Faculty Friday: Laura Raynolds

In a special weekly series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring a faculty member from one of our 13 departments. We asked questions about why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.  

Laura Raynolds

Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Fair & Alternative Trade

1.  Why do you teach sociology? What inspires your fieldwork (or research and engagement)?

Curiosity! What I like most about sociology is that it’s relevant to the many issues we face every day. It’s very personally engaging. Whether watching the news or conversing with friends, sociology can help us understand HOW to think about issues people are dealing with – how to get a handle on them, what the challenges are, how we might be able to affect change. Even if we don’t know much about the topic itself, sociology offers us a way to think through the issue, gather further information, and advance both our thinking and our engagement forward.

I have done fieldwork in numerous countries, sometimes in communities where people deal with terrible poverty and very difficult life circumstances. But it is amazing how even under the worst conditions, people strive to solve problems and overcome obstacles for their families and communities.

2.  Which class is your favorite to teach and why?

I enjoy all the classes I teach. My SOC 330 Social Stratifications undergraduate class is fascinating now as current events draw students into the material. I don’t have to convince students that social class, gender and race/ethnicity inequalities are issues today. When I first taught this class (in 1994) most CSU students did not think the US faced problems of inequality.

My graduate classes are also really fun, since I get to help launch students into their careers. There are so many possibilities in the field of sociology, and the students have such varied interests and projects.

3.  What did you want to be when you were little?

I lived all over the world as a child. I was always interested in understanding the world around me and since I lived in such different places—in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, and the US—there was lots to figure out. I did not have a set career idea, but I wanted to do something that helped me figure out how the world worked, how to sort through all the complicated things we see going on around us.

4.  How did you get to CSU?

I got my undergraduate degree in sociology because I was intrigued by the many paths and possibilities the field offers. After working in Washington, D.C. and learning more about international policy, I pursued my graduate degree with a plan to pursue development practice. I was surprised to find myself drawn to academia and went on to earn my Ph.D. I took a job in the Department of Sociology at CSU in 1994 because the program had a strong tradition in pursuing research in international as well as US arenas. I have taught here since. In 2005 I co-founded CSU’s Center for Fair and Alternative Trade and have been a Co-Director since. My engaged scholarship focuses on globalization, international development, food and agriculture, gendered labor forces, and fair and alternative trade.

5.  What are some things students would be surprised to learn about you?

I speak four languages. I learned Spanish and French as a child and Haitian Creole for my MA thesis. I have been told I speak these languages “like a peasant.” This works well for me in my research, but it does raise eyebrows if I need to give an academic presentation!

Ben Withers and Laura Raynolds pose with a plaque for the John N. Stern Award.
Dean Withers presents Professor Raynolds with the John N. Stern Distinguished Professor Award at the College of Liberal Arts awards on April 24, 2018.

Distinguished Professor

Laura was recently awarded the 2017–2018 John N. Stern Distinguished Professor Award in the College of Liberal Arts. The award recognizes a career of outstanding achievement in research/creativity, teaching and service that has brought recognition to the Department, College, and University.

“Professor Laura Raynolds is the world’s foremost scholar on Fair Trade and one of the most prominent scholars of alternative agro-food networks more broadly. She is sought after as an advisor and mentor because of her reputation in the field, her passion for the subject, and her dedication to her students,” notes College of Liberal Arts Dean Benjamin Withers.