February 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 2

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Finding Sociology in Colorado

N. Prabha Unnithan, Colorado State University

As one of the many sociologists who will gather in Denver, Colorado, August 17-20, you probably will be making your way out of Denver International Airport and heading south to the site of the 2012 Annual Meeting in search of the meeting’s “Real Utopias.” After passing the 9,000-pound sculpture of a bucking horse painted cobalt blue and sporting fiery red eyes, look to the west and marvel at the Rocky Mountains in the distance (the unfortunate story about a part of the “Blue Mustang” falling down on its sculptor, Luis Jiminez, and killing him is true). I have lived in Colorado for nearly 25 years and this view of the mountains never fails to induce a sense of well-being and rejuvenation.


The Colorado Rockies

Heading towards Denver, if you are so inclined, take time to contemplate the various communities that have developed, struggled and survived in this high and arid region. From Cheyenne, WY, in the north to Pueblo, CO, in the south, this area has come to be known collectively as the Front Range, while the communities on the “other side” of the Rocky Mountains are referred to as the Western Slope. Denver, sometimes called the Queen City of the Plains (look eastward and away from the mountains and you will know why), is more commonly referred to as the Mile-High City (if running, climbing multiple flights of stairs or other strenuous activity is your thing, beware of altitude sickness and let your body acclimate). The capital of Colorado, it is the state’s biggest city and is located more or less in the middle of the Front Range.

The conference location is the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver with its iconic 40-foot tall blue bear peeking into the building. If you would like to step away from the Convention Center, you might be happy to know that you are next to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The 16th Street Mall, a 1.25 mile-long pedestrian corridor that opened in 1982 and was later expanded, should be of interest to all sociologists. No big box stores line its sides; however, there are several department stores, many hotels, res­taurants and hordes of people at all times of the day. Denver has an impressive art museum close by and the Museum of Nature and Science a short distance away. A botanical garden and a zoo are two other major attractions in the city. Activist sociologists and students of social movements might find the local version of the Occupy movement, namely Occupy Denver, at nearby Civic Center Park, which is located in front of Colorado’s Capitol building.

If you wish to journey to the aforementioned Rocky Mountains from Denver you will need both time and transportation. If you have both of those, consider visiting one or more of my favorite mountain towns: Estes Park, Steamboat Springs, and Breckenridge. In addition to time and transportation, if also you have the requisite finances, at the extremely expensive mountain resort areas of Aspen and Vail you will be able to observe members of the one percent in their “natural” leisure habitat. However, skiing, which is one of Colorado’s main attractions, is highly unlikely given that you will be here in August.

Perhaps you are more inclined to inquire how academic sociology and sociologists fare in Colorado. The campus nearest to the Convention Center with sociology programs and faculty is home to three institutions. The Auraria Campus in downtown Denver houses the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the University of Colorado-Denver. A student could take classes at the lower undergraduate, upper undergraduate, and graduate levels from three different institutions without leaving this campus. Colorado-Denver’s Master’s program specializes in criminology, family, and medical sociology. A little to the south is the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Denver, a private school, providing undergraduate degrees in both areas included in the department’s name. This department—along with five others on the same campus—participates in a certificate program in socio-legal studies. Another private school nearby is the Jesuit-run Regis University which also offers an undergraduate major in sociology.

If you travel south from Denver on the main north-south interstate (Interstate 25), you will reach sociologists at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Colorado College (also in Colorado Springs), and Colorado State University-Pueblo. Of these, Colorado-Colorado Springs has a Master’s program that provides certificates of specialization in the sociology of diversity and in teaching sociology. Colorado College, a private undergraduate liberal arts institution, organizes its curriculum using a block calendar whereby students take only one course at a time for four weeks.

Other nearby institutions further towards the west and south that offer undergraduate sociology programs include:

Continuing our travel in-search-of-sociology motif, the University of Northern Colorado is located in Greeley, northeast of Denver, and the sociology program there offers undergraduate specializations in applied sociology, family studies, and social issues. This brings us to the two largest universities in Colorado with sociology programs and their associated research centers. A short drive to the northwest (on U.S. Highway 36) is the University of Colorado-Boulder. Its Department of Sociology runs a doctoral program that specializes in environmental sociology; gender; crime and deviance; qualitative and interpretive sociology; and population and health. Finally, my own institution, Colorado State University in Fort Collins (an hour to the north of Denver on Interstate 25) hosts a sociology doctoral program that provides training in environmental and natural resources; food, agriculture, and development; crime, law, and deviance; and social inequality, social justice, and governance.

As you can see, sociology and sociologists have a solid presence in the Centennial State. Without lapsing into tourist brochure clichés about western friendliness and informality, your fellow sociologists are glad that you are visiting Denver and hope that you will explore both the region and the discipline while you are here.

N. Prabha Unnithan is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

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