Pop culture, music videos, Super Bowl ads, and trending news stories kick off lively conversations in Dr. Carolyn Fraker’s sociology classes at St. Thomas Aquinas College. After all, what better way is there to study concepts like capitalism, worker’s rights, and racial and gender inequities than to look at what’s happening in the world right now?
“I like to find particularly poignant stories,” Dr. Fraker says. “Sociology is about life, so this is fairly easy.” What’s more, she encourages students to question the everyday things they do. For example, she has them consider the “cultural script” of entering an elevator—an action that has changed significantly since the pandemic. She also asks them to think about the steps they’d take leaving an office at night and going to a car parked in an underground garage. “Usually, the men have two steps,” she says. “Turn off the computer and go to the car. Women, on the other hand, have a super complex list of steps.” This example, she says, highlights different burdens women must navigate solely because of their gender.
Dr. Fraker, who serves as the interim director of the Justice Studies Institute and teaches sociology courses, including Introduction to Sociology and Law and Society, enjoys seeing students’ evolution as they begin to make sense of the structural forces that shape the world. “So much of how we identify and behave every day is actually shaped by society. Being able to pull back the curtain and see this process in action can be terrifying, rewarding, empowering, and maddening all at once,” she says. “I love when it clicks and I see that ‘aha!’ on their faces.”
Dr. Fraker appreciates how open STAC students are to learning and how eager they are to tackle controversial subjects, engage in difficult conversations, and work to understand the different dynamics in society that drive social inequities. One such issue that is especially important to her, and is also the focus of her scholarly research, is motherhood and healthcare inequality. Her most recent publication, “Racism in the Birth Room: Obstetric Violence in the U.S. Context,” explores how misogyny and racism converge in U.S. obstetric care.
“This research is incredibly relevant to our moment in time where Black women are at a significantly higher risk of severe illness or death during pregnancy and childbirth because of the medical care they receive,” she explains. For years, Dr. Fraker has been invested in questions concerning women and reproductive rights. “My work has also focused on the intersection of poverty, racism, and misogyny, which often led me to readings and research on motherhood.”
Prior to joining STAC in 2020, Dr. Fraker was a guest lecturer at Marymount Manhattan College and also taught sociology courses at the University of Minnesota where she earned her master’s and doctorate in sociology. She grew up in Arlington, Virginia with two siblings and her childhood interests included playing the cello, drawing, painting, and taking weekend trips to see Cal Ripken Jr. play with the Baltimore Orioles.
Now a Brooklynite, Dr. Fraker enjoys exploring New York City with her husband and two “small humans,” visiting zoos, and watching international soccer games. Also an avid reader, one of her favorite authors is Jane Austen. In fact, Dr. Fraker can recite the first paragraph of “Pride and Prejudice” by heart.
“I guess I see the first line as a bit tongue-in-cheek: ‘It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’” she quotes. “It’s good to remember that Austen herself never married and this was partially her effort to maintain her own freedom.”
Arlington (Virginia), Master’s and Doctorate in Sociology from University of Minnesota