Teaching Statement

bell hooks explains that the classroom can be transformed into “a location of possibility” when we labor for freedom, demand of ourselves and our students, and when we open our hearts and minds to “collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress.” I cannot claim that I always succeed in creating such a “location of possibility,” but it is a constant goal when I develop and deliver a course, particularly in how I structure the presentation and discussion of controversial or contentious subjects. For the class to collectively venture “beyond boundaries,” I aim to make my courses accessible to students with a range of scholastic preparation and learning goals.

In the first week of my courses, I discuss with my students several norms I expect all of us to better understand, practice, and enforce throughout the semester. Two of these norms pertain to consistent use of methods that can enhance understanding and promote well-being: the principle of charity and self-care. While I could not assign sole or primary credit to these methods, they have contributed to ensuring a lack of antagonism in the classroom and opportunities to “move beyond boundaries.”

The Principle of Charity

The principle of charity aims to clarify and improve understanding of another’s claims, particularly when there seems to be disagreement. I invite my students to be charitable with one another, with the texts they read, and with me. In this sense, charity is chiefly concerned with interpretations, as its primary goal is lessening perceived differences caused by problems interpreting the expressions of others. This goal can be achieved by acknowledging points of agreement and by translating expressions into their most well-reasoned and persuasive versions. I often suggest students consider the practice of charity as the opposite of constructing a “strawman.” I invite them to use this method prior to criticizing claims, and find that it fosters civil debate and rigorous thinking during moments of disagreement. Beyond helping students learn, I ask students to consider the ways that using this method in other settings can improve their personal and professional relationships. I model this method in the way that I teach, and because I treat competitive ideas faithfully and fairly, students are often unable to pin down my own opinion on a text or topic of discussion. I am thrilled when we are weeks into a semester and students ask for my perspective on a given issue, as they are frequently unable to assume it.

Self Care

Because my courses address contentious topics that may inspire a range of uncomfortable feelings, I encourage students to be proactive and guard against emotional responses that may create barriers to learning or promote unproductive distress. I encourage students to use self-care in a number of common situations in the classroom and during study. One common situation—the topic of much debate in popular press and education literature—involves direct experience of harms caused by discrimination or traumatic situations. Just as some students have been harmed by the objects we study, others have benefitted from them, and consequently they may feel defensive. If they feel entitled to their advantages, they may become angry or frustrated when their privileged status is acknowledged or criticized. A third situation where self-care is helpful is common to all learning: the frustrations felt when readings are challenging, when there is too little time to complete assignments, or when the subject of lectures or discussions is confounding. I do my best to convey my sympathy to students experiencing these things and to let them know all of these emotional responses are understandable, while emphasizing that they must resolve these challenges to assure successful learning. In my classes, I suggest some self-care strategies (see, for instance, this handout).

Current UMass Courses

  • Fall2017

    Race & Policing

    SOCIOL 392: This advanced sociology seminar focuses on key aspects of the often-controversial relationship between race and policing in the United States. Students will develop a detailed understanding of a number of these major controversies, including empirical accounts of related events and their social contexts. For instance, the course addresses racial discrimination in investigatory stops, use-of-force, searches, and arrests. While students are expected to become knowledgeable about the variety of ways empirical evidence is used to assess these specific issues in detail, they are also expected to become critical thinkers about the broader issues of bias in policing. The course provides a sociological and historical context for policing and its frequently discriminatory methods and outcomes in order to explain these and to determine possible policy implications.

    The following are a selection of some readings that will be covered:

    • Anjali Kamat, “Cops Against Community: Police Impunity and the Baltimore Uprising”;
    • The Movement for Black Lives, “Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice”
    • African-American Policy Forum, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women”
    • Joel Olson, excerpts from The Abolition of White Democracy
    • Mark Neocleous, excerpts from The Fabrication of Social Order
    • Sally Hadden, excerpt from Slave Patrols
    • Jonathan Simon, “Policing after Civil Rights: The Legacy of Police Opposition to the Civil Rights Movement for Contemporary American Policing”
    • Steve Martinot, “The Militarization of Police”
    • Beth Richie, “Arrested Justice,” pp. 1-18
    • Sandra Bass, “Policing Space, Policing Race: Social Control Imperatives and Police Discretionary Decisions”
    • Judith Butler, “Endangered / Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia” pp. 15-22
    • Lyndsey Beutin, “Racialization as a Way of Seeing: The Limits of Counter-Sureillance and Police Reform”
    • Andrea Smith, “Not Seeing: State Surveillance, Settler Colonialism, and Gender Violence,” pp. 21-38
    • Lori Saffin, “Identities Under Siege: Violence Against Transpersons of Color” pp. 161-182
    • Victoria Law, “Your Pregnancy May Subject You to Even More Law Enforcement Violence,” pp. 91-101
    • Loic Wacquant, “Deadly symbiosis: When ghetto and prison meet and mesh”

  • Fall2017

    Deviance & Social Control

    Why do some take pride in conformity? Why do others seek out subcultures that reject dominant social conventions? Why is it that some unusual people are perceived as interesting while others invoke revulsion—or violence? How do some acts come to be defined as criminal? What happens later in life after one is labeled a criminal? Is individuality under attack? Is society falling apart because of too much individualism?

    This upper-division undergraduate course studies diverse sociological explanations for:

    • causes of non-normative and criminal acts
    • processes by which some acts are defined as deviant or criminal
    • interpersonal, social, and institutional processes that facilitate conformity and penalize transgression

    On a most fundamental level, we will consider at length what deviance is and what produces social order. Required texts include Erving Goffman’s StigmaThe Foucault Reader, and a selection of supplemental readings.

  • Fall2017

    American Police

    This is an online, accelerated course held during the first half of the semester. Course is now enrolling.

    The following units and readings are covered in this course.

    Overview of Police
    • Carl Klockars, “The Idea of Police”;
    • Egon Bittner “The Capacity to Use Force as the Core of the Police Role”
    • The Police Concept: Excerpts from Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order
    American Police Studies
    • Walker’s “industrial” approach: Excerpts from The Police in America (9th Edition) on the police industry and police organizations
    • Police subculture, police work, crime and the patrol: excerpts from Walker & Katz’s The Police in America
    • Police strategies: Martin Innes, Ch 5 “Policing,” from Understanding Social Control: Deviance, Crime, and Social Order
    • Vigilantism: Klockars, “Avocational Policing”; Marx and Archer, “The Urban Vigilante”
    American Police in History
    • The orthodox history: Uchida, “The Development of the American Police: An Historical Overview”
    • Contesting the orthodox history: Excerpts from The Police In America on Walker’s history; Vincent Kappeler, “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”; Excerpts from Turner, et al “Ignoring the Past”; Excerpt from Noel Ignatiev’s history of the United States; Excerpts from W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction
    • Policing in the Civil Rights Era: Martin Oppenheimer, “Mobs, Vigilantes, Cops and Feds: The Repression of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee”
    • The War on Crime, yesterday and today: Josh Zeitz, “How Trump Is Recycling Nixon’s ‘Law and Order Playbook”; Elizabeth Hinton, “Why We Should Reconsider the War on Crime”
    • Urban Policing and Resistance: Sharp, “Policing Urban America”
    Police Use of Force
    • Defining reasonableness: Rulings from Johnson v Glick, Graham v Connor, and Tennessee v Garner; Terrill, “The Elusive Nature of Reasonableness”
    • Defining brutality: Kristian Williams, “Police Brutality in Theory and Practice”
    • Deadly force: Hirschfield, “Lethal Policing: Making Sense of American Exceptionalism”; Krieger et al, “Trends in US deaths due to legal intervention among black and white men, age 15-34 years, by county income level: 1960-2010”
    • Discretion and impunity: Steve Martinot, “The Militarisation of Police”
    Policing Disadvantaged Populations
    • Race: Sandra Bass, “Policing Space, Policing Race: Social Control Imperatives and Police Discretionary Decisions”
    • Indigenous Populations: Barbara Perry, “Nobody trusts them! Under- and over-policing Native American Communities”
    • Sex & Gender: Victoria Law, “Your Pregnancy May Subject You to Even More Law Enforcement Violence”; Mogul et al, “The Ghosts of Stonewall: Policing Gender, Policing Sex”
    • Disability: Nelson, “Racializing Disability, Disabling Race: Policing Race and Mental Status”; Andrea J Ritchie, “Policing (Dis)Ability”
    Contemporary Issues in Policing
    • Blue Wall of Silence: Albert Samaha, “Breaking Baltimore’s Blue Wall of Silence”; Stephen Lemons, “Blue Lies Matter”; Cottler et al, “Breaking the Blue Wall of Silence”
    • Body cameras: Ben Brucato, “Policing Made Visible”
    • Policing Immigration: Nicholls, “Policing Immigrants as Politicizing Immigration: The Paradox of Border Enforcement”
    • Militarization: Kappeler and Kraska, “Normalising police militarisation, living in denial”
    • Mass incarceration: Delgado and Stefancic, “Critical Perspectives on Police, Policing, and Mass Incarceration”
    Approaches to Reform
    • US Dept of Justice Recommendations: Excerpts from USDOJ investigative reports
    • Changing police demographics as reform:Brunson and Gau, “Officer Race Versus Macro-Level Context: A Test of Competing Hypotheses About Black Citizens’ Experiences With and Perceptions of Black Police Officers”
    • Police obstruction of reform: Skogan, “Why Reform Fails”
    • Abolitionism: Dorothy E. Roberts, “Constructing a criminal justice system free of racial bias: An abolitionist framework”

Future UMass Courses

  • Spring2018

    Surveillance & Society

    Description and information coming soon.

  • Spring2018

    Criminology

    Description and information coming soon.

    Past UMass Courses

    • Spring2017

      Race & Policing

      SOCIOL 392 Description: This is a 7-week, online, advanced sociology course focusing on key aspects of the often-controversial relationship between race and policing in the United States. Students will develop a detailed understanding of a number of these major controversies, including empirical accounts of related events and their social contexts. We will focus on racial discrimination in investigatory stops, use-of-force, searches, and arrests. While students are expected to become knowledgeable about the variety of ways empirical evidence is used to assess these specific issues in detail, they are also expected to become critical thinkers about the broader issues of bias in policing. The course provides a sociological and historical context for policing and its frequently discriminatory methods and outcomes in order to explain these and to determine possible policy implications.

      Approach of this course: Most criminology and criminal justice studies of policing use approaches typical of management and organizational sociology. They focus on police agency structure, internal bureaucratic policies, government oversight and accountability, “police outcomes,” best practices, and administrative and managerial questions. Policy considerations operate under the (often-unstated) assumption that police serve a general public benefit. Police “serve and protect”—presumably everyone. Any recommendations are directed toward police administrators to accommodate this mandate

      This course is more typical of institutional sociology and political sociology. Institutionalism is concerned with how durable, self-activating social practices originate, change, and resist change. Political sociology often begins from the premise that—contrary to a unified, generalized mass public—societies are comprised by a multitude of groups who contend over values, resources, and assets. As such, there is no such thing as a general public benefit—there are always winners and losers in the basic conflicts that produce and create changes in societies. From such an approach, rather than assuming universal service and protection, we would ask: Who is served and how by police? Who is protected and from what?

      At times in this course, assigned materials provide contrasting perspectives on similar issues. We will read some criminal justice and police studies texts. Primary intended audiences for most of these texts (beyond criminology students and other criminologists) include police administrators and policy-makers in government. These texts can provide readers with a particular perspective on policing. Most criminal justice courses would be satisfied with the narrow range of perspectives provided in these texts. Instead, to provide a diversity of scholarly viewpoints, this course additionally draws heavily from theory grounded in historical and institutional analysis, from interdisciplinary scholars, and from nonacademic sources. With varying degrees of guidance from the instructor, students will do the work of accounting for diverging and competing perspectives.

    • Spring2017

      Criminology

      SOCIOL 241 Catalog Description: Introduction to the study of criminology, definitions of crime, criminals and delinquents, demographics of crime and criminals, the work of the courts, law, police, and punishment in the production and administration of crime and criminals, society and crime, problems of prevention and control.

      Approach of this section: This intermediate undergraduate sociology course studies three key factors fundamental to criminology: (1) determinations and explanations of crime, (2) ways societies control crime, and (3) key organizations tasked with administrating the control of crime (with emphasis on the United States).

      Fundamentally, this course sociologically studies the field of criminology itself, in part by studying the historical development of criminological thought. Criminology emerged prior to the development of sociology through the work of social philosophers during the eighteenth century. It passed through a phase dominated by political and social thought, and in the early twentieth century was developed with empirical work conducted by sociologists. It has since become an interdisciplinary field, now with influences from sociology, law and legal studies, psychology and psychiatry, and its sibling, criminal justice.

      Each week features a major theme in criminology and criminal justice, and a film that explores related themes. Typically, Monday’s assignments are readings of primary, often historical texts; Wednesday’s assignment is the viewing of a film, available to watch in-person or stream online via course reserves; and Friday’s assigned readings are secondary texts.

    • Spring2017

      Race, Gender, Class, & Ethnicity

      SOCIOL 106 Course Catalog Description: Introduction to Sociology. Analysis of the consequences of membership in racial, gender, class and ethnic groups on social, economic and political life.

      Approach taken by this course: This course provides an introduction to sociology through the study of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, with primary focus on the United States. At different points in the course, we will look at class, race, and gender as analytically separate, but fundamental to the course is the idea that these social categories are mutually informed and co-constitutive. Primary course materials emphasize sociological theory and historical approaches to the study of society.

      Required books:
      Class by Will Atkinson (Polity, 2015)
      How Race Survived U.S. History by David Roediger (Verso, 2008)
      What Is Gender?: Sociological Approaches by Mary Holmes (Sage, 2007)

    • Winter2017

      American Police

      SOCIOL 395 Description: This advanced, accelerated course offers a sociological study of the police institution in the United States. Students will develop a detailed understanding of social and historical influences on this exceptional institution. One key component of the course addresses the police mandate to produce public order and its authorization to use coercive force to this end. This focus on police violence addresses historic controversies and related reforms. A second key area of study addresses the history of American policing from its origins in slave-catching and in isomorphic influence from European organizations; the professionalization of policing in the early twentieth century; the diffusion of modern model of police; the policing of dissent, and particularly with regard to the labor and Civil Rights movements of the mid-20th century; and finally contemporary changes (e.g., broken windows/zero tolerance, community policing, surveillance). The course emphasizes the relationship between policing and determinants of social location (e.g., race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability).

    • Fall2016

      Race & Policing

      SOCIOL 392

      Description: This advanced sociology course focuses on key aspects of the often-controversial relationship between race and policing in the United States. Students will develop a detailed understanding of a number of these major controversies, including empirical accounts of related events and their social contexts. We will focus on racial discrimination in investigatory stops, use-of-force, searches, and arrests. While students are expected to become knowledgeable about the variety of ways empirical evidence is used to assess these specific issues in detail, they are also expected to become critical thinkers about the broader issues of bias in policing. The course provides a sociological and historical context for policing and its frequently discriminatory methods and outcomes in order to explain these and to determine possible policy implications.

    Past Courses Offered at Other Schools

      • Spring2014

        Conflict in U.S. Politics

        Political Science 265 Description: This writing-intensive course covers political conflict and contention in the U.S. The conflicts we cover in this course have to do with material conditions wedded to and reproduced within political institutions and the built environment. The contentions or disagreements we cover often are over efforts to alter or sustain these very material conditions.

        Popular discourse about U.S. American politics addresses conflict in one of two ways. On one hand, this talk overly stresses the activities of consensus-building and the necessity of agreement. On the other, it frequently depicts deadlock between two clearly defined sides, articulated from the louder voices among the two dominant political parties. The course begins—contrary to many political science textbooks—from the presumption that this depiction is historically and theoretically flawed, and intellectually and politically unhelpful. We immediately take our leave from that position in order to explore others.

        The central questions of this course explore democracy as a kind of political action, as an idea, as a means (political practice or process), and as an end state. It asks: When we take disagreement and conflict to be central to politics, what contentions and antagonisms characterize the history and present state of U.S. American politics? Which conflicts present impediments to democracy in the U.S.? How can these antagonisms open up prospects for democracy and expanded political participation?

        This course will explore political conflict as well as processes and strategies of contention, across four applied areas of inquiry. First, we consider the founding and early political institutions. Next, we look at climate change. Third, we analyze race in relation to the politics of citizenship. Finally, we consider technological politics relative to the environment and surveillance in the contemporary U.S.

        Required texts:
        Jerry Fresia, Toward An American Revolution
        Amanda Machin, Negotiating Climate Change
        Charles E. Lindblom and Edward Woodhouse, The Policy-Making Process (Third Edition)
        Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox
        Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy

      • Winter2013

        Stratification

        Details coming soon.

      • Winter2012

        Information & Society

        Coming soon.