Faculty

Kolcio Shares Healing from Trauma Research at U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

Katja Kolcio

Chair and Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio, second from left, helped organize the “Heroes of Liberty: Enhancing Well-Being, Resilience, and Civic Engagement of Ukrainian Veterans” event held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Pictured in the center wearing a bow tie is George Kent, an American diplomat serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

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The “Heroes of Liberty” panelists, from left, were Katja Kolcio, Chaplain Svyatoslav Yurkiw, Marta Pyvovarenko, Oleksandr Tereshchenko, Yana Zinkevych, and a translator.

katja

The Embassy of Ukraine co-sponsored the event. Pictured third and fourth, from left, are Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Volodymyr Yelchenko, who delivered the opening remarks. (Photos by Vitali Kharechk)

Katja Kolcio, chair and associate professor of dance, recently joined other scholars and Ukrainian officials to speak on topics concerning veterans issues and the democratization of civil society in Ukraine during the current war on the border between Ukraine and Russia.

The event, titled “Heroes of Liberty: Enhancing Well-Being, Resilience, and Civic Engagement of Ukrainian Veterans,” took place at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on March 11. (The center closed on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

Kolcio, who also is an associate professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, presented her research on “Recurrent Inter-Generational Trauma in the Current State of War,” based on five years of work and research in Ukraine on the role of physical movement practice in response to trauma. Her research began working with families and communities and in civic settings. More recently, she has worked directly with the National Guard and active soldiers in the Armed Forces, as well as veterans.

McGuire Studies the Relationship Between Democracy and Public Health

James McGuire

Professor of Government James McGuire is a political scientist with expertise in the association between democracy and public health.

You study the relationship between democracy and population health. Does the literature find that democracy is good for population health?

As a political scientist I’ve long been interested in democracy, and especially in its possible impact on other aspects of well-being. Many other political scientists have studied democracy’s impact on economic growth and income inequality. My interest has been in democracy’s impact on the risk of early death, and particularly on child mortality in developing countries. For Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, whose capabilities approach I endorse, the end of human development is to enable each of us to lead a thoughtfully chosen life. To live the life one has reason to choose, however, one has to be alive.

For my forthcoming book Democracy and Population Health, I reviewed more than 200 quantitative studies of the association between the two phenomena. On balance, these studies find that democracy is usually, but not invariably, beneficial for population health. One can certainly dredge up examples of authoritarian countries that have done well. China, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba have reduced infant mortality quite steeply over the past 30 years, but for every such case there is a North Korea, Venezuela, or Zimbabwe—authoritarian countries where infant mortality has declined only at a glacial pace.

Fowler: Effective Communication Around Health Crises Has “Life-Saving Consequences”

Erika Franklin Fowler

Erika Franklin Fowler

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler is an expert on political communication. When she’s not analyzing campaign advertising with the Wesleyan Media Project, she investigates how media, including ads and news, influence opinions and attitudes in a variety of health-related policy areas. Her past studies, many of which are co-authored with Sarah Gollust ’01, have examined media around the Affordable Care Act, mammography screening and the HPV vaccine.

“I’m drawn to research on messaging at the intersection of health and politics because it has such important—sometimes life-saving—consequences for citizens, and there are practical actions we can all take to improve the information environment,” said Fowler.

As the current coronavirus pandemic unfolded, Fowler reached out to government leaders in Connecticut with advice on communicating effectively in order to best protect public health. Here was some of the advice she shared:

  • We know from prior situations that the time is now for government (and specifically health authorities) to get out in front with simple clear messaging. Uncertainty and a lack of clear communication to ordinary citizens breeds lots of opportunity for misinformation and risks confusion in behavior that is very dangerous to the state’s public health response.

Dubar: Psychological Well-Being and Sleep Health in Troubling Times

Royette Dubar

Royette Dubar

Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Dubar leads the Sleep & Psychosocial Adjustment Lab at Wesleyan. She’s a developmental psychologist who studies the links between sleep and a range of indices, including emotional well-being, academic performance, quality of interpersonal relationships, and technology use, in adolescents and emerging adults. She has just launched a new study on the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among adolescents and the challenges that come with it, especially for college seniors.

Your research focuses on sleep and psychosocial well-being among young people ages 15 to 29 years old. The pandemic and near-global shutdown has been extremely disruptive to everyday life, and many college students are struggling with needing to abruptly leave their campus homes and transition to distance learning. How do you anticipate this will affect them?

While at this point, I think many students have come to understand the motivations for suspending in-person classes, the move to distance learning has, undoubtedly, been generally upsetting and stressful for students. One of the factors that leads to stress is not being able to control what’s going on. At Wesleyan, as at numerous other colleges and universities, students did not have much time to process the switch to online learning and it was not a decision they could control.

We know that not all students are fortunate enough to be able to make arrangements to go home on such short notice. [Through a petition process, Wesleyan has made it possible for a small number of students, who are housing-insecure or unable to return home, to remain on campus.] Students may also feel especially overwhelmed if they have limited resources in a range of areas. These can be tangible resources, like money; interpersonal resources, such as having someone to talk to; or even psychological resources—having the psychological strength and coping strategies to deal with this change.

In addition, a residential college campus is a very intimate social environment, and we know that within a university setting, interpersonal relationships are extremely important for emotional adjustment. Furthermore, as students often use their relationships to navigate their sense of identity and belonging, not having that direct contact with roommates and friends can potentially be detrimental to their overall well-being. This is especially true for seniors, who expected this last semester to be a heightened time of social engagement with friends and peers, visiting places for the last time, etc. For them, particularly, knowing that they’re having to leave an environment they’re really comfortable in is heartbreaking. The loss of this interpersonal contact may impact students’ psychological well-being and sleep quality.

You have studied sleep and psychological well-being among young people in the context of a natural disaster. Are there any relevant lessons for the current situation?

The study we did looked at associations between the experience of a natural disaster and coping strategies, as well as possible links with sleep among high school-aged and college-aged students on my home island of Dominica. This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t make conclusions about directionality or causation. One variable we looked at was rumination—replaying thoughts of an event over and over in one’s mind. Typically, rumination is considered a construct that has negative implications for well-being, because this cycle may prevent an individual from adjusting to whatever negative situation they’re going through. Not surprisingly, in our study, we found that individuals who scored high on rumination also reported higher scores on PTSD symptoms from the storm, but interestingly, these individuals also scored high on measures of post-traumatic growth (the belief that one’s psychological well-being is improved as a result of going through a negative/traumatic experience). We know that individuals who are struggling to process a traumatic event often have contradicting or mixed emotions, and these can serve as a vehicle to promote personal growth. For example, in reading the news, you might feel really overwhelmed about everything that’s going on. But at the same time, that negative feeling might motivate you to reach out to a neighbor, or to do something for yourself that brings you calm.

How can faculty help to mitigate the negative psychological effects of this experience on students?

I believe that many faculty members, myself included, are using this first week of distance learning as an adjustment week, helping students to grieve and heal by talking about things going on in their lives. (This was recommended to me by a colleague, Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May, who is a clinical psychologist). We’re trying to let students know that they have the support of their professors, and that we’re all in this together. I know a lot of faculty are offering students extra flexibility, and are working to make the syllabus more manageable. Our students may have circumstances in their lives that we don’t know about, so we must create space so they can share with us if they’re comfortable. Just being empathetic with our students is really necessary at this point.

We’re all spending a lot more time on our technological devices these days, with education and every other aspect of our lives having moved online. What does the research say about the effects of technology use on sleep?

There is a good bit of research on technology use and sleep. It’s a field that’s evolving as rapidly as the technology we use, though sometimes the research lags behind a bit.  Many studies have focused on the amount of time individuals spend on technology. One theory is that there’s a sort of displacement going on, where the more time we dedicate to technology use, regardless of the type of technology, that’s time taken away from other activities, including sleep. We often don’t prioritize sleep in our lives, and this is especially true for people who are overwhelmed with other demands like school or work. There’s also research looking at bedtime procrastination—delaying the time it takes to initiate sleep (e.g., because we’re sitting in bed using our phones). And most of the content we encounter on our phones is not very soothing these days.

Another line of research looks at the content and context of technology use, particularly close to bedtime. You might see a different effect on sleep quality if you’re playing a highly arousing video game just before bed versus watching a relaxing TV show. Given that we live in a world where information is readily accessible at our fingertips, we need to be extremely diligent about pacing our exposure to news and media content that can be upsetting and depressing. Being exposed to updates about the coronavirus pandemic can motivate us to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. However, constant access to that type of information can stir up feelings of anger, frustration, confusion, and fear that might be debilitating to the point where we are not able to create that sense of calm that is required for a good night’s sleep. This can lead to a vicious cycle because when our sleep health is compromised, we tend to be more susceptible to negative emotions.

For people whose lives have been turned upside down, do you have general advice about maintaining good sleep health?

Try to keep a routine of consistent bedtimes and wake times in order to create a sense of normalcy when it comes to sleep hygiene. This is always valuable, but it’s especially important at a time when everything feels like it’s turned upside down. Also, try not to spend too much time on your phone engaging with upsetting news or information. Many smart phones have good time management features that can be helpful in limiting exposure to news and information that’s detrimental to mental health.

What are you researching currently? 

We launched a study earlier this year looking at associations among negative life experiences, spirituality, and sleep. The idea for the study came to me at church when my pastor talked about using prayer as a form of coping (particularly when we are going through certain experiences that keep us up at night). Our subjects include people who have had a negative experience (e.g., change in living and health conditions). We’re interested in how spirituality might be linked to sleep, perhaps through the use of religious practices as a form of coping. We’re also looking at age as a possible factor that may influence results because the significance of religion and spirituality may change as we age. Although this is not a question that we can assess with this study, I think it is interesting to think about the different coping strategies that individuals of different faiths are currently using to make sense of this pandemic.

Rushdy to Serve as Wesleyan’s Academic Secretary

Ashraf Rushdy

Professor Ashraf Rushdy will serve as Wesleyan’s academic secretary.  (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Ashraf Rushdy, Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language and professor of African American studies, has agreed to serve as academic secretary for a one-year appointment beginning July 1.

The academic secretary facilitates academic decision-making and supports faculty governance by providing advice and support to the Executive Committee of the Faculty, the Academic Council and its committees, and the standing committees of the faculty. He also provides parliamentary advice, helps to administer faculty elections, and generally informs all of the University community on matters related to the academic program and faculty responsibilities.

Rushdy will be replacing William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History, who is currently completing a three-year term as academic secretary.

Grant, Naegele to Lead Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics as New Deans

Beginning May 4, 2020, Roger Mathew Grant will succeed Nicole Stanton as Dean of the Arts and Humanities division, and beginning July 1, 2020, Janice Naegele will succeed Joe Knee as Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division.

The announcement was made by Rob Rosenthal, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Roger Mathew Grant

Roger Mathew Grant

Roger Mathew Grant, associate professor of music, received his undergraduate degree from Ithaca College and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. In his recent book, Peculiar Attunements: How Affect Theory Turned Musical (Fordham University Press, 2020), he considers contemporary affect theory in relation to European music theory of the 18th century. He is also the author of Beating Time & Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era (Oxford University Press, 2014), which combines music theory, music analysis, and philosophy to trace the history of meter from the 16th century to the 19th century, and for which he received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory.

Shusterman Offers Advice for Families on Transitioning to Homeschooling

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben.

Anna Shusterman, associate professor of psychology and co-coordinator of education studies, studies learning and conceptual development in children. In this Q&A, we asked her for advice for families on transitioning children to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Q: How should parents talk to kids about what’s happening in the world and why their daily lives look so different?

A: Full disclosure: I am not a clinician. However, as a parent and a research psychologist, I think it’s important for parents to validate their children’s emotions rather than dismissing them or telling them they are being silly. It’s also important that we’re not running around in a state of panic, as this can be too unsettling for kids. Children feel our stress and they need real social connection, so some time should be made for sitting together, talking, and reading books, when parents put their phones away, too. NPR’s Life Kit has good advice on talking to kids about scary current events.

No matter what else is happening, young children need human connection—board games, talking, working together on a project, cooking, anything together, the more child-led the better. Here’s a good commonsense report on the topic.

Q: What is your advice for parents on helping kids transition to distance learning?

A: Try to set up a gentle routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, chores, exercise, creativity, academics, regular meals, and sleep. By age 5 or 6, children can be a part of the conversation to create this schedule.

Grossman on Mitigating the Economic Fallout from the Coronavirus

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Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, is an expert in economic history as well as current policy issues in macroeconomics, banking, and finance. In this Q&A, we asked him about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and how the government is responding in efforts to mitigate the damage.

Q: We’ve all seen the headlines about a coronavirus-induced recession. What is the current state of the economy, and what do you predict we’ll see over the coming months?

A: Prior to the virus outbreak, the American economy was doing well by conventional standards. The unemployment rate was 3.5% in March, down from a peak of 10% around a decade ago. According to the government’s most recent estimate (released on Feb. 27), real gross domestic product grew by 2.3% in 2019. Not stellar, but high relative to other developed economies. It is going to get substantially worse quite soon.

Johnston: What History Can Teach Us About the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bill Johnston

Bill Johnston

William Johnston, the John E. Andrus Professor of History, is a historian who studies disease and medicine, with expertise in epidemics of infectious diseases. In this Q&A, Johnston discusses the novel coronavirus outbreak and what can be learned from the past.

Q: How and when did you start studying the history of disease and medicine?

A: About 30 years ago, I wrote my dissertation on the subject, which became my first book, The Modern Epidemic: A History of Tuberculosis in Japan. Around that time, people were starting to consider epidemics of infectious diseases a thing of the past that were no longer of concern to us, but then HIV took off. I’ve continued to study and teach on the history of disease and pandemics ever since.

Q: Please tell us about the course you teach.

A: It’s called Critical Approaches to the History of Disease and Epidemics. Ironically, almost every year I’ve taught it, the world has seen another major epidemic. I’m offering it again this semester, and our first day of class was January 23, just as the novel coronavirus was emerging as a serious threat in China. Seeing that this was coming down the pike, I adjusted the direction of the course to incorporate a combination of historical readings and articles from contemporary medical journals. For example, I gave students one reading on the plague and how it went pandemic in the Middle Ages—what it took for that to happen.

Redfield Receives NASA Grant to Study the Properties of Outer Space

Seth Redfield

Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield will use the Hubble Space Telescope to measure composition, density, temperature, motion, and the spectroscopic signatures of gas and dust.

If a spacecraft were to quickly travel outside the solar system—potentially en route to a nearby exoplanetary system—it would need to pass through an atmosphere unfamiliar to scientists on Earth.

As a recipient of a $415,000 grant from NASA, Seth Redfield, chair and associate professor of astronomy, hopes to learn more about the mysterious makeup of this “outer space.”

“There are several very early designs for an interstellar probe, but first, we need to understand the properties of the space in between the stars if you are traveling through it, especially at high speed,” Redfield said. “Given the vastness of space, even in our nearest cosmic neighborhood of the closest stars, very high speeds are needed. The designs for an interstellar probe involve speeds that range from 11,000 miles per hour to 6 million miles per hour! These require the biggest rockets that NASA has ever built and new propulsion ideas that are still in very early design phases.”

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

1. USA Today: “America Has a History of Lynching, but it’s Not a Federal Crime. The House Just Voted to Change That”

Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language Ashraf Rushdy is interviewed on the topic of legislation that would make lynching a federal crime. In the interview he called lynching “the original hate crime.” “Lynching is a blot on the history of America,” he said. “But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

2. The New York Times: “Starbucks Baristas Accuse Service Company of Abuse and Pay Gaps”

Associate Professor of Sociology Jonathan Cutler is interviewed about transgender issues in labor organizations as immigrant, transgender, and black baristas face discrimination at airport Starbucks. “Organized labor often lives or dies by its ability to tap into broader social movements,” he said. “In this case, you’re seeing the most public effort to organize around transgender issues.”

3. The Washington Post: “Does Money Even Matter? And Other Questions You May Have About Bloomberg’s Half-Billion-Dollar Failed Candidacy”

7 Faculty Conferred Tenure, 1 Promoted

Seven faculty were conferred tenure by the Board of Trustees at its most recent meeting. Their appointments will be effective on July 1. They are:

  • Ren Ellis Neyra, associate professor of English
  • James Greenwood, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences
  • Cameron Donnay Hill, associate professor of mathematics
  • Daniel Licata, associate professor of computer science
  • Rashida Shaw McMahon, associate professor of English
  • Laura Ann Twagira, associate professor of history

In addition, one faculty member was promoted:

  • Naho Maruta, associate professor of the practice in East Asian studies

Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching appear below.

Ren Ellis Neyra is a theorist and practitioner of poetics of the Americas, whose work complicates boundaries between critical and creative practices, as well as in modes of public engagement. Their book, The Cry of the Senses: Listening to Latinx and Caribbean Poetics (Duke University Press, forthcoming November 2020), is “a paradigmatic disturbance built around the cry in the Caribbean Americas. The cry’s waywardness with the binary of being/non-being moves in the book’s method of multi-sensorial, poetic listening, which attunes readers of Latinx and Caribbean poetics and aesthetics to how abnormal insurgencies go off.” They offer a wide range of courses, including The Senses and the Subject in Poetry and Cinema; Brown, Black, and Queer Forms and Feelings; and Law, ‘Savage,’ and Citizen in Contemporary Literary and Cinematic Imaginations.

James Greenwood is a planetary geochemist and cosmochemist whose primary research focuses on the origin of the Earth’s water.