Sociology Junior Shanae Simmons

Shanae SimmonsI remember sitting in my kindergarten class, working on some mundane class assignment then pausing a second. I sat, looked up from my paper and out the window up at the sky. I looked back down around at my classmates then raised my hand, "

Mrs. Cartridge," I asked. "There are six years in elementary school right?"

"Yes," she said.

"How many are in middle school then.. six?"I asked.

"No three," she replied.

"And then how many after that?"

"Four," she said.

I then began to draw squiggled circles on my paper. I drew a circle for every year I would be in school. "Twelve years," I gasped once my count was complete. This had been the same gasp that encompassed my elementary, junior high, high school and even college experience (though already past the 12 years). I couldn't wait to graduate and be done with school; done with being babysat. College was not really a factor when I was younger, but as I approached the end of ride, accompanied by the presence of high expectations, I was whistling another tune.

I had ridden this rickety roller coaster for 13 years. I had been tested and tortured, lost thousands of pencils, written out hundreds of thousands of exercises, quizzes, and papers, and now there was more. Each level threatened only to get worse and harder. After finally navigating the endless path, I found myself in college with a realization that to truly benefit myself in a growingly competitive world, undergraduate studies weren't going to be enough.

As these thoughts and associated worries bothered my psyche, I was appreciatively led to an undergraduate internship that may have held the key of relief for my boggled mind.

Initially I was apprehensive with the work load. The internship would have to be adjusted accordingly alongside my required coursework and job. I even had to go to the school of liberal arts to get permission to take twenty hours. On top of it all, I was taking a combined Spanish course that made me the bit more nervous. It wasn't until I began my work and attended the first large group meeting that my fears and possible insecurities were replaced by curiosity, excitement and an open mind.

I was relieved and interested by all the different students who were exploring the next level like me. I wasn't alone. "People did it, are doing it and can do it, and so can I!" I thought. My new awareness opened up my range and helped focus my energies. This internship helped ease my anxieties by chipping away at the old "what's next" boulder that had been following me for some time.

Similar to the transitional periods of elementary to middle school and junior high to high school, I was bothered with a fear of whether I could live up; of whether this was finally the wall that stopped my flight. And like every period of transition, I found myself calmed and secured with the fact that it wasn't as intimidating and impossible as I had earlier believed.

Not only was my emotional load lightened, but I was also handed something in return. Through the internship I was equipped with tools and a supported desire to go out and learn for myself. I was finally being allowed to be the explorer I was meant to be, not the little girl trapped in a classroom.

Through my experience, I worked alongside my mentor, the lovely Miss Danielle Dirks, and began to learn the art of research. I soon realized the benefits of having such knowledge of resources and methods for collecting information. Initially my job was to collect data concerning death row inmates. We held discussions every meeting concerning the issue as well other racially laden matters.

I learned about the concentration of those in lower socioeconomic situations and minorities on the death row. I also learned about the motivations for allowing the death penalty, which ultimately in my opinion make it an ineffective method. Used largely as a deterrent, it can also be seen as a type of revenge led against an individual concerning not only an infraction against society but also solace for the victim's families. The goal was to help see if this process really produced such results.

Not only was it cheaper to keep someone in life for prison rather than kill them, it has been found to be ineffective in acting as a deterrent, especially when involving crimes of passion. As I looked through the profiles of those who were executed, I was allowed to put a face and mind to the numbers. I read a few last words of inmates, alongside descriptions of the crimes they committed. Following investigation of the description of their crimes, I discovered that they had committed similar offenses to those not on death row (but oftentimes provided with better defense, an indicator of having money) and who dissimilarly would not have to pay with their lives. This then brought up the issue of "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" found in the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Seeing that many people who committed the same crime received such drastically different sentencing, I found capital punishment to be unusual in practice, and in my opinion unconstitutional by definition, or at least by my interpretation.

Our meetings usually always incorporated racial issues that were discussed and debated among my co-interns, mentor, and I. I being the only person of color, enjoyed the relief (and some sadness) of having the statistical information that supported things I had already known about the United States; afterwards having an outlet, and the feeling of supported justification, to present my lens to the discussion. The group was colorful enough in background that we had many good discussions that included a few different points of view, which helped keep the talks interesting. The second part of the semester, I focused on even more racial issues, assisting my co-interns research "black face" parties. While I mostly helped in collecting abstract information and learning proper documentation, I found out that they were more common place then I had imagined. "Black face" parties, also known as "ghetto parties", are events in which students (generally white in ethnicity) are encouraged to dress up like stereotypical black characters. Oftentimes it included waving fake guns, wearing enlarged rears or pretend pregnant bellies, fisting 40's, and dawning saggy jeans and "grillz". Much of it was generally insulting, in some instances people actually dyed themselves black,: it was not just a southern phenomenon. Many prestigious institutions, including professional schools (eg. UT law school) had students involved in such occasions all over the country.

In between meetings, we were required to use some UT resources to find information. I attended a class in the library that helped develop my knowledge of using UT's library system, in finding online articles and journals, while also creating sets of different resources (journals and books) that I could zoom in on in my search for certain information. I became much better in my research methods, and learned how to find legitimate sources of information, oftentimes that had been used as sources for many other works.

My most important and revealing experience would have to be learning about the experiences of others and their reflections of their personal journeys through graduate school. After having heard some of the ropes concerning graduate school, I found relief and confidence. I was able to identify what my future could entail, making me less uneasy of the process as a whole. My idea of drudgery associated with getting higher degrees morphed into one of anticipation. I take comfort in the idea of being a little more specialized, and working on research more relative to my interests.

I also was reassured in my desire to be a professor as well as a sex therapist. I interviewed one of my instructors as assigned, and found the interviewing process to be very fulfilling and helpful. Not only did I look up to her as a professional woman, but I also appreciated her love of learning and her honesty about the positives and negatives of her work environment. She also offered me advice that I will hope to keep in mind on my journey through academia. Not only did she stress the importance of physical representation, she also prepared me for the ignorance of others. She even recommended that I take a year off between undergraduate and graduate, saying that it caused her to do very well and helped her really enjoy graduate school after having a break.

Currently I have my path set out before me. This internship helped me learn not only about societal issues but the importance of framing goals and shaping direction. I also learned new research techniques that are bound to benefit future studies in graduate school as well as the remainder of my undergraduate experience. I have also been gifted with a newfound desire to interview even more professors and collect their experiences to direct my own personal growth and motivation. I currently plan on attending graduate school, where I will pursue my doctorate in Social Work and later reach my certification in Sex Therapy. I want to become a Sociology professor, though it has the potential effect of adding a million more years of schooling. In the end though, my gasp is slowly turning to an "a-ha". Maybe a few years won't be too bad after all and I can stop worrying about those squiggly circles.