Social Scientist

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Sociologist, mother and musician. Those are three labels that Angela Stroud appreciates.

“I’m a natural sociologist, obsessed with social dynamics,” said Angela Stroud. Her ability to analyze complex social dynamics and empathize with underprivileged groups and minorities has served her well. The benefits are two-fold: As a graduate student and professor at UT, she pushes her students to question their beliefs around issues of gender, race, sexuality and power. As a mother of three children (7- year-old twins, Madeline and Ryan, and 17-year-old Mackenzie), she consistently stays present and emphasizes the importance of boundaries.

While studying at Southwestern University in Georgetown, where she majored in sociology, Stroud fell in love with reading and writing about social science issues. Her upbringing in McAllen, Texas, with its conservative vibe and majority- Hispanic demographics, was a motivating factor for Stroud’s interest in sociology. Currently pursuing her Ph.D. at UT and teaching students three days per week, Stroud is writing her dissertation, tentatively titled, “locked and loaded: the social meanings of concealed handgun licensing.” she described her teaching style as “70 percent sociology and 30 percent stand-up comedy,” noting that students can sometimes be apathetic despite a teacher’s deeply felt enthusiasm.

She brings the same energy and unbridled joy to parenting with her partner of 11 years, Sarah Christofferson. They’ve grown up together, having met in college, and their ease in each other’s presence is evident. “We’ve experienced our share of heartache and stress, which has connected us in profound ways,” said Christofferson. “The secret is we really like each other.”

“Sarah is the most perfect person to spend a life with.” Stroud said.

Like any diligent sociologist, Stroud is trying to bridge societal gaps and differences in perspective that can pull people apart. “The world is changing very fast and people are scared,” said Stroud. “We’re in it together and it’s the economy that’s going to kill us.”

In a wide-ranging, candid conversation Stroud discussed her family’s dynamics, her life as a Ph.D. student at UT’s sociology department, and why she critiques the word “fag” in her classes.

“It should be noted that Angela and I are 30, and we definitely turn heads when we attend “senior parent” meetings at Mackenzie’s high school!” said Christofferson, with a laugh. Their family’s genesis came from heartache. Christofferson’s father, who had been helping to care for Ryan and Madeline, then 2 years old, and Mackenzie, then 13, died unexpectedly as the result of a heart attack in 2006. The family caretaker, he’d been raising Mackenzie and the twins along with Christofferson’s mother. The children’s biological mother, Christofferson’s sister, was struggling unsuccessfully with drug abuse and mental illness.

“In the aftermath of my dad’s death, my mom really didn’t have the strength or ability to fully meet the kids’ needs,” said Christofferson, who advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children as a team leader with CASA of Travis county. “We triaged as best we could as a family, but after a few months, it became clear that my sister wasn’t ever going to be in a place to raise them, and they needed a permanent home.”

1-13Christofferson and Angela knew they had to step in–the rest happened quickly. From the time they began seriously thinking about bringing the children into their home and their actually moving in was seven days. “It was scary and exhausting and kind of exciting,” Stroud said. in February 2007, the twins came first, and Mackenzie joined them a few months later. Relocating to a larger space became necessary; they moved from their 800-square-foot home in Allendale to a 3000-square-foot house in northwest Austin owned by Christofferson’s mother.

The children were quiet, shell-shocked and craving affection early on; the twins were plagued with frequent nightmares. Stroud’s goal was to give them as much love and support as possible. “Now they tell me to leave them alone,” Stroud said, adding that their teenage daughter is heading to college in the fall. “so, i think that means we’re doing the right thing.”

Stroud and Christofferson benefit from having grown up together–they know each other well enough that, according to Stroud, they argue well and refrain from staking out. “No one [is] able to talk to me the way she does,” Stroud confided.

Their commitment ceremony, held in may 2009 at Christofferson’s family’s house on Lake Buchanan, was a delightful expression of their quirkiness. About 75 friends and relatives were on hand to witness their public declaration of love and commitment and to feast on Mexican food and enjoy the gorgeous natural surroundings. Although Stroud didn’t initially take to the idea of a ceremony, in hindsight she understands its value. “If you really are going to commit to someone for the rest of your life, you should have people witness it,” Stroud said, adding that her mother was hesitant about attending the ceremony. “Since then, she’s been so awesome.”

College sweethearts, Stroud and Christofferson are celebrating 11 years together this month. They met as 19-year-olds playing basketball on the same team at Southwestern University. “We’re quite different, but we complement each other perfectly,” said Christofferson. “In many relationships, there can be love and attraction, but you can also drive each other crazy. We truly enjoy each other–we know each other well, work together well and love each other well.”

Although in many ways, they’ve sacrificed some aspects of their social life, carting their children around in a minivan and living up in the suburbs, they still manage to enjoy dinner outings at local favorites like Chuy’s or modified date nights– catching a bite and a movie at Alamo Drafthouse–timed to coincide with breaks in show for the Authors, the band where Stroud plays the drums.

Stroud had always wanted to play the drums (her dad bought a set for her in college), but it wasn’t something she did in earnest until she connected with Justin Prater, a guitarist and singer. Stroud had been friends with Prater for many years, but about five years ago he invited her over and told her to bring the drums and play. A few beats later, after he’d placed an ad looking for band members, the Authors was born in 2007; the group has since played such venues as La Zona Rosa and the Mohawk.

Beyond playing the drums and being a mom, Stroud is intensely passionate about her work in sociology, where she dives deeply into issues of gender, sexuality, race and class, teaching her students about how systems of oppression work and how sexism impacts the way that men and women relate to their bodies. She said it’s about teaching them that the world is much bigger and more complex than they might understand it to be, and that they have much more power to enact change than they might realize. Although Stroud takes her academic work seriously, her engaging, nerdy and slightly goofy personality is the opposite of militant. “Yes, I’m biased, I admit that,” she said. [“But we all are biased!”] “I’m white, but it doesn’t mean I can’t recognize racism; I’m privileged, but it doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to classism.”

One book that she assigns is called Dude, You’re a Fag. In class discussions, Stroud aims to demystify that word’s supposed power and also to analyze the ways in which it’s used by young straight men to categorize themselves and their peers. “Homophobic discourses in high school are used by straight boys to position themselves, who throw around the word ‘fag’ like a hot potato,” she said. “I use the book to ask my students, ‘What’s that about? Why are some straight guys hostile to gay men and to non-normative masculinity (read: sensitive) guys?”

Her work as a teacher nicely complements her home life, where she’s also negotiating competing egos and doing her best to raise her children in a happy, intellectually stimulating environment. Motherhood isn’t without its challenges. “I’ve been surprised by how many times all I can do is cry–not in front of them–it’s hard,” Stroud said. “I’ve learned a lot of humility. I feel very happy about where they are; they’re just full people.”

 

 

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