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UCLA Graduate Division

Graduate Student Profile - Forrest Stuart (Sociology)
UCLA Distinguished Teaching Assistant 2010-11

Forrest Stuart During the first session of an Introduction to Sociology course in fall of 2007, Forrest Stuart asked the typical ice-breaker question and got the typical first-day answer. What did they think sociology entailed, he asked his students. Their response was right out of the text: "Sociology is the study of group behavior."

At the second session, he projected onto the classroom walls photos of a middle-aged man in a wheelchair waiting at a soup kitchen, an immigrant woman and her daughter scrubbing floors at an upscale restaurant, African American youths exchanging money for small cellophane bags on a dark street corner. In that moment, he saw that the stock definition of sociology bore little relation to the lived experiences of actual communities. He made it his mission to bring the two together in his work as a teaching assistant at UCLA.

About the same time, Forrest was selected as a teaching assistant for the influential sociologist, Edna Bonacich, who wanted the course on Sociology of Race and Labor to include praxis. Together, they created a project in which students worked with community organizations and labor unions to design Los Angeles’ first African American Worker Center. Not only did the center become a reality, but students said the experience dramatically changed their perceptions of sociology. Professor Bonacich calls Forrest "a source of inspiration for those students who want to join in the development of an engaged Sociology."

In 2008, the sociology faculty asked Forrest to be instructor for an undergraduate course developed in conjunction with UCLA’s Center for Community Learning. Ethnography in the Los Angeles Community engages students in an intensive 10-week training in qualitative and ethnographic methodology, working in the community to develop research questions and gather data. Under his guidance, they have explored subjects that included an analysis of the verbal strategies used by callers to a domestic violence help line, an evaluation of a children’s rights group’s restructuring effort, and an examination of a homeless organization’s efforts to ensure citizenship rights for the homeless. Skid Row organizations are increasingly looking for involvement from his intern-researchers, he says.

Another source of pride is that Forrest’s students are increasingly engaged in sociology, with some pursuing graduate degrees in the field. They nominated him for the department’s Peter Kollock Memorial Teaching Award, which he received in 2009. Forrest is now completing his dissertation on organizations that advocate for the homeless.

Published in Spring 2011, Graduate Quarterly