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Scholars of Note: Sociology

SociologyA Cutting-Edge ApproachEarl Wright IITitle: Assistant Professor, Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Central Florida
Education: Ph.D., Sociology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; M.A., Sociology, University of Memphis; B.A., History/Black Studies,
University of Memphis
Age: 32Earl Wright II’s undergraduate academic career got off to a shaky start. His life had been one of football and partying. The native of Memphis, Tenn., first attended Kentucky State University on a football scholarship. “We just assumed it was a full scholarship. I guess we didn’t read the fine print,” Wright recalls. When tuition was due, his mother had to pay with her Discover card.
After the semester was over, Wright returned home and enrolled at the University of Memphis. He thought he was going to be a walk-on on the football team, but that didn’t pan out either. Wright’s football aspirations were fizzling and he barely had a 2.0 grade point average. But he eventually got serious about the books — even though he didn’t find his college courses particularly compelling. But when he took first sociology course, he was hooked.
Wright went on to graduate studies at the University of Memphis’ College of Education and Sociology, and a real-life incident sparked his master’s thesis.
   “I was in a barbershop when a man came in with a gun looking for someone, saying he was going to kill him,” Wright says. “None of us were scared because we knew he was not looking for us.” In his thesis, Wright analyzed the significance of the barbershop in Black males’ lives and the various customer levels.
Dr. Thomas C. Calhoun was chair of sociology at the University of Nebraska when he heard Wright speak about Black barbershops at a Mid-South Sociological Association meeting. “I decided that this was the type of student we wanted in our Ph.D. program,” says Calhoun, now chair of the department of sociology at Southern Illinois University.
Calhoun remembers the first time he and Wright worked together in Nebraska.
“I told him I like to work very early in the mornings. Little did I know that he would show up at my house at 4:30 a.m. with an arm load of books ready to get started,” Calhoun says. “That’s the type of person he is and why I continue to work on research projects with him.”
Wright wrote his doctoral dissertation about Atlanta University’s sociological research after the Civil War, including the transition of ex-slaves, race relations and other issues. He proposed that the almost forgotten Atlanta Laboratory is actually the first school of sociology. With research as early as 1895, the Atlanta Laboratory predates the University of Chicago by 20 years.
It’s no surprise then that when Wright completed his Ph.D., the University of Central Florida immediately recruited him. He has taught “Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois,” “Qualitative Research Methods,” “Race and Ethnic Minorities,” “Urban Sociology,” as well as other courses.
Wright is also known for his research on the sociology of rap music.
“I love hip hop that has a political message. But much rap today promotes violence and misogyny with few socially redeeming messages,” he says.
In addition to completing a book on the Atlanta sociological laboratory, Wright is often a panelist at professional sociological organizations and serves as newsletter editor for the Association of Black Sociologists. He’s even picked up a few awards along the way, most recently the “Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award” while at the University of Central Florida.
“He has developed a following, and several of his students are now interested in pursuing advanced academic degrees,” Calhoun says. “I have also seen his teaching evaluations and wish mine had been as good when I was a junior faculty member.”
Since Wright has a particular fondness for historically Black colleges and universities, Calhoun believes Wright has what it takes to chair a sociology department at an HBCU one day. But Wright admits to having an even bigger goal — he’d like to become the president of one.— By Eleanor Lee Yates

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