Some students begin their college journey knowing exactly what they want to study and exactly where they’ll be when they finish. For others, finding the right major can be a journey all its own.
That’s a little how it went for Green Bay native Faythe Brennan, who started out at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh planning to study biology, but graduated in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“I took two classes in sociology and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I love sciences but I realized I had a passion for sociology and all that the major entails. It was a matter of just finding out what my real passions are in life.”
In July, Brennan will move from Oshkosh to Milwaukee to work in an AmeriCorps program called City Year. Through City Year she’ll spend the upcoming school year in a Milwaukee-area school helping students in a role she described as part mentor, part tutor. It’s a fitting next step considering it was a similar experience that led her to sociology to begin with. In one of her first sociology courses, the class helped with an after-school program at a local school.
“Sociology is very broad and I really like that aspect,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in pursuing higher education, so I knew sociology would be a good ground base for anything more that I did. And I knew I would be doing social service-type work—like with inner-city youth, that type of thing—so I knew sociology would be a really good place for me to start with my education.”
As Brennan began to steer away from the biological sciences, she found herself getting more and more interested and passionate about issues of social equity and racial justice. In one class, she learned about environmental injustices, like the dumping of waste in low-income communities. Later, another course featured a survey about privilege, providing insight on how others’ circumstances in life differ from her own.
“I think I was pretty sheltered as a kid,” she said. “I went to a very non-diverse school. … I didn’t grow up around any people of color in my family, besides my siblings, so I wasn’t really exposed to many things until I got to college and started studying sociology and meeting new people and hearing people’s stories. It really opened my eyes, whether it was articles we read in class, documentaries we watched, to all the things that were happening and experiences people go through every day.”
Another memorable bit of experience was a short internship teaching a criminal justice class to prisoners at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. Unfortunately about a month in, the pandemic hit and access to the prison was cut off.
Brennan also was among the first-ever cohort of Wisconsin Institute on Social Equity (WISE) fellows. WISE was launched last year by associate sociology professor Alphonso Simpson and sociology professor Paul Van Auken and is designed to provide infrastructure for conversations, collaboration, research and action and race, equity, access, diversity and inclusion at UWO and beyond. Students involved get access to training in matters of diversity and community organizing. They also had opportunities to lead workshops and, if not for the pandemic, would have been involved in the start of a new annual conference.
“I was always supportive of social equity and racial justice and things like that, but I don’t think I really realized how passionate I was about it,” she said. “That was part of being in college and finding out who you are as a person. I really figured out that’s something I’m still passionate about. Its definitely one of the things that leads my work and what I want to do with my career.
“Sociology helped me realize I want to make a difference.”