Author Archive for rbtaggueg

Into the Field

I actually had my first experience going into the field last week!  I went out and conducted a needs assessment for the organization I partnered with.  I honestly don’t know what I expected, as my previous experience with giving out surveys had generally revolved around collecting them online.  Doing surveys in-person was definitely not something in my comfort zone — but by the end of the day, I had a lot of fun and collected a lot of experience that I can use moving forward.

In terms of what I’m bringing with me, I think the lesson I am going to take away from that experience is to be prepared.  I know that not every situation can be anticipated, but by being prepared for *any* situation, you enable yourself to bounce back from it more easily.

I think that I am also realizing the power and privilege of being a graduate student affiliated with a well-known institution (however limited in capacity that may be).  It affords me with a certain… expertise (?) that other people do not have.  When people hear about you, and where you come from, it creates an image in their minds of who you are.  This can be both a positive and negative thing, depending on how they view academia or the UC Institution overall, but I think that regardless of the impression, the fact of the matter is that the impression is there.  It provides context, and to facilitate entree with certain communities and groups.  And ultimately, I find that invaluable, especially when working with populations that might not be comfortable with giving you information.

I think going out into the field this past week has been extremely fruitful, both on a personal and professional level.  It makes me optimistic for the work that I will be doing this summer, and I can say that my experiences so far have been unique.  I can only hope that they continue to be as fruitful far beyond the summer.

What can I do over a summer?

I’d love to say that there is SO much I can do over a summer (and truly, there is a lot we can get accomplished), but the reality is, there are hurdles and delays that complicate our time commitments.

However, despite the hurdles, it doesn’t mean I can’t be optimistic.  Right now my plan is to collect oral histories and interviews as I can.  My original proposal stated that my goal is 50-100 interviews over the summer, but knowing what I know now about how much work it really takes to conduct not only a quality interview, but to make sure it is ready for analysis (i.e. transcription, formatting so that it is readily usable in programs like Nvivo or Dedoose, etc.), I think I can conduct between 20 and 30 during the summer.

I think one of my main hurdles is going to be recruitment.  Given that I am targeting a marginalized population (undocumented immigrants), especially in times like today when there is a lot to fear regarding their safety and security, I’m wary of whether respondent/snowball sampling is enough to get me the numbers I need. This presupposes my developing of a rapport with my partner organization (Migrante 707), as they will be the ones to help me get to the people I need.

Another hurdle I’ll have to overcome will the the IRB.  Despite my expertise (I used to be employed with the UC Irvine IRB), I am wary of my two conflicting goals:  First, is the public oral history component.  These interviews will be recorded for archiving purposes, and made available so that the stories and journeys of the undocumented can be used to inform and help others learn of the lives they lead.  On the other hand, as a researcher, I want to be able to get the data I need to learn valuable lessons that might not be apparent from a “simple” collection of oral histories.  From the IRB’s perspective, I need to protect my subjects at all costs, and one way of doing so is through providing them with anonymity.

I might have to come to terms with divorcing my research perspective from my public sociology perspective, especially in the context of the Mellon Public Scholars Program for this summer.

I do, however, believe wholeheartedly that this work will continue far beyond the summer work I do for the MPS Program.  This is only the beginning, and just because I can’t do research now doesn’t mean the opportunity has gone away.

Why am I here?

Today’s topic asks the question: Why am I here?  The simple (or not so simple) answer to that question is that I am here to try something new.  Over the course of this past year (and a reminder, I am a first year student in Sociology), I’ve found myself in a bit of a quandary.  Foremost in my mind is to figure out what kind of scholar I want to be.  While I do believe that I’ve found a home in my department, it becomes clearer to me every day that “sociology” is exactly as broad as it sounds.

To my dismay, I’ve found myself constrained by the freedom.  In its broadness, my chosen field of study has given me pause to think.  What do I really care about?  And more importantly, how do I approach it in a manner that makes me satisfied that I’ve carved out an academic identity that is not only unique, but meaningful?

To that end, I think that is one of the reasons I have gravitated towards the Mellon Public Scholars Program.  It provides me with a venue through which I can make a contribution.  From the past week’s readings, I’ve learned that doing rigorous, theoretical research is not mutually exclusive to finding practical, meaningful solutions to the social problems I find to be most-pressing.

Being in the MPS Program these past few weeks has already provided me with new perspectives, and more importantly, a greater appreciation of not only my positionality as a graduate student here at UC Davis, but also as a member of a community which strives to change the world for the better.  We may all have a different approach, but having that shared goal makes me hopeful that we are headed towards a brighter future.

Alleviating my insecurities: Reconciling what it means to find purpose in the pursuit of knowledge.

Growing up undocumented, I had few options in terms of what my future could be.  Going to college was a dream that so few people like me had the opportunity to do, and the main goal I had in mind was to get my degree, get out, and get a job — to keep myself afloat, and stay out of trouble.  However, I was fortunate enough to meet a mentor that took me under her wing, and instilled in me the belief in research and the scientific method.  For years, I had watched her take the numbers and words on a computer screen, and use it to great effect to inform policy and create programs and services that made a huge difference in the lives of countless others.  To me, she was changing the world.  I wanted to do that too.

As I progressed through my college career, I became increasingly aware that I was going into places (both literally and metaphorically) that people like me don’t normally go.  A place of privilege, a place of prestige.  I knew that I had a responsibility to others like me, who couldn’t go where I was going, who didn’t have the same opportunities I had.  When I made the decision to go to graduate school, I understood that I owed all my successes to the people who forged the way before me, and that I had to pay it back by making the road easier for those who followed after.

But, as it is always the case, life is not so simple.  While I’ve found a new home in the Sociology Department, a new awareness came along: the idea that we do what we do for the sake of the pursuit of knowledge.  But this pursuit seemed to run contrary to what brought me to my program; what was the point of all of this if there was no utility in the research I wanted to do?

I have to say that this week’s readings are helping me reconcile my insecurities.  More than ever, I am convinced in the capacity of research to engender change in the world, and that working towards a Ph.D. can very much fall in-line with my goals.  Like Hale says in the piece we read this week, activism can be a valid source of theoretical discovery.  It can be rigorous, because we have no option but to be rigorous in our work.  Not everyone will agree with this position (as we clearly saw in the Okazawa-Rey & Sudbury 2015 piece), but I think that rather than be discouraged, it becomes incumbent upon me to make sure that I strike the right balance in the work that I do.  Research can be a powerful tool, but it needs direction.  Service can reach greater heights if based on empirical, theoretically-grounded research.  “Public” and “scholarship” do not need to be separate concepts linked together by an individual.  As a Mellon Public Scholar, this is my charge.

Why do universities exist?

In following from last week’s discussion on scholarship, this week’s readings focused on the role of Universities.  Do they have a responsibility to promote and pursue public good beyond the accrual of knowledge, especially in this era of rampant Capitalism in which inequalities abound and the gaps between social strata are larger than ever before?  Furthermore, if it does play the role of “public-good facilitator,” to whom does it then have this responsibility to help?

Throughout American history, we have seen the rise of the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant to the highest echelons of society.  If the American narrative is to believed, and equality and an egalitarian society is the ultimate goal, it then presupposes that all members of society, regardless of social background, should be treated in a similar manner (and yes, that includes those in the highest strata).  

As I learn more about the essential problematics of society (both as I go through my own program, and in my role as a Mellon Public Scholar), I am developing this ideal that equality isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all answer we all have been conditioned it to be.  In an equal society, those who already have the resources to escape things like poverty will do everything in their power to make sure that they maintain the status quo.  Equality only works if we begin with an equal society.  

I particularly like how Ferguson delineates how this process occurs by drawing on Foucault’s theories of power.  In striving for compromise, for example, minority groups have paved the way for hegemonic institutions to maintain their dominance.  When new threats arise, those in power adjust to face these new threats to prevent revolution.

Logically then, we must assume that it is not equality, but rather, equity, which is the answer.  But there are issues with this as well.  When you have the option to treat people differently, again those in power make sure that this system work in their favor.  The problem then, is to shift it in such a way as to make sure that those in power receive the least, while those who are in need receive the most.

This brings us back, then, to the role of the University.  Research in the Sociology of Education indicates that the technical skills one learns over the course of their training and education account for only a moderate amount of the variance in economic outcomes.  If it’s not skills, which the University imbues upon an individual to change their life course, then what exactly is it?  The spread of ideas?  And if this is the case, are we, as scholars of the Academy, charged with this mission?