Summer Fellowship Allows Sociology Major to Witness Major Local Policy Shift

November 30, 2017

Portrait of Rose RoodRose Rood was so fascinated by the professional experiences she had last summer during her first college fellowship that she is thinking of ways to delve more into youth problems for a required, individual Honors Program research project for next semester. Her placement in Austin, TX, with an educational nonprofit impressed her so much that she has learned another large, practical lesson some undergraduates miss. It pays to start seeking summer undergraduate fellowships or internships early—meaning early in one’s college career, and early in the school year to find as many opportunities as possible.

Rood is a sociology major who learned last year from her advisor, Janis Prince, PhD, that the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation (www.southerneducation.org) was accepting applications for a program that would put college students to work for a variety of nonprofits trying to improve equity in schools and colleges. Students who were accepted into the fellowship program were flown to Atlanta for an orientation, and then to their eight-week assignments at organizations throughout the South. Undergraduates received stipends of $4,500 to cover the costs of food, local transportation, and housing, and were provided with housing referrals. Graduate students received $5,000.

Rood was sent to work with Texas Appleseed, a group that works on social and economic justice issues with the help of volunteer lawyers, other professionals, law students, and some college students. One area of interest to Texas Appleseed includes school disciplinary policies, truancy, and juvenile justice matters. If problems mount and snowball for students in any of those spheres, students can find themselves out of school with no diploma and few options ahead. Texas Appleseed has been concerned that children of color are affected in disproportionately high numbers.

That brought Rood to work last summer on a very specific Texas Appleseed project: lobbying, with other groups, for changes to the city’s juvenile curfew ordinance, which had been put in place in the 1990s. The curfew had two parts. A night-time curfew made it illegal for anyone younger than 17 to be out in public or in a business without an adult between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The daytime curfew did the same thing between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.

But the problem, in the view of critics, was more with the way the rules were applied and to whom. At the time, violating the curfew was considered a misdemeanor, meaning a teen could have a criminal record that would damage future prospects. And enforcement, according to Texas Appleseed, was unevenly applied to minority children and youth.

 “For many, the most troubling part of the curfew was that it led to criminal charges against juveniles that might push them toward the so-called school-to-prison pipeline,” the Austin American-Statesman  reported.

So, the nonprofit and its fellows helped mobilize students and parents to act for change from the Austin City Council. A push was on to get the city council to reconsider the curfew and the punishment.

Representatives from various groups, as well as citizens, students, and parents, were able to give statements or testimony at a town hall-type forum.

“I was able to write the testimony for my supervisor,” Rood says. Although she had returned to campus before the issue was fully resolved, she was excited to read later that the city did away with the curfew. The police are now collecting monthly data on when teens are crime victims or suspects to better inform policy going forward.

Rood recalls she was happily surprised that the desired change came about by fall, and grateful for her work opportunity, “even being able to play a small part in that.” While she thought a change to a law would take “a long time,” she also had not been exposed to workings of big-city governance and council voting before this experience.

Dr. Prince was “thrilled that Rose was awarded this unique opportunity to capitalize on her considerable strengths and talents.”

Now the junior is considering what potential project she could research on the school-to-prison pipeline for her Honors Program research project. And soon, she says, she will start looking for her next opportunity for the coming summer. In addition to adding to her skill set and resume credentials, she says, she now thinks of fellowships and internships as good ways to explore potential career paths within the broad field of sociology.

She was attracted to the academic major, she says, because a good understanding of the way social groups behave can be useful in all kinds of environments. “I like the opportunity it presents. It’s not just one specific field. You’re not just limited to any one set of jobs. You could fit into almost any position.”

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