Posts tagged ‘Sam Richards’

Getting an Earful with World in Conversation

It’s a safe bet that nearly every student who has spent time at University Park in the past 20 years or so is at least somewhat familiar with the work of Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey. Many thousands have taken the SOC 119: Race and Ethnic Relations course that Richards first began teaching in the early 1990s, and many more have been reached by the vision that he and Mulvey ’94g have expanded well beyond that one famous undergraduate class. It was a treat to be able to dive into their work for a feature in our September/October issue.

In “Taking the World by the Ear,” we highlight Penn State’s World in Conversation, the “student-driven public diplomacy center” that grew out of the often brutally honest class discussions that have made 119 the most buzzed-about elective at University Park. The center’s reach is now truly global, thanks to Sam and Laurie’s vision, the dedication of a small but hard-working staff, and an army of student “facilitators” who lead the WiC dialogues—small, intimate conversations on the most sensitive topics imaginable. The video below gives a feel of the World in Conversation approach:

A personal highlight of working on this story was having an excuse to crash SOC 119 a few times last year. I took the class as an undergrad back in the mid 1990s, and it’s only grown more daring—and, I’d argue, more vital—in the two decades since. And while World in Conversation has grown at an incredible rate, the center is still very much rooted in 119’s philosophy of critical thinking and honesty above all else. A taste of Sam’s approach to the class can be seen in the popular TEDx talk he gave in 2010:

Sam and Laurie are now neighbors of mine, and it’s been very cool to be able to engage with them as an actual grown-up. Working with them to wrap up fact-checking on this story a few weeks back, they shared some very cool news: SOC 119 will be live-streamed this semester. Whether you’re an alum with fond memories of the course, or one who never had the chance to take it, it’s recommended viewing. If you’re interested, tune in to the SOC 119 channel on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:35 p.m.

And of course, we hope you’ll check out the feature in our new issue, hitting Alumni Association members’ mailboxes any day now.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

August 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Wanted: Your Best Classroom Memories

The professor who surprised, challenged, terrified, or inspired you. The classroom where you did your best work—or where you hope never to set foot again. The partner from your lab or study group who drove you to distraction or became a life-long friend.

We know you’ve got stories. We want to hear ’em.

For our next “interactive” feature, we’re looking for your most compelling classroom memories. You can tell your story in the comments below; send submissions (no more than 250 words) to; or mail them to: The Penn Stater magazine, Hintz Family Alumni Center, University Park, PA, 16802. All submissions are due by Dec. 6. We’ll use the best of them for a feature in an upcoming issue of The Penn Stater.

imagesWhat are my best classroom memories? Hey, thanks for asking. I only ever took one class where, on the final day of the semester, the entire room offered a spontaneous standing ovation for the instructor. That was Hist 143—History of Fascism & Nazism, with Prof. Jackson Spielvogel (right). The class was tremendous from start to finish—no doubt there are thousands of alumni who feel the same—but it’s the day that Holocaust survivor Kurt Moses ’11h came to speak to a rapt, standing-room-only lecture hall in Sparks Building that I’ll never forget.

Then there was Soc 119, taught by Sam Richards (below), who’d been on campus only a few years at that point and was, in the minds of many of us fairly straight-laced undergrads, some sort of enlightened hippie whose class was popular largely because it had the potential for fireworks. But there was so much more to it than that. As I learned over the course of a memorable semester, Sam’s whole thing was perspective.

2358380b51651c63cafd5fcc0ea3a9e94bcf032b_254x191And of course, it still is. Sam long ago cut his hair, but he’s hardly cut back on his approach to opening the eyes and minds of his students; in fact, through their World in Conversations program, Sam and his wife Laurie Mulvey ’94g have expanded their work to a global audience. Now, Sam lives right around the corner from me, meaning the unconventional professor who blew my undergrad mind is now the very cool guy who I occasionally get to talk about Important Stuff with over a beer at neighborhood gatherings. Who knew I’d be making classroom memories 20 years later?

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm 3 comments

Coming Soon: Behind the Scenes with World in Conversation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent some time getting to know the people at the World in Conversation project, the brainchild of sociology instructors Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g. I’m finally reporting the story about the program this semester—it will be published in an upcoming issue, mid- to late 2014—and I wanted to share something I watched Monday as I sat in on a class with the student facilitators, who lead dialogues among students of various races, genders, and ethnicities. It’s a video from the Cleveland Clinic, and it’s not a spoiler to say that the theme is empathy.

I found it powerful. Hoping it makes you think about your day, too.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

September 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm 1 comment

The Sandusky Scandal: As Experienced–and Written–by Penn Staters

INDIEGO_HEADER2About nine months ago, I received an email from Sheila Squillante ’02g, a senior lecturer in Penn State’s English department, and Dave Housley, who works in Penn State’s Outreach department and is an editor at Barrelhouse magazine. They were collecting pieces that had been written about the Sandusky scandal for an anthology, and they had a specific mission. They wanted pieces written by people who are connected to Penn State. And they wanted not straight news accounts or opinion pieces about who’s at fault, but pieces that dug into the emotions of the situation. They eventually came up with a title: Notes from Inside a Burst Bubble: Penn Staters on the Penn State Scandal.

I was honored to contribute a piece I wrote for this blog, about how sociology lecturers Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g addressed the issues in SOC 119. I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what other pieces would turn up in the anthology, and the time is drawing near.

Squillante and Housely couldn’t find a traditional publisher for the book, so they’re raising funds to publish it themselves. They’ve set up this page on indiegogo to solicit donations because they want to donate any profit to RAINN, and that wasn’t possible on some other platforms. You can go there to donate; every little bit helps. They need to raise $2,000 to cover expenses, and as of Monday morning they’re at the $1,200 mark.

The Daily Collegian did a nice piece on why the book matters; Squillante called it a “document for people to make sense of what happened.” Among the contributors are Squillante, her English 15 class, Housely, and Michael Weinreb ’94, who often writes for us and who wrote insightfully and movingly about the scandal for Grantland.

If you’re interested in contributing, I know that the editors—and the writers, including me—would be grateful. None of us are making a dime. But it’s important for the voices of Penn Staters to be heard, and of course RAINN is doing valuable, vital work. Here’s a way to support both.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

January 28, 2013 at 10:42 am 4 comments

Emerging from the Storm: Conversation Highlights

Going in to Wednesday’s livestream conversation with Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, there were only a few things we at The Penn Stater knew for sure: Whether the viewer count hit 3 or 300, the people who joined in would care deeply about the issues and want their voices heard. And that the door would be open—for an honest, emotional, and sometimes controversial discussion.

We were right on both counts.

Around 200 people from Facebook, Twitter, and the livestream chat spent one and a half hours talking about the big issues along with Sam and Laurie. Viewers brought up questions about identity, personal responsibility, loyalty, lack of trust in our leaders, and the biggest question of all: Where do we go from here?

Some (very abridged) highlights:

Viewer question: Why should alumni and students take responsibility for the scandal? We did nothing wrong.

Laurie: This was handed to the Penn State community by fate, the same way a hurricane is handed to a particular town. This isn’t a Penn State problem, but it was given to us to say, ‘OK, how can we deal with this?’

Sam: Penn State has been given this burden. Maybe the honorable approach is to accept a certain amount of punishment. That’s a big thing to say, but what if we stepped outside the box? We if we said, “Let me see if there’s a higher road here.” It’s really easy to beat the drums and yell and scream, but what might be an alternative path? Fighting the sanctions—what does that look like? Is that an honorable approach?

How can we move forward when we feel the truth isn’t out yet?

Laurie: We all want the truth, and the reality is, we as human beings don’t often get to live in the truth. We don’t get the opportunity where other people see us for who we are. The intention here is to seek the truth, and follow it out as long as it takes, but in the meantime, recognize that we don’t have the privilege of being seen how Penn State wants to be seen. We join humanity in that, and we, as people of Penn State, aren’t unique in that. It’s humbling.

Sam: Penn State has been judged very harshly by the court of public opinion, and when the court of public opinion comes down in such a powerful way, that becomes the truth for millions and millions of people. So what do we do with the fact that that is now the truth? We may say, wait a minute, that’s not the truth. But we have to find a way to live within that, because that’s the truth to many people. I can sit here and be angry about that, and sometimes I am. But is there another way around that? How might I grow? How might I expand?

I hate that Penn State has adopted the blue ribbons for child-abuse awareness, because it feels like an admission of guilt—like a scarlet letter. 

Sam: I understand that, especially when things like this are done for political reasons. But here’s the other side: What if every time you see a blue ribbon, you think about the fact that 1 in 8 of your female friends, sisters, aunts, neighbors, etc. has experienced child sexual abuse in some way? And 1 in 10 of your male friends? What if the blue ribbons meant that, and what if I really took the time to think about that and let that influence my life? What might happen? Because when you sit together at a Thanksgiving meal, and you’ve got 10 or 12 people, somebody has had that experience. And very likely, the abuser is somebody who may also be sitting at that table. So, when we take the blue ribbons, what if we used that as a lens? Put the blue-ribbon lens on and look at the world?

Whether you agree or disagree with Sam and Laurie—and with one another—the most encouraging part of all this is that the conversation continues. Since the stream ended at 9:30 p.m. last night, viewers are still posting opinions and ideas on this blog, to Twitter (with the hash tag #pennstater), to our Facebook page, and via email at As always, we welcome your questions, comments, and feedback.

If you missed last night’s livestream, you can watch the video in its entirety here. (Unfortunately, the conversation in the chat box to the right of the screen is no longer available.)

Mary Murphy, associate editor

September 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm 3 comments

Wanted: Questions for Our Live, Online Conversation

Over the summer, I got a chance to ask questions of Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, the husband-and-wife sociology instructors who have made it a point to address the Sandusky scandal and its aftermath in class. Their SOC 119 class, Race and Ethnic Relations, is all about exploring assumptions and considering a variety of perspectives, and they brought that sensibility to the interview we published in our September/October issue. (If you missed it, click here for a downloadable PDF.)

Now it’s your turn to ask questions.

Sam and Laurie will be facilitating a discussion from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night, and you can participate in the event at this website: We want you to be a part of “Emerging from the Storm: Continuing the Conversation.” You’ll be able to watch Sam and Laurie at the website, and you can ask questions, make comments and chat with other participants simply by typing into the text box in the upper right-hand corner. You don’t need to register or do anything fancy. You can also log in there with your Facebook or Twitter accounts, if you’d prefer. Our hashtag: #pennstater.

I’ll be in the room with Sam and Laurie, asking your questions and summarizing your comments. I’m there as your representative, so I need your questions and ideas.

If you’d like to get the conversation started early, you can post in the comments here or on Facebook; I’ll make sure Sam and Laurie see what you write.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

September 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm 29 comments

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