Stephanie Sears, Associate Professor of Sociology

Why? How? Who? From Here

Professor Sears challenges her students to ask questions — to form a deeper understanding of oppression and our ability as humans to propel change.

Not one to sugarcoat things, Department of Sociology Chair Stephanie Sears is quick to declare that sociology is “kind of depressing.”

“We talk about oppression. We talk about inequality,” Stephanie says. “We look at larger social structures, and we look at the ways we're punished when we step outside of the box.”

And yet, she's irrepressibly buoyant, and even hopeful. She holds firm to her belief in the strength of the human spirit and our potential to swim upstream in the face of systemic adversity — a belief she seeks to impart on her students.

“And so as we talk about structural oppression, we also talk about resistance and how people have consistently empowered themselves, how we as humans are constantly agents of change,” Stephanie says.

In addition to sociology, Stephanie teaches in the African American, Critical Diversity, and Gender and Sexualities studies programs and is the director of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars — a living-learning community that explores issues of diversity, inequality, justice, and social change.

As an educator, she wants her students to engage the world with eyes wide open, using a critical and often historical lens to understand how and why things are the way they are — why racial, gender, economic, and health disparities exist; and why homelessness and crushing poverty persist.

She also wants students to explore other, equally important, questions: How might things be different? And how might I make a difference?

USF gives me a lot of opportunity to be creative, to think outside the box, to meet with faculty outside of my discipline, and to brainstorm different ideas on how to make something better.”

Stephanie teaches service-learning classes. An integral part of a USF education, service learning combines the classroom and the community. Students in her Sociology of Hip-Hop class have engaged with artists in the Bronx and Marseilles, France and will soon travel to Havana, Cuba. Her graduating seniors launch projects that use their sociological skills to help community organizations such as St. Anthony's Foundation, Opportunity Impact, and Literacy for Environmental Justice.

“I love having students out in community,” says Stephanie, who won USF's 2013 Faculty Service-Learning Award. “To actually be in the trenches while simultaneously studying larger structural issues, students get that understanding of how complicated social issues are but also the fulfillment of helping others and the connection with people doing the work.”

What she hopes they come away with is a desire to use their critical understanding and proclivity to ask questions to become agents of change.