People Like Us: Social Class in America is a PBS film exploring the question of how income, family background, education, attitudes, aspirations, and appearance impact perceptions of one’s social class. This session included excerpts from the film and offer perspectives on issues of class from Washington University scholars.


Holden Thorp, Provost

In his role as provost, Holden Thorp oversees the academic pursuits of all of the university’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. In addition, he holds an endowed chair in chemistry and medicine.

Before coming to Washington University, Thorp was chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also has founded multiple companies, and his most recent book is titled Engines of Innovation, which focuses on entrepreneurship.

He is a member of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, and he chaired a committee for the National Academy of Sciences charged with promoting safety in academic laboratories.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UNC and a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology.


Mark Rank, Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare

Mark R. Rank is recognized as one of the foremost experts and speakers in the country on issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice. His areas of research and have focused on poverty, social welfare, economic inequality, and social policy. His first book, Living on the Edge: The Realities of Welfare in America, explored the conditions of surviving on public assistance and achieved widespread critical acclaim. His book, One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All, demonstrated for the first time that a majority of Americans will experience poverty and use a social safety net program at some point during their lives. His latest book is Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes.

Rank’s research has been reported in a wide range of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio. Rank, who earned his doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, has provided his expertise to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as to national and state organizations involved in issues of economic and social justice.


Alexander Rivas, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology

Alexander Rivas is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology studying archaeology. He is co-president of the Latino Graduate Student Alliance (LGSA), a student group that addresses the social, educational, and professional needs of Latina/o graduate students and those interested in Latina/o and Latin American issues at Washington University. In this role, Rivas is working to increase awareness and understanding of social, economic, cultural, and political issues affecting the Latino community at large.

Jake Rosenfeld, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

Jake Rosenfeld joined the new Department of Sociology from his previous position as associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington (Seattle). He received his PhD in sociology from Princeton University in 2007. Rosenfeld’s research and teaching focus on the political and economic determinants of inequality in the United States and other advanced democracies.

His publications appear in a wide variety of scholarly journals, including the American Sociological Review and the American Journal of Sociology. The article co-authored with Meredith Kleykamp, “Organized Labor and Racial Wage Inequality in the United States,” won the 2013 award for distinguished scholarly article given by the Labor and Labor Movements section of the American Sociological Association. His recent book, What Unions No Longer Do (Harvard University Press, 2014) details the consequences of labor’s decline: curtailed advocacy for better working conditions, weakened support for immigrants’ economic assimilation, and ineffectiveness in addressing wage stagnation among African Americans.

Vetta L. Sanders Thompson, Professor, Brown School

Vetta L. Sanders Thompson is a leading researcher in the areas of racial identity, psychosocial implications of race and ethnicity in health communications, access to health services, and determinates of health and mental health disparities.  She has built a unique record of research that combines a sophisticated social science understanding of racial identity, rigorous measurement, and community-based participatory research. She joined the Brown School in 2008 and currently serves as a member of the Faculty Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University.

A licensed clinical psychologist, Sanders Thompson is active in numerous professional associations, including the American Psychological Association, Missouri Psychological Association, and the Midwest Sociological Society. She is also an associate editor for the journal Contemporary Psychology. She earned her doctorate from Duke University.