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Meet your SEPC: Sociology

(Left to right, top to bottom) Kayla Estes ’18, Ashley Jackson ’18, Jordan Maddaus ’19, Nomalanga Shields ’18 and Abdiel Lopez ’18 make up the Sociology SEPC. Photo by Mahira Faran.
(Left to right, top to bottom) Kayla Estes ’18, Ashley Jackson ’18, Jordan Maddaus ’19, Nomalanga Shields ’18 and Abdiel Lopez ’18 make up the Sociology SEPC. Photo by Mahira Faran.

The Sociology Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) is a gregarious and passionate group of students, united by their enthusiasm for the discipline of sociology and its institutional importance to Grinnell.

The SEPC comprises of Jessica Black, Abdiel Lopez, Nomalanga Shields, Ashley Jackson, Ifetayo Olutosin and Kayla Estes, all ’18, as well as Jordan Maddous ’19. Lopez, the longest-running member of the SEPC after a total of five semesters on the committee, ran for the position after declaring as a sociology major in their first year. However, other members took a more circuitous path to the committee.

“I ran after seeing what the past year’s [SEPC] was doing … bringing all of the sociology majors together. I felt there was a lot of flexibility in the sociology department where my ideas would be respected,” Shields said. “I also had friends on the committee so I thought it would be great to meet other majors while working with people that I knew to make the sociology department more connected.”

All five members emphasized the importance of sociology to all students at Grinnell, regardless of their major. Jackson noted that, “sociology works best when it is interdisciplinary.”

“Given the way that Grinnell is framed as a social justice-oriented school, … I think Introduction to Sociology should be a required course because it’s really important to orient yourself with the way that our social, economic and political structures are set up and how those structures impact peoples’ daily lives,” Estes added.

Although the SEPC is not currently campaigning to make Introduction to Sociology a required course, they do host a variety of outreach events on behalf of the department. This year the SEPC held an ice cream social for majors, prospective majors and professors to discuss summer sociology MAPs and internships. Both Lopez and Shields highlighted “Bad B*tches Gardner,” a party in Gardner Lounge that the SEPC sponsored in the fall of 2015, as a memorable event. The party, which Lopez described as “lit,” prioritized women of color and artists of color.

This emphasis on bringing awareness to marginalized identities is characteristic of the SEPC. Many of its members cited concerns about diversity and intersectionality as their reason for joining the Committee.

Ashley Jackson became a member of the SEPC last Fall.

“I got along with my professors but … I figured that if I was [on the SEPC] I could challenge some of the problems I found in the department because I would have a voice,” Jackson said. “We’re in a rural area so I understand that it’s hard for Grinnell to get professors from a diversity of experiences and backgrounds … but I wanted to see Du Bois not be used as a representative … in Soc 111,” she stated.

Lopez, a fourth-year, noted that it was important for them to establish diverse and non-Eurocentric scholarship within the department as a form of legacy. Lopez cited new visiting professors as a reason to be optimistic about the future of sociology at Grinnell. Next year, Professor Joel Crombez from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville will teach a course on the Sociology of Afro-futurism and scholar J.M. Bacon will teach a course on Environmental Sociology.

“I think we’re really starting to decolonize sociology slowly but surely,” Lopez said in reference to these upcoming opportunities.

Multiple SEPC members cited the appointment of Professor Sharon Quinsaat to a tenure track position as a highlight of their term. Quinsaat teaches classes on Asian-American sociology, migration and mass media in society. She came to Grinnell following the departure of Professor David Cook-Martín for NYU in 2017.

Like Cook-Martín did after last year, the majority of the SEPC will soon depart from Grinnell. Six out of the seven SEPC members are fourth-years. To fill these vacancies, the current SEPC has requested that majors submit a paragraph explaining what they want to see in the sociology department and what they would add to the SEPC by Sunday, April 22. Following a week-long election period, the SEPC will announce their new members at a social event coordinating with the release of their long-awaited stickers.

“We said this and now we have to do it!” Lopez added, laughing.

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