Hendrix Magazine

Sociologist in Service

From the age of 4, Michigan native Lisa Leitz thought she wanted to be President.

She followed her interest in public service to the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership, Public Policy, and Public Service at Albion College. Though most students in the program focused heavily on politics, Leitz found her home in sociology.

"For me, it was a discipline that brought together economics, politics, and psychology," she explained.

In fall 1997, she participated in a peace studies program and lived in the Middle East.

"I came to see that people weren't buying into the Oslo Accords," she said. "I got a real sense of the importance of social change at the grass-roots level, and that really solidified, for me, that I'm a sociologist."

Leitz graduated from Albion in 1999 and started graduate school that fall at Ohio State University. In graduate school, she worked with at-risk girls who were physically fighting each other. She left school for a semester to serve as the assistant director of the Great Lakes Colleges Jerusalem Program, the same program she had participated in as an undergraduate student.

In Ohio, she met David Dufault, today an F/A-18 F Super Hornet pilot in the U.S. Navy, whom she married. She earned her master's in 2001 and in 2002 transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara for her Ph.D. In 2004, she moved to Florida with her husband – one of 10 moves in six years – and helped register voters.

She also worked for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign in Pensacola, where she met the late Elizabeth Edwards. At a campaign program, Leitz introduced Edwards and sat on a panel with her. Leitz inspired Edwards to develop a team of military mothers and spouses to travel the country for the Presidential campaign. While traveling to political swing states, Leitz and this team were covered in more than 250 media stories.

The experience was "reinvigorating," said Leitz.

Traveling with military spouses and families gave her a new research direction and dissertation topic – veterans and military families in opposition to the war.

"It's a really novel and important segment of the peace movement," she said.

Her experience with veterans and military families also reaffirmed her call to public service.

"It really solidified that I want to be an academic whose work changes our culture for the better," she said

Leitz joined the Hendrix faculty in 2009 after completing her Ph.D.

"I really wanted to get back to a liberal arts college," she said. "I just love actively facilitating students' interest and growth on various topics."

And she's done precisely that.

Last year, she helped with a student mission trip to Poland, where they toured former World War II concentration camps. The trip was funded by the Hendrix Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling.

This summer, Leitz and three Hendrix students undertook a research project, conducting qualitative interviews with 30 Arkansas military veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to assess their access to benefits. The project was funded by Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning. Her student research assistants included Benjamin Thomas '12, Alison Pope '12, and Alison Selking '11.

The research, she hopes, will help bridge the divide between civilians and the military. She also intends to use the project as an example in her course on research methods. Later this year, Leitz will present the findings, along with excerpts from her forthcoming book titled Fighting the War Inside Out, at the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces & Society. Leitz presents often – about four conferences a year – and is an elected councilmember of a section of the American Sociological Association devoted to the study of peace, war, and social conflict.

In addition to mentoring students' public service and research projects, Leitz contributes to interdisciplinary programs in American Studies, film studies, and gender studies. She would like to see the College eventually develop interdisciplinary programs in peace studies and Middle Eastern studies.

Leitz received a faculty leadership grant in 2009 from Project Pericles, a national organization devoted to increasing civic engagement at undergraduate institutions. The grant allowed her to develop a community engagement assignment in her course on gender and sexuality. Through the grant, students developed a new student organization, planned a rally at the state capital for reproductive rights, and sponsored a conference on sexual assault.

"Challenging students to take what they learn in the classroom and do something about or with it ... That's the potential I see sociology having," she said.