THIS BLOG IS MY CANVAS FOR WRITING ABOUT TOPICS THAT I ENCOUNTER IN sociology and RELIGIOUS STUDIES.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

My first day of adjuncting

“Hello!  And welcome to the Introduction of Sociology…”

My poor students.  They sat there and looked at me while I stood up there and looked at them. 

Them: Who the hell is this guy?  What’s his deal?  My god this syllabus is huge.

Me: Holy crap this is a huge room.  Holy crap I have to do this.  Holy crap this is real.

I know that this might seem surprising, but a room full of students can be incredibly frightening.  To all of my students—past, present, and future—who may read this, I just want you to know: you are scary as hell. 

There, I said it.  Scary.  As.  Hell. 

No matter how much you plan, no matter how much you prepare, teachers must always contend with the silence of the classroom.  You come in, you stand up, and the students sit there and wait while you are supposed to dish out whatever it is that you’re there to dish out.  Teaching is an amazing opportunity, of course, but it is also a daunting one.  But luckily, I love it and am happy with my new position this fall semester.

I am now an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  I can get into the scary world of adjuncting in another post (especially the details about how adjuncting is, essentially, the exploited labor of universities in the United States), but for now I am just excited about this wonderful opportunity. I am teaching a section of Introduction to Sociology on Monday nights to 36 students at FIU (syllabus here).  I’m not new to teaching, but I am new to FIU, so I was still nervous about my first day. 

FIU is a huge campus with a ton of students (around 51,000) and an incredible amount of diversity.  Approximately 70% of students are Hispanic. 

I’ll say that again.  Approximately seventy percent of students are Hispanic

Only 10% are white. 

I guess you could insert a wide-eyed emoji right around here.  Yup.

When I learned this during the opening workshop for new adjunct faculty, my jaw dropped.  This place is completely unlike every other institution that I have attended, visited, or taught.  Add to the mix the fact that 93% of the students are commuters, and you have yourself a very fascinating campus to teach at.

I had planned for weeks and was ready to go for my first class. Denim?  Check.  Syllabi?  Check.  Lesson plan?  Check.  Let’s do this.

My approach to teaching is probably unlike those that you’ll find in textbooks, webpages, and workshops.  Yes, I plan ahead and pay attention to details.  Yes, I try to incorporate the latest research and current events into my lectures. But I also try to organize my teaching as an invitation to my students.  

My pedagogy is motivated by enthusiasm for learning, and I often offer students more of an informal agreement rather than a formal demand.  I am extending a hand for you, my students, to learn and get excited about learning.  I’m going to have a blast this semester, and I’d like for you to come along for the journey.  I can assure you that it will not be as much fun if you do not jump in to the nerd pool, so why not come along with enthusiasm and dedication?

Overall, I think that my first class went well.  After going over the syllabus, I led the students through a simulation of thinking like a sociologist and developing research plans for proving hypotheses. Yes: I’m that professor who kept the students for the whole time during the first week’s class: the despised professor that everybody hates.  But I think it was a successful first day. 

More updates to come throughout the semester.  If you're one of my students, I'd love to see you post a comment.  =)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

New Publication! Mental Disorders Among Nonreligious Adolescents

Good news!  A paper that I worked on with my colleague, Heather Kugelmass, has just been published online with the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.  If you don't have access to this journal, just shoot me an e-mail.


Heather and I used the National Comorbidity Survey of Adolescents--the gold standard for questions of mental health in the United States--and took a look at their group of nonreligious adolescents to see how their mental health compares with their religious counterparts.  In all, we came up with three main findings:

First, atheist adolescents overall have the worst mental health, followed by those with "no religion" and thsoe who identified as having "no religious preference."

Second, religious kids with religious parents have the same mental health as nonreligious kids with nonreligious parents.  

And finally, the clincher: the worst mental health is among nonreligious adolescents with religious parents.  Turns out that there is something there, a clash of sorts, that really affects mental health.  In addition, it shows that the benefits of religious participation for mental health may not, in the end, spill over to nonreligious adolescents.

Both Heather and I are really excited about seeing this study finally get out!  It will be in the print edition of the journal at some point in the coming months.

Friday, 9 January 2015

My Latest!

I've freelanced a couple of times the past few years for the online magazine, Religion&Politics, and this is my latest write-up for them.


"Hours after the news broke in December that the United States and Cuba were reinstating diplomatic relations, I arrived at a Catholic Church in one of Miami’s largest parishes. The church’s priest is a charismatic man of Cuban descent well known throughout Miami. He was in meetings all morning and thus had only heard rumors that something had happened. 

“Padre,” I asked him in Spanish, “did you hear the news?” 

In the flurry of conversation that happened in the hallway—a discussion that only grew bigger as the cleaning ladies, IT guys, seminarians, and front office staff joined in—the details surfaced. Months of secret meetings between government officials had culminated in the announcement on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. Both the United States and Cuba would ease restrictions on travel and financial transactions between the two countries; prisoners would go free; and President Barack Obama said he would push to end the 54-year-old trade embargo. 

“And best of all,” said one of the staff, “is that the pope helped make it all happen.”

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pictures Update

Have been on the road a lot recently with a trip back to campus last week and a race this weekend, so I haven't been able to sit down and write the past week or so.  But I did want to post some great shots that I took of some of the artwork from the neighborhood.  Enjoy!

Artwork by Ozmo (www.ozmo.it)

Artwork by RONE (www.r-o-n-e.com)


This one is crazy because the artist created these faces by chipping away at the wall.


This was the finished project of the wall that I helped Hec1Love paint.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How I Almost Died During Research

Part of my study on Wynwood is about street art, street artists, and the world of painting on walls. So when I got the opportunity to paint a wall with one of the longstanding members of the Miami graffiti and street art scene, I jumped at the chance. Hec1 was one of my first interviewees for the project, chatting with me in his backyard for almost two hours a few months ago. At the time, I offered to help him paint whenever he wanted. It would help us both out: he needs help with the high spots and rollers because it’s just so hard physically, and I need some experience with what it’s like to actually paint a wall in the neighborhood.

Well, the day finally came last week on Thursday. Hec has had a wall on N Miami Ave and NE 26th Street for several years now, but he wanted to update it. Up to now, Hec has focused on his Loveism campaign: big murals that creatively display the term in big, crisp letters. His Bob Marley wall (which he co-executed alongside Trek6, another amazing Miami native street artist and graffiti writer) is visible from the I-95 expressway and remains one of the most famous walls in all of Wynwood.

On this wall, though, he wanted to put up a different message. “Love Harder,” he wanted it to say. Big letters.  Solid letters.  Crisp and perfectly executed letters.  “I want it to look like I printed that shit right on the wall,” he told me. Every leg, every corner, every inch would be perfectly measured. It has to be absolutely exact, he said, because if you mess it up even slightly, people will be able to tell from 40ft away.

Hec1Love putting down the tape.  Photo by author.
We got to work by 10am. The plan was to put up painter’s tape to outline the letters and then begin with the first coat of white paint if possible. Every letter took forever, though. 
We had to measure, re-measure, drop a chalk line, 
get it exactly right, make sure that shit is perfect, yo,
pluck the line, add the tape, measure tape 
measure tape did you get that one right 
where did you put the black mark, 
move it an eightofaninchtotheright 
to the lefttotheright. 
Nice.

After getting my instructions, though, I was ready to begin on my own. I put myself into position for a letter and climbed up the ladder for the first time that day. I was standing on the top of the ladder, on the last step before the top. You’re really not supposed to go much higher than maybe 3 steps down, but I had to get up high to be able to reach the top.  

Always follow instructions.
In any case, I had just finished taping or marking or whatever, and I must have pushed off the wall just slightly too much. In any case, the ladder started falling. 

Yes, it was falling.  Away from the wall.  Towards the ground.

I tried to compensate. I gave a little yell. Now the ladder is on its two side legs. I’m still balancing in the air, still trying to compensate for the falling ladder.  Still yelling.  Still balancing.  

It felt like an eternity.

I was probably balancing up there in the air for 2-3 seconds, my whole body weight resting on the two side legs of the ladder. Back and forth, a few inches this way, a few inches that way. Those 2-3 seconds were long enough for me to see everything around me: the people watching me about to die, the height I was about to fall, and the car that I was going to land on. 

I wonder if I’ll dent the roof? Maybe break the windshield? Shatter it to pieces? So much time to think, so much time to daydream my fall.

Hec was sitting in the car taking a break, and I called for him. “HELP ME!” I yelled.

I started falling. Yup, here I go. And there goes the car. I wonder if my insurance will cover this. I wonder if I’ll die or just break some bones. It was such a long time falling that I even had the opportunity to feel embarrassment at the fact that there were people watching me.

Finally, Hec arrived and caught the ladder. I started falling more slowly, ever so slowly, and landed on the roof of the car like a cat.  Maybe like Spiderman.  Not as graceful, but definitely like Spiderman.  I rolled off the windshield and then landed on the ground. Nothing happened to the car, nothing happened to me, and everything (except my dignity) was saved.

Hec and I started laughing uncontrollably from the nerves. “I was sitting there hearing you,” he told me after, “but I was like, no way. No fucking way that this is happening. I’m about to kill a Princeton boy.” It took him forever to get up and out of the car to me because he just couldn’t move. “No fucking way. No fucking way.” We laughed and kept saying “Help me!” over and over. “You’ve never said anything more heartfelt than that in your life,” he laughed.

We had to get out our fear, our anxiety, and our nerves this way. We just kept laughing.

I was freaking out. I really was. I couldn’t believe that this had almost happened. I almost fell on a car with the ladder, almost broke a car, almost broke myself, and all for a free wall with some paint and some research experience. 

It really is a crazy thing to get up there and paint. Several street artists have told me that there is this thrill to doing the dangerous, how it’s exciting to get up there on the ladder to do something like this. You don’t get much mobility up there, you really just have to turn your body 90 degrees and try to paint something beautiful, something compelling, something awesome with that little mobility.  You're at the whims of the elements: wind, rain, people walking, etc.  

And for the most part, you do it for free.

But I was shaken up. I now had a new respect for the ladder. I had a new respect for walls. And I had a new respect for wall artists and muralists. This shit really is dangerous.

Stay on the ground, yo.




Friday, 3 October 2014

Follow me on Instagram

I have been keeping an active Instagram account with pictures from the field.  A lot of it includes the street art of the area, the views from the neighborhood, and interesting things that I see from my daily adventures!

@alfgarciamora

DMJC Crew, from Lima Peru (www.entesypesimo.com)

Monday, 29 September 2014

What I do all day

So what is it, exactly, that you do all day?

I get this question a lot. As an ethnographer, I spend my days walking around, volunteering, observing, and chatting with people of all walks of life. Some days I’m interviewing individuals from the upper echelons of the art world: artists, art collectors, and art dealers that are known across the country—and sometimes across the world. Other days I’m hanging out with the old men who loiter outside the grocery store in the barrio, men who are full of stories and jokes. And some nights, I’m just getting a beer with friends in Wynwood.

All of this—and much more—is part of my research. It’s hard to get a solid understanding of a neighborhood and its changes, but a big part of getting this understanding includes spending a lot of time across a whole range of social worlds. I go through the neighborhood on a daily basis, meeting people from all walks of life.


Art on the gate of one of the residential homes.  Photo by Alfredo García

But a lot of these people wonder: what is it that I actually do? I don’t seem to have a job, but I don’t seem to be worried about money. I say I’m a student doing research in the neighborhood, but I’m not reading or studying for tests. And what trips them up the most? When I tell them that I’m a student at Princeton: a university all the way up in New Jersey. So what the hell are you doing in Miami?

The confusion isn’t just isolated to the people in the neighborhood. My family and my friends also are deeply confused about what the hell I do all day. I hang out, I take pictures, I post on Instagram (follow me! @alfgarciamora), I go on what I call “field trips” to different locations in Miami, I write, and I stress out. But, in the end, they don’t really understand what it is that I do.

An ethnographer’s task is to become immersed in a social world and to write about what s/he finds. This task means that you have to be open for anything and everything that may come your way. You take notes. You memorize things. You remember names. You show up. You show up a lot, actually. And you keep showing up.

And then, at the end of the day, you write all those things down. You type up incredibly detailed notes about where you went, who you spoke with, what your thoughts are, and what you’re thinking. It’s like a really detailed journal, only more nerdy. And these notes serve as your field notes: the play-by-play description of what’s been going on. This, in the end, is your data.

This is the new world of Wynwood: a world where graffiti crews get paid to tag up a building with whatever they desire. This is a world where wall space is now something worth fighting over, where people respect the art they like and tag the ones they disagree with. This is a world full of canvases ready to be filled with art. But this is also a world that is changing rapidly.

So what do I do all day? Here’s a short sample of one of my field notes so you can see. I’ve taken out any identifying markers and any names that I may have written down. This is just one very short snippet of what I do. I hope you enjoy!

Jenny Perez hard at work on another mural.  Photo by Alfredo García

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10 July 2014
Thursday

The four men, all members of one of the most famous graffiti crews in Miami, worked in silence. The headphones in their ears provided musical help for the project, and occasional trips to take a couple puffs from a cigarette provided some of the quiet time needed for inspiration. There was spray paint everywhere. Placing layer over layer, these men worked quickly with beautiful ability. They rarely spoke to each other, and when they did they did it in hushed voices, coming close to each other to chat. They worked for two-and-a-half hours in total with rarely a person walking past the wall. Cars passed, but people didn’t. Nobody said anything to them.


I showed up to the session with respectful carefulness. I had pastelitos and coladas for the guys*. I figured that they could use some food and rocket-fuel caffeine to get through the next few hours. Spray-painting a wall can be hard work. Being so close to the wall means that you inevitably breathe in all the fumes that the spray lets off. Painting a piece that is so large means that you have to constantly walk away from the wall to take a look at the piece from a distance. Reaching every crevice of your tag also means contorting your body into positions that can hurt your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. And if your tag is really big, you have to go up and down the ladder, look at the piece, up and down the ladder again, take a look, have a smoke, up and down the ladder, again and again for the entire time that you’re there.

 
This scene is not unlike the many graff writing sessions that take place around the country every day except for one thing: this session was taking place in broad daylight, from 10am to 12:30pm. In a small lot on a major street in Wynwood, these four men were artfully tagging up the wall of a rubber distribution company. Loaded with their own spray paint cans transported in crates, these men were tagging up a building as part of a commissioned project. They were getting paid to do this. This was their job: to tag up a building in whatever way they saw fit. […]

 
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* Pastelitos are flaky pastries that are usually filled with guava paste, cheese, or ground beef. A colada is a Cuban specialty: the strongest of espressos whipped with an insane amount of sugar, all of which is mixed together into an eye-opening drink that can only be consumed in small quantities.