At Sociology & Anthropology Symposium, seniors show off yearlong research

Despite having to contend with one of the many snow storms Wheaton has experienced this semester, the Woolley Room in Mary Lyon Hall was packed with people during the 33rd Annual Sociology and Anthropology Senior Symposium. Hosted on the 28th and 29th of January, this event gives Sociology and Anthropology majors a chance to present their research on a topic that interests them. This year saw a broad array of different panel topics including: gender, illness and medicine in sociocultural contexts, social expression of inequality, and families and social transitions.

Each panel addressed at least one of these topics with several students presenting their specific research project and findings. Associate professor of Anthropology, Gabriela Torres, said, “Each topically arranged session is attended by 25-50 people. Seniors work between three to four months on their research projects.”

Professor of Sociology, Kersti Yllö, added that both sociology and anthropology seniors are required to write an independent thesis based on their research. Yllö said, “They work on individual projects in the context of their senior seminar where they share their findings and support their peers. This capstone is usually a six month process beginning in the summer and ending with the symposium in January, though some students do a full year honors thesis.”

Victoria Walker ’15, who did her specific topic about the experiences of orphaned South African children who have HIV, found the research to be immensely challenging and rewarding. Walker stated, “I spent five months abroad in Grahamstown, South Africa, and volunteered at an orphanage in the township twice a week. The orphanage is home to 20 children who have been orphaned by AIDS or were cast out of their own families and communities due to their own HIV positive status,” Walker said. “[Using] Participant Observation as my methodology, I was able to be immersed in the lived experiences of the children and their caregiver.”

Other panels also had interesting research topics and results. The discussion on gender drew a particularly large audience, as it concerned differences in choice of language by college students based on gender, the portrayal of women in rap, and hooking up in college and its implications. Through her study on language in college, Lydia Hill ’15 found that females and males had distinct conversation styles. Hill explained one of these styles during her presentation by saying, “It’s the idea that when men talk they present facts, making statements instead of opening the door to conversation. Females will often ask questions; for example a girl would ask, ‘it’s so rainy out isn’t it?’ Whereas a guy would just say, ‘it’s really rainy out.’”

Hyun Kim, who is the chair of the Sociology Department, noted that the panel she hosted concerning social inequality was fantastic. Kim exclaimed, “It’s always wonderful to have a conversation about communities and people’s lives across the globe. The seniors on my panel did that very well by taking us to places/countries where they studied.”

Walker also said, “I appreciate the opportunity I had to present to both my professors and peers a topic I find important. I hope that I used what my professors have taught me throughout the years at Wheaton in a productive way that made some sort of difference or impact for someone listening to my presentation or reading my thesis.”