College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Sociology Professor Chosen as Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year

Haenfler, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, has been named the university’s 2008-09 Outstanding Teacher in the College of Liberal Arts. Criteria for the award include excellence in class instruction, intellectual stimulation of students and concern for students’ welfare.

Nomination letters from students made up part of the selection process for the award.

“[Professor Haenfler] truly cares about his students and wants to engage them in the class,” one student stated. “I love going to class and I am disappointed when I have to miss, because I know that there will be a lot of interesting things discussed. He really brings enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge to the department.”

“I had no idea my students had nominated me,” Haenfler said. “I’m truly honored by them. I’m very lucky to get to do what I do. I don’t think there’s another award I’d rather win.”

Apparently, Haenfler’s reputation for edge-of-your-seat education is widespread.

“Dr. Haenfler’s student evaluations are among the highest I have ever seen,” said Glenn Hopkins, liberal arts dean. “Students wrote that they looked forward to his classes and did not want to miss a single one. That’s high praise, indeed.”

Haenfler earned his doctoral degree from the University of Colorado in 2003, after completing undergraduate work at the University of South Dakota in 1996. He has authored several books and was featured on a 2008 National Geographic special “Inside Straight Edge,” about a hardcore punk subculture whose members refrain from drinking, smoking or doing drugs.

Beyond holding his students to a high standard, Haenfler makes sociology come alive by challenging them to apply what they learn, said Kirsten Dellinger, sociology and anthropology chair.     “One of the main challenges in teaching sociology is that it uncovers major systems of inequality – race, class, gender, etc. – of which we are a part. Understanding how these systems of inequality work to disadvantage some groups and privilege others can leave people feeling hopeless and helpless about the possibility of social change.

“Ross has made it a priority in his classes to link discussions of social inequality to concrete ways that individuals and groups can make a difference in overcoming these systems. Students leave his class feeling empowered, not despondent.”

Haenfler said he strives to bring creativity into his teaching methods, as well as creating a sense of community among his students, which is especially necessary when class discussions turn toward talking openly about some of society’s thornier issues.

“My classes tend to push students pretty far out of their comfort zones,” Haenfler said. “I like to create a respectful place where we can tackle tough issues. If we’re talking about racism or sexism, things can get kind of heated, so it helps if we’re all on the same page in terms of respecting each other.”

The creativity and sense of community pays off, another student wrote.

“Dr. Haenfler always integrates interesting ways of teaching into each class experience. Class is never the same,” the student wrote. “I have never been in a class where everyone felt comfortable enough to openly talk the way students do in Dr. Haenfler’s classes.”

Haenfler also keeps in mind that underneath the student, there’s a whole human being.

“I’m always reminding myself that there’s more to students’ lives than just sitting in my classes,” Haenfler said. “My students feel pretty challenged in my classes. I hope they feel like I really care about their learning and them as people.”

For more information about the College of Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, visit