The Dynamo

USD Professor Erik Fritsvold

GETTING STUDENTS FIRED UP ABOUT THEIR FIELD IS WHAT PROFESSOR ERIK FRITSVOLD IS ALL ABOUT.

Erik Fritsvold is psyched, as usual. And judging by the way he stokes the classroom discussion from a spark to an ember to a blazing bonfire, apparently it’s contagious. Just 10 minutes into class, all two dozen of the students in Sociology 368 (Social Deviance), are listening intently, responsive, fired up. Fritsvold manages the neat trick of seeming simultaneously in constant motion and preternaturally still. The term “catlike” comes to mind.

“For our purposes right now, could someone define subjectivity?” At least half the hands in the room go up. “If you’re subjective, you’re not objective. What does that mean to you? Are we objective social scientists or are we MSNBC vs. Fox News, low-level political hacks?”

In response to his nod, sociology major Stesha Moore-Pavich ‘12 confidently responds: “I don’t think we’re objective in the sense that we can find empirical evidence to support our theory in any way. So it’s about how you want to see the theory itself sometimes, rather than how it really plays out.”

“Very well argued.” Both teacher and student look absolutely delighted.

It’s a good thing that the 33-year-old assistant professor of sociology has an abundance of energy, because his plate isn’t just full, it’s overflowing: He teaches courses related to his department’s crime, justice, law and society concentration, conducts research on and writes about affluent drug crime, the radical environmental movement and nontraditional street gangs, serves as faculty advisor of USD’s surf team, and juggles his schedule to make sure that his wife and young daughter always come first.

“In my life, it’s child, then family, then job, in that order,” he says. A quick smile flashes. “Then surfing.”

The only son of working-class parents, Fritsvold went to public schools until he came to USD in the mid-‘90s. Though he started off as an engineering major — “I always liked math and science,” he admits, almost sheepish, as if confessing his own deviant behavior — his first sociology course led him to change his major within six weeks. “Once I started studying social issues scientifically, it was empowering and exciting,” he recalls. “I didn’t think thoroughly about the career implications.”

Luckily, it’s all worked out pretty well for Fritsvold ’00 (BA), who completed his doctoral work at UC Irvine in 2006. He credits his former professor/mentor, A. Rafik Mohamed, as being instrumental in getting him on the USD faculty. While the pair was collaborating on the book they co-wrote, Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class, every time Fritsvold was on campus, Mohamed would urge him to bring a résumé.

“The morning that he told me there was an opening that would be perfect for me, I’d just come from surfing,” Fritsvold recalls. “I was in board shorts and flip-flops, and must have met with eight different faculty members.” Obviously, none of them held his attire against him, or his background in the local music scene.

“I played in a number of different bands,” he recalls. “I’d always audition for lead guitar, but as it turns out, every band already has a lead guitarist. What they all really need is a mediocre bass player.”

He is equally as self-deprecating about his teaching style: “All I did was pay attention when I was student teaching and learn from the people around me,” he says. “Frankly, I just stole their moves.”

Maybe. But according to Mark Imada ’12, there’s something about Fritsvold: “He respects us, and always gives us a thoughtful response. I mean, that’s what a university is all about, right? Helping students think for themselves?” — Julene Snyder

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