Office Hours: Carolyn Hsu

Matthew Knowles

On her page in the Colgate University Factory Directory, there is a lot to read about Associate Professor of Sociology and Chair of Sociology and Anthropology Carolyn Hsu and her sociological studies on Chinese Non-Govern-mental Organizations (NGOs). However, despite how influential these studies may be, these are not the works by which most Colgate students know Professor Hsu.

“I think what I am known at Colgate for, at least by the older students, is the research I have done about the school,” Profes-sor Hsu said. “We did a study of the Colgate student body and the different experiences that Colgate students have here.”

This report, known as the Col-gate Campus Climate Life Survey (CCLS), offers a wide scope of sociologically relevant statistics about Colgate students and their lives on campus, and its most recent version was published in 2009. However, the report has its origins all of the way back in 2003, and Professor Hsu was there from the beginning.

“I came to Colgate in 2001, and when I got here, I was put on the Africana, Latin American, Asian- American and Native American (ALANA) Affairs Committee which is supposed to do stuff for minor-ity students here at Colgate, but we had no information! We really had no data,” Professor Hsu said. “So I thought: lots of people here on campus study race, and in 2003 I partnered with Landon Reid in the Psychology Department to create a climate survey, of how people are experiencing the place.”

In 2003, they looked at ev-erything from race and gender to socioeconomic class and Greek affiliation to see which categories contributed the most to satisfac-tion with the Colgate experience. Later, in 2009, they administered the survey again, but this time with a section asking about social life.

Ultimately though, the Colgate Campus Climate Survey is only a note in Professor Hsu’s career. Her true passions reside in studying Chinese culture and social relations, inspired from her visit there after her senior year in high school.

“I did not expect it, but I loved it there! One of the things that real-ly hit me when I was there was that I could have grown up there, right? These kids are so different from me, but I could have been like them. Then you start thinking, who am I?” Hsu said.

It is that fascination that inspired her to take a great number of classes pertaining to Chinese culture and society in her undergraduate years. Before she knew it, she had all of the necessary requirements for a double major in East Asian Studies (her first major was English Literature). Now, Professor Hsu specializes in the study of Chinese NGOs and their interactions with the government.

“The question everyone asks me about NGOs is: ‘is this the begin-ning of civil society? The fact that China is starting an NGO sector, is this society pushing back against the state?'” Professor Hsu said. “I think this is a very western way of looking at it and that we are asking the wrong question. I think it is too simplistic of a formulation.”

In fact, according to Professor Hsu, these NGOs seem to be actively trying to help the government better serve the people by cutting around the bureaucratic slog that is the Chi-nese state. The people who work for these NGOs are very clever and stra-tegic at making the state do what is important to solve social problems in China. If this continues, China will change, but may not head down the same path as the U.S.

“Is this going to lead to a China where people have more power? Yeah, I think so. Is that going to look like lib-eralization? I don’t know. This is why I do this, because I want to see if they come up with something different.”

Considering how rapidly Chi-na is developing, Professor Hsu will have no shortage of work in her future.

Contact Matthew Knowles at [email protected]