SOCY 2105 Social Problems in America

This class has been closed and is no longer open.


This class will examine the concept of social problems and many specific social problems that are widely recognized as features of American society. We will analyze the major theoretical explanations of critical social problems, the ideological framework in which those theories are rooted, and the policy implications of these perspectives. We will attempt to assess how and why different actors (e.g. public officials, corporate executives, college professors) define social problems and act on their competing perspectives. Hopefully, the class will assist students in shaping their personal responses to those problems affecting their lives and their communities.

(Traditional - Placement)
SOCY 2105: Social Problems in America - M/W 9:35-10:50, (27040)
Fall 2018
49 People | 146 Impacts | 776 Hours




Asma posting your comments here so they are part of the conversation
6 days ago

Akram Asma

Asma Akram

Professor Squires

Symposium Reflection

Each part of the symposium highlighted different issues and different topics in relation to service learning, community engagement, and community service. The three parts of the Symposium were very informative and highlighted many aspects of engaged scholarship and service learning among our GW community. After viewing the presentation by the theatre students, I was moved by the various stories and the imagery they tried to create with their movements. Each story was different, but highlighted the diversity amongst our student population. Not only did it showcase stories of struggle that students or their families faced, but it also highlighted the ease some students might have. Himija Balusa, a student in the showcase, talked about her first-class flight to DC and her easy transition from Singapore to the United States. However, there were no movements to represent her story, like there were to represent other stories. Some type of art should have been incorporated in each story to make it more impactful. Art can be very expressive when it comes to social change. One example is posters or images on a poster that contribute to the momentums of a protest, which can be a form of social advocacy.

This presentation by the Theatre students could have made some the audience want to advocate for issues that they talked about, or even encourage the presenters to advocate. After the introduction, there were various showcases attendees could view. I attended a showcase with various presentations by students who did engaged scholarship and volunteered to present their findings from the organization. One presentation that was memorable to me was done by students who worked with the Nashman Center and did a survey for this organization on campus. They created a survey to collect data on engaged scholarship courses at GW, and their impacts on students. Most of the students who took the survey had positive experiences with their engaged scholarship courses. The only thing that these students were concerned about was the disconnect between what they were learning in their course and service. They wanted to be able to connect these two things better.

After attending the showcase presentations, I went to the discussion called “East of the River: Inequity in DC.” I attended this concurrent discussion because I am doing service in the areas of DC that they discussed and wanted to see if I could make any connections to this. Dr Miranda Ward, who led the discussion, first introduced her students that served in these areas of DC and what they were going to present. She also made sure that all of us in the room understood the difference between engagement and service learning.After doing this, she started to ask us questions about what we know regarding Ward 7 and 8. Many of the things that the individuals said sounded negative, but there was one student who called the population of these areas strong.

Dr. Ward was surprised by this description because not many people can say the same, since only the negative things that occur in these areas are highlighted in the news and other types of social media. After giving a brief description of Ward 7 and 8, her students came up one by one to speak about their service learning. One presentation, which stuck with me, was about the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. One of the students was able to volunteer with this organization and connect it to her course that focused on the health problems Ward 7 & 8 are facing. This focus on women’s health is important, especially because it is known that the infant mortality rate is higher among black women, who are much of the population in this part of DC. Overall, the symposium was very interesting and I am glad I intended. I learned more about GW through this symposium and may have found another organization I would want to join once I am done volunteering for MPD.
1) I think theatre and the arts can have a huge impact on social change. The arts are a great way to showcase problems in a more digestible format. I really enjoyed the performance because it showcased the breadth of experience that we all have coming to the United States. It also helped me understand other people's stories better, as students were telling the story of how they came to the country. With a little tweaking, I think it could impact a ton of people with the power of storytelling. I have done service with a few arts organizations in the past and I have definitely become an advocate for the power of the arts.

2) I may be a little biased, but my favorite showcase presentation had two friends. It was entitled "Assessing Seniors' Access To Mental Healthcare in Ward 7". I think this was a powerful presentation because it was on something I knew very little about, but something that is important. Often, when discussing healthcare, we focus on physical health, but their perspective on mental health was especially eye-opening.

3) I chose the panel on Partnerships in Youth Development/Education. I chose this one because my current service relates most to this and I had a friend on this panel. I think something we talked about a lot this semester is that we can say the government needs to do 12 million things to make society better, but they won't and it's difficult to get them to do anything. Rather, there are community organizations and partnerships that are fighting for the rights of different people all over the country. It struck me how dedicated the members of this panel were to equity and how each of them truly made an impact, without government intervention.
1) Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy?

The GW Theatre students presentation was very impactful because it spoke to the diversity of the people who encompass this country. Every performer had a unique and diverse background that they expressed in different ways. From their short performances, I felt as though I learned a lot about them.

In high school, I volunteered at my local pre-k, aiding teachers in the after-school program. The kids were adorable and I genuinely had so much fun spending my afternoons with them. Around this time, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place. Most of the victims were the ages of the children I spent time with every Tuesday afternoon. This horrific event prompted me to create the Brady Campaign Club at my high school, where we held candlelight vigils in honor of victims and raised money for politicians who supported gun reform.

2) Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why?

The showcase presentation I enjoyed was the Higher Education and Job Training in DC, which focuses on community building in Ward 8. Based off of what we learned in class and through an investigative story I wrote in another journalism course, Ward 8 has little social mobility within the ward for its residents. I thought that the speakers were passionate and had a clear plan on how to make a change in the neighborhood. It was inspiring to see people who were so committed to their cause and made me hopeful for the future.

3) Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?

The session I attended was East of the River: Inequality in DC. This session touched upon several of the topics discussed in class such as school to prison pipelines, racially segregated housing, housing inequality, food deserts and more. In another class, I wrote an investigative story about the lack of maternity wards in the easter sections of the city. There are none in Ward 8. Mothers must travel up to 30 minutes to the nearest birthing center to deliver their babies. The speakers addressed these inequalities similarly to how Professor Squires did. People are able unequal because of their foundations. If you grew up with more around you, you have more chances to succeed.
1. Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy?

After viewing the GW Theater students’ presentation, I think that theater is a way of storytelling. Usually a huge community goes to a show to escape reality or for entertainment. Knowing this, play writes work really hard to integrate messages about society into their work. Think about all the books that are analyzed for messages on society and that indirectly talked about social problems, theater does the same thing but on stage and in front of a huge audience. These students used arts such as music, accents, and choreography to share their stories of culture and ethnicity and it left a very impactful message. The audience was able to take away the message that it is important to create a society and nation where people should feel welcomed and appreciated. This show could have been seen as very political and with very strong messages but instead of blatantly reading off their stories, they integrated their messages in engaging ways. Their messages were disguised in an easily digestible way for people who might not be as open to these ideas, but the message was still getting sent to them.
As I watched this show I related it to the well-known broad way play, Dear Evan Hansen. This show broke the stigma around mental health through story telling. Similarly, the show Urine Town was a piece about capitalism. Arts have a huge role in social change since unlike the news, most people cannot tune out of these shows and are forced to indirectly digest the information or representations of social issues. Theater and most good literature always has a deeper story and view about social issues.
My service experience has mostly been around homelessness as I have been volunteering primarily with Miriam’s Kitchen. Through this experience I have seen that it is extremely important to not only bring awareness to the issue but educate people so that they can advocate for the individuals who are victim to racism and poverty. Advocacy is key to change. I have started to talk more about my experiences with people so that they can see that these injustices are in fact prevalent even if we do not see them on our campus every second of every day. There is this idea around service and community work that it is hard and “too complicated” to get involved, and I am hoping that if I share how easy and tangible it is to help, more people will feel as if they can.

2. Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why?

I went to many of the showcases but my favorite by far was Margo Kaplan’s on Systemic Racism in Education. She worked with a nonprofit that helped with the education of younger children, especially ones that are victims of racism. At this nonprofit it became evident to her that there was a direct correlation between the lack of resources and funding for many schools in D.C. and racism. The main issues she presented were the lack of school funding, the lack of qualified teachers, books, and technology in the schools, as well the school-to-prison pipeline. This is the concept that kids just “expect” to end up in prison after school or sometimes during their education. This is either due to the fact that their family members have been incarcerated, or because of what they are taught in society. For many of the African American children in D.C. they are attending schools that are under-funded and minimally supported by the federal government. Thus, they just expect to fail out or not graduate. Margo shared a very saddening but important statistic to add to this point, only 48% of African-American males graduate high school in four years in D.C. While underfunding is a major problem in many cities across the nation it can be helped. The government needs to allocate more funding to non-profits at many different levels of society. Margo did a fantastic job at clearing educating us (visitors) about this social issue.

3. Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?

The session I chose was East of the River: Inequity in D.C. This panel discussion was all about how there exists a lot of inequity in wards 7 and 8 of Washington D.C. Inequity can be defined as anything that is unfair or lacks justice. Often times this is tied to racism and minorities not receiving the same funding, resources, or support as other Americans. This has been a major point we have covered in class this semester. While it can be helped through community-engaged scholarship is important to always ask the community what THEY want from our service and help. Many people go in to help these communities with the right intent but end up doing more harm than good. Another topic covered in this discussion was asset-based community development. This is the conversation that occurs in a community and with the local people about the assets in the community and how to improve them. Again, this ties back with asking the people what THEY want and need to succeed and thrive in society.
The 2018 Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship was full of insightful commentary on students’ work with any aspect of local service or engagement. Seeing how others applied their class service helped me think more deeply about how my service with Martha’s Table translates to broader civic engagement moving forward.
The program began with a thought-provoking presentation on using the arts for social change. The presentation consisted of undergraduate students performing a theatric piece about immigration and generational storytelling. Through their performance, the students conveyed common themes associated with immigration, such as opportunity, isolation, and community. Using this medium of expression to engage with social change was different from more traditional mediums, like service and service learning, which I have become accustom to at George Washington. I think theater is important in propelling social change, such as raising awareness for people’s struggles and pointing out their needs. However, I think this sociology class uses another effective tool, engaged service learning, as a way to think about how to address these needs at a local level. Both mediums are important. As for my own service at Martha’s Table, it has not yet led to experiences in advocacy, but after learning more about food insecurity, I am looking into more D.C. organizations fighting this issue at a policy level.
After the theater presentation, attendees had the chance to look at showcase presentations from other students. My favorite presentation was by a fellow classmate, Margo Kaplan. She explained she had been working for this organization, Life Pieces, since last year and that she had become so close with the children and other staff that she often referred to them as family. Her presentation interested me the most because the problems Life Pieces tackles ties in with information related to our recent class discussions. Margo’s project was on the interconnections between racism and education, with most of her focus on the educational disparities produced by racism. In our class presentations on the most important social problems in America, we talked extensively about both racism and education. With her project, she stressed the importance of the government working with non-profits like Life Pieces in order to remedy these disparities. Margo’s presentation was my favorite because of its relevance to our class and her evidently passionate dedication to its mission.
Following Margo’s presentation, I attended the discussion section titled East of the River: Inequity in D.C. by Dr. Maranda Ward and some of her students. This engaging presentation discussed health inequity within wards 7 and 8 and how her students learned about addressing it. In regard to this class, Dr. Ward’s presentation helped me better understand the importance of doing and reflecting on my community engaged service with the right intent. Many of her students stressed the difference between cultural humility, which is having respect for the local community when conducting service, and cultural competence, which is thinking the person coming in to serve is able to understand all the hardships the community endures.
While working with Martha’s Table, I witnessed an encounter that never sat right with me, but I was not able to articulate the reasoning behind my discomfort. Two girls from George Washington, not from this class, were serving at Martha’s Table, but were behaving in a way that did not seem appropriate for the food market setting. In a way, they were making light of the food insecurity experienced by the community we were serving, posting pictures and videotaping themselves playing with the kids. Learning about the difference between cultural humility and cultural competence made me realize why their behavior bothered me and how I can improve my community engaged scholarship experience. If I were to take this class again, I would be more proactive about researching the local community in which I was serving to gather a deeper understanding of how I can show respect to the community, while also acknowledging my privilege in this context.
1) Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy? 

I have always loved art, and believe that the arts play a significant role in advocacy for social change. Theater productions like this one, as well as music and visual art, can spread awareness of social issues. It is also a beneficial way for those who are negatively affected by social issues to express their emotions on the matter in ways that communicates a need for change. I volunteer with a local arts-based organization, and here I am able to consistently see the change that art can make, both in an individual’s life and in fostering change.

 2) Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why? 

As part of another course, I presented on the lack of proper access to mental health services in D.C.’s Ward 7. I was not able to see many other presentations, as I was presenting my own, but I gained valuable insight from students, professors, and visitors who saw my presentation.

3) Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?  

I attended the session on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. In this session, the two presenters reflected on the causes as well as the implications of this issue, and ways in which this crisis can be addressed. While we did not discuss this issue in class specifically, it relates to what we learned about concerning structural inequality.
1) Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy?
I liked seeing theater used to highlight an important issue. I prefer visual art, which is more what I am used to because I work with an arts based non-profit, but it was interesting to see another perspective.
2) Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why?
I didn't get to see any because I presented the whole time!
3) Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?
I went to the session about missing and murdered indigenous women. It was eye opening. I was really interested and impressed by the nuance in the presentation- which showed the need for critical thinking in the evaluation of any social problem.
Elizabeth Norsworthy Symposium Responses

1) Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy?

I do believe that arts are a good way to reach a certain audience in social change. This specific presentation was interesting in how it used multiple personal stories (either their own or that of a relative or friend) to convey several events that occur in the immigration process. However, as it was in the early stages of rehearsal I believe that the ability for it to covey its proper meaning was disrupted and not a good example at this stage. Overall, I think the general idea is good and would be helpful as the role of arts can make it engaging. The art form needs to be properly executed though to maintain the value and the message. My service experience has led to my own engagement in advocacy as I become more knowledgable and find a need to stand up and lead to change for others.

2) Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why?

My favorite showcase session was part of the online journalism workshop. Imani M Cheers was the instructor. Particularly the final piece/capstone was interesting. This was talking about the birthing/maternity wards in DC. The expansion in Howard University Hospital will provide patients of ward 7/8 better service and access as others have shut down and are of poor quality. Nearly 50% of infant deaths were in wards 7/8. The presentation strives to impact the women in the ability for better service in emergency situations. I was born in DC in Georgetown University Hospital, with my 3 younger siblings born in Sibley Memorial Hospital. One interview included a woman who chose to make a long commute to Sibley Hospital so that she would also have access to higher quality care. My younger siblings and I had greater access to care and transportation which I believe everyone should have. Although better care is going to be provided at Howard, a transportation aspect was still questioned. This topic generated even more interest as I found relation that I had a birthing privilege in the same city that others do not. In this presentation I find a drive for justice for proper care for everyone regardless of where they come from, their race, or their background.

3) Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?

I chose the East of the River: Inequity in DC. I chose this session as I knew it would discuss the inequity as discussed in this course, particularly in ward 7/8. The presentation started by really describing the differences between equality and equity. A visual was provided that mirrored the one that Professor Squires provided as well. The image is described as wrongful though as the different sizes implies that the larger person is which people are weighed upon, not giving justice to the idea of equity. We must focus on the foundation not the person. This is when the graphic from class is presented, when the foundation is unequal, the people are the same size. They stress the specifics of ward 7/8. They also displayed an “assets-map” by neighborhood. This could be compared to the mapping segregation map (not part of class but part of DC Event for class), as more segregated areas correlated with the amount of assets and quality of them (ex: grocery stores). One thought that was explained in class and by class presenter, people don’t want to be “fixed”, communities want their strengths to be focused upon. Being respectful with humility, but not claiming competence if you are not part of the actual culture.
Reflection on the Service Learning Symposium:
After viewing the GW Theatre students' presentation, it really opened my eyes to thinking about the different ways to engage others with social issues. Not everyone is going to be interested in reading article upon article, or watching a documentary, or watching the news, or even engaging in service. However, if people are interested in theater then it may be a great medium for communicating about social issues and engaging with a wider audience. Also, I think theater as an art form allows for a greater expression of the different complexities that come with social problems in a visual way. Also they can be acted out with different interpretations to show the many consequences one action could have. I definitely think art is an under utilized platform of advocating for different issues but it should be considered and integrated into social justice work.
I also appreciated listening to presentations from the HSSJ Fact Field Fiction class on both intergenerational relationships of service and the involvement of older, age 60+, adults in service. For me intergenerational relationships have been a very impactful part of my life and I have previous experience of serving a population of older adults by playing bingo with them. It was interesting to see what the group found to be the impact of intergenerational relationships on service and just on individuals generally. I also enjoyed listening to part of another group's presentation on the involvement of older adults in a volunteer capacity. I found it especially interesting that for many older adults the reasons why they might volunteer are also reasons why they may not volunteer. For example the reasoning of time, older adults may feel like they have a lot of free time on their hands now that they have retired so they should use it to give back, but on the other hand, they also may feel like the amount of time they have left to live is short, and question whether or not they should spend that limited time volunteering or doing something else.
1) Lunch Session: After viewing the GW Theatre students’ presentation, what do you think about the role of the arts in social change? Has your service experience ever led you to also do advocacy?
The lunch session including the GW Theatre students’ presentation was a very intriguing way to start off the symposium. To be honest, before this I had not commonly thought of arts in a role of social change. This theatre presentation was very dynamic and also quite insightful. In my experience, my service has not led me to advocacy. I am very passionate about my volunteer organization but I have not yet been driven to formal advocacy.

2) Showcase Session: Which showcase presentation was your favorite and why?
My favorite showcase presentation was on food insecurity and housing for seniors in Ward 8 in room 309. This presentation covered many issues facing seniors in the area. The presenters mentioned that there is not a lot of funding in Ward 8 which is predominantly African American and Hispanic communities. There is also a lower life expectancy because of a lack of resources. They recommend that the community works together for farmers market, gardens, and also look into food delivery services.

3) Panel Session: Which session did you choose? What was discussed that you can connect to what you learned in your community-engaged scholarship course this semester?
There were many topics covered throughout the symposium that we have covered in our Social Problems in America course. For example, housing inequality, racially biased criminal justice system, prejudice and education were all discussed. While mainly the presentations were focused on Washington DC, they are prevalent through out the United States and need to be addressed.