Why did I come to Chapel Hill all the way from Utah? Maybe it was because my father-in-law lived in Utah (ok, not true). More importantly, I knew two names in the department: Hubert (Tad) Blalock and Gerhard Lenski. Importantly, the department was highly ranked in sociology. But Chapel Hill just sounded romantic.
Little did I realize, however, how much turmoil was going to occur in the four years (1966-1970) I spent in Chapel Hill: assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the so-called “race riots” and the Vietnam War on the national scene, and the school desegregation, interracial student fights in the local schools, and labor protests and war protests on campus (which I joined). Having the national guard on campus was eerie and weird. I also remember going to Durham to a pizza place one night only to get out of the car in front of a fully-armed member of the National Guard. I also attended a speech by Stokely Carmichael at Duke University. Trying to make sense of it all even from a sociological lens took some time. Some grad students, including me and a friend working on his Ph.D. in Math had to attend a Klan rally not too far outside of Carrboro to observe what we thought was an archaic relic of the South. We student huddled close together at the entrance, relying on a quick get-a-way if needed. Even today, reflecting on the rally I can only think how stupid the rally was, a bunch of clowns dressed up in robes. Unfortunately, the participants thought more of it than we did. A lot of snickers on our part and we soon left. A social phenomena unfortunately too common in the South at the time!
Unlike most grad students, I had married before my senior year in college. We had our first child during the second year of grad school. Before our daughter was born I got a change of my draft classification from II-S (student deferment) to 1-A (immediately available for the draft). I had carefully monitored when they were drafted from my local board in Salt Lake City and had taken the student deferment only the last year of my undergraduate years. I figured that I had three years before being drafted. I immediately called the draft board and asked about the change. They informed me that, “no I wasn’t going to be drafted, but that I was going to be ordered to take a physical.” When I got the order to report for a physical (in Raleigh) I immediately got a letter from the doctor stating that my wife was pregnant. I sent it to the draft and waited. No response. Another phone call: “Yes, we got the letter, but since you were ordered to report for the physical you must do that first. Then we will consider the letter.” Fortunately a III-C (fatherhood) classification came along soon and I was able to finish my degrees at Chapel Hill.
Our second child was to be born just as I was trying to finish my comprehensive exams—in early December. My wife had flown to Utah to have the baby and have some help from her mother. (It was also cheaper in Utah.) She had the baby just after I finished my exams, and I flew to Utah. Dick Cramer called me to report that I had passed and asked about the baby. I said that he was fine and that we had name him Justin Tye Jacobson. After the phone call, Dick told me later, he thought I had played a pun: Just in time for another tax deduction.
During my time in at UNC the sociology department was alive, however, both academically and socially with lots of diverse and interesting faculty members and graduate students. Dick Simpson was editor of Social Forces and showed his skills and perspectives on my MS and Ph.D. committees even though he was not the chair (Dick Cramer and Desmond Ellis chaired my committees). My natural interests were in social psychology (where Jim Wiggins and Glen Elder offered dramatically different perspectives), but my interests also turned to race and ethnicity as a result of the national and local events. Growing up in Utah, I had few contacts with anyone but whites. Even today only a little over one percent of the population in Utah is black. More Native Americans live in Utah than African Americans and almost as many Pacific Islanders live in Utah as Black Americans. Latinas/Latinos/Hispanics are the largest group (a little over 13 percent in 2015).
Who from that day can forget Dick Simpson smoking like a stove pipe and typing lickety-split on that old manual typewriter with two fingers, or Lenski teaching about religion and Power and Privilege, or the stats bible from Blalock and his stats classes? Other luminaries abounded, of courses, Wilson, Landsberger, Hawley, and junior folks such as Cora Marrett, John Reed among others. Other prominent sociologist later joined the department, but I did not have the opportunity to meet them before I left in 1970. I was hell-bent on getting out of town “ahead of the sheriff” as Simpson used to say (actually I just wanted a job and took one as an ABD).
Back in the day (coming out of graduate school), I had an offer from Brigham Young University where I now teach and where I had done three years of my undergraduate education. But I turned it down and went to UW-Milwaukee, an urban campus. I wanted to continue doing research on race and ethnicity, and I knew I couldn’t do that in Utah at the time. In addition I didn’t think the current president of the university (Wilkinson) and I would get along very well. And did I mention my father-in-law? I subsequently taught at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan which was not mountainous, nor entirely pleasant. But I did have Bernie Meltzer as my chair and friend along with others.
I finally returned to BYU in the fall of 1981 and have taught sociology (primarily social problems, social psychology and race and ethnic courses) for the past 34 years, the last three as chair of the department. I expect to retire early next year after teaching more than 45 years at the three schools.
I knew that I would be a teacher first and a scholar second. For the first half of my career I taught a 3-3-2 load, the second half a 2-2-1. Nevertheless, I succeeded in publishing several edited and co-authored books on race and ethnicity and social psychology (Prentice-Hall and Pearson imprint of Allyn and Bacon), and a goodly number of articles and chapters on the same topics. I also dabbled in the sociology of religion, especially after coming to BYU (books on Modern Polygamy and Revisiting O’Dea’s The Mormons –Oxford and U. of Utah presses).
For a sociologist, Chapel Hill was academically and socially stimulating. Living there, in Milwaukee and in Michigan enriched me both as a sociologist and as a person. Chapel Hill gave me a good basis for a career teaching and doing sociology. I have never looked back and wished I had a different career.