Stephanie Medley-Rath

Stephanie Medley-Rath is an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Kokomo. Her research interests include the sociology of autobiography, cognitive sociology, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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How Gender Affects Teacher Evaluations

The semester is just not finished until you have completed course/teaching evaluations. Most students probably see them as a pesky task, but we can learn a lot about ourselves as faculty and our students from these evaluations. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how gender bias influences the feedback on these evaluations.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Chrismakwanzika? No. It’s the end of the semester! During these last couple of weeks of the semester, you have written papers, passed your exams, and completed course/teacher evaluations. Let’s talk about these evaluations.

When your professor brings out the evaluation forms, you probably think a a few things:

  1. The semester really is almost over!
  2. If my classmate, who is handing out the evaluation forms, moves a bit more quickly, I can get out of class early today!
  3. I can give my professor fair and constructive feedback on this course and their teaching abilities.

What? Fair and constructive feedback isn’t what you had in mind? That wasn’t on the top of my mind either when I was in your shoes.

Now that I am the one being evaluated, I think about course evals a bit more than I did as an undergraduate. Many (rightly) critique these evaluations because students might not be the best judges of quality teaching given that at times what is best for learning might not be something students particularly enjoy. Learning a subject involves being challenged, dealing with confusion, and suffering through failure along the way to developing mastery….

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“Trick-or-Treat, Smell My Feet”: How to “Do Halloween”

How do you “do Halloween?” In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes the conflicting messages she received from her family, her peers, and the media about how to celebrate Halloween. 

Jack-o-Lantern

Please accept my apologies for my belated post on Halloween. You see, I don’t really know how to “do Halloween.”

It’s not my fault that I don’t know how to “do Halloween.” I blame conflicting messages from the various agents of socialization in my life. I am constantly surprised by the extent to which others decorate for the holiday and invest in costume planning. Why would people invest this much time and money in Halloween?

My ambivilance towards the holiday is challenged by the presence of my 6-year-old daughter. And Pinterest and Facebook. Thanks to the kid, I have to act like I have some idea what is expected on this holiday. Thanks to social media I’ve learned I should carve a pumpkin, do something creative with fall leaves, visit a corn maze, visit a haunted house, make a homemade costume, participate in a costume contest, and make Halloween-themed food. These are just a few of the ways in in which I have failed at doing Halloween properly. In sum, my Halloween socialization has been influenced by my parents, the Internet, movies, and my child.

Let me begin by describing the Halloween of my childhood. I grew up in the era of imaginary razor blades in apples and Halloween costumes which consisted of plastic masks and what can only be described as a decorative garbage bag. My mother with her home economics degree (yes, that is a real thing), would never dress me in one of those suffocation-hazard outfits (though I did wear the plastic masks). She handmade my costumes before Pinterest made it a thing. I have no memory of picking out a costume at a store (except maybe when I went as a black cat). One year, I went as a clown (for the umpteempth time) complete with camouflage make-up.

I keep using the word “went” as if that means something. Where did I go? I’m sure your thinking, “trick-or-treating, of course.” Well, sort of….

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What Your Fridge Says about Your Social Class?

What does the contents of your refrigerator say about your social class? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the contents of a fridge might indicate something about one’s social class position. 

Scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, I saw this image shared by a friend:

Fridges with and without food inside

The intent of the person who created this image is to reinforce the image of the working person as going without while the unemployed person is literally getting fat off the government (as if there are no valid reasons why a person might be unemployed and in need of asssitance). The focus of today’s post, is to disucss how this image illustrates the meaning of social class in America and enables to think about research methods.

If a person believes they are middle class and they really do have an empty fridge because they can not afford the food to fill it, they probably are not actually middle class. See, in America, everybody thinks they are middle class, though that perception is declining. No one should be blamed for their own misperception. I did a quick google image search for “middle class family on TV” and the families from The Middle, The Cosby Show, Modern Family, and Roseanne all showed up. I distinctly remember an episode of Roseanne where their power was cut after not paying their bill. I don’t ever recall money problems on The Cosby Show. Can a family that can’t pay their power bill and a family that can really be in the same social class grouping?…

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Miley Cyrus Has Found the Cure for Youth Homelessness

Did you watch the MTV Video Music Awards this year? Well if you missed it, Stephanie Medley-Rath brings you up to speed on Miley Cyrus’ cure for youth homelessness, which she unveiled at the VMA.

Homeless Youth Sleeping on Street

Once again, Miley Cyrus steals the VMA spotlight by pulling a stunt of some sort. This year, she had 22-year-old homeless man, Jesse Helt to accept her award to raise awareness for homeless youth living in Los Angeles. He prompted viewers to visit Cyrus’facebook page so that they, too, could donate to My Friend’s Place, an LA shelter serving homeless youth ane presumbly to educate themself on the issue.

I visited Cyrus’ website to learn more about her campaign and noticed that her campaign message begins:

  • “Just a few miles from where I live in Los Angeles, there are young people living on the street who come to this city with big dreams just like all of us.”

The implication is that these are young people who moved to L.A. to achieve their dreams rather than that they are from L.A. to begin with or are homeless for reasons that have little to do with seeking Hollywood-fame. The allure of Hollywood and celebrity is strong and Cyrus’ words are an attempt to get people to empathize because they (i.e., homeless youth) are “just like all of us” (i.e., the non-homeless)….

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Don’t Rummage Through my Things! Moving & Deviance

How do you behave when visiting someone’s home? Do you go through their medicine cabinet? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes how all the moving-related house guests (i.e. movers, realtors, inspectors, etc.) behave differently from other types of house guests clarifying the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.

Happy Family Moving

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m moving.

By selling our home, I’ve come to realize just how guests in one’s home are supposed to behave. When you sell your home you are forced to open it up to a bunch of strangers (i.e. realtors, movers, inspectors, etc). For lack of a better term, I’ll call all these folks moving-related guests. What I’ve learned through this whole process is that moving-related guests’ behave differently than regular house guests. By observing moving-related guests behavior we can see clear boundaries that separate normative (i.e. follows the rules) and deviant (i.e. breaks the rules) house guest behavior.

First, non-moving related guests in your home should not open cabinets and closets in your home.

This move requires us to hire movers. I’ve never hired movers for an interstate move. I’ve hired movers for a cross-town move before, but never for anything this big. And yes, we know we could save a lot of money if we did it ourself. We’ve moved ourselves (and with the help of friends and family) about five times (excluding moving dorms and undergraduate furnished apartments). We have a lot of experience moving ourselves, which is why I know to pack books in small boxes and try to only pack stuff from one room in one box. Fortunately, with upward mobility (as my new job does pay more money) comes a moving allowance from my new employer enabling us to better afford hiring professionals to do the heavy lifting.

The first step in hiring professional movers is to call them up and give them an inventory of all of your possessions. Then, if you find the moving cost estimate reasonable, schedule a time for them to come do an in-person estimate for a more precise estimate. Unlike potential homebuyers, movers go through your stuff in your presence. They open your cabinets and closets right in front of you! They do not behave like normal visitors to your home! Having the movers come in for estimates gave me a glimpse of what other strangers are doing in my house when considering whether to buy our home or not.

Now, of course, visitors to your home might snoop in your medicine cabinet, clean while you sleep, or open a coat closet to hang up their coat, but rarely do they open random cabinets and closets. They open things intentionally (i.e., the coat closet) or without your knowledge (i.e., the  medicine cabinet).

Overnight house guests have slightly different expectations. I have been the overnight house guest to two different people within the last six weeks. In the first scenario, the person is a new colleague of mine who invited me to stay in her home while I house hunted. While I was told to just help myself to food (and dig into the cabinets for correct dishes), I felt like I was violating the norm of not going through another person’s cabinets. In the second scenario, I stayed with my sister. Family is different. Further, I was there to help her with her newborn twins. Because she is both close family and the purpose of my visit was to help, I had no choice but to get into cabinets and even dresser drawers (to put away clean clothing). In neither of these scenarios was I snooping, but I certainly felt like I was approaching the line between normative and deviant house guest behavior. I took care to clean up after myself and did my best to not disturb the placement of any items in cabinets or closets. I made it appear as though I had never been there.

Second, moving-related house visitors should make it appear as though they have never been there.

Of course, one expects a kitchen full of dirty dishes after a dinner party. I also expect my daughter’s room to look messier after she has had a friend visit. But when strangers visit your home, you expect your home to appear exactly as you left it. Most of our house visitors have done this, but I’ve walked into our bedrooms and seen closet doors not completely shut. Occasionally a light is left on in a room where it is normally turned off. The visit that stands out, however, is the one where all of my daughter’s Lego people had been disassembled. I spent a half hour reassembling 30 Lego people (on this day we also had three showings, one mover coming to give an estimate, and a property manager checking the place out to potentially rent it). We moved all of her assembled Legos to the top shelf of a bookcase so that other children of would-be-homebuyers would have no choice but to leave them alone.

House visitors vary in the standard of leaving a home as they found it. Importantly, the type of guest and the purpose of their visit informs how they are expected to behave in the home they are visiting.

Dig Deeper:

  1. The author writes, “moving-related guests’ behavior clarifies the boundaries between normative and deviant house guest behavior.” Explain the difference between normative and deviant behavior using an example unrelated to house guests.
  2. What norms of house guest behavior should the following people conform to when visiting your home (or dorm room): your closest family member or friend, an acquaintance, someone you are dating, and a repair person?
  3. How do our expectations of house guest behaviors change depending on the house guest’s age? For example, are there different standards for young children, teenagers, and adults? Give an example.
  4. Visit someone’s home (with their permission). You could visit your family, a friend’s dorm room, or even use a work-related experience if your job requires you to visit people’s homes (i.e., delivery person). Immediately after ending the visit, make notes regarding your own behavior during the visit. In what ways did your behavior conform or deviate from typical house guests norms?


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Becoming Empathetic through Sociology

Learning sociology helps us to further develop our ability to empathize. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how learning about gangs beyond statistics can help us to develop our own sense of empathy.

One skill that students of sociology should develop and refine through their training is the ability to empathize.

What is empathy? There are two types of empathy: affective empathy and cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy most closely aligns with the sociological imagination. Cognitive empathy “refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions.” The sociological imaganation tasks us with understanding the perspective of other people. Doing this can enable us to understand why people make choices very different from our own.

I assign the book Gang Leader for a Day in my Sociology of Deviant Behavior course. I have three main reasons for assigning this particular book, which I won’t bore you with, but the reason pertinent to this posting has to do with empathy.

Most of my students pick up the book with a strong negative reaction to gangs. They can’t imagine why anyone would choose to join a gang. For most of my students, joining a gang was never an option. There was no gang in their community. They have never met a gang member. To be sure, this does not mean no gang presence existed in their communities, it means they were isolated from gang life. Moreover, while they have lived in communities with limited opportunities, opportunities still exist. For them, joining a gang was never a decision they had to make.

By the time they finish reading the book, they tend to still have negative reactions towards gangs, but most students are also much more empathetic to the reasons why people join gangs. They begin the semester with the attitude that people just have to be strong and refuse to cave to the pressures of joining a gang. That if a person just works hard enough and stays out of trouble, he or she can escape a gang-controlled community. After reading the book, they still may harbor some of this sentiment but they also understand that exercising one’s agency to resist gang involvement is a lot more complicated. Further, some of their assumptions about why people join gangs (e.g., lack of education) are challenged when they learn that some gang members do hold bachelor’s degrees….

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For Sale: One Clean and Decluttered Home

Have you ever bought or sold a home? What might this process teach us about impression managmenet? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how selling a home offers insight to Erving Goffman’s concept of impression management by describing the ways in which she made her home cleaner and less cluttered in order to sell it.

People Buying Home

I’m moving to another state.

This move involves both securing housing in a community roughly a 3.5 hour drive from our current home, but also selling the house in which we currently live.

I’ve never sold a home while still living in it. Since April 1, our home hasn’t really been our home despite us continuing to live here.

To begin, our house is cleaner than it has ever been. It’s not that our house was ever super dirty or unclean, but that we had to make a point to clean the house before going on vacation. I always take out the trash and wash dishes before leaving for vacation, but I never make a point to sweep the floors or pick up my daughter’s toys. While selling a home, your vacation preparation must include extra cleaning. You never know, there might be a showing and you want to make sure potential homebuyers leave your home with a good impression. No one wants to move into a disorganized, clutter-filled, dirty home even if that is exactly what they will do with it once they buy it and move into it. …

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Is Hispanic an Ethnic Category or a Racial Category?

Sociologists use the terms race and ethnicity to mean different things even though many Americans use the terms interchangeably. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains why Hispanic origin is typically considered an ethnic category rather than a racial category. 

This post starts a bit differently than most. I want to begin with a few questions:

  1. What is race? Can you name two or three racial groups in America?
  2. What is ethnicity? Can you name two or three ethnic groups in America?
  3. What is the difference between race and ethnicity?
  4. Is Hispanic a race or ethnicity?

Sociologists use the word race to refer to categories of people who share distinct physical features. These physical features may be based in biology, but are granted social significance. For example, skin color, hair texture, and eye shape are all used in American society to determine a person’s racial categorization. In general, African Americans, Asian Americans, and White Americans are all considered racial groups.

Sociologists define ethnicity as a shared culture. For example, Jewish Americans would be considered an ethnic group because of their shared religious background. Chinese Americans would also be an ethnic group because of their shared nation of origin.

While many folks use the terms race and ethnicity interchangeably, they actually do refer to different things. Based on the above definitions of race and ethnicity, where do Hispanics fit?  Are Hispanics a racial group or an ethnic group?…

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Swim at Your Own Risk: Racial Disparities in Drowning

Is swimming a part of your summertime fun or does it feel you with dread? Does your reaction to swimming have anything to do with your race? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the role of race in swimming and drowning. 

I’ve swam in ponds, lakes, and creeks. I’ve swam in chlorinated backyard pools, public pools, and hotel pools. As an adult (who has spent most of my life in the landlocked-Midwest), I’ve managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Swimming has always been a part of my life. As a child, I took swimming lessons for one week each summer. It never failed that the week of my lessons, the weather would be about 70 degrees and overcast (i.e., too cold), but I still went. I was never very good. I like to say, that I knew enough not to drown. That may sound a bit over-confident, but I did know how to swim and learned some basic survival skills.

Little did I know that my access to public swimming spaces, swimming lessons, and risk of drowning had something to do with my race or the legacy of racial discrimination….

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How to Ride in an Elevator in Five Easy Steps

Social life has norms and sociologists seek to uncover, explore, and understand these norms. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the norms of riding an elevator and what elevators can teach us about conformity and deviance.

Have you ever ridden in an elevator? What did you do? I imagine your elevator trip went something like this:

  1. You arrived to the elevator doors and pushed either up or down and waited for the elevator to arrive.
  2. The elevator doors open and after verifying it is heading in the direction you desire, you step inside. You move towards the back of the elevator if many people were getting on the elevator with you. If the elevator is crowded, you might even opt to let this car pass and wait for the next one. Once on the elevator, you take your position and turn around to face the doors. (What do you do if the elevator has doors in both the back and front of the elevator!?)
  3. You push the button to the floor you need and only to the floor you need unless someone else says they need a different floor. Under no circumstances do you push all of the buttons–no matter how much the lit up buttons may resemeble a Christmas tree. Resist the temptation!
  4. You cease any conversations with the people you boarded the elvator with. You do not talk to anyone else on the elevator. There are only two exceptions to this norm. First, you may ask new passengers what floor they are going to if they themselves can not easily reach or push the floor buttons or you are overcome with politeness. Second, if this elevator is in a building you live or work in, then you may talk to other people on the elevator. Otherwise, you do not talk to anyone–including people you know inside the elevator.
  5. Once you arrive at your floor, you exit the elevator. You do not wish your fellow passengers goodbye. You leave as silently as you arrived.

While conversations are often limited on elevator rides, some elevator norms are much more strictly followed. Norms are guidelines for behavior. Watch the following video about elevator behavior:…

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