Faculty Spotlight: Trevor Sangrey

Trevor Sangrey expertly juggles a variety of roles at Washington University in St. Louis: they are an Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, where they organize the first-year academic programs; a Senior Lecturer in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department; a Faculty Fellow with Brookings College; and an academic advisor and instructor for the Prison Education Project (PEP). Professor Sangrey joined the PEP advising team in the summer of 2019 and serves as an academic advisor for seven students at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) Campus. They are also teaching a remote course on U.S. Social Movements at MECC this summer.

As a PEP academic advisor, Professor Sangrey goes to MECC once a month for advising hours, assists their students with course registration, and ensures they are making progress towards their degree. They also support their advisees with more nuanced issues, including navigating what it means to be a college student, what it means to study, and what it means to be obtaining a liberal arts education. Being a college student is a universal, unifying experience in many ways, and Professor Sangrey attests that the conversations they have with their Danforth and MECC Campus advisees are often incredibly similar. However, they note that PEP students are so “differently thoughtful” and that “the questions that they ask have helped me to think about how can I get Danforth Campus students to think more critically about the way that they approach their education. PEP students are very good at asking and in turn assessing what a class or way of studying enables them to do differently.” They now pose these same questions to their Danforth Campus advisees and encourages them to approach their academic decisions through a similar lens. Professor Sangrey also attributes their work with PEP to making them think differently about the value of risk-taking and the various forms it can take. They encourage PEP students to take intellectual risks, even in a space and environment where they are not able to take other kinds of risks: “Classes and intellectual engagement are ways they [PEP students] can think about risk-taking in a very risk-averse space.”

The course Professor Sangrey is teaching at MECC this summer is U.S. Social Movements, which they describe as a “hybrid sociology – history class.” The hybridity aspect of this class stems from examining the intersection of the sociology of social movements with their historical context and perspective. Professor Sangrey explains: “History and sociology separately don’t fully get to the important question – how do we see social movements changing their frames over time?” They also note that an important aspect of this class will be thinking critically about the myths that history tells us and examining “how the way we tell stories about history impacts how we think about it.” Students will be discussing U.S. social movements from the 1800s to present day and asking questions about how social movements work and change over time. The class will first examine the abolition, suffrage, and temperance movements, and then explore what grew out of those movements in relation to the lynching, class, and work movements that lead up to the civil rights movement. The class will then learn about the explosion of social movements post-1968 around women, the environment, LGBTQIA issues, and race. In the final week, the discussion will shift to contemporary movements, and Professor Sangrey plans to allow students to decide which topics they would like to cover in this section.

The transition to remote learning has been difficult for many students, but it has also been challenging for instructors. Like many other educators across the world, Professor Sangrey was tasked with transitioning their course to a remote format, so they had to come up with creative ways to facilitate dialogue outside of the traditional classroom environment. One solution they have come up with is having students form small discussion groups, within which they rotate to assume different roles – the facilitator role, who brings in questions for discussion and is responsible for making sure everyone shares airtime; the recorder role, who is responsible for taking an overview of discussion and readings and writing up a summary; and the primary source role, who looks at the primary sources and makes sure they inform the conversation. Students are then tasked with writing reflection papers not just about the material itself, but also about the way they discussed the material and the specific role they played within the discussion. Professor Sangrey has discovered several surprising upsides to a remote teaching modality. They acknowledge that it has been beneficial for them to think differently about how to design this class, and adapting a primarily discussion-based class to a remote format made them realize that although they traditionally rely on charisma and their ability to corral a room to communicate information, there are other ways to do this. In this class, Professor Sangrey wants their students to think differently about history, how we tell stories about history, and in particular how histories are erased – which is inextricably tied to issues of gender, race, and class. They reflect that giving up control of these hard conversations has been a challenging but productive learning experience.

When asked how they hope to see PEP expand and develop over the next 5-10 years, Professor Sangrey mentioned that they would love to see more “cross-pollination” between students across all the various campuses of Washington University – including PEP students, School of Continuing & Professional Studies students, day school students, and medical students. According to them, “all students should find ways to share their commonalities and recognize their differences. There is so much we could learn by having closer ties to a larger variety of students on campus.” They note that students in PEP are able to “think outside of the box because the box they are in is so narrow” and that sharing their ideas and perspectives would be incredibly powerful for students on the Danforth Campus, so finding creative ways to enable that dialogue is essential. Professor Sangrey also advocated for more varied course offerings at MECC: “There are so many questions and ways of thinking about the world that are available to students on the Danforth Campus that should also be available to students in PEP.”