Anita Harker-Armstrong, 34, did not always know what she wanted to study when she got to college, but once she decided that sociology was her interest, there was no stopping her. As of fall quarter, Harker-Armstrong became Whatcom’s only full-time sociology instructor. She said she was excited to take the job in Whatcom’s Sociology Department.
“Sociology is the study of patterns in society on more of a macro level,” Harker-Armstrong said. This quarter, she is teaching two sections of Introduction to Sociology and one course called Marriage and Family.
Harker-Armstrong said she attended Utah State University and struggled at first with choosing a major.
“It was probably my third year of college and I knew I had to declare a major, and finally I went up to the bookstore at my university and I walked through the aisles and I thought, ‘I’m going to take classes from the section of the books that I want to read,’” she said.
Harker-Armstrong said her favorite thing about teaching is connecting with the students.
During one class session, Harker-Armstrong had the students participate in individual and group activities and a class discussion.
She lectured as well, and used a video clip to illustrate the theme of the day, “Groups and Networks.” The video showed three adult Boy Scout leaders toppling over a 200-million-year-old rock formation in Goblin Valley, Utah last October. “Today we will be discussing how our behavior may be modified when we’re in a group, rather than by ourselves,” she told the students.
“She is really sweet,” Taylor Green, a student in Harker-Armstrong’s class, said of her. “She will stay after class and help you, and her PowerPoints are straight forward.”
Harker-Armstrong said she grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and did a year of community college before moving to Utah. She graduated from Utah State University with a doctorate in sociology.
After graduating, Harker-Armstrong said she worked for Utah State University at their Center for Women and Gender, teaching as well as working on several research projects.
Harker-Armstrong is currently working on a research project studying Mormons in mixed-orientation marriages. In mixed-orientation marriages, “one partner is straight and the other identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or somewhere along the spectrum,” Harker-Armstrong said.
She added that she was lead to this topic because she was interested in the ways Mormons experience their faith, especially if they identify as LGBT.
“Recently there had been some public blogging about couples in mixed-orientation marriages coming out about their situation, and I thought it would be really interesting to look at the experience from both partners’ perspective, and think about what it would also be like for the straight partner in that relationship,” she said.
Harker-Armstrong works on a team of seven researchers from three institutions who are both sociologists and psychologists.
“We thought there would be some unique reasons why someone might go into that kind of a relationship knowing beforehand that their partner was not straight,” she said, adding that sometimes individuals find out later that they are in a mixed-orientation relationship.
“I think this is something that’s not talked about very often, but it would be really important to think about how to support people who are living this life, and what we’ve found so far is that a lot of these people feel very lonely,” Harker-Armstrong said. “They don’t have very many people to talk to about what’s happening with them.”
Harker-Armstrong said she loves Bellingham and how beautiful it is. “Bellingham had always been a place we thought we would like to live,” she said. “I keep thinking how lucky I am to be here, and to get to be doing what I wanted to be doing, too.”
In her free time, Harker-Armstrong said she enjoys going to hear live music, seeing movies, sewing, and cooking. She also said she minored in art and added, “Sometimes I just like to make things with my hands.”
In the future, she said she would like to be involved in starting a sociology club at Whatcom.
“I also have some ideas for new courses I would like to propose, but basically I’d like to see the program grow,” she said. “I’d love to widen the choices of courses we offer and bring more people in.”
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