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Meet Heath Hoffmann, Sociology Professor

Posted by: tillilied | April 12, 2016 | No Comment |

How long have you been teaching at CofC?

I started teaching at the College in the fall of 2003, so I am just finishing my 13th academic year here. It’s gone by incredibly fast!

hoffmann-hWhat were you doing before coming to CofC?

I received my Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 2002 and taught at UGA for a year as an adjunct faculty member before accepting the faculty position at the College of Charleston.

Where did you study and what inspired you to study sociology and become a professor?

I completed my Bachelors degree at Western Washington University (WWU) in Washington state and, as mentioned above, completed graduate work at the University of Georgia. I started as a psychology major at WWU—I wanted to become a school psychologist. I did not take a sociology class until the first quarter (I think; it was a long time ago) of my Junior year. I avoided the introductory sociology class because it was one of, if not the, largest class offered at WWU with 300-400 students. To this day, I still don’t know why I decided to sign-up for the class…but I did and it changed my life. I remember vividly the day I decided to change my major to sociology. The class was required to read a classic research article titled, “On Staying Sane in Insane Places.” The research involved sending research confederates to psychiatric hospitals who reported hearing the words, “thud,” “empty” and “hollow.” Each person was previously of sound psychological health but, upon reporting hearing these words, was admitted to the psychiatric hospital with a tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia (or some other pretty serious diagnosis). Once admitted to the hospital, the researchers acted “normally.” Yet, every behavior they exhibited in the hospital—taking notes, pacing out of boredom—were framed as evidence of the psychiatric illness by doctors and nurses; it was the other patients in the hospital who expressed suspicion that the research “patients” were journalists or researchers and not really “sick.” This experiment led me to question the validity of psychiatric diagnostic categories and how powerful are the social forces that affect every aspect of our lives, including who we incarcerated, define as ill and what we deem is “normal.”

Are you involved in any research at the moment? If so, what is it about?

I currently have several research projects in various stages of development. I am working with George Dickinson on a paper exploring whether veterinarians experience changes in behavior of animals nearby an animal being euthanized. If so, to what do they attribute those behavior changes?

I am also working with George and two graduate students of social work at Florida State University on a survey of hospice and palliative care programs in prisons. George and I published a paper on this topic 5 years ago so this project will follow-up with those facilities we surveyed then and expand to other prisons that have adopted end-of-life care programs since our initial study.

Finally, I am working with a star student, Shannon Wischusen, on a survey of college students and how they use social media to share images and videos relating to alcohol and other drug use. The bulk of the literature on the topic treats students’ sharing of alcohol and drug content in social media as “pathological”, something that yields negative consequences. Shannon is looking at the topic without judgment, trying to understand from the students’ perspective why they share alcohol and drug content in social media and what meaning it has for them.

What is your favorite class to teach?

I really don’t have a favorite class to teach. I have been teaching a lot of classes online and I like that format for covering topics differently than is possible in a face-to-face class. Whatever class I teach, I enjoy the process of interacting with students and making the content on crime, prisons or alcohol and other drugs relevant to their lives and contemporary society.

What was your favorite class when you were in school?

As an undergraduate, any class that my mentor, Dr. John Richardson, taught was my favorite. He specialized in the sociology of education but I also took several social theory classes that he taught. He was amazing.

Do you have any advice for current or prospective sociology students?

Don’t listen to people who say that you are not already living in the “real world.” College students deal with incredibly challenging life experiences and we do a disservice to them when we imply that they are not experiencing “real world” problems.

Also, no matter what you do in life, strive for happiness and health—life is too short.

What do you like most about teaching and/or CofC?

The best thing about teaching in a college environment is that I always surrounded by young people with their energy, hopes, dreams and life challenges. I learn a lot from students.

George Dickinson is the best thing about CofC.

What do you like to do outside of teaching? Any hobbies/interests?

Wood working–I like to build stuff. It’s a great break from the academic stuff.

What is your favorite book or are you reading anything interesting?

Academic Book: Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

Guilty Pleasure Book: I could not put down Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Where is your favorite place on earth- vacation spot, writing/reading corner, etc.?

My backyard with my wife and 4 dogs.

under: Faculty Spotlight

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