Symposium highlights social sciences

Photo: Keynote speaker Michael Burawoy addresses students at the third annual UC Berkeley Sociological Research Symposium. Over 250 people were in attendance.
Ashley Chen/Staff
Keynote speaker Michael Burawoy addresses students at the third annual UC Berkeley Sociological Research Symposium. Over 250 people were in attendance.

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The third annual UC Berkeley Sociological Research Symposium held last Friday brought together students from China, Canada and parts of California to present and discuss their research in the social sciences and humanities.

Following this year's theme "In Pursuit of the Global: Mapping Social Currents," the 42 presenters hailed from places as far-reaching as the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and Nanjing University in Nanjing, China. About 250 people gathered to listen to presentations on topics ranging from public health to higher education.

The symposium's structure encouraged the audience to participate in a variety of sessions where presenters could get feedback from audience members, according to Aaron Benavidez, a UC Berkeley senior and a sociology and rhetoric double major.

This year, the Danesha McCoy Award was created to honor McCoy, a former UC Berkeley senior, symposium coordinator, member of the Berkeley Undergraduate Sociology Association and sociology peer adviser who died March 1 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Three of the four awards were given to UC Berkeley students - Margarita Chudnovskaya, who presented on cohabitation in Europe, co-presenters Danya Al-Saleh and Rafi Arefin, who spoke about reforming university education, and Stephany Cuevas, who presented on Chicana and Latina women choosing to pursue higher education - while Sacramento State University student Thor Barrera, who presented on the integration of science and society, also received an award.

"To my knowledge, I don't know many organizations that can transform something difficult like a loss of a committee member and turn that into something celebratory," Benavidez said.

Benavidez was one of the symposium founders and said that the idea of gathering diverse students together to share their knowledge was first discussed in an elevator. When the idea became a reality in 2009, the symposium targeted participants locally. In 2010, when a speaker from Serbia presented, the desire to expand the event became clear to him, he said.

In his keynote address, Michael Burawoy, UC Berkeley sociology professor, spoke about the difficulties of exchanging ideas on a global scale and encouraged speakers to think globally in their presentations.

This year, presentation applications were sent to about 30 colleges and universities and were open to everyone, including professionals, undergraduates and graduate students of all disciplines.

Roxanne Darrow, a UC Berkeley senior developmental studies major, based her presentation on her senior thesis about the problems facing Chilean small-scale farmers due to the growing presence of supermarkets and said the symposium was a good chance to make her topic accessible to others.

"Maybe I introduced a seed of thinking about supermarkets in a different way," she said. "I hoped that I sparked a little something and that the audience thinks about it."

Alexa Makreas, UC Berkeley sociology student and associate chair of the symposium, said the symposium was created to provide an outlet for undergraduates to present their research.

"I think that's why people are here - it's because they have questions about what's happening, and there's people who are learning about it and can teach it," she said.


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