It’s really hard being a sociologist.
As I wrap up the third week of the semester as a UC Berkeley senior, I am starting to bear the feeling that studying sociology is hard. I do not mean the continuous readings and writings that are required to develop the critical thinking necessary, which are also challenging, but the never-ending learning about social problems that have historically been in our society, and that keep arising. I am a firm believer in human kindness, practicing compassion towards myself and others on a daily basis, yet I am struggling as a future sociologist.
In my restorative justice class, I learned in detail about the immense punitive practices that Native Americans have faced, and continue to experience. I grew up in Mexico, therefore my first time learning about Native American issues was at my previous community college, and more in depth at my restorative justice class here. From this class, this week I learned that many Native American youth are disproportionately arrested and placed in juvenile detention centers. While reading this, I was crying my eyes out, not only because of the immense harm Native Americans are facing, but because as a sociologist-in-the-making sometimes it is very difficult to sustain hope after continuous reading of systemic issues facing marginalized groups.
For my seminar on law, punishment and inequality, I learned about the punitive practices in the Middle Ages and the gradual development of incarceration in Europe and the United States, grasping the historical connection between punishment, prison labor, class structure and the economy. While in a law and sexuality class, one of the topics I learned about was the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and the passive role the state had in funding and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, leading to a high mortality rate of people, both LGBTQ+ and not, with HIV/AIDS.
Sometimes I wonder: How can I have hope? I know that at least California is going in the right direction with diverse social policies, but nevertheless, many parts of the United States have yet to advocate for marginalized groups. I know we have people that care, but we just need more people to care. Throughout my time at UC Berkeley, I have learned so much about social theory, poverty, the welfare state, the criminal justice system, discrimination, racism, food insecurity and punishment. Although at times I feel mentally exhausted from constantly learning about the things in our society that need improvement, in a heartbeat, I would choose this institution for my education over and over again.
Not for anything in the world would I change the education I am receiving from UC Berkeley because never have I felt like my life has a purpose beyond my personal improvement as it does right now. So yes, I think that being a sociologist is hard and will continue to be hard because I care so much and want to make a difference. Although my career plans are still up in the air, I am certain that I want to continue cultivating hope in my community for the social justice that we need.
In a world-class institution like UC Berkeley, it is oftentimes difficult to feel adequate and as smart as everyone else. Sometimes I doubt myself. Sometimes I think I am too sensitive, but it breaks my heart to learn about the different injustices happening in the world, our country, and our community. I also wonder why I constantly hear police sirens from my apartment on Southside, three blocks away from campus. Is it because Berkeley has “high crime rates,” or is it because our system is failing the people that need the most support?
As a sociologist, I have learned so much, but I know I need to keep learning. I need to keep engaging with my community and the social injustices that perpetuate societies. Although I know that being a sociologist is going to be hard, I will never lose hope for what matters the most to me.