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Carrying the Torch for Social Justice at UT

Social justice goes socially viral as conference attendees share their experiences on FacebookSarah D’Onofrio, a doctoral student in sociology, displays a sign of what matters most to her.

It’s been an active year at the University of Tennessee. As the new name of our newsletter indicates, our department played an integral role in many social justice movements this year. We’ve also had a very productive year in the Department of Sociology and have lots celebrate as we gear up for the fall semester.

In May, we hosted an extraordinary conference on New Directions in Critical Criminology. Our own Lo Presser, professor and associate department head, received the College Senior Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences. Our undergraduate ranks continue to grow and in the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in our majors of over 30 percent; a clear indication of our teaching excellence.

The new internship class provides terrific opportunities for our students to understand how their sociological expertise can contribute to the workplace; we are committed to offering this class every semester. We are also excited about our new faculty member, Christina Ergas, assistant professor of sociology, who will join us in the fall of 2017 after a post-doc position at Brown University.

These are just a few of our successes that show the transformative effect our faculty and students have on our department and the university as a whole.

However, even while we celebrate our successes, we must acknowledge the troubling year we’ve had at the University of Tennessee. We believe the meddling of the state legislature and much of the subsequent legislation is bad for our campus environment. As a department that takes social justice seriously, we are appalled by our state representative’s actions of stripping funding from the Office of Equity and Diversity. We also oppose the new guns on campus legislation.

I think it is important we recognize these attacks on the university and our capacity to act in our state’s and students’ best interests are likely to continue. This was not just an anomaly of a bad year, but part of a coherent assault on the role of universities in the United States.

When I think about our faculty, our students, and our supporters, I take heart in the importance of our role in the university. It is no accident this department has a leading role in social justice across campus. Whether it be an effort to buy our university apparel from ethical sources, the struggle against privatization, the opposition to the death penalty, or the support of diversity, this department has led the charge to address these social problems and fight for social justice. Because of our distinct role, progressive students, as individuals or in groups, seek us out for teaching and counsel.

We are committed to maintaining our efforts of excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement. We are committed to continuing our fight for social justice. But confronting social problems and facing down social injustice takes a community of support. Maintaining our excellence and commitment to social justice needs a strong foundation, which is where you can help.

Please take a look at the opportunities we have to invest in social justice and our department at the university. With your help, our faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students can continue to carry the torch of social justice at the University of Tennessee and beyond.

I hope you enjoy this edition of newsletter. We’d love to hear what you’ve been up to, so feel free to drop us a line and stay in touch!

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