Some people have claimed that the United States of America is a melting pot of various cultures, ethnics, and races being assimilated into the predominant WASP society; while others believe America is a mosaic, representative of many cultures, and only when viewed collectively, can a true portrait be seen. Whichever position is indeed the case, a central theme remains: America is comprised of many persons of many backgrounds with many religions, many ages, many facial or bodily features or deformations, many colors of skin, many countries of natural origin, and many life experiences.
Thus ended the first paragraph of a paper I wrote for an undergraduate sociology class I took in the spring of 1997. Studying the topics of race, ethnicity, and gender, I wrote about affirmative action and posed the question whether the U.S. policy was one of equity or reverse discrimination.
In the paper, I wrote about Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harland and his 1896 ruling on Plessy v. Ferguson on how the constitution is color-blind, how blacks and whites are “indissolubly linked together,” and how racial hatred is not permitted under the law. Later in the paper, I wrote of the 1935 Wagner Act which attempted to outlaw anti-union violations, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which forced discriminating employers to be guilty under the law.
Professor Faith Zeadey graded me an A- on the paper, and among her numerous red ink critiques in the margins, she devoted the greatest amount of space in reaction to my first paragraph:
“Melting pot” and assimilation are different. Assimilation implies the loss of the weaker (less imposing) culture. Melting pot refers to a unique blending of many cultures into a single, but, new culture. The “mosaic” analogy offers a third variation: distinct cultures in balanced harmony often called pluralism.
The next semester, in a class on social theory, Professor Zeadey graded me thrice on introductory papers I wrote on selected theorists. She gave me a B+ on Thorstein Veblen, an A on Georg Simmel, and a B+ on a paper combining Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies.
As I progressed through the semesters in Worcester State College’s sociology department, I preferred taking more and more classes with Zeadey than with the three other professors. Part of my choice was because I understood she graded, she understood how I wrote, and we slowly became friends.
In an urban sociology class in the spring of 1998, when I was completing my junior year, I wrote a paper that combined my passions of sociology and computers, entitled, “Technology and Technocracy: Their significance to industry, business, and urbanization.” The 7-page, double-spaced paper included 33 footnotes and quoted notable sociologists including Veblen, Comte, Saint-Simon, Marx, and Galbraith.
Zeadey loved the paper and gave me an A.
Later that semester, in the same urban sociology class, I expanded my idea and wrote about the evolution of technology and branched into its sociological innovations over the centuries. By the fall, I’d become fascinated with the rise of Wal-Mart and wrote a paper on transnational corporations, and their impact on foreign policy, the global economy, and the end of the nation-state.
Zeadey challenged me, a lot more than I can say for my other undergraduate professors and definitely on par, if not greater than, some of my graduate-level professors.
We kept in touch over the years, and as recently as last fall, I emailed her with an update on where I was. She didn’t respond, and I didn’t think about her for a while.
Today, after arriving back at my apartment from the Thanksgiving holiday with the family, I opened a letter from Worcester State College that was dated last month and had been collecting dust on a chair.
“Faith was a longtime, esteemed professor in the sociology department and retired in the fall of 2006,” the letter stated about halfway down. “As you may know, she passed away in February 2007. Her commitment to her work and social justice inspired an effort to endow the Faith T. Zeadey Dialogs on Social Justice and Human Rights in her memory.”
She affected me…and led me to write this. Rest in peace.