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Betsy Lucal

Sylvia E. Bowman Award for Teaching Excellence -- Founders Day 2005

Associate Professor of Sociology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Indiana University South Bend
Appointed to IU faculty, 1998
B.G.S., Kent State University, 1989; M.A., 1991; Ph.D., 1996

Gender, class, sexuality, and marriage are all subjects that can hit a little close to home. Unless they're looking for a fight, most would avoid challenging others' assumptions about these topics. Betsy Lucal does it for a living. And her students like it.

"Remarkably, given the controversial nature of many of her courses, almost every student, even those who began with hostile attitudes to the subject matter, come away with a profound respect for her pedagogy, organization, and dedication as well as her ability to prod students to deeper thinking and deeper understanding," says Scott Sernau, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at IU South Bend.

Among the courses Lucal teaches are Introduction to Sociological Theory, Constructing Sexualities, and Feminist Theory. Currently on sabbatical, Lucal is developing four new courses, including a course on the sociology of men in America and one on the sociology of food.

"Even among good teachers there are few who can claim to have a national reputation for teaching excellence," says Sernau. "Lucal has achieved this and continues to develop her expertise and to share it widely."

Lucal's success is in part because of her extensive research on teaching innovation and on the role of race, class, and gender in teaching and learning. She has served on the editorial board of, and has been a regular contributor to, Teaching Sociology, the journal of the American Sociological Association (ASA). She has been asked to edit teaching materials for the ASA, and she recently completed an editing project for the sociology reader published by Pearson Educational Group. She has also helped the Sociologists for Women in Society establish a mentoring program for junior faculty members entering the profession.

First and foremost, however, Lucal says, "I am a teacher. The research I do, the service I do, I do to support my teaching."

She identifies three primary goals for her teaching. "I want every student in the class to come away with some understanding of the sociological perspective and of substantive issues in the field," she says. "Second, I want my students to be able to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the world around them. Third, I want my students to understand how the sociological perspective can be used to fight social injustice."

She acknowledges that her third goal may be somewhat controversial. But she argues that the roots of sociology as a discipline lie in attempts to make the world a better place: "I see this not as a cliché but as a legitimate and important part of the sociological enterprise, a legacy I want to pass on to my students."

Her teaching method reflects her commitment to making "real-world" connections. In her introductory sociology course, she teaches from texts that her students encounter in their day-to-day lives: novels, stories, and magazine and newspaper articles.

"I cannot imagine doing anything besides teaching," she says. "I believe in what I teach and in my students' ability to learn it and use it in their lives."

For her efforts, Lucal has won the Trustees Teaching Award three times, as well as being selected for a Distinguished Teaching Award at IU South Bend in 2004, and as Faculty of the Year in 2003 by the IU South Bend Student Government Association. In 2000, she was selected for inclusion in Who's Who Among America's Teachers, and in 2004, she won the IU South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award.

The strongest testimony to her success as a teacher comes from her students, who describe her lectures as "intoxicating," and commend her "humor and directness" and her "masterful" mediation of group discussions.

"Dr. Lucal is pro-student," says one student. "She expects the best from her pupils, and because the students respect and admire her, they give their best."

In a letter to Lucal, another student wrote, "I will forever be conscious of the pain stereotyping and gender, race, and class discrimination can cause others. Hopefully, I can make a difference with what I have learned from you."