2023 Sociology Newsletter

Department of Sociology, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences seal. Hilary Silver and her GTA teach undergraduate students in SOC 2169: Urban Sociology in Bell 104.

Message from the Chair

Hiromi Ishizawa

Greetings to our alumni and friends of the Sociology Department!

It has been another eventful year for our department as I am sure it has been for many of you. We continue to be pleased to have more in-person classroom experiences and events on campus this year. This year’s newsletter captures the achievements of our amazing alumni, students and faculty. In fall 2022, we were excited to welcome a new faculty member, Dr. Zimife Umeh, who offers courses such as Black Feminist Perspectives in Criminal Justice and Reentry. Read more on her research below. As I write this message, one more exciting piece of news reached us. Dr. Ellen Granberg, a sociologist, will become the next president of GW!

As always, thank you for your generosity and for continuing to engage with the GW community. Please stay connected with us by following the department’s various social media feeds for our events, students’ achievements and faculty news. We are always happy to hear from you.


Dr. Hiromi Ishizawa
Chair, Department of Sociology

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Department Spotlights 


Zimife Umeh

Welcome New Faculty Member Zimife Umeh!

We were thrilled to welcome a new faculty member, Zimife Umeh, in August 2022. Zimife received her PhD in sociology from Duke University in Durham, N.C. Prior to coming to GW, she was researching the experiences of incarcerated mothers—specifically, their experiences behind bars and the anguish of being separated from their children. Her work was featured in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine.

Umeh’s interview subjects largely mirror the national profile of incarcerated women. Most are African American women sentenced for non-violent offenses, from low-level drug-related incidents to what Zimife calls “economic survival” acts, like one mother who shoplifted children’s clothes from a Walmart. Flowing directly from this, her current research focuses on the processes and mechanisms that criminalize working-class Black women. Specifically, she explores how institutions transform victimized Black women and girls into “criminals” who need to be punished and reformed. 

In the future she is interested in examining the process of mother-child reunification following release. Prior research suggests that the children of incarcerated parents are overrepresented in the foster care system. Yet, there is a dearth of information about how formerly incarcerated mothers can regain access to their children and how institutional actors make decisions about mother-child reunification. This research will comprise ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews with formerly incarcerated mothers and institutional actors vital to the reunification process (e.g., social workers, child protective services, court advocates, judges). Zimife’s second research project will examine how Black women in the United States think about and use assisted reproductive technology. 

Spotlight on Alumna Allison Helmuth, MA ’14

Alumna Allison Helmuth, MA ’14, spoke to us about how her training as a master’s student in the Sociology Department laid the foundation for her to pursue a career as a sociologist: 

Allison Helmuth

“I remember when my thesis adviser and mentor, Professor Ivy Ken, told me her definition of sociology. She said, ‘Sociology is the study of why things don’t have to be the way they are.’ I am glad for the opportunity I had to study at GW, where faculty, staff, and students shared a commitment to studying social inequalities and how to reduce them.

“During my time as a student in the Sociology Department, I studied gentrification in Washington, D.C. I conducted ethnographic observations and interviews with residents who lived in the historically Black neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Through these interviews and observations, I learned how white residents drew on a repertoire of everyday practices that excluded Black people from public neighborhood space. Later, I published this research in the academic journal City and Community.

“After studying at GW, I completed a doctoral degree in sociology at University of Illinois-Chicago, and now I am a postdoctoral scholar in sociology at Rice University. I continue to study how social inequalities are created, reproduced and resisted in neighborhoods and communities, along spatial dimensions and in the specific contexts of housing and neighborhood change. As I continue my career, I often find myself drawing on lessons I learned as a student at GW, and I am grateful for the exceptional training and mentoring I received there.”

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Department Kudos

  • Hiromi Ishizawa continues to lead the department as chair. She also has a forthcoming article with colleague Antwan Jones titled, “Neighborhood and Behavioral Effects on Weight Change across Immigrant Generations: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health).”
  • Ivy Ken has worked with two former MA students on projects that have recently been published. With Kenneth Sebastian León, MA ’13, (Criminology) she published “Regulatory Theater in the Pork Industry: How the Capitalist State Harms Workers, Farmers, and Unions,” in a special issue on food crimes in Crime, Law, and Social Change 2022:78:599-619. Dr. Ken also received funding from the GW Equity Institute Initiative along with Dr. León, who is assistant professor of Latino and Caribbean studies and criminal justice at Rutgers University, for continued work on workers in meatpacking plants: “Race, Immigration, and Confinement in Rural Meatpacking: Decentering Whiteness and Mapping Injustices” ($75,000). They are presenting their work, along with graduate research assistant Ramsey Raslan, at the Eastern Sociological Society meetings in February 2023 (Baltimore, MD): “Corporate Immigration: Rural Meatpacking Strategies.”
  • Dr. Ken’s work with Allison Suppan Helmuth, MA ’13, (Sociology) recently won the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship, Article Award from the ASA Race, Gender and Class Section, for “Not Additive, Not Defined: Mutual Constitution in Feminist Intersectional Studies,” Feminist Theory 2021:22:4:575-604. With Dr. Helmuth, who holds a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Sociology at Rice University, Dr. Ken also published a chapter called “The Memphis School” in the 2023 Routledge Companion to Intersectionalities, edited by Jennifer C. Nash and Samantha Pinto. The chapter highlights the work of the sociologists whose early work on intersectionality shaped the field.
  • Bob Cottrol published the chapter “Public Safety and the Right to Bear Arms” for the book The Bill of Rights in Modern America 3rd ed. He also participated in four separate conferences hosted by institutions such as Medical University of South Carolina, Law and Society Association, American Political Science Association and Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Rio Grande do Sul. He chaired three sessions and one conference during his year.
  • Gregory Squires published the journal article “Community Reinvestment Challenges in the Age of Gentrification” focusing on Pittsburgh, Penn., as a case study for wide bank lending disparities. Dr. Squires also published a piece titled “Buyers ‘always spend more than they think they will; they just don’t know it yet” for Contemporary Sociology.
  • Antwan Jones was promoted to full professor and published seven new articles this year. In addition, he was a co-investigator alongside colleagues Fran Buntman and Hiromi Ishizawa on the project, “Parental Incarceration and Child’s Depression: Uncovering Racial/Ethnic Variation.” The project received $64,458 in funding from by GW Law School’s Equity Institute. 
  • Patricia Lengermann and Gillian “Jill” Niebrugge-Brantley published two book chapters centering on contemporary feminist theory. In addition, you can look for the duo in three forthcoming chapters and articles on the history of sociology. These pieces will be featured in: Research Handbook on Intersectionality edited by Mary Romero; the Oxford Handbook of Jane Addams edited by Patricia Shields, Joseph Soeters, and Maurice Hamington; and Histoire mondiale de la sociologie edited by St Stéphane Dufoix and Sébastien Mosbah-Natanson.
  • Fran Buntman in collaboration with Antwan Jones and Hiromi Ishizawa, will be releasing a piece titled “The Mental Health Consequences of Parental Incarceration: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Longitudinal Study of Adolescents through Adulthood in the US.”

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Alumni Class Notes

  • Priya Dhanani, MA ’14, will attend Monash University in Melbourne. She will pursue a PhD in social and political science through the Gender, Peace, and Security Centre.
  • Steven Fishner, BA ’77, retired after a successful career as a senior prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's Office, director of criminal justice in the NYC Mayor's Office and as an ethics and integrity consultant with KPMG.
  • Einav Glazer, BA ’20, is a second year corps member in Teach for America, where she teaches reading to Kindergarten and 1st graders in New Orleans, La.
  • Jeffrey Gulko, BA ’99, is a publicist for BMG Music Nashville and tour manager for country artist Frank Ray, who is on a 35-city arena United States & Canada “No Bad Vibes” Tour with Old Dominion. Jefferey hopes to see his fellow GW alumni at a show.
  • Allison Helmuth, MS ’14, is a postdoctoral research fellow in sociology at Rice University.
  • Faith Hudson, BA ’19, is an operations manager at the Council for Court Excellence.
  • Sarah Kranau, BA ’14, works in compensation at Jack In The Box Corporate Headquarters and is working towards her Certified Compensation Professional certification. She lives in San Diego with her husband and cocker spaniel.
  • Melissa Lenner, BA ’12, started a podcast production company with her husband called Pretty Easy Podcasts. Together they've helped over 50 podcasts from launching the shows, to editing, producing and distributing the podcasts on all platforms.
  • Reem Mahmood, BA ’95, heads up a United Arab Emirates-based scholarship program for academically distinguished students to study at world-renowned universities.
  • Minh Nguyen, BA ’97, served five years as the DEA Attaché in Thailand. He is now assigned as the Team Lead of an undercover cryptocurrency unit at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Va.
  • Elizabeth O'Donnell, BA ’12, created a thriving nonprofit, Aaliyah in Action, after the stillbirth of her daughter. Her organization partners with over 20 hospitals—GW being the first—to provide self-care packages to mothers after pregnancy or infant loss.
  • Selin Ozturk, BA ’18, works in Geneva, Switzerland, for the World Intellectual Property Organization as a Fellow in the Arbitration and Mediation Center.
  • Tiffany Shaw, BA ’11, uses her sociology degree daily in her “life-changing, inspirational job in the D.C. medical cannabis industry.”
  • Dara Smith, BA ’12, is an attorney practicing banking finance in New York City.
  • Emma Stevenson, BA ’22, has a 900-hour-long internship with the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition, part of her master's in social work education at the University of South Florida.
  • Maureen Taft-Morales, BA ‘79, after serving Congress for 35 years retired happily in fall 2022. As a specialist in Latin American affairs in the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, she published over 300 reports.
  • Lauren Walker, MA ’20, is a senior research analyst at AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to helping talented, purpose-driven students find their path from aspiring lawyer to fulfilled professional.
  • Peter Walter, BA ’21, says GW's Sociology Department gave him exposure to an array of hands-on experiences and allowed him to forge relationships with insightful professors.
  • Mary Williams, BA ’78, is a business advisor at the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center. The host institution is the University of the Virgin Islands.

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