A UNL class project on breaking sociological norms may become a finals week tradition.
Lory Dance, associate professor of sociology and ethnic studies, challenged students in Introduction to Sociology to come up with a final project that would bring an aspect of sociology to life.
“I said, ‘keep it positive, don’t do anything crazy or something that will get you or me in trouble,’” Dance said.
Benny Chavez, a sophomore, thought that breaking into a song or dance in the Nebraska Union would definitely breach social norms. After encouragement from Dance, Chavez and three other students organized a flash mob designed to reduce stress in the week before finals.
“Society says we should act a certain way so as not to be seen as weird or awkward,” Chavez said. “Breaking into a song or a dance would definitely surprise me and I’d think it was a little weird, but then I’d probably join in, because that’s my personality.”
The experiment was showcased on YouTube, and demonstrates that UNL students became active participants in collective action.
“The students wanted to see if the students in the Union would join in the collective action, this flash mob,” Dance said. “Collective action can be planned, but a flash mob tends to be a bit more spontaneous. They went into a space and did something to break what typically happens in that space.”
Before the students moved forward with the flash mob, Dance sought permission from Charlie Francis, director of the Nebraska Unions.
“I was expecting him to hesitate, but Francis said he wanted the Union to be a place where things like that happen, things that are interesting and fun, so he was on board,” Dance said.
For a few minutes on Dec. 10, the strains of “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and “Happy” by Pharell filled the Nebraska Union. Dance and a few students choreographed the first minute of “Uptown Funk” with the hope that students would join in quickly, which they did.
“I thought it was successful, but maybe not as successful as I hoped it would be,” Chavez said. “But we all had fun.”
Now, the flash mob planners hope to make the event a regular UNL finals week event.
“We are thinking about doing it in the spring, but expanding it by doing it in the union and also the Gaughn (Multicultural) Center,” he said. “It wouldn’t be for class. We’d just be organizing it for fun.”
One idea is to expand the activity with a third song, allowing more time for students to get involved. Dance said the extra song would turn the collective action into another sociology building block, a social movement, and could educate additional students about sociology.
“That’s the fun thing about sociology,” Dance said. “You can do things to make it relevant and interesting so that now, students will probably remember collective action and years from now, they’ll say, ‘Remember when we did that flash mob?’”