, however, was their first big event of the year: a student panel called “Constructing the Self Through the Other” that included students talking about experiences at internships or presenting papers at conferences. “We want to have more events like [this panel], that bring in people from all different majors to learn a little bit more about soc/anthro or just have a place for soc/anthro students to get a little bit more involved.”

The goal to get sociology/anthropology students more involved is a lofty one. It seems that on a campus full of heavily involved students, SoAn majors are some of the busiest. “They’re involved in everything on campus!” Ravey smiles, knowing that she herself is one of those busy students (along with running Social Deviants she is also the Breaking Free liaison for SOLAS – another student org on campus.) “So it will be pretty relaxed” and there are no set meeting times right now. Rather, they meet as they want to plan events or get together. She welcomes new members and visitors, and encourages people to come and bring their own vision or their lack of vision. She used to have trouble defining her major for people, she says, and hopes that Social Deviants can help majors and nonmajors alike better understand these areas of study.

If anyone is interested in joining Social Deviants or working with Kathryn, feel free to contact her at

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 30, 2014

Halloween in a Sociological/Anthropological Lens

Halloween is always an interesting time for anthropologists and sociologists. The things people choose to dress up as and what that suggests about the culture, the cultural histories of Halloween and it’s variations around the world (Dia de los Muertos, for example) are all areas of critical thinking and exploration.

For example, the holiday that we know as a family-friendly kids holiday didn’t exist as we know it until around the 1950s. Learn more here:

And did you know the theories put forth about why witches ride brooms? This one is a surprising one – tied to the theories about the causes of the Salem Witch Trials.

And how about the ability of the horror genre to address our most unspoken fears?

And  what about the many examples of racial and cultural insensitivity, appropriation, and sexualization of female costumes? What do those say about the issues we face in our society?

photos for poster

A poster from an Ohio University Campaign to fight stereotyping cultures in Halloween costumes.


The Huffington Post writer points out the differences between “boy” and “girl” costumes, even for young children. - This op-ed from the Harvard Crimson makes great points about the problems of college costumes and cultural appropriation on campuses.

A quote from the above article: “When you dress as “ghetto fab,” as a “redneck,” or as an “illegal alien,” you’re mocking the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our society and appropriating what you think is minority culture for your one night of fun.” - Mark Anthony Neal, a professor at Duke and Harvard Universities addresses this history of blackface and it’s place in U.S. culture.

As people celebrate, dress up, and eat candy this weekend, don’t be afraid to think critically!

Got questions? Comments? Other great articles to share? Let us know on the blog or on facebook!

Happy Halloween!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 30, 2014

Looking for More Blogs to Read?

We know you love this blog, but if you want to check out others with similar themes, try some of these:

Everyday Sociology Blog (

This blog covers a realm of topics by many different contributors, both professors and students of sociology, and is run by W.W. Norton & Company Inc. Publishers.

Some posts to check out: “Is Islamaphobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?” by Saadia Faruqi; “Sociology, Sidewalks, and Walking” by Teresa Irene Gonzales, and “A Sociological Guide for Succeeding in College” by Peter Kaufman.

Media/Anthropology – John Postill’s blog (

Postill is a research fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne. He writes about a variety of topics surrounding technology and media in the modern world. Most recently, he’s done a blog series on “Freedom technologists and the new protest movements.”

The Society Pages: Sociological Images (

Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College is the founder and principal writer of this blog dedicated to encouraging people to “exercise and develop their sociological imagination.”

Posts to check out: “A Brief History of Halloween” by Lisa Wade, “Fashion as a Inescapable Institution” by Lisa Wade (featuring Meryl Streep from the Devil Wears Prada) and “Apple’s Health App: Where’s the Power” by Sarah Wanenchak.

Have any blogs you really love? Let us know!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 23, 2014

Six Months in Jordan


Petra, Jordan

Josiah Mosqueda had long harbored an interest in studying in an Arab country. A middle eastern studies concentrator with an interest in learning Arabic who had never studied abroad before, he took the leap his junior year, doing not one but two programs in Jordan. He spent Fall Semester on the ACM-Amideast Middle East and Arabic Studies program, came home for a week, the returned to Amman for Religion and Politics in Jordan, a St. Olaf trip led by Professors Ibtesam Al-Atiyat and Jamie Schillinger. It was a revolutionary experience for him. “The Arab World is in the middle of redefining what it means to be an Arab. What a time to study and live in an Arab country!” he says.

While being abroad for the first time was hard, he said, particularly because of the time difference, that week at home helped and “my Jordanian friends really helped me and genuinely cared for me.” Now, he misses Jordan and his host family “every day”. He particularly bonded with his host sister, 2 year old Nuf, who in his words, is “adorable, but has the mouth of a sailor” and “said some very bad words to me in Arabic the first time I met her.”

Josiah and Nuf

Josiah and Nuf

As for culture shock, he dealt with it by making sure to spend time talking to the other Americans on the program, going out together and talking about their experiences. He was initially very worried, as a homosexual Pagan, that he would experience hardships, but his friends and host family were welcoming and supportive. His experience as a So/An major served him in this area as well. “Looking at culture and social constructions of gender, race, and class really helped me understand how Jordanians live, and how differences in culture are not a bad thing – rather, it is a great point of mutual growth, understanding, and sharing of passion.” Before going, he took various classes on the Arab World and Islam and read plenty of literature from the region. The ACM program also helped the students prepare for what they could experience while abroad.

Now, back in Minnesota, he misses his host family, and the smaller things like hearing the Adhan (call to prayer) every day. But he knows he can go back, and recognizes how much he has grown from a program. He says that he left a chaotic life behind when he went to Jordan, and getting away from it all, taking time to focus on himself and his interests “changed me for the better.” Plus, he really appreciates having continual internet access and the ability to contact his family at any time.

Josiah Camel King

Josiah riding a camel in Jordan

He just has one piece of advice for people planning on traveling on similar programs – pack Western medicine if you plan on using it.  “Never underestimate the need for packing medicine-make sure there’s room!”

If you’re interested in Jordan, either of these programs, or Josiah’s experiences, you can contact him at

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 16, 2014

Finding A Family In Peru

photo 2-3

When Maddie Haakenson was in high school, she visited a small non-profit organization in Peru called Generación. Years later, as a junior in college, she returned to work there for a month. Generación is an organization dedicated to getting kids off the street and out of situations of poverty, violence, and abuse, and put them into school and jobs.

When she first visited as a high school student, she didn’t speak Spanish, but managed to stay in contact with many of the people she met, developing  friendships and learning just how important an organization like Generación can be. Going back, she said, wasn’t “just going to some foreign, third-world location as a random volunteer looking to make a distance. These were my people. My family.”

photo 4 (12)

She designed her own academic internship at Generación with the goal of learning the reality of the childrens’ lives “through full emersion and volunteer work.” Generación, like many similar organization, lacks funds and staff, so she went hoping to do whatever was needed and to understand what she could do to help in the future. She spent three weeks in Peru, living with other volunteers and working at one of their shelters doing lots of childcare. She found it a very fullfilling experience, and was both teacher and love counselor. Not only did she remind small children to share multiple times a day, and then let them fall asleep in her lap, but she listened to the teenage boys when they asked “me to sit down with them so they can tell me about a girl they love.”

photo 1 (2)

Haakenson is an experienced traveler, having done a gap year in Colombia, a semester in Ecuador, and having spent time in Guatemala, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Spain, France and a few other countries. This doesn’t mean that it’s an easy experience though. She acknowledges that it’s difficult to learn how to fit into different cultural customs, “especially when dealing with class differences.” For this internship, she also made sure she was mentally prepared to deal with everything, but discovered that “learning to have an empathetic lens from So/An and then working with kids in ROG (Reaching Our Goals)” had prepared her well, without her even knowing it.  Her So/An major skills helped her to deal with culture and class differences and to adapt and immerse herself as she connected with people “so vastly different from me”.

Once there, she made sure to deal with culture shock as best she could. This mean taking the time to process, but not isolating herself when things got tough. A natural extrovert, she spent plenty of time with other people, which in her opinion is the best way to get over culture shock  – “to be around those differences so much that it becomes familiar and normal”.

It wasn’t all having small children nap in her lap on the beach and getting presents of flowers from four year olds (although there was plenty of that!) There were some downsides. She caught lice from a few of the kids, for example. But even that has a happy ending. She went to the Minnesota Lice Lady to get treated as soon as she got back, but “now I work there, at Minnesota Lice Lady as an official ‘Lice Technician’”.

As for her study-abroad internship experience, she wouldn’t change it for the world, and wants to go back for at least three months.  “I would totally make it a study abroad program if I could, especially for SOAN majors.” If anyone is interested, she said, she would “love to do everything to make it possible for future Oles to have the same experience.”

If you’re interested in Haakenson’s work or Generación, you can email her at

You can check out for mor information on Generación.

If you’re interested in ROG, visit this link:

MarcelLaFlamme-headshotMarcel LaFlamme is a visiting professor this year in the Sociology/Anthropology department. He comes to us from North Dakota, where he researched unmanned aircrafts and pilots. He is currently a PhD candidate at Rice University and got his M.S. from Simmons College. Professor LaFlamme was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his history, interests, and advice for students.

How did you get interested in anthropology?

Professor LaFlamme: My undergraduate major was folklore and mythology, a small, quirky program that attracted both students who wanted to work with cultural materials that others had collected and students who wanted to collect or create themselves. I guess I was in the latter camp: I fell in lovewith fieldwork over the course of my thesis research at an all-male boarding school in Connecticut. There was something thrilling about seeing my theoretical framework completely upended by what I was learning from my informants. One of the recurring pleasures of anthropology is the moment of realizing you’re dead wrong.

 What are your areas of specialty?

Professor LaFlamme: I think of myself as an anthropologist of work, although my research also overlaps with the fields of cultural geography and science and technology studies. I also have a teaching interest in gender and sexuality, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of scholarly communication: an interest that grows out of my training in library and information science.

 Where and on what have you done your research?

Professor LaFlamme: I just finished a year of fieldwork in North Dakota, where I was conducting research on unmanned aircraft testing and training. I sat in a ground control station behind Customs and Border Protection agents as they learned to fly the Predator, and I built a small unmanned aircraft of my own alongside students at the University of North Dakota. I also surveyed licensed pilots across northeast North Dakota to understand their perceptions of unmanned aircraft and the strategies they use to communicate with each other both before and during a flight. Thus far, my research has been primarily in the United States, but I’m starting to think about a second project that would include comparative research in Canada.

 What brought you to St. Olaf?

Professor LaFlamme: Most of the colleges to which I applied as a senior in high school were liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf. Although I ended up at a research university, I stayed curious about the small college setting and the distinctive experience it fosters. Read More…

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.