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Departmental Survey Response
To learn more about our department alumni, in 1996 we surveyed the 200 individuals who had graduated from Middlebury College between 1987 and 1996 with majors in sociology/anthropology. We asked them to describe their professional and educational activities since graduation, and to reflect upon the “enduring significance, utility, importance, etc., of a sociology/anthropology major at Middlebury College.” Nearly 60 former students responded to the survey.
In reviewing the stack of questionnaires, we were struck by the breadth of vocational activities they described. Our graduates have volunteered in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Vista. They have worked as yoga, ski, and sailing instructors. Some are attorneys, one is a homesteader, and another is a writer of fiction. But there is depth as well as breadth, especially in four occupational areas:
- Education: Ten department graduates worked as elementary school teachers, special education instructors, or college administrators.
- Business: Nine graduates worked in business-related fields including real estate, finance, sales, sports marketing, software marketing, and management consulting.
- Social work: Nine graduates worked as clinical social workers or counselors for children, the mentally ill, teenagers, juvenile delinquents, and/or people with HIV.
- Public interest: Six graduates worked for either community development organizations or as activists on behalf of environmental or public interest concerns.
Our graduates’ postgraduate educational accomplishments reflected their occupational choices. About one-third of the respondents had completed either MA, MSW, or MBA degrees. Several had or were working toward law degrees, and several others were enrolled in PhD programs.
In Their Words
In reflecting upon the enduring significance of the sociology/anthropology major at Middlebury College, the graduates frequently noted the helpfulness of their acquired capacity to think analytically about social and cultural forces operating “behind the backs” of actors. Many also commented upon their heightened sensitivity to cultural differences rooted in race, class, gender, and ethnicity.
The following extracts are illustrative of these general ideas:
“[I learned] how to think in such a completely different manner than I had ever been accustomed to in high school. Even during that first, most basic of all sociology courses, I was learning how to question, not just digest, information. High school had taught me how to memorize, and sociology was teaching me how to take what I had memorized and think about it in a logical, analytical manner, make my own conclusions, and support those conclusions with data. … At the present time I am working in the domestic violence unit in a district attorney’s office outside of Boston. There are times when my job seems to involve more counseling than a strict law-and-order agenda, and I am beginning to learn that the answer to every problem, particularly where a family is concerned, is not always black and white. Still I acknowledge that what I have learned in college has taught me not only to see domestic violence as a psychological problem, but a social problem, as well. I sincerely question what is wrong with a society that makes it so difficult, both socially and economically, for a woman to leave an abusive man. … Because I have learned to think in such an analytical way about what’s going on around me, I believe that sociology was the best choice I could have made as a major. I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t matter what you major in before law school, but I disagree. It had better not just be something you enjoy learning about, but something that teaches you more about learning itself. I wouldn’t take back my four years as a sociologist for anything.”
“I use the skills, perspectives, and knowledge garnered as a sociology/anthropology major every day in both my job and life. Through my studies in/of the field, I learned about differing social processes, systems, and worldviews on a very basic level, as well as on a more sophisticated one. The ability to appreciate and work across different perspectives, systems (religious, social, economic, political, etc.) is incredibly important.”
“My sociology background prepared me for a wide range of professional opportunities, although I might not have known that when I graduated. As is typical of liberal arts education, I graduated from the Sociology Department well read, open-minded, and eager to learn. Although I was not certain how I could put my analytical skills to use in the workforce, after taking my first (and only) job, I quickly realized the value of the education I had received. My experience with sociology had prepared me for working with people, analyzing and understanding trends, and had taught me to be organized, detail oriented, and thorough, characteristics that are critical to the real estate industry.”
“My sociology/anthropology background at Middlebury has been very helpful in my nursing education and practice. Developing an understanding of individuals’ cultural beliefs and practices is vital to providing successful health care to individuals. My studies in cultural anthropology at Middlebury have helped me in gaining an understanding of the individual and overall tribal beliefs, perspectives, and practices of my [Native American] patients.”
“As a sociology major, I was well trained for a career in education. I consider myself a grassroots political activist. Through sociology courses I learned to examine my culture and society as full of forces impacting individuals. It is now my job to teach and support children in utilizing these forces in becoming active and positively contributing citizens.”