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Press Release

Barbara Laskin

Macalester Sociology Majors Sweep Prizes in
Midwest Sociological Society Paper Competition

St. Paul, Minn. - Feb. 25, 2009 -Senior sociology majors Alex Park, Jennifer Barnes, and Chen-Yu (Andy) Wu have been awarded first, second and third prize, respectively, in the 46th Annual Midwest Sociological Society Student Paper Competition. The competition received a record number of entries this year.

In his first-place paper, “A Tale of Two Townships: Political Opportunity and Violent and Non-violent Local Control in South Africa,” Park analyzed questions concerning how to understand grassroots-led instances of violence and non-violence. Park analyzed instances of anti-immigrant violence and pro-immigrant protection by comparing two similar townships in South Africa during May 2008. Despite their similarities, one township experienced large-scale xenophobic violence, while the other township rallied to support and protect immigrants. Park’s analysis showed that these diverse outcomes relate not to how residents thought of immigrant populations at the time; rather, residents of each township used their treatment of immigrants to send a critical message to the national government at a time when its leaders were politically weak.

Barnes completed a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews to gather the data for her second-place paper, “Style and Consumption among East African Muslim Immigrant Women: The Intersection of Religion, Ethnicity, and Minority Status.” She analyzed the meanings people attach to dress style and consumption at the intersections of culture and identity. Based on her analysis of interviews she conducted with East African Muslim women, Barnes found that the women creatively draw on elements of both Islamic identity and American fashion and consumerism in order to both demonstrate their belonging in the different social spheres in which they move and to distinguish or distance themselves in these same contexts.

Wu’s paper, “Remedial Strategy or Subliminal Racism? A Comparative Study on the Origins of Affirmative Action Policies in South Africa and Malaysia,” was awarded third prize and examines the different rationales associated with affirmative action policies that were designed to benefit numerical majorities. While Malaysia’s policies had a more retributive character, South Africa’s policies emphasized cooperative restitution. Wu traces the origins of the different strategies to variations in the process of gaining national independence from colonial authorities. These historical legacies, as well as the timing of these policies, influenced both the domestic meaning of the policies as well as the extent of international influence.

Park, Barnes, and Wu will receive their prizes and present their papers at the joint Annual Meetings of the Midwest Sociological Society in Des Moines, Iowa in April.

The Midwest Sociological Society (MSS), founded in 1936, is a professional organization of academic and applied sociologists as well as students of the discipline. While the MSS membership area formally includes nine states - Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota - more than one-third of the members are from other parts of the nation and the world.

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,884 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.