Lecturer promotes social change

When meeting Mary Burke, lecturer in both the sociology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies departments, the first thing  one may notice is her laid-back personality.

Even her appearance— short, minimal haircut, jeans and black Converse—speaks to her relaxed demeanor. When it comes to her work, Burke is the opposite of laid-back. “I don’t really understand what spare time is,” Burke said. “I work a lot.” Burke’s work is diverse. She studies politics around same-sex marriage, sociology of medicine, transgender issues and social movements.

“She’s really enthusiastic, and she always knows exactly what she’s talking about,” junior Liz O’Neill said.  Currently, Burke said she is interested in the ways medical perspectives shape our understandings about identities and the validity of those identities. With all of the work Burke does in sociology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, she said she hopes to impact people’s way of thinking by encouraging them to think more critically around issues of gender and sexuality.

“We tend to be actually fairly rigid about our thinking, and I think we’re fairly rigid even when we think we’re not being rigid,” she said.


Burke wants people to realize how important social change is and how cultural contexts shape the way society thinks.


“Things change because people change,” Burke said. She has seen this change happen here at UVM through efforts to make the campus a safe and accepting environment for the LGBTQA community. Burke specifically mentioned the policy allowing students to choose their preferred pronoun.

Although Burke said she’s “impressed” with the University’s efforts, she also feels that there’s “a lot of room to do more work.” Burke said there is still work to do, especially with educating faculty and students about why these pronouns exist. Despite the amount of progress that still needs to be made surrounding the LGBTQA community, “students and faculty and staff seem genuinely to care about these topics,” Burke said. 

Whether she’s busy tackling her workload or encouraging her students to be brave, Burke said that UVM is an exciting place to be. “There is something kind invigorating about being in a space in which there’s a general acceptance around issues of gender and sexual diversity,” she said.

Burke’s students also find her classes to be invigorating,  junior Rachel Fireman said. “She’s super approachable, really nice and is clearly passionate about what she does,” Fireman said.

Burke said that bravery is the willingness “to voice ideas or perspectives even in the midst of opposition.” She said she finds bravery here at UVM through her students. “I think there are a lot of students on this campus who are really, in both small and large ways, putting themselves out there, trying to make their communities better places,” Burke said.