Reflections from the Department Head

Manisha Desai

We find ourselves again this summer in the midst of the continually challenging pandemic and racist and hate inspired mass shootings. Additionally, we have rising inflation, even as wages for most workers have been stagnant for decades leading to a resurgence in unionizing around the country; the hearings of the “Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol;” and with the overturning of Roe v Wade the curtailment of the already restricted reproductive rights for all genders, again with disproportionate impact on people of color. All reflections of the systemic inequalities and injustices built into our institutions, that call for sociological analysis and actions. Our faculty and students have all responded to this urgent call in myriad ways as our newsletter highlights.


This past academic year began hopefully with in person classes in the Fall after over a year of remote learning, that was tough for everyone. But, in the Spring we had to migrate to online learning and teaching for the first two weeks of the semester. We have all had to become more flexible and accommodating in responding to a pandemic that might be with us in varied forms for years to come and rise to the specific challenges that it has created.


For example, through her Sociology of Food course, Dr. Bunyan, Associate Professor in Residence at our Stamford campus, worked with students to address the growing concern of food insecurity among our students. From a pop-up food pantry a couple of days a week, Dr. Bunyan and her students have established a permanent space at the Stamford campus with support from the local community (read more here)! This project demonstrates the kind of experiential and service learning that happens in several classes on all our campuses. Also at Stamford, Dr. Semaan, Associate Professor in Residence, was instrumental in creating a double major in Sociology and Psychology. Along with the minor available at Hartford and Stamford this provides more students with a sociological lens necessary for social justice.


At Storrs, our colleagues once again responded to the ongoing systemic racism in our society. Professor Purkayastha taught in the large Anti-Racism course offered by the University which enrolled 1300 students. Professor Bernstein continued her work with the preventing gun violence project which led to her receiving the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Engaged Scholarship. Our Anti-racism committee continued to gather documents and best practices to address racism and conducted a workshop for faculty and staff at our annual retreat. Our new webpage related to the work of the committee is under construction and will be a resource for the whole campus.


Colleagues have also been active in engaging undergraduate students in research, a life transforming experience for many. Prof. Braunstein’s Democracy Lab, Prof. Wrights work with undergraduates on charting well-being on campus, and Professor Bernstein’s work with undergraduates around preventing gun violence have provided meaningful learning experiences and awards. Another evidence of the engaged undergraduate experience is the second edition of our student produced journal, The Mirror. 


Even with funding cuts our graduate students continue to excel. We graduated 5 Ph.D.s this year all of whom are gainfully employed. Congratulations and best wishes to them all and we hope you will keep in touch and let us know the paths you chart. Bryan Greene won a Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for research in Poland. Congrats and good luck Bryan as you begin your travels. We will welcome a small but energetic new cohort. 


Faculty continued to be productive scholars and dedicated teachers and elected to offices in professional organizations. Congratulations to Associate Professor in Residence Phoebe Godfrey for her promotion to Full Professor in Residence and her dedication to innovative and engaged teaching. Congratulations are also due to Professor Bernstein for her appointment as Associate Dean in the Graduate School, to Professor Munsch for her Fellowship at the Centre for Advanced Studies at Stanford University, and to Professor Hughey who will finally be able to travel for his Fulbright Fellowship.


Many colleagues stepped up to take on interim leadership positions in addition to their usual service to the department. My deep gratitude and appreciation to: Professor Purkaysatha for serving as Interim Head while I was on sabbatical in the Fall; Associate Professor Liz Holzer for serving as Interim DGS for the Spring semester; Professor Wright who will step down as DUS after extending his term by a year; and Professor Braunstein who will serve as DUS effective Fall 2022. We are all beneficiaries of their dedication to the department. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Associate Professor Ralph McNeal for his service to the UPC in which he went above and beyond the work of a committee member to shepherd the renumbering of nearly 30 courses through the CLAS Courses and Curriculum Committee.


I wish you all a restful summer even as we will need to redouble our efforts against the decline of democracy and rights that we’re currently witnessing all around the world.

Awards and Recognitions


Ruth Braunstein: Named Associate Editor, Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review (2020)

Mary Fischer: Chair elect of the Community and Urban Section at ASA (2021)

Phoebe Godfrey: Associate Alumnae of Douglas College, Society of Excellence Inductee, for commitment to “social justice on a global scale” (2020) 

Brad Wright: OUR Mentorship Excellence Award (2020)


Congratulations to Nabil Tueme for receiving the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award! 
Photo of Nabil Tueme

Asmita Aasaavari: Summer 2020 Wood/Raith Gender Identity Living Trust Summer Fellowship

Caner Hazar: Project proposal application to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowships was awarded the European Commission's Seal of Excellence.

Congratulations to Zack Kline  for receiving both the 2021 Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award and the Ron Taylor Award! 

Photo of Zachary Kline

Carol Ann Jackson: 2021 Arnold and Sandra Dashefsky Student Award for Excellence & the Summer 2021 Wood/Raith Gender Identity Living Trust Summer Fellowship

Koyel Khan: Summer 2020 Wood/Raith Gender Identity Living Trust Summer Fellowship

Congratulations to Davida Schiffer for winning the WGSS Susan Porter Benson Graduate Research Award!

Kylar Shaad: Summer 2020 Wood/Raith Gender Identity Living Trust Summer Fellowship

Chriss Sneed: 2020- 2021 Research Grant from UConn's Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research on Women & Girls of Color, hosted by Africana Studies Institute & the Pre-Doctoral Fellowship; El Instituto: Latin American Studies, UCONN


Congratulations to both Candance Tang and Kylee Rose Santos on being elected to Phi Beta Kappa!

Congratulations to both Titilayo Oladotun Adekola and Krista Lin Sansone who were the winners of the Janet M. Fierberg Scholarship! Both are incoming graduate students to the School of Social Work next year.

Andrew Bogatz: Student Paper Award

Grace Scully: High GPA Award

Haley Zawilinski: Public Engagement Award

Bidding Farewell to Retiring Faculty

Marysol Asencio has been woven into sociological networks long before she joined our department in 2016. A D.PH in Public Health from Columbia University, Marysol joined UCONN’s School of Family Studies (as it was known then) in 1998. During her time at UCONN, she has held a joint appointment with El Instituto, (formerly known as Puerto Rican and Latino Studies). She served as the Associate Director and Interim Director of the Institute at different times, stepping up to these positions whenever there was a need to carry on the work of the Institute. She was a SSRC fellow (2003-2004), and the first UCONN faculty member to get a Ford Foundation grant in 2005 to develop and solidify interdisciplinary scholarship around  Latinx sexualities and queer Latinidad. She has served on numerous university committees with her customary energy and integrity.

Ever-generous with her time, Marysol has not only helped to develop the field of sexualities, especially around Latinx sexualities, she made a commitment to building and deepening equity throughout her career. She has been a mentor and advisor to many students of color over two decades building up a pipeline of underrepresented scholars from UCONN. She mentored numerous Latinx, African American, and Asian American students and faculty. She designed many courses on the intersections of racism, gender, and sexuality. At the national level she  worked with many sociologists to build up generations of Latinx and sexuality scholars; our discipline has benefitted from her expertise. She has worked consistently with many Latinx community groups in Connecticut, as well as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

Marysol has always expressed a sense of gratitude to colleagues in the department for welcoming her, while we, collectively, have benefitted from her always-enthusiastic presence.

-Bandana Purkayastha

Marysol Asencio
Head shot of Davita Silfen Glasberg

From power suits to power ballads, Davita is truly a Renaissance woman. Most of us know her list of scholarly accomplishments, which include being the author/co-author/co-editor of a dozen books and more than forty articles/book chapters. Her collaborations with many students led her to be recognized twice with the Sociology Graduate Faculty Mentoring Award. Her 2011 co-edited volume, Human Rights in our Own Back Yard: Injustice and Resistance in the United States, won The American Sociological Association’s Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award in 2013. The book was co-edited with William T. Armaline, a former graduate student, and our colleague, Bandana Purkayastha. Davita was among the founding sociologists for the human rights thematic group within the American Sociological Association. She also served as President for Sociologists without Borders. Her tremendous service to UCONN includes seven years as Sociology Department Head, five years as Associate Dean, and two years as Interim Dean. While serving in the Dean’s office, she continued to teach her Introduction to Sociology general education class. She did all of this while being an amazing mother to two wonderful kids and then grandmother to her two beloved grandkids. Her multiple talents don’t end there. Many of us also know her as the lead singer and percussionist for her band, Off Yer Rockers.

Perhaps because she’s always so professionally dressed, I vividly remember a story she told me about the intersections of gender, class, and impression management. Her first teaching position was in New York City, and she biked to work. She arrived to her first lecture wearing cut-off jean shorts and a Wonder Woman t-shirt. Her students took one look at her and asked, “You’re our professor?” Of course, her exceptional teaching quickly turned things around. As a new assistant professor, I found this anecdote helpful: it underscored that while dressing the part may help, no matter your costume, you have to be true to yourself, your politics, and your community and let that launch your success. Davita has modeled humility, community, and connection, always extending a hand to those of us lucky enough to climb the academic ranks after her. I also think the Wonder Woman t-shirt was decidedly apropos. Davita, you’ve continued to save the day more times than I can count, and your presence in the department will be greatly missed. My own story, like those of so many others you’ve mentored over the years, is interwoven with memories of you. Thank you.

-Kim Price-Glynn

David Weakliem has always been something of a legend.  In graduate school at Wisconsin, I’d regularly hear about him from professors with whom we  had both worked. (He had left a year or two before I had arrived). He was a hotshot graduate  student who had published several important papers and got a job in a great  department—basically what we all aspired to. When I interviewed here at UConn, the department head at that time, Wayne Villemez, wanted to impress me with what he had done to make the department better. Chief among his  accomplishments was hiring David. Getting a top-tier talent like him was quite a coup for a  department like Connecticut.

David has published in all the top journals. He’s one of the few sociologists who I know that has published in AJS, ASR, and Social Forces. (The latter two twice each!). David’s legendary status in the field was cemented, however, in 1999. He submitted an article critiquing Bayesian Analysis—then an up-and-coming statistical method in sociology. The editor at Sociological Methods and Research viewed the article as so important that he not only accepted it for publication, but he converted the whole issue into a special topics issue focused solely on David’s article. It starts with David’s article. It then has four more articles from the best social methodologists reacting to David’s article, then it has a final response from David. This is the highest level of recognition for the quality of a scholar’s thinking.

As a department member, David has set the bar for being a good citizen. He’s always been reasonable, fair, and willing to help out. Life is relatively peaceful in the department now, but it hasn’t always been that way. Even in our worst years, David participated in department life  with calm and insight. He was also willing to do the jobs that nobody else wanted to do but needed doing anyway (can you say “Associate Head”?). Add to this a wry sense of humor, and you understand why he’s so widely appreciated.

David will soon be forgotten in the department. That’s the way of academics. Do you know anything about the faculty members who retired five years before you arrived in the  department? Retirees are the great-grandparents of academics. We know that they were there, but we don’t know much about them. Nonetheless, David has made a lasting mark in the field, the department, and in the lives of the people he worked with. Thank you, so much, David

-Bradley Wright 

Research and Documentation on COVID-19

Bandana Purkayastha is part of an international team of researchers funded by Social Science Research Council to develop “interdisciplinary working groups that would ask novel questions, develop new frameworks, rethink methodological approaches, and find innovative answers” to the current pandemic.

Purkayastha also worked with an international editorial team—Melanie Heath (McMaster University, Canada), Akosua Darkwah (University of Ghana) and Josephine Beoku Betts (Florida  Atlantic University, USA), to complete a collection of Global Feminist Autoethnographies: Displacements, Disruptions and Distress, which will be published by Routledge by October 2021.  These ethnographies include a critical piece jointly written by Manisha Desai, Rianka Roy, Asmita Aasavaari, Koyel Khan and Ruth Hernandez.

Many of our faculty members and graduate students have been involved in a pandemic journaling project coordinated by the Human Rights Institute.

Greetings from the Department Head

Manisha Desai

As yet another unprecedented academic year comes to an end, over fourteen months into a global pandemic, our world continues to be in flux. The pandemic itself continues shape shifting and as sociologists we know only too well how privilege and precarity shape our experience of it. Here in the U.S., we see light and hope for many as more and more people get vaccinated and more and more activities resume in person. Elsewhere in the world, Argentina, Colombia, and Mongolia being the current countries experiencing a surge, vaccination and wellbeing lag reflecting our neoliberal, undemocratic and unjust global order. Yet, workers, farmers, students, migrants, and many others galvanized by the large-scale anti-racism protests of last summer continue to work tirelessly for justice and social transformation.  I am in awe of the creativity and compassion of people around the world as they rallied to support each other even as many states failed to do so.
In the department, everyone rose to the challenge of teaching, learning, researching, and working virtually. Colleagues with online teaching experience held workshops to get the rest of us up to speed. We held virtual workshops, colloquia, office hours, and award ceremonies, including yet another virtual commencement for our majors and minors.  Through this difficult year, our ever-helpful staff, Kathy Covey, Mary Malley, and Katie Upson, aided by our work study students, continued to support us even as they learned how to do their work virtually. As evident throughout this newsletter, faculty and students alike continued to conduct research and publish, give presentations to academic and non-academic audiences, win awards, and mentor, not to mention many who took on supervising their children’s home schooling. Here again, gender disparities were evident at work and at home.
Even amidst these trying times, colleagues achieved milestones. Dr. Christin Munsch was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure and Dr. Laura Bunyan was promoted to Associate Professor in Residence. We will also be welcoming a new, albeit small, cohort of graduate students and Dr. Carla Dhillon and Dr. Bhoomi Thakore as new colleagues in the Fall and Spring respectively.
Finally, it is with deep gratitude that we bid a fond farewell to Professors Marysol Ascencio, Davita Glasberg, and David Weakliem as each contemplates their future journeys away from UConn but always of UConn. It has been a true honor and joy to work with each of you. Marysol, you were with us even before you were a member of the department. Tirelessly mentoring students and serving the department, El Instituto, and UConn. Davita, you’ve worn so many hats from Department Head to Associate Dean to Interim Dean and in your last act you even agreed to serve as DGS. David, when you agreed to serve as Associate Head, I’m sure you had no idea of the unending nature of all those pesky scheduling details. Without your patience, memory, and wry sense of humor my job would have been that much harder. We cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve done for the department and the university. We hope that you will stay in touch and come visit, once that becomes possible.
As we look ahead to the next year, not knowing what is in store as we resume in person teaching and working, I know that we are in good hands with Professor Bandana Purkayastha serving as Acting Head while I am away on sabbatical in the Fall and Professor Andrew Deener as the incoming Director of Graduate Studies. We have all learned much patience and resilience over the past year that will enable us to continue not only our academic work but also our commitment to social justice and anti-racism work within and outside the department to ensure a place where we can all flourish. I wish you all a summer of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation after a challenging year.

David Embrick: UConn Partners with FutureLearn to Expand Digital Education Presence Globally

Check out UConn Today's recent article titled "UConn Partners with FutureLearn to Expand Digital Education Presence Globally" where they announce Associate Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies David Embrick, Assistant Professor of Communication Shardé M. Davis, and Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Milagros Castillo-Montoya will be teaching an online course partnered with FutureLearn.


***Excerpt from Article***

The University of Connecticut has partnered with FutureLearn, one of the world’s leading social learning platforms, to begin offering courses globally as massive open online courses (MOOCs).

UConn, a research-intensive, top 25 public university, will mark the launch of the partnership with courses on racism in the United States. A two-course series will open for enrollment on FutureLearn starting March 14. Individuals can enroll in this free, public, online offering at FutureLearn’s website.

The first course, “Anti-Black Racism in America” by UConn sociology professor David Embrick, provides learners with a foundational grasp of anti-Black racism in order to inform a broader understanding of the global history of racism and the black-white binary that exists. It begins on March 14.

Bandana Purkayastha: Experts Explain the Executive Order on Race and Sex Stereotyping

Monday, October 19 – 12:00 pm EDT

Bandana Purkayastha (University of Connecticut) along with Shelley Correll (Stanford University) and Karyn Lacy (University of Michigan) will be holding a discussion on the article Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. Where they’ll be talking further about the ideas articulated in executive order.

Register for the free webinar here.


Bandana Purkayastha

Update: January 22, 2021

Among the first of his actions, President Joseph Biden has issued an Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, which reverses the Executive Order discussed in this webinar. However, the attitudes and political goals expressed in the previous order are pervasive in our culture and institutions. To this end, the contributions of sociology remain critical if we are to understand inequities and create tangible change.

U.S. Anti-Black Racism Course

The Sociology Department is proud to be involved in the University's U.S. Anti-Black Racism Course. This 1-credit course introduces students to foundational history and concepts related to systemic and anti-Black racism.

David Embrick

Modules 1, 3, 9

Noel Cazenave

Module 3

Fumilayo Showers

Modules 1, 3, 9

Marcus Garcia

Course Moderator

Rhys Hall

Course Moderator