Pursuing a Passion for Sociology into the Classroom

Diana Funez

Student Profile: Rebecca Julie, AB’19 (Sociology, expected)

Though it is now her passion, rising third year Rebecca Julie did not know she was interested in Sociology when she came to the University as a first year. Ready to study English, she instead realized she was drawn to another field. “My English papers were always about characters interacting with each other and their settings and how that informs us as to the current state of our own world,” says Julie. “When I got to college and realized there was an entire discipline dedicated to that, and that I didn’t need to use the fictional novel as a lens to talk about social interaction, I knew Sociology was the major for me.”


Sociology, Julie explains, is the study of society. “It’s a discipline dedicated to better understanding both what motivates and shapes our social interactions, divisions, and cultures, and the impacts of those things,” she says. Drawing on her interest in education and in differences between tastes, class, and politics of different people, Julie strives to understand our motivations and how we have been shaped by social interaction. “Sociology is important to me because ultimately, the components of our social world shape both our material world and our institutions,” she says. “In order to better understand human behavior, inventions, and the overall trajectory of history, we have to first look at humankind’s social context.”


Julie’s pivotal decision came in the Social Sciences Core sequence Self, Culture, and Society (SOSC 12100-12200-12300). “Self, Culture, and Society completely changed my academic trajectory and opened my eyes to the ways we are shaped by our social surroundings,” Julie says. Further courses in Sociology introduced Julie to foundational readings and issues. In Sociological Theory (SOCI 20005) with Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor Andrew Abbott, Julie says she learned “to appreciate the wide variety in seminal Sociological literature.” Global Health and Inequality (SOCI 20245) with Associate Professor Jenny Trinitapoli was yet another key course. “Professor Trinitapoli’s class taught me to view global issues, such as the health disparities between different countries around the world, through the lens of Sociology,” she says.


Trinitapoli’s course and Crime and the City (SOCI 20221) with Assistant Professor Forrest Stuart of the Sociology Department influenced how Julie thought of large cities like Chicago and New York. “I’m really interested in cities, namely in crime theory as well as socioeconomic and racial stratification in urban settings,” she says.


This new perspective led her back to her home city of New York this summer. “This summer I worked as a 7th grade math teacher in the Bronx for Breakthrough New York, an education non-profit that offers academic support and enrichment for high-achieving, low-income students in cities across the country,” says Julie. Although she grew up very near the community where she taught, Julie was struck by the differences between the opportunities she had had and the limitations her students faced. “Seeing the stark disparities between my own neighborhood, my workplace, and other areas of New York City inspired me further to continue my work in Sociology to understand how we can close the opportunity gap and break cycles of poverty,” she says.


This fall, Julie will be travelling to a very different environment to further test her perspective: Pune, India. Her study abroad program shall focus on South East Civilizations. “I decided to go abroad to Pune because I wanted to see new things, be challenged, and also, as a budding sociologist, the thought of being thrown into a totally different and foreign society to study, learn, and broaden my perspective of the world was really appealing to me,” she says. “I’m nervous, but excited to explore somewhere new and so different from the culture I am used to.” 


Because of her desire to make a positive change with education and continue learning about ways to combat poverty, Julie says she would like to become a middle school teacher and is also considering pursuing a higher degree in Sociology. To prepare, she hopes to take a class with Sara Liston Spurlark Director of the Urban Education Institute and Clinical Professor on the Committee of Education Sara Ray Stoelinga on the Sociology of Education. “I’m considering going into teaching, and the thought of marrying my interests in sociology and education in the classroom is incredibly enticing,” she says.


For students that may find that they are also interested in Sociology, Julie encourages that they pursue their passion. “If you like to be challenged to open your eyes in a way that pushes you beyond your comfort zone and if you enjoy contextualizing texts in a way that is relatable to our modern world, Sociology is extremely rewarding and exciting,” she says.