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Davis talks writing process, sabbatical

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Sharon Davis teaches Sociology of Deviance, Juvenile Delinquency and Senior Thesis. Davis is also developing a class on the sociology of serial killers and mass murderers. She is chairwoman of the sociology and anthropology department. / photo by Rafael Anguiano

Sharon Davis teaches Sociology of Deviance, Juvenile Delinquency and Senior Thesis. Davis is also developing a class on the sociology of serial killers and mass murderers. She is chairwoman of the sociology and anthropology department. / photo by Rafael Anguiano

Natalie Veissalov
LV Life Editor

Sharon Davis, professor of sociology, has been on sabbatical since February. Although being a professor includes a lot of work, she keeps herself extra busy by being part of several committees, traveling and writing a book on juvenile deliquency.

How are you enjoying your time away from teaching?
Well, it’s somewhat of a mixed experience. First of all, it’s really wonderful to have time to think, to write, to read, and not have the pressure of appearing in front of a class. And appearing in front of a class, I believe is very similar to performing on stage as an actor, that means you really have to know your lines, your script, you’ve got to take your audience into account and if they don’t appear to be getting, you need to deviate from that stress and try to help them bring them in. It’s a real preparation, if you do it well. And I want to do it well when I’m standing in front of a class. And so I don’t have that pressure right now of are things up to date, am I taking into account the personality of the class that appearing in front of, will they get it, if they don’t get it what are some of the current examples I can give to help them to understand. All of that type of work I don’t have to do right now. I get to concentrate on making myself, helping myself become more up to date and redesigning some of things I am working on, but most importantly because I promised that I would be writing a book on juvenile delinquency. I’m really attending to that because when I get back and people say ‘well how did your book turn out’ I’ll say it turned out very well, and I have a publisher for it hopefully by then and I’m just putting the finishing touches on it.

Is it hard to find a publisher?
Well, it can be. You got first of all, to figure out who publishes this type of work – juvenile delinquency. Not everybody does. Some publishers, publish poetry. This is academic. It’s not a textbook. It’s an empirical study, and it’s qualitative. So what publisher is likely to be interested in this sort of document and to make contact with them and then send a chapter or two to give them an idea of what I’m writing and then to negotiate the contract. I’m going to be doing that shortly. Right now, I’m getting some of the chapters in shape, so that if someone says ‘Do you have some chapters I could look at?’ I can say of course.

How long does it take to write one chapter?
Well you know, it really depends. Sometimes I can write a chapter in couple of weeks, if I have the data already collected. If I don’t have the data collected, I have to go out and collect the data, which can take couple of months, then I write the chapter. It really varies tremendously. I’m hopeful that I will have a rough draft of a book by the end of my sabbatical. And so I’m gearing everything toward that. I do have some chapters that are already written in a rough form that I’m going have to edit, but I think I could be close to being done by the end of my sabbatical.

How long is your sabbatical? A semester?
It’s for one semester. Technically, we have two choices. We can either take one semester at full pay or we can take two semesters at half pay. I’m the full breadwinner in my family and the only person in my family, I need to have the full salary. So I’m taking one semester, and then we have the option of doing it in the fall or the spring. I chose the spring. Technically, my sabbatical began in February and goes through august. I have the summer.

So your main goal is to publish or to have a rough draft by the end of your sabbatical?
To have a draft, a pretty good draft. May be not even a rough draft, but a pretty good draft of the entire book and have it sent out to some publishers. May be have a contract signed or at least have some interest in it, so I can do it relatively easily once I get the responsibility of students and classes and all the other things that come with being a college professor.

Does it get stressful sometimes, writing all your drafts and collecting all the data?
It’s not stressful, but I do think that it’s a real challenge to keep oneself on a schedule because you’re on your own boss here and if you’re good at mapping out a schedule and making yourself stick to it, then I feel there will be success. If you get, if you’re attention gets diverted to often you won’t be successful in creating what you planned to create by the end of the semester that you have off as a sabbatical.

Do you do all your writing here (school) or all at home?

I do it all at home. I have everything on my computer at home. And it’s guarantees that I won’t have very many interruptions unless I create the interruptions. So I have better control over the interruptions if I work from home.

Do you just wake up and start writing?
Well, it depends on the day because I still have a couple of things here that I am responsible for. What I try to do is get up and go through my e-mail first, make certain that nothing has fallen by the waste side. Then I try to write for a couple of hours and then I take a break, have lunch, sometimes I will read a book for fun. I’ve got a couple of library books all waiting for me, and I love to read. I love to do fun reading as well as academic reading. So that is a little time for me. A couple of days a week, I might actually fit in a little nap. And then I usually will relax a little and then I’m a real great night worker and so after about let’s say ten o’clock I like to work again for a couple of hours. But it varies tremendously by day. So I can’t really say that everyday is like that. Because I am on the Concert Choir and I do take voice lessons, and I still continue with being chair of faculty salaries committee. We are presenting our faculty salary proposal for next year, and I feel because I wrote a great deal of it I need to shepherd it through, and I don’t want to leave that for someone else who doesn’t know it as well I do to kind of struggle with it. So I do come in a couple of times a week, and it varies by the day. I’m also active with the coalition for diversity and I don’t like to miss any of there meetings, which are once month. So if it happens to be that particular day, I think it’s a Tuesday, then I will come in. I don’t mind it. I like a little bit of variation in my schedule, but I really like having a schedule. It keeps me honest, it keeps me focused, I work best when I have a little schedule that I can count on. I like that very much.

What got you into writing about juvenile delinquency?
Well, when I was in college many years ago, I majored in sociology. And at the time I was interested in deviant and social problems, and so as an undergraduate and with my master’s degree those were my areas in specialization. But once I got to USC, where I got my Ph.D. I looked around at the specialty that professors at USC had and I thought to myself, how can I really maximize my time here at USC and make use of the areas of specialization and the talent of the professors here at USC. And what I found a lot of the individuals at the time had crime and delinquency as their specialty. I thought well since mine is just a little broader – deviance and social problems. This is my Ph.D. I can specialize further, and make use of their expertise in guiding me. That’s how I got interested in crime and delinquency.

You said that you are going offer a class based on what you learned and acquired in your sabbatical, right?
No. What I am currently working on is a paper that I will be presenting at a conference in April in Oakland, Calif. The Pacific Sociological Association has accepted my paper. My abstract of my paper to be presented at their regional meeting and what I hope to do with that once I have developed it and presented it, is that will become a chapter in my book. So I can use it for two different purposes. What I am also going to bewaring on, but I haven’t quite yet started this. Is that I have long threatened to develop a new class in something that I am very interested in. A class I will call Mass murderers and serial killers or maybe serial killers and mass murderers. I haven’t decided which way its going to go yet. And so I like to get that class somewhat develop, so when there is a space for it in the curriculum, I can put it in there and offer it to students. Not only in our major, but in anybody’s who might curious about or interested in or wants to learn more about serial killers and mass murderers. It could be next spring. I don’t think it will be in next fall because we are already putting in our schedules for next fall and I have not put that in as part of mine, but I might do it in the spring. I’m thinking about it.

You were department chair for the sociology and anthropology department.
Ten years.

What do you think were your greatest accomplishments as department chair?
I think there were a couple of accomplishments that I am proud of. I think, first of all, our majors grew by leaps and bounds. We have some of the largest major in criminology and sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. I think part of it was due to the wonderful faculty with whom I work. I saw it as my function to create a positive work environment for them, to be supportive of them and to create a stress-free environment as I could, so people can look forward to coming to work, being here, interacting with colleagues and meeting with students. I think I did a pretty good job of that. I feel pretty proud of that. I’ve always said if i don’t look forward to coming to work then how can I expect other people will look forward to doing that. I’ve always looked forward to coming to work. I knew sometimes it would a hard day, a long day, a day that would exhaust me, but I always looked forward to coming to work. I think that’s part of what I accomplished. I think also for a long time, during my ten years, we not only created, but we had a very successful criminology online program. We are all very proud of that. And even though it doesn’t exist today that happened under my watch and we were able to help some students who perhaps that wouldn’t have been able to go to college very easily because they were in the golf on a ship in the military or they were in the Midwest in a rural area. There are some people who got a really good degree from the University of La Verne by taking our online courses. I was very proud of that. And as a result of having that program, we were able to create and fund some of our forensic lab and buy some of the microscopes and some of the materials that we needed in ordered to create and staff a class in forensics. And that is and continues to be a very very popular class we offer forensic investigations and Felicia Beardsley teaches that.

Do you regret majoring in sociology?
Had I not got into sociology, what I thought I wanted to do was go into journalism. Yeah. So that was my other choice. I don’t regret it. The thing of it is that we have to make so many important decisions we have to make when we are young people in our early 20s and because when we are in our early 20s and we haven’t had a lot of decision making experiences, we do the best we can and we hope are making good decisions. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made some poor decisions in my life and had to deal with the consequences. But one of the best decisions I’ve made was to major in Sociology, and I kind of pat myself on the back regarding that, and I go wow ‘You were only 20 years old when you had to make that decision and you got it right, so congratulations.’

What is your advice for young adults in their early 20s who feel lost or don’t know what to do with their life?
I would say give it time. In your early 20s, you’re supposed to be lost, and when there are decisions to be made try to imagine with each decision your open some new doors, but you close some old ones. When I first started thinking about going into teaching by being a college professor, there were no jobs. There were full. This big baby boomer generation was coming through and going ‘we need employment.’ But I didn’t lose faith in myself. I was willing to wait for a couple of years. Work at other things. As they say ‘Keep my eyes on the prize.’ I thought some opportunity would present itself, if I could just stay open to being aware that an opportunity was there. And so don’t be too hard on yourself, be patient, be alert for those opportunities and make certain that you have the credentials so when the opportunities are there, you qualify. This relates to graduating seniors who are going to face this tough job market. Be patient. Maybe you won’t the job of your dreams or the level of salary of your dreams first off.

Did you have to take some odd jobs?
Oh yeah. Yeah. I was a college counselor at Los Angeles High School for six months. Telling ethnic minority students that they can go to college and helping them apply. Engineering the process so that they had a good shot of being selected to attend college especially in light of the fact that many of their parents at this particular high school had never been to college. Giving them a helping hand when they didn’t have a lot of role models because people in their family often time had not attended college. So I did some of that. What else did I do? Oh. I worked at a lawyer’s office as a receptionist for a little while. Did some typing and phone answering. Checking regularly what’s out there.

What was your first big opportunity?
My first big opportunity was part-time work at Santa Monica College. I was an adjunct professor, and eventually that grew into that ‘Freeway Flyer.’ You’ve probably heard of that term, which means you teach classes at multiple colleges because you can’t get a full-time job yet, but you’re trying to get experience and you’re also trying to stay financially afloat.

Here is something off topic. You’ve traveled to a lot of countries. What countries have been your favorites?
Often time, my favorite country is the last country I’ve been to. First of all, I have to say that all countries present, I’m a sociologist; so all countries are fascinating to me. I love the adventure. I love learning. I love talking to people. Finding out more about the culture, the history. I love trying new foods and seeing new sights. So it’s hard to say which countries have been my very favorite. There are some that really stand out. I spent a couple of sabbaticals ago in Greece. I had the opportunity to live there for five months, and so I was an Athenian. I lived in Athens. I taught a course at a university there. I absolutely loved that experience. Getting to go to the islands and learning about Greek culture. And the cuisine is one of the best on the planet. So healthy and so good. I just got back from India. And I’ve been to India twice. My first trip to India was all about mysticism and exoticism. This time it was more about getting to know the people and understand the culture without so much of that magical quality. But I cherish both of those trips. India is a country kind of like Greece that just kind of gets under your skin and you just have to go back. You just have to go back.

What country do you want to go to, but have not been to?
I am at enviable place of my life where I can start looking at more exotic places because I’ve been to London 30 times and I’ve been to Paris 10 times. I love them both, don”t get me wrong, but I’m starting to look at more far-flung places. I’m starting to look at New Zealand, which sounds kind of exotic. I would love to go to South America. But when I go there I would like a to do series of countries and not just a single country because its so far and it’s a little more expensive. So once I’m there, I would like to find something that would get me to Brazil and Argentina and Peru, rather than just one country if possible. And I haven’t found that yet. I am still thinking about it. I’d also like to go to Russia. I’ve never been to Russia. But every counter has it’s own charm and uniqueness.

The Oscars just passed. What was your favorite nominated movie?
I think in terms of creativity and just groundbreaking cinematography; I think I will have to go with “Avatar.” It was marvelous. I think one thing that seems to be getting lost in what people tend to talk about is the fact that if you look at the values in “Avatar.” It’s all about sustainability, it’s all about conservation, living in harmony, and it’s also about living peacefully. Not invading other countries for their natural resources, and I think there is a real important message that Americans got to take a look at and all people of the world, but especially Americans because I think we are violating a lot of the message or the principles that “Avatar” stood for. People talk about the animation and they talk about the cost. I’d like them to talk more about the values because they are fascinating. I also loved “Precious.” As a sociologist, living and working in the ghetto and which is what the author did. I actually went to go see the author of “Precious.” Actually, she is the author of the book “Push” upon “Precious” was based. Her name is Sapphire. I went and heard her speak when she was the Claremont Colleges about a month ago. And I thought maybe, she knew Precious or she was Precious herself, but she wasn’t. She was a special ed teacher in the ghetto at the inner city schools. Precious is an amalgamation of some of the kids she worked with. She is a creative writer and special ed teacher. And she is an African American.

Do you have time to watch TV? If so, what are some of your favorite TV shows?
I do watch TV. I tend to watch a lot. I’m in criminology, and I do tend to watch some of those crime-based series. I love “The Closer” with Kyra Sedgwick. I love “Dexter.” The murdererist, the serial killer. I like “Criminal Minds.” I like a couple of the “CSIs”. I know that they are not realistic, but I do enjoy those. I TiVo them so I can watch them when I have time. And so when my brain is too tired to think, I do watch some of those. And my secret passion because I love to travel. I watch “House Hunters International.” You get a chance to buy a house, or an apartment, or a condo in all these different countries in the world. Buy a condo in Panama or a ruin in the South of France. So it’s just marvelous. You learn a little bit about the country, but you also get a chance to see how people live. And as a sociologist that is fascinating to me.

Natalie Veissalov can be reached at

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