Moving in to Year Two

This week, I celebrated an important milestone: it has been one year since I launched my freelance public sociology business. It has been a strange year, to be sure, and an uncertain one in which to be working on a freelance basis without institutional support. But I am happy to say that this first year has been a huge success, and I want to take a moment to thank everyone, because I could not have done it without all of you, clients, readers, and friends!

I have been extremely lucky–a concept that always comes with a heaping side dish of privilege–in the ways I’ve been able to weather the pandemic economy so far despite the cancellation of several speaking events in the spring. I especially want to thank everyone who invited me to give talks (special shout out to the folks at Macalester for making the Minneapolis trip possible!), hired me to do editing or research work, shared my work with their friends, or helped me design this website. I have learned an incredible amount this past year, from self-employment tax deductions to writing white papers, but the most exciting is that I have been able to connect almost so much of my work to movements for social justice. Out here, I have created the academic home for myself that did not exist in the academy, doing work that I believe matters to the struggle for a better world.

In the coming year, I plan to focus on growing my diversity, equity, and inclusion work on improving workplaces for trans and gender nonconforming people–especially now that we have civil rights in all 50 states! And let me clarify: I believe my program is different, because I’m not just offering one-day trainings for employees. I’m offering a comprehensive consultation that uses research, evidence-based workplace change, and management-level trainings to create a gender-friendly workplace. As always, let me know if you want work together.

This is a critical time to do transformative work with the insights and skills of social science in the broader world. Last year I decided to take a leap of faith in order to pursue my belief in the importance of doing just that; I stopped looking for other jobs and decided to create my own. I was not certain whether I could turn that leap into something sustainable, but I was willing to try. This year, that work–the work of public sociology–is my everyday reality.

Questions to and from the City of Superior

Public Comments to Superior City Council
May 1, 2018

As a social scientist I have been talking to people and taking notes on their questions and experiences for the last several days since the Husky Refinery explosion on Thursday April 26. This is a list of questions I have heard and compiled from community members who live and work in Superior, many of whom are UW-Superior students. It’s important to note that these are not rhetorical questions, but ones that we are hoping for answers to at some point in the future from the appropriate authority.

  1. Is the site still hot? Are there still fire concerns?
  2. What’s the role of independent scientists in all of this, for verifying tests and getting second opinions? As we know, this is good science.
  3. Where can people go to get their questions answered that isn’t a Facebook page (which leaves them open to being attacked and trolled) and isn’t run by Husky Refinery?
  4. What medical symptoms should people be on the lookout for?
  5. What are the instructions for people who grow food locally, including commercial growers? What compensation will be available for them for these losses?
  6. Where did the particulates end up – in the blast zone, in the plume, where exactly?
  7. How will the city work with UWS to improve their evacuation plan?
  8. Why was UWS ever considered a mustering point?
  9. Why doesn’t the city have a designated shelter and a designated helpline ready to go in the event of an emergency if we have a refinery located in our community?
  10. What about the deer right at the explosion site? And what about the people who eat the deer?
  11. What is the status of Lake Superior? Will it be safe to swim in? And how will we know?
  12. What are Husky’s plans for the future of hydrofluoric acid? What are the city’s plans regarding this risk?
  13. Why are there propane gas tanks located just across the street from the refinery in the first place?
  14. Exactly what tests are being run on the water and soil, and what is the time frame of those tests?
  15. What was the cause of the explosion?
  16. What do repair and reconstruction of the refinery actually look like? Will tanks be patched or replaced?
  17. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) are found in the foam used to fight the fire at the refinery, and are highly toxic to aquatic systems. In fact 3M recently lost a lawsuit to the state of Minnesota for $850 million dollars. for not disclosing the health risk around the use of these chemicals. What efforts are being used to contain the PFCs and clean it up?
  18. Why isn’t Husky’s own wastewater treatment plant designed to treat the Class B foams needed to put out a fire at Husky’s refinery?

One thing I have learned over the last several days is that lack of information also causes panic.

Photo shows black cloud of billowing smoke with workers walking away toward the camera, and many power lines.

Husky Refinery Explosion close up. Photo by Sheila Lamb.