Musings of the 2018 Program Chair

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Volume 1:4; February 26, 2018

Speaking Truth to Power for Social Justice and the Public’s Health 

I am pleased to post this article “Why I Teach a Course Called ‘White Racism’.” by Dr. Ted Thornhill ( as Vol. 1:4 of the my “Musings of the 2018 Program Chair”. (

I invited Ted to contribute to “Musings...” because it, and his course, directly embody the theme of the 81st MSS annual meeting in Minneapolis - “Sociology and the Public’s Health”.

Central to research, teaching and practice in public health are:

 Dr. Thornhill’s article, and his teaching on systemic barriers to racial and ethnic justice, are key to helping improve the public’s health.  The links in his article to commentaries denying and trashing the premises of his teaching and his course confirm again the continuing, urgent need for sociology/sociologists to speak truth to power for social justice and the public’s health.

Dr. Thornhill is an At-Large Director on the MSS Board of Directors and an active participant in all things MSS.




Volume 1:3; February 12, 2018


Partner in Transforming Health and Health Equity in the U.S.

In this “Musings…” I highlight a particular organization – the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) because I believe RWJF programs and funding opportunities may hold potential for advancing your sociological teaching, research and/or practice interests. 


RWJF is a creative source of education, practice and research about health, with a mission to transform our understanding and practices of health and health equity.  Here’s a quick introduction -

RWJF is a Social Entrepreneur, a change agent fostering: 

RWJF supports Leadership Development – a change agent fostering community leadership and research and evaluation:

RWJF Offers funding opportunities – supporting research and evidence-based practices:


Two representatives from RWJF, and a colleague from the Rand Corporation, have accepted my invitation to participate in the MSS 2018 Annual Meeting in Minneapolis.  They will also participate in two sessions during which you can learn more, if you have an interest.




Volume 1:2; November 28, 2017

Practice What You Preach!

As a sociologist engaged in public health practice for nearly two decades, my work has been organized around a specific approach to research and program development called Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) (Israel et al., 1998).  CBPR is not a methodology, per se; rather it is a protocol by which professional researchers and community health developers conduct their work with communities. Eight principles guide the CBPR protocol, four of which are particularly relevant to where I am going in this issue of “Musings…” and in the shaping the 2018 MSS program in Minneapolis. 


  • recognizes community as a [unique and autonomous] unit of identity - to identify and to work with existing communities of identity, and/or to strengthen a sense of community through collective engagement;
  • builds on the strengths and resources in the community – to address common concerns;
  • facilitates collaborative partnerships – in which all parties participate;
  • promotes a co-learning and empowering process – that facilitates the reciprocal transfer of knowledge, skills, capacity and power.

The MSS as a professional organization meets annually in one city or another, with little direct engagement with the city, communities, or neighborhoods in which we meet.  We do a few tours to local sites and/or communities, we eat in local restaurants, we stay in and support a national hotel chain, we may even do some sightseeing and shopping. The Social Action Committee does select one or two community-based, local organizations to recognize and give a cash award.  All of these have their merits. 

However, my intent for the 2018 MSS annual meeting is to build on the four CBPR principles noted above – to enrich our learning as sociologists by promoting co-learning and empowering that builds on the strengths and resources in the local community! 


Long before I paid close attention to the ‘place’ in which MSS would be meeting, I had chosen as the 2018 MSS program theme “Sociology and the Public’s Health,” with a special focus on “Global and National Immigration and Migration.”  

As it turns out, ‘place’ really matters!  I have been handed a rich opportunity to practice what I preach, do what I say, because Minnesota, the Twin Cities in particular, have a rich history of welcoming immigrants.


The Twin Cities, and the state of Minnesota more generally, have led as a destination for immigrants arriving in the U.S. 

Minnesota's first large groups of immigrants arrived from Europe, primarily Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and Germany. Today, the majority of Minnesota's immigrants arrive from Mexico, India, Laos, and Somalia.
Hmong refugees began arriving in Minnesota in the mid-1970s, when the country of Laos was taken over by communist powers. Somali refugees began coming to Minnesota in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Somali government resulted in extreme violence. As of 2015, Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States and the second largest United States Hmong population

[Minnesota Legislative Reference Library -]

Within Minneapolis, a short 15 minutes from our conference hotel, is a neighborhood called Cedar-Riverside, especially relevant to our global and national immigration theme. Cedar Riverside is small in size - approximately 8, 247 residents [] within 351 acres of turf.  Within Cedar-Riverside resides a Somalian community, teeming with Somali immigrants and culture - foods, arts and service organizations, that serves to mediate the immigration and settlement process. [

Gradually, therefore, I came to understand that I have been handed an opportunity to ‘practice what I preach’– engage with community. So…I took a road trip.  I went to Minneapolis, to Cedar-Riverside, to learn more about the neighborhood, to meet people, tell them about the MSS’ plan to be in the Twin Cities, and ask them about whether and how they might be a part of the 2018 MSS program.  

I came away envisioning that the MSS engaging with the Somali community within the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood could be a reality.  We are working on ways to bring the Somali immigrant experience – both locally through local organizations’ participation in our annual meeting sessions and internationally through a keynote speaker whose work extends to three different Somali immigrant destinations - the U.S., Saudi Arabia and South Africa

Over the next few months, I will be focusing on developing specific plans by which to engage with and learn from a community within the city in we gather in March, 2018.

[Israel BA, Schulz AJ, Parker EA, Becker AB. Review of Community-Based Research: Assessing Partnership Approaches to Improve Public Health. 1998. Annual Review of Public Health 19:173-202]



Volume 1:1; September 28, 2017

Mosquitos & Undocumented Immigrants’ Rights

For those directly affected, natural catastrophes are difficult in the extreme to deal with.  The physical, psychological, sociological and environmental harm done by hurricanes, earthquakes, massive fires and more have us all asking “How do/can we respond?” 

Simultaneously, natural catastrophes have not-so-apparent effects that raise ethical and policy questions.  Take a look at this short conversation piece, so relevant to the 2018 MSS program theme “Sociology and the Public’s Health.”

For your focused consideration, consider this challenge from the piece:

The breeding ground for mosquitoes is not actually the large, sometimes deep blanket of floodwaters, most of which recedes fairly quickly. Small bodies of left-behind water, such as that in a dog’s water bowl, become ideal breeding areas. Unless these breeding sites are emptied, there could be tens of thousands of new breeding grounds in the cities of Houston and Miami alone.

This presents a special kind of public health challenge in the wake of the storms. In some areas, people may not return to their homes for a long time. Government and response agencies must figure out a way to eliminate standing water in order to prevent mosquito breeding grounds.

However, almost all of the breeding grounds will be on private property, with no one present to either dump the waters or authorize the government to do so. Moreover, Houston is home to more than half a million undocumented immigrants, who may not be likely to cooperate with authorities, even if they are in their homes, for fear of prosecution or deportation. 

  • So what are public officials to do? 
  • Where’s the boundary between individuals’ rights to privacy and the greater good of the public’s protection against disease epidemics? 
  • What’s your take on issues surrounding surveillance and the public’s health?

Let me hear from you!  I’m starting this idea exchange - via the MSS website and Facebook - on topics presented in these Musings related to the MSS 2018 program theme – and more!!!

The MSS 2018 PROGRAM SUBMISSION PORTAL is open NOW, until October 31, 2017. Submit a paper/poster/roundtable!