Rising to the top: Cecilia Ridgeway’s path to the presidency of the American Sociological Association


Courtesy of Cecilia Ridgeway

“Go ahead and take a seat,” said sociology professor Cecilia Ridgeway, motioning to a vacant seat in her office in McClatchy Hall. The room was stereotypically professorial, cramped and dimly lit, shelves filled to the brim with books. Every available surface was stacked with papers and files–a hint at how busy Ridgeway’s life had been even before being elected president of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

President of the ASA, “a non-profit membership association dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good,” according to its website, is only the capstone of a long list of accolades that Ridgeway has accumulated over the course of her career. She currently serves as the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences in the Sociology Department at Stanford, and in 2008, she was the winner of the Distinguished Feminist Lecturer Award, given to her by Sociologists for Women in Society for her contributions to feminist research.

Years ago as an undergraduate, like many of her peers, Ridgeway’s plans were not always so directed, and she initially did not know which subject she would like to major in. However, she cites a class she took her sophomore year as getting her into sociology.

“I just found the sociologist convincing,” she explained.

She would go on to graduate from the University of Michigan in 1967 with a bachelors degree in sociology, followed by a stint at Cornell University where she earned a masters in sociology in 1969 and Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology in 1972. She went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Iowa before finding a home at Stanford in 1991 where she has remained ever since.

Ridgeway is acknowledges that some of her most recognized material has to do with gender and its influence upon social interactions. However, she is also visibly excited to discuss her work with “interpersonal relations and the structures of power and influence that develop in interpersonal relations.”

“It’s interesting because it’s between people in the same family, between intimates,” she said. “And a lot of the important things that happen with gender happen interpersonally, not just institutionally. This is in your face in some ways.”

As president of the ASA–a position that begins as president-elect on Aug. 23 of this year and as president on Aug. 20, 2012–Ridgeway will organize programs for sociologists to submit papers for presentation and invite panels that discuss different themes. She will also give a presidential address to an audience of sociologists at each meeting. Despite the added responsibility, she is not worried that the position will interfere with her teaching or current research pursuits.

“It’s a lot of work but it isn’t a conflict with your job,” she said.

The position’s flexibility will allow her academic research, which builds upon a 30-year body of work and innumerable publications, to continue full steam ahead. In addition to publishing a book that focuses on the persistence of gender inequalities in the modern world entitled “Framed by Gender” (2011), Ridgeway has been busy doing “a lot of studies on how beliefs develop that change social differences into status differences.”

Additionally, in collaboration with two other professors, Ridgeway is working on a paper that deals with the “face to face aspects of social class and how that can act as barriers for people.” She excitedly talks about the areas in society where race, class, and gender collide.

At Stanford, Ridgeway’s courses touch squarely on those themes. For undergraduates, she teaches two classes, “Interpersonal Relations” and “Sociology of Gender.” At the graduate level, she teaches a class called “Foundations of Social Psychology,” an advanced workshop on the same topic.

Yet despite all of her accomplishments in the field of gender studies and interpersonal relations, Ridgeway remains a down-to-earth, and her waist-length hair and cat-eye glasses exude a kind of vintage sixties-style cool. Students who have worked closely with Ridgeway share their enthusiasm about her as an educator, mentor and leader within the discipline.

“Working with Cecilia has been a wonderful experience,” said Karen Powroznik Ph.D. ’14, who knows Ridgeway as an adviser. “[She] is extremely insightful and offers a nice balance of encouragement and constructive criticism. She doesn’t just explain complicated ideas, she helps students work through them.”

“I am excited for her to serve as ASA president because I believe the qualities that make her such an excellent mentor will benefit the organization as a whole,” she added.


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