Rebecca King-O'riain (1991)

Professor of Sociology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

I came to the Berkeley Sociology Department in 1991 from Chicago via Kumamoto, Japan where I had been teaching English as a second language to pursue a dissertation ostensibly about Japanese education and to work with Robert Cole. Bob Cole was lovely but it was clear to me after the first term, that I wasn't that interested in Japanese education and was much more turned on by ideas of racialization brought on by teaching in the Asian American Studies Department. I also enjoyed our methods course taught by Michael Burawoy. Our cohort was infamous both for its size and strong will. We even managed to drive Michael out of one of our seminar sessions in a fight over politics and method. I remember thinking - what do we do now? In the end, I was elected to retrieve him and ask him to return to conclude the class. Converted by Michael, we became the same cohort that led the campaign to retain Michael when he was being wooed by another sociology department complete with a top 10 list of reasons to stay at Berkeley and "no dialectics" t-shirts.

After being in Berkeley for a year, I changed my topic to study racialization and Japanese American beauty pageants. Studying race in the early 1990s in the department wasn't easy and Troy Duster kindly agreed to supervise me. I was involved the next year in Loic-gate in an attempt to lure someone to Berkeley to teach race and by the end of that experience sought refuge in the Asian American Studies Department with Evelyn Nakano Glenn and Michael Omi. In the end, Barrie Thorne and Troy came to my rescue and got me through the dissertation, but it would never have happened without Evelyn and Michael and my dissertation group of J Shiao, Pam Perry, Kamau Birago and Robert Bulman who all were studying race as well. I don't think at the time I realized what a support and resource my cohort and fellow students really were and I still (12 years later in 2010) often go to them and other UCB grads to bounce ideas off of, chat about books, or just gain intellectual stimulation of a type that you can only get from a Berkeley grad.

My memories of Berkeley come up almost daily as I, like many others, met my spouse in the department and hence took a bit of the Berkeley experience with me when I left. I married Sean O'Riain while we were both in graduate school at Berkeley and we started out living in San Francisco and then Albany and had two kids there. We then did the unthinkable, LEAVING two tenure track jobs in the Bay Area and moved to Ireland (Sean's home place) where we have lived since 2003. Sean is the Professor of Sociology and I am a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department here at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. While leaving the Bay Area was difficult, we have thrived in Ireland (had a third child - thus becoming a rate busting academic couple), and the move forced me to upskill myself as a sociologist and change my research agenda to become a more global sociologist, a skill that ultimately I learned at Berkeley.

At Berkeley, I regret not slowing down more (I was in some strange hurry to get done!) and taking the time to enjoy the long chats about Marx over coffee and the intellectual challenge of it all because now as a professor, there is weirdly little to no time to do that.

Dissertation Title: 
The Changing Face of Japanese America: The Making and Remaking of Race in the Japanese American Community
01-7083941
Dissertation Book Title: 
Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants