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Professor Brad Bullock retiring after more than 30 years behind the Red Brick Wall

Brad Bullock

Brad Bullock

Brad Bullock, Randolph’s Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, took his first sociology class the summer after his sophomore year of college. 

At the time, he’d been considering history as a major, but was intrigued by the material and its implications. 

“Suddenly pieces of the world snapped together and what was invisible became visible,” said Bullock, who is retiring this year after more than 30 years at Randolph. “I was hooked. Already interested in social and political justice and environmental issues, sociology allowed me to see how they were all connected. It still does.” 

Bullock arrived at the College in 1987 after a year teaching as a full-time professor at Vanderbilt University, where he earned both his master’s degree and PhD. 

His primary research interests include political economy, international social development, and environmental issues. 

He’s regularly conducted research in the Caribbean Basin and has traveled all over the world pursuing his work. He also spent several weeks living among the Makushi, an indigenous group that lives deep in the rainforest in Guyana, with several colleagues on a trip arranged through Randolph’s Quillian Visiting Scholars Program.  

In the classroom, he encourages his students to learn sociology by applying it—using it to discover how it’s connected to their lives in practical ways. The last course he taught here at Randolph focused on modern Black social movements and activism. 

“It was centered on sociological concepts about social cohesion and mobilization within communities, which is why I titled the course Community in Motion,” Bullock said. “Students addressed essential social facts about enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and The Great Migration, but then were asked to use what they knew to better explain connections to modern issues they experience and that engage activists: racial profiling, aggressive policing, mass incarceration, and voter suppression efforts.”

What is your teaching philosophy, and how have you approached that here at Randolph?

“My teaching philosophy has evolved increasingly away from assigned papers or lectures—however well-constructed and enthusiastically delivered—toward more interactive assignments and applied knowledge. Rather than stressing the coverage of content, my focus is helping students understand what sorts of critical questions to ask and then bringing them to a place where they are confident about using some conceptual tools for constructing practical, evidence-based answers to the questions they find compelling. In other words, I want students to develop scholarly skills and, in the presence of knowledge, always to ask and answer the question: ‘So what?’” 

What has your time here been like, and how has it changed over the years?

“Through a lot of changes and tumultuous episodes, some essential qualities of the College remain unchanged. Among those I value are the general dedication of faculty to deliver a quality education to their students and the mission to expand the availability of higher education to those who, historically, have been underrepresented—first women, and now increasingly students of color and first-generation students. Both before and after the decision to become a coeducational institution, the opportunity to really know your students and watch their evolution is what I most value.”

You’ve also continued your research and traveled extensively. How do those experiences influence your teaching? 

My teaching is thoroughly influenced by both my research and my travels. Research effectively forces one to ask new questions and to expand the application of knowledge. In many cases I’ve collected original data that contributes to various fields of study. Travel is an invaluable education in itself, providing first-hand, experiential knowledge of the societies and people that I study. All of this supplies insights and illustrations that enhance the material covered in the classroom and the ensuing discussions.”

What have been some of your favorite classes to teach?

“There are many! Until the end, I still loved teaching introductory sociology courses, since consistently these offered a student’s first exposure to the discipline. Perhaps my favorite remains a course I inherited from my predecessor, Ken Morland, called Human Societies. It is a historical-comparative study of human societies, beginning with hunting and gathering up to the postmodern societies in which we live today. When I first arrived, I developed a more typical introductory course called Contemporary U.S. Society, now the department’s primary entry-level course. Yet even there, when I teach it, U.S. society is critiqued in both a historical and international context. A course I was privileged to offer on the Caribbean, one of my specialties, ranks up there. For many reasons, I would have to include my final class on modern Black activism already mentioned, even though I’ll likely teach it only once.”

What advice would you give to students?

“The same advice I’ve been giving them all along: be open to the world, embrace new experiences, and follow your curiosity critically and with passion. Education lays the world before you, but it carries with it a responsibility for choices about how to live in the world. Some final advice? Always vote.”

What’s next for you?

“Long term? I’ve got no idea, really, and I love that. What’s certain is that I’ll try to take my own advice above. In addition to developing some new passions, I expect to return to some previous ones I’ve missed.” 

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