“Systematically Studying Disparities”, Dr. Ruth Lopez Turley, Sociology

When I took my first sociology course as an undergrad, it was stunning for me to see that there’s actually a systematic study of the things that I had observed during my childhood. I wouldn’t have known what to call them, I wouldn’t have known what it was. I just knew that once I got to Stanford, the way I grew up was very different from most of my classmates and very different from Palo Alto.

The Bay Area, and especially in the area immediately surrounding Stanford, is very wealthy. I felt like I was quite literally in a very different world. And to then attend a sociology class where we were actually systematically studying these disparities and studying the factors that explained these systematic disparities was really stunning because it just hadn’t occurred to me there was something explaining what I had seen. That it wasn’t just, “Oh, we’re all inferior.” Because I, to some extent, really believed it. That we’re all poor, and Hispanics, in particular, are all struggling with these things, and we’re just inferior.

There were a handful of white students in my high school, and they were all at the top of the class. And they were all wealthier. And if that’s all you see, after a while you start to believe that they’re just smarter, they’re just better, and that’s just the way it is.

But then to see—you can imagine me sitting in the sociology class and all of the structural forces coming into play at the same time. “Oh, it’s not that I’m just inferior. It’s way more complicated than that.” And it was so amazing to me to learn that—of course I was drawn to it, and I thought, “I have to study this more.” And then to get beyond the studying phase and learning about it. Now I’m at the phase where I really want to change that. I really want to do something about it, because this is crazy, that things are the way they are in 2011.