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Andrea Laurent-Simpson: ‘Dog Mom’ and more – we’re living in multispecies families now. Here’s what it means

Fox News

Originally Posted: July 30, 2021


The evidence of new families blended with people and pets arrived long before we considered what to call them.

“Multispecies families” captures the scientific essence, but the lifestyle and character of this four-legged/two-legged companion coalescence is far-reaching and even comes with a glossary: Dog Mom; Puppy Child; Baby Doll; GrandCat; Daddy’s Girl. And on and on.

The elevated state of companion animals is undeniable, and it’s no surprise family dynamics adjusted. Divorce courts now consider custody of the family pet. Millennial home buyers often pass on a home unsuitable for their dog. It’s become routine that rescue missions for pets occur before demolition of property touched by disaster.  WATCH

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Pets on Board: Meet The Multispecies American Family


Contact: Nancy George,
July 13, 2021 

New book defines trend – pets really are part of the family

DALLAS (SMU) – Do you sign your pets’ names to your holiday card? Have you ever sent your dog to day care? Do you shop regularly for cat or dog toys? Welcome to a new breed of American family – the multispecies family.

In her new book, Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household (New York University Press: 2021) SMU sociologist Andrea Laurent-Simpson asserts what most pet-owners already know –  the American family structure is changing to include nonhuman species, and the implications are huge.

“American pet-owners are transforming the cultural definition of family,” Laurent-Simpson says. “Dogs and cats are treated like children, siblings, grandchildren. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 85 percent of dog-owners and 76 percent of cat-owners think of their pets as family.”

The science of sociology devotes little research to the concept of multi-species families, she says. “This book helps explain the presence of the multispecies family as a newly diversified, nontraditional family structure worthy of research. Dogs and cats within the American family have a profound impact on things like fertility considerations, the parent-child relationship, family finances, involvement of extended family members and the household structure itself.”


Some sociologists argue that human-animal social interaction does not exist because animals do not share language with humans.

The behavior of pet-owners says otherwise, Laurent-Simpson says. Increasingly, American families consider their pets in decisions such as child-rearing, homebuying, job location, travel and budgets, she says. Americans in 2020 spent more than $103 billion on their pets, a $6 billion increase over 2019.

New legislation related to emergency management and divorce law acknowledges American’s deepening relationships with their pets.

As Hurricane Katrina approached in 2005, nearly half of New Orleans residents refused to evacuate without their pets, instead staying behind to face the hurricane, according to a survey by the Fritz Institute. In response, in 2006 Congress passed the PETS Act, authorizing FEMA to rescue, care and provide shelter for household pets during an emergency. In addition, as pet custody battles rage in divorce courts, three states have passed new divorce laws requiring courts to treat pets as family members rather than property, Laurent-Simpson says.


Laurent-Simpson also suggests that the growing emphasis on the multispecies family has affected the declining birth rate in the United States. The U.S total fertility rate – a measure of the number of children born per 1,000 women – hit a record low in 2020, continuing a constant decline that began in 2007.

“The role of the companion animal in the childfree, multispecies family may well incrementally contribute to delaying or even eventually opting out of childbirth,” she says.  “The multispecies family without children is emerging as a new and acceptable form of diversified family structure.”

Americans have long loved their pets, Laurent-Simpson says, but she ties the development of this new type of family to the massive demographic shifts that began in the 1970s.

“In order for the multispecies family to come to fruition in its current form, major society-level attitudinal shifts had to occur,” she says.

The rise in nontraditional family structures, such as single-parent families, childfree families, grandparent families and LGBTQ families, has paved the way for the rise of the multispecies family, she says.  Laurent-Simpson also asserts that some of the conditions that created the multispecies family go back further to the Industrial Revolution, when families began to focus less on subsistence and more on loving, belonging, self-actualization and self-happiness.

In her book, rich with personal observations, Laurent-Simpson asserts that the multispecies family is here to stay and its impact on American society deserves more study.

She dedicates the book to her own multispecies family – her husband, sons and dogs.


SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas.  SMU’s alumni, faculty and more than 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.


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Retired couple donate their $2,400 in stimulus checks to cover struggling Plano costume shop’s payroll

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: June 17, 2020

Richard Hawkins, SMU professor emeritus of sociology, and his wife gave a combined $2,400 to help a Plano costume shop struggling to meet its payroll.

A retired SMU professor and his wife, a retired florist, let their stimulus checks sit in their bank accounts for a month before Dallas Morning News article helped them decide how to spend their combined $2,400.

They sent it to a Plano costume shop struggling to make payroll.

Richard Hawkins, who retired in 2014 after 42 years as a sociology professor at Southern Methodist University, said he had never heard of Dallas Vintage Shop until he read about its COVID-related financial troubles in The News on June 6. READ MORE

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Activism usually linked to urban centers finds a voice in the frustrations of rapidly changing communities.

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: June 8, 2020

For the seventh day in a row, dozens of sign-waving suburbanites dotted a busy corner in Flower Mound last week, demanding racial equality and decrying police brutality on what seemed unlikely soil as passing motorists honked in support.

In this 80% white, Denton County city of 80,000, they’d united in response to the very public death of George Floyd, who died May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police, an incident that has spawned significant national unrest.

“George Floyd’s life was extinguished on camera for the world to see,” said Laura Haines, a white resident who has been among those gathered daily at Long Prairie and Cross Timbers roads. “We’re all seeing what black people have been trying to tell us has been their experience. And we’re aghast.”

Nationwide, Floyd’s killing has sparked levels of suburban activism largely unseen outside major cities, with people taking to the streets throughout North Texas, from Wylie to Waxahachie: Since May 29, protesters have hit the pavement in Arlington, Lewisville and Carrollton; in Allen and McKinney; in Rockwall and Forney.

Many of the events are highly organized, some with police help, while others have blossomed more independently. All reflect, say those who study race and the suburbs, not just the barbarity of Floyd dying with a white officer’s knee on his neck but changing suburban demographics and the powder keg effects of an ongoing pandemic.

The protests and marches defy notions of Dallas’ suburbs, especially some to the north, as wealthy and self-absorbed. Instead, many have become large, diverse communities confronting the same issues as their more urban counterparts.

“You expect it to be downtown, in Uptown, in Deep Ellum, in Trinity Groves,” said Jacob Clayton, a black Far North Dallas resident who addressed Thursday’s crowd of 400 in Addison. “But the same way people hurt in the cities, they hurt in the suburbs. It’s more important that we be here than anywhere else at this moment.”

The suburban outcry is a national phenomenon, with demonstrations taking place in Columbia, Md., near Baltimore; in Paoli, Pa., outside Philadelphia; in Goodyear, Ariz., west of Phoenix; and in the Portland, Ore., suburb of Tualatin.

In North Texas, the gatherings, while emotional, have largely been peaceful, as in Frisco, Plano, Richardson and Addison. Others turned confrontational, with looting in Arlington and tear gas in Lewisville, each triggering a handful of arrests.

Still more events are planned in the next several days, including first-time sites like Irving and Royse City.

The Flower Mound gathering, Haines said, started after resident Sarah Edwards and her middle school-age daughter talked about Floyd’s death. Edwards, who is white, had been struck by her daughter’s words: That could have been one of my friends.

Moved and heartbroken, she suggested that they make signs and stand on the corner of one of the city’s busiest intersections.

A Facebook post inviting others to join May 29 drew about 40 people, and what was meant as a brief gesture to soothe aching hearts instead became a movement.

“People started joining us off the streets,” said Haines, who moderates the local Facebook group with which Edwards posted her event invite after she said it had been removed from another page.

Some asked if the group would be back Saturday, so they said yes; that Saturday a rabbi came by and asked if he could join with others on Sunday, and by Monday the group had grown to 200.

“That’s how organically this happened,” Haines said.

‘I want to help’

The video was the breaking point — the image of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd as he begged for his life with the now ubiquitous words, “I can’t breathe.”

Caught on camera, the incident sparked anger and activism nationwide, mostly in major cities at first — but then quickly in farther-flung sites. A measles-like map of the protests published by USA Today illustrates the frustrations that have sprouted beyond the shadows of skyscrapers.

Caitlyn Flynt, among those at the Addison protest, said many suburbanites consider themselves Dallasites because of the city’s sprawl.

“Just because you don’t live in Dallas doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for what you believe in,” said Flynt, who is white. “I think a lot of people are realizing that by being silent, they’re helping to perpetuate the situation.”

The response has spanned generations, from a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair who joined the group in Flower Mound to two white sisters ages 13 and 16 who said they now grasped the meaning of events that had eluded them when they were younger and felt compelled to join the roadside protest.

“Now that I’m older and can understand [the issue], it upsets me so much,” the older one said.

Her younger sister held a sign with the words “I can’t pretend to understand, but I want to help.”

“People of color have been treated wrong for years,” she said. “My friend went to church and got called the N-word for no reason. This generation is growing up and shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Some, like Addison’s Pamela Augustus, saw suburbs as safer places to introduce kids to the idea of protest as a means of social change. While her husband, who is black, was unable to take off work to go to the city’s Thursday afternoon event, she thought it was important to attend with her 7-year-old son, Carter, and 3-year-old daughter, Avery.

“I sat them down before and had an age-appropriate conversation about why we are doing this now,” said Augustus, who is of white and Latina background. “This is going to be in their history books, and when they learn about it, I want to say that we were there in solidarity and took a stand.”

Others are weary of a seemingly endless cycle of deaths of black men at the hands of police, finally feeling that silence is no longer an option.

“Watching a video of a man dying and begging for his life and so many cops standing there not batting an eye to the officer who was killing him, that was enough for me,” said Jodie Cairns, a white Richardson resident who attended Wednesday’s protest in that city. “It was disgusting.”

‘Suburbs have become more like cities’

The activism stems not just from the egregiousness of Floyd’s death but the changing demographics of suburbs themselves, said sociology professor Lucas Kirkpatrick of Southern Methodist University.

The clear racial demarcations that defined cities and their outlying areas in previous generations have blurred, he said, as many suburbs become more racially and economically diverse. That has produced similar issues of inequality aggravated by an ongoing pandemic that has further laid bare racial disparities.

“Basically, suburbs have become more like cities,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a constellation of factors that made this trigger event much more powerful.”

Scott Sosebee, associate history professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, noted the migration in recent decades of minorities into suburbs that were once bastions of white flight. As a result, those suburbs are no longer homogeneous outposts of conservatism — and their emotional reaction to Floyd’s death reflects that.

“African Americans do not leave their race as they advance economically,” said Sosebee, co-editor of the recent book Lone Star Suburbs: Life on the Texas Metropolitan Frontier. “When they made that move to the suburbs, the racism followed them … And that is one of the elements we see boiling over in the protests.”

Read More

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Congrats to Debra Branch

Congratulations to Debra Branch, a senior lecturer in Sociology, recently selected as one of three Faculty- in- Residence (FiR). Her service will begin July 1, 2020.

More details below:



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Is Denton a suburb? Depends on who you ask

Denton Record-Chronicle

Originally Posted: August 3, 2019

When Rolling Stone magazine first wrote about Brave Combo in 1979, the reporter said the genre-bending polka band was from Austin.

From there, it was repeated again and again. Almost any media outside of North Texas writing about the group credited Austin as their home, because writers couldn’t conceive that cool music came out of other cities in the state, band founder and lead singer Carl Finch said.

And thus began a nearly 40-year tradition of announcing “We’re Brave Combo from Denton, Texas” during sets near and far — as the band resisted any pressure to be lumped in with Dallas or Fort Worth.

“I think that we have been so long associated with Denton pride and carrying that banner, and I know we brought it on ourselves because we’ve made a point of it,” Finch said.

The creative community, the cluster of live music venues and other artists and musicians make Denton special, Finch said. Most residents would agree: That’s why we live in Denton. But as the tip of the Golden Triangle in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with dozens of towns and cities, could we be just another suburb?

Defining a suburb

Let’s start here: If there was one definition that fit the word across all areas of study that think about suburbs, we would know for sure if Denton is a suburb. Even an academic journal article called “Defining Suburbs” grapples with this.

“Suburbs, at their simplest, are more recently developed parts of an urban or metropolitan area, outside the core or historical city area,” reads the article from Journal of Planning Literature. “Even this definition raises questions.”

A CityLab project looked to define different kinds of suburbs and says Denton is “sparse-suburban,” which by the project’s definition means predominately suburban with a small urban core and exurb-style neighborhoods.

It doesn’t help that the U.S. census doesn’t weigh in on rural vs. urban vs. suburban, either. The last census showed that the region had multiple urban centers, calling DFW the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area.

Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick, a sociology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says the definition has changed over time as our cities and outlying towns have changed. Back in the 19th century, there were urban cores, and rich people worked in the urban core and lived in the suburbs, he said. Now there can be several urban cores, as highlighted in the U.S. census definitions, he said.

“Each of these cores has a clearly defined center, and social and economic activity radiates out from them, though no longer as neatly as the dartboard/concentric zone model would lead us to believe,” he said in an email. “So, for instance, the classic suburban bedroom community of the 1950s is not as prevalent today. Many suburbs are now economic hubs, as well.” READ MORE

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Congratulations to all the Hilltop Excellence Awards Winners

Dedman College News
Originally Posted: April 18, 2019

On Monday, April 15, SMU celebrated students and faculty that have made significant contributions to the University at the Hilltop Excellence Awards. Congratulations to all the award winners!

Below is a list of winners, * are Dedman College faculty and students.


The Dr. James E. Caswell Award : Rani Vestal.

Emmie V. Baine Legacy Award : *Andrea Salt.

Outstanding Trustee Award : David Huntley.

Outstanding Administrator Award : Jennifer “JJ” Jones.

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SMU sociologist weighs in on the gender gap in science prizes

The Conversation

Originally Posted: January 22, 2019

Author: Viviane Callier, Munk Fellow in Global Journalism, University of Toronto

Although there are more science prizes now than ever, they aren’t distributed fairly. A new study in Nature shows that women win fewer scientific prizes than their male peers, and the prizes they do win are less prestigious and come with lower monetary value.

“Women are getting the bottom-of-the-barrel prizes,” said Brian Uzzi, a network scientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, who led the study. That’s important because the general public doesn’t pay attention to metrics such as publication rate, citations or grant dollars: it pays attention to the prizewinners. “So the prizewinners are really the people who can raise awareness of inequities in science,” Uzzi said. “We think that’s kind of important.”

To study gender disparities in scientific prizes, Uzzi and his team examined data on the winners of prizes in biomedicine from 1968 to 2017. Searching the web, they identified 525 prizes won by 2,738 men and 437 women. They also looked at the winners of 104 prizes conferred by five large U.S. biomedical societies.

The good news: Across all 629 awards, the percentage of women prize winners increased from five per cent from 1968 to 1977 to 27 per cent in the last decade.

Nevertheless, disparities remain. Women represented only 13.8 per cent of the recipients of the awards with the biggest monetary value. Female prizewinners received on average only 63.8 per cent of every prize dollar men received. Women received 50 per cent of the service prizes (awarded for advocacy, education, mentoring, public service) but only 28 per cent of the research prizes, which are more prestigious, come with more money and are considered more important for career advancement.

Women over-represented in service awards

Because women represent less than 50 per cent of independent biomedical scientists (the relevant pool of possible candidates for these awards), they are actually over-represented in the service awards category, noted Kathleen Grogan, a genomicist and behavioural ecologist who was not involved in this study but has written about gender bias in science.

Athene Donald, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, wrote that “everything in academic science would tally with the idea that women are expected to do more service (mentoring, teaching, outreach, etc.) and so the finding that they win far more prizes under this heading does not come as a surprise.”

Scientists only have so much time, so those who bear the brunt of service work may have less time to produce award-winning research, said Sapna Cheryan, a psychologist at the University of Washington who studies gender stereotypes and factors influencing the participation of women in STEM. Encouraging men to take on more service work — things that aren’t rewarded as much but are necessary to the functioning of an organization — should free up the women to do other things, Cheryan added.

“We have to think about what it is we can do to change the behaviour of men to make sure they aren’t winning these prestigious awards because they’re taking advantage of the fact that there are other people around them who are doing more than their share of the service,” Cheryan said.

Actively addressing the disparity

Although the situation has improved with time, Grogan warns that time alone won’t solve everything, and it’s important not to be complacent. In other words, it’s not just a matter of waiting for the pipeline to fill with more women. “I believe active attempts to solve these inequities will be much more successful,” she said.

Grogan highlighted several things that awards committees can do to reduce bias, such as evaluating their criteria to see if the criteria themselves are biased. “We know that women are less likely to publish, less likely to get citations, and less likely to receive other awards,” Grogan explained. All this must be taken into account if awards are given based on evaluation of a scientist’s CV, she argued.

In this vein, Cheryan added: What are the criteria that go into these awards, and are they based on a masculine male archetype of a good scientist? And are there other ways to be a good scientist that these awards might not be evaluating for?

Grogan also encouraged award committees to examine the nominee pool for potential bias. “Are you receiving proportionate amounts of nominations of each gender that represent the makeup of your society at that career stage?”

She encouraged more scientific societies to collect data about the gender, race, disability status, etc., of their membership at all career stages so that statistics about the proportion of women in the society, in the nominee pool and in the award-winners group could be compared.

Countering unconscious bias

Anne Lincoln, a sociologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas who studies women in science, studied the nomination and awards process for a variety of natural and physical science awards from 2000 to 2010. Lincoln found that, regardless of the number of women in the nomination pool, men were eight times more likely than women to win an award for their scholarly research.

This was true even for investigators under the age 40, so it is not only happening with senior scholars at the peaks of their careers. This disparity is most likely caused by unconscious bias, Lincoln said. Thus raising awareness about unconscious bias — a challenge among scientists who often pride themselves on being objective — could be a fruitful intervention.

In her research, Lincoln also found that having at least one woman on the awards evaluation committee reduced the gender bias in award winners.

“It seems that having a gender diverse committee gives women a better chance of having their work evaluated on the basis of its merits rather than as work done by a woman,” Lincoln said. So ensuring diversity on evaluation committees is another step that award-giving societies and organizations can take to reduce bias.

Finally, Lincoln suggested making award applications gender-blind by removing identifying information about the applicant when possible. Although this isn’t always feasible (especially at the highest levels, e.g. the Nobel Prizes), it can help in other situations.

When the journal Behavioral Ecology switched to a double-blind review process in 2001, women’s acceptance rate jumped 7.9 per cent, Lincoln said. READ MORE

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Event: Oct. 16 Charity and the Dallas Community: Real Talk with LeeAnne Locken and Kameron Westcott

Date: October 16
Time: 7-8:30 PM
Location: McCord Auditorium


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Sheri Kunovich, Chair of the Department of Sociology, will assume role of Associate Provost for Student Academic Engagement and Success beginning July 2018

SMU News

Originally Posted: June 20, 2018

Congratulations to Sheri Kunovich, Chair of the Department of Sociology! She will join the Provost Office’s team on 9 July 2018 in the newly-titled role of Associate Provost for Student Academic Engagement and Success.

Read the full letter from Steven C. Currall, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs HERE