Since the Fall 1991 semester, I have been prodding Penn State students in SOC 119 to go beyond whatever it is that they have come to believe is expected of them and live the life that they alone have been called to live. Now that I am reaching beyond Penn State with my videos and podcasts, my goal is the same — I just want people to question everything about what they do and how they think and feel and let go of some of the expectations of other people. I don’t want people to think in any particular way but I do want them to think new thoughts each time they leave one of my classes or watch one of my videos, as long as they’re not parroting my thoughts because I don’t have answers.
I only know what I have learned from my own direct experience and what I have learned is that it is possible to have a rather profound awakening. I experienced such a thing when I was 20-years-old and on the verge of dropping out of college. In a single moment and with a sudden burst of inspiration to learn about the world, what I would call my “intellectual journey” began. I quit my job and I stopped playing music (I was a drummer in a rock band) and I started taking an extremely active role in my studies. In fact, it was the first time in my life that I thought seriously about their world and made an attempt to systematize my thinking. Now, years later, I’ve been called "a human alarm clock for 18-year-olds" because, I suppose, I’ve figured out how to help students to more deliberately re-draw the map that is directing their lives and live the life that they have been waiting to live.
I’m actually most inspired by my ability to surprise (and sometimes irritate) people of different political perspectives in equal measures. This is what I always envisioned I would be doing if I developed a mature understanding of the world. It’s a bit of a lonely place, I must admit, but each day I find myself getting more comfortable in this skin.
Dr. Samuel Richards is an award-winning teaching professor and sociologist at Penn State University who instructs the largest race and cultural relations course in the United States. With nearly 800 students each semester and a 28-year legacy, SOC 119 was the subject of an Emmy Award winning television broadcast called, “You Can’t Say That.” This course is currently live-streamed to the world and his 36,000 subscribers every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon (EST) at the class YouTube channel. During the Spring 2019 semester, someone in 177 different countries watched the class for at least an hour. Sam’s “Stream Team” has produced numerous viral videos, including one that has generated over 13 million views. Sam’s willingness to take risks and push new ideas is what led him to be named one of the “101 Most Dangerous Professors in America.” He obtained his Ph.D. from Rutgers University with a focus on socioeconomic development of Africa and Latin America. His current work focuses on developing ways to think about and discuss complex and controversial topics in a fresh way for the purpose of bridging cultural divides. Arguing that empathy is the core of Sociology, his "Radical Experiment in Empathy" is one of the most widely viewed TEDx talks online, having reached over 3.5 million people. As the Co-Founder and Director of Development at the World in Conversation Center, Sam co-directed an innovative research project sponsored by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme to develop a virtual, facilitated cross-cultural dialogue tool for NATO military personnel and civilians in conflict zones. His work has been reported on in The New York Times, MSNBC, The Christian Science Monitor, and PBS, as well as numerous other national and international media outlets. Sam and his collaborator and wife, Dr. Laurie Mulvey (Laurie) have been called the “parents of radical empathy.”
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Dr. Sam Richards
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