Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

Departmental News Archive

  • No.Adams Regional Hospital Entrance Shutting NARH

    With only three days notice on March 28, 2014, North Adams Regional Hospital closed its doors leaving 37,000 residents without access to emergency care and 530 employees without work. By Peter Dassati ’15

    See the Documentary

    With only three days notice on March 28, 2014, North Adams Regional Hospital closed its doors leaving 37,000 residents without access to emergency care and 530 employees without work. The closing sent shock waves through an already impoverished community, forcing small business to close and residents of Northern Berkshire County to mobilize and demand the return of quality health care. This short documentary by Peter Dassati '15 explores how former employees, elected representatives, and members of the community are dealing with this shattering experience.

    To see the documentary, click here.

  • Lily Munsill '15 Are Funeral Homes Killing the Environment?

    So what are you going to do with your body when you die? By Lily Munsill ’15



    Are Funeral Homes Killing the Environment?

    By Lily Munsill ‘15


    So what are you going to do with your body when you die? Most of us probably know that we have several options. Many people choose to be buried in a cemetery plot next to deceased family members, while others want to be cremated and perhaps have their ashes scattered in a place that has a special meaning for them. You might not be aware, however, of a different, greener, alternative. Forgo the formaldehyde, the embalming fluids, the steel coffin and the cement encasings, and the industrial flames that reduce you to ash. Instead return your body to mother nature in a way that sustains the environment rather than harming it.


    "Violet Forest Flowers Field" Photo by: Sourav Source: Wikimedia Commons

    "Violet Forest Flowers Field"
    Photo by: Sourav
    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Its not my place to tell you where your final resting place should be, but I’d like to shed some light on the environmentally harmful aspects of America’s death industry.


    Let’s start with embalming, or the injection of fluids, usually containing formaldehyde, methanol, and other highly toxic preservatives, into the body to replace the blood and preserve the body for viewing and burial. Formaldehyde is a group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it definitely can cause cancer in humans. It is puzzling that it is so commonplace in the U.S. to engage in practices that leach carcinogens into the soil and groundwater. In fact, while embalming is illegal in most European countries, it is actually illegal in some American states for bodies not to be embalmed, at least when crossing state boundaries. Some religions, including Islam and Judaism do not practice embalming because they believe it compromises the sacredness of the body. I would argue it also compromises the future health of the earth.


    Disregarding embalming for a minute, let’s consider the immense use of material resources in cemeteries. Most people are buried in large caskets, which are usually made of wood or metal. The wood is so heavily treated that it takes a long time to biodegrade, and the metal biodegrades on a much longer timescale. Some people opt for caskets made of mahogany or walnut, woods that are relatively rare and expensive. And the burden on the earth doesn’t end with the casket. Cemeteries enclose your casket with a cement vault or grave liner. The purpose of this cement encasing is to avoid soil settling over your grave after your casket decomposes. This seems like a lot of effort and waste of natural resources to prevent the return of your body to the soil, a natural biological process that plays an essential role in the success of every ecosystem.


    And how many people will we be burying? Currently the rate of “traditional” burial in the U.S. is around 60%. With just over two and a half million people dying each year, will we have the space to continue these traditional burial practices? Could there be a more productive use of land? Will people in the future see our current burial practices as archaic, inefficient, and environmentally harmful?


    Cremation is the path that the other 40% of Americans choose, and it too damages the environment. It is true that cremation contributes far less carbon emissions than other industries. Nevertheless, many crematoria are located in densely populated areas and emit toxic chemicals, most notably mercury, as many of the deceased have amalgam dental fillings, which contain mercury. Cremation also releases those toxins that bioaccumulate in the body, including heavy metals, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, and other organic pollutants that persist in the environment. These pollutants adsorb onto ash particles that settle onto nearby land, contaminating soils and grass, and thereby contaminating all life that gets exposed to it. Removing teeth that contain amalgam fillings could prevent Mercury emissions, but it would be difficult to prevent emissions of these other persistent organic pollutants. Crematoria also use a lot of energy for their fires.


    A “green burial” is a far more environmentally sustainable way to provide all of us with a final resting place. Green, or natural burial, does not inhibit decomposition. It often entails a simple burial; the deceased wrapped in a cloth shroud or a biodegradable pine casket. You can even avoid the high costs of funeral directors and cemeteries and choose a burial site on your own property. Clearly, there are some regulations in place that ensure you can’t be buried within a certain distance of a surface water or groundwater supply, but other than that, it is remarkably easy to plan a green burial in a place of your choosing! You can even plant a tree above your grave. In fact, there is a new burial concept, the organic biodegradable pod that facilitates the growth of a tree using your nutrients in the most natural of processes.


    As I said, I’m not here to tell you where you should go for your final resting place, but I do encourage you to research the environmental impacts of traditional burials and crematoria when you are thinking about your or your loved ones’ future resting places. A cemetery doesn’t have to be a field of tombstones. Instead, it could be an expanse of memorial forestland. Personally, I’d like my death to leave a little gift of life for the environment of those who come after me.

  • Ciara Sidell '15 What if Cities Looked a Little More Like Farms?

    Upon graduating from college, will I be able get a job in New York City, joining a tide of business-suited execs on their morning commute, while dressed in my coveralls and heading to my farm in mid-town Manhattan? By Ciara Sidell ’15

    By Ciara Sidell '15

    Planting fields at the Queens County Farm Museum, New York City  Source: Ciara Sidell

    Planting fields at the Queens County Farm Museum, New York City
    Source: Ciara Sidell

    I was raised in a high-rise apartment in Queens and had a view of the New York City skyline from my bedroom window. As a child, I found comfort in the bright lights and tall buildings of the city. I can still fall asleep to loud noises and flashing lights, but sadly the city’s hustle and bustle doesn’t comfort me as much as it once did. I now wish the city was a little more like a farm.

    I was in kindergarten when I went on a field trip to the Queens County Farm Museum; I was captivated. The Queens Farm lies on 47 acres of land that has been farmed longer than any other plot of land in all of New York State. It really is an oasis of green in the concrete jungle! Since that kindergarten trip, I have been drawn over and over to the Queens Farm, more recently as a high school volunteer and then again in college as a summer intern. Long story short: combining my kindergarten trip with my food-conscious vegan upbringing has inspired me to study everything about food and piqued my imagination to wonder if, and how, cities could change. Upon graduating from college, will I be able get a job in New York City, joining a tide of business-suited execs on their morning commute, while dressed in my coveralls and heading to my farm in mid-town Manhattan? Apparently so; my very limited world of tofu and vegetables has opened a door to unlimited possibilities.

    Urban agriculture seeks to re-embed food production into cities, and in doing so, revitalize communities and provide food for people whom the conventional food system fails to adequately feed. Most urban agriculture initiatives take shape in the form of community-based food projects like neighborhood gardens, farm to school programs, and farmers’ markets. But not all people benefit from such small-scale programs and no matter how many programs of the sort exist, they just can’t produce enough food to feed the masses. As a production-focused farm in the city, the Queens Farm is an anomaly.

    I see a future where more Queens Farms exist; where concrete becomes permeable and vegetables occupy more land; where everybody, regardless of who they are, has access to farm-based food education and reasonably priced locally grown produce. It’s true that small-scale urban agriculture initiatives alone cannot make this vision a reality. Community gardens, farm to school programs, and farmers’ markets should act as teaching tools and stepping stools for cities along their journey towards food sovereignty – a future where everyone has the right to take part in and define their own sustainable food systems. In addition to these programs, I believe there is value in pursuing innovative urban agriculture projects like the development of commercially sized rooftop greenhouses and vertical farms.

    Vertical Farm Source: Chris Jacobs, Wikimedia Commons, 6 June 2008

    Vertical Farm
    Source: Chris Jacobs, Wikimedia Commons, 6 June 2008



    Through utilizing rooftops or space within old warehouses, and growing in artificial conditions, greenhouses and vertical farms can produce yields comparative to conventional agriculture within city limits. As has already been proven at the world’s first vertical farm in Singapore and the world’s first commercially sized rooftop greenhouse in New York City, such innovations can produce at scale while using less water, less fertilizer, less land, and fewer agrochemicals than conventionalized agriculture.

    Growing indoors with artificial light and within a controlled climate takes away weather- and climate-related agriculture challenges. Utilizing hydroponic methods even takes soil out of the equation. In such controlled conditions, there is a reduced need for agrochemical application. If such projects are located within city boundaries, food will travel fewer miles, ultimately reducing both fossil fuel emissions and the costs of transporting the food. Such programs are therefore both environmentally and economically sustainable. A killer combination! Combined with programs focused on the sociocultural sustainability and wellbeing of urban residents, larger-scale urban agriculture programs and urban food self-provision in general, could very well prove viable.

    Community-based programs and technologically innovative agricultural systems can exist side by side within cities. Together, they can more sustainably integrate agriculture into all aspects of urban areas. This isn’t to say that all it takes to solve hunger disparities is some community work and technological innovation. State and national policies must come into play as well. Once the government aligns itself with the community and the community accepts the technology, my vision might just become reality.

    From vertical farms to rooftop greenhouses and all of the small-scale community gardens in between, urban areas are beginning to grow more and more vegetables within their borders. I see a future where even more food grows in cities; where leafy greens grow on each and every balcony and beans climb up all public park fences; where locally grown vegetables can be purchased at reasonable prices from every food distributor in the city; and where every person has an abundance of healthy food to choose from and no one goes hungry.

    I envision a future where I return to my childhood bedroom, look out of my high-rise apartment window, and see a city that looks a little more like a farm.

  • Book Publications, honors and creative works: A. Javier Trevino

    Sociology professor Javier Trevino publishes a new book: Investigating Social Problems.

  • Brenes Insight. Experience. Connections. - Ana Brenes Coto ’15

    Ana Brenes Coto ’15 flew to South Africa to work at a nonprofit supporting AIDS and HIV research.

  • Picture of alum Graduates head into the world of work - Mollie Lane '14

    Sociology major Mollie Lane ’14 takes on new responsibilities as the meeting and events planner for the CM Group in Hingham, MA.

  • Picture of alum Going Places - Allison Cormier-Jonaitis ’13

    Cormier-Jonaitis, now a student at Mykolas Romeris University, will investigate organized crime in Lithuania with her Fulbright Research Grant.

  • A visual ethnography journal appears

    Sociology now has a peer-review process for non-fiction film. By John Grady

    By John Grady

    Back in the day (fifteen years ago), I was a lonely voice fighting for social scientists to recognize non-fiction film as real scholarship. Finally, in 2012, I was able to convince the International Visual Sociology Association (IVSA) to endorse a proposal to create a peer review process for certifying sociological films. Whew! But that was just a start and I still faced the challenge of actually making it happen. Fortunately -- and completely independently -- Greg Scott from DePaul University in Chicago took a different approach to this particular problem of creating a “more visual” sociology. He just went out and did it! And so on September 15th issue of the online Journal of Visual Ethnography (JVE), which he edits, will be launched and available to teachers, students and the general public for free.

    In a letter to the JVE’s board of directors, which includes yours truly, Greg brings us up to date about the process:

    “Just to let you know: For the first issue we had 21 complete submissions. Each of them underwent rigorous peer review by a panel of 3-4 social scientists (at least two of whom also make films). The reviews were comprised of a traditional narrative critique (of the sort written for print journal articles) as well as in-film frame-specific annotations through our dedicated secure platform on ReviewStudio. Having read all of the reviews for all of the submissions, I feel confident saying that overall these reviews were more carefully done than any I've seen, written, or received for print articles that I've reviewed or submitted myself. I'm very happy with the quality (and timeliness) of the reviewers' work.

    “Here's the breakdown of peer review outcomes: Of the 21 submissions, we will be publishing five in this first issue. Twelve of the submissions received the designation of "Revise and Resubmit." The remaining four were rejected.“We're super excited about this first issue in which we'll be publishing five really terrific ethnografilms, including the first film ever to be considered a doctoral work of "filmic sociology" in France. These are exciting times!”

    You can subscribe to the Journal at: http://www.videoethno.com/jveSubscription.html

    The next Call for Submissions will be opened on September 15 for the second issue of JVE to be published on March 15, 2015. Guidelines for submissions are available at http://www.videoethno.com/authGuidelines.html

  • Cover of book Investigating Social Problems

    Prof. Trevino’s groundbreaking new text thoroughly examines all aspects of social problems.

    Image of book cover Professor A. Javier Treviño, working with a panel of experts, has published a groundbreaking new text, Investigating Social Problems, which thoroughly examines all aspects of social problems, providing a contemporary and authoritative introduction to the field. Each chapter is written by a specialist on that particular topic. The text is framed around three major themes: intersectionality (the interplay of race, ethnicity, class, and gender), the global scope of many problems, and how researchers take an evidence-based approach to studying problems. It is also infused with balanced and contemporary coverage of theory.

    Publisher's display at conferenceDuring the American Sociological Association meetings in San Francisco, August 2014, an exclusive cocktail event celebrating the publication of Investigating Social Problems was sponsored by SAGE Publications. The event was held in the Vista Lounge of the San Francisco Hilton. The book was also featured at the ASA book exhibit.

  • Photo of man in suit and tie looking at a cat, held affectionately on his shoulder, standing near foliage. Photographing Cats

    What do photographs of cats have to do with the history of civilization? A visual sociologist reveals the connection. by John Grady

    Have you ever wondered why in the world people starting letting cats into the house instead of keeping them outside where they belong? Well this is the book for you.

    John Grady has written the Forward to Arnold Arluke and Lauren Rolfe's The Photographed Cat: Picturing Human-Feline Ties, 1890-1940, published by Syracuse University PressThe book is based on an in-depth study of "real picture postcards" that document many varied aspects of life in thousands of American communities at the beginning of the last century. Arluke -- a sociologist at Northeastern University -- is an eminent student of the sociology of human-animal relations. He and Lauren Rolfe have used hundreds of forgotten images to tell the story of how people let cats into their homes and families and were transformed by the relationships that they built with their animals, who gave up many freedoms by becoming pets.

    Cover of The Photographed Cat: Picturing Human-Feline Ties, 1890-1940

    Cover of The Photographed Cat: Picturing Human-Feline Ties, 1890-1940