Academics and research in the news

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Macomb County government has a new look in 2021

Prior to the November general election, three of the five Macomb County offices up for grabs were held by Democrat party members. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners was also a Democratic majority. But on Nov. 3, the positions of prosecutor and clerk/register of deeds shifted from Democrat to Republican, leaving the position of sheriff as the lone Democrat-held seat. Now, Peter Lucido is prosecutor and Anthony Forlini is clerk, while Larry Rocca, Candice Miller and Anthony Wickersham remain in their roles of treasurer, public works commissioner and sheriff, respectively. For the BOC, a couple commissioners indicated that it is the first time in the county’s history that the board has a Republican majority. So what does that mean for the people of Macomb County? Maybe not much, according to officials and experts. Wayne State University Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson said she looks at county government in her Michigan politics class. She has been a political science professor at the university since 1991. When it comes to county government, she said for the position of public works commissioner, she would want one with a civil engineering background, regardless of party identification. Sarbaugh-Thompson believes placing a political party next to one’s name on a voting ballot helps voters decide. “On a ballot as long as Michigan’s, how do you figure out who you want for different positions, when you’ve never heard of these people?” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “Many voters pick things based on party cues. It at least gives you a ballpark feel at the angle a particular candidate would come at an issue.”
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From 1963 to 2021, Detroit’s struggle for civil rights spans decades and generations

Melba Boyd is a lifelong Detroit resident and distinguished professor of African American Studies at Wayne State University. Boyd has seen Detroit through its many forms and leadership. She had just graduated high school and was preparing to go to school at Western Michigan University when the Detroit 1967 Rebellion broke out. “The ‘67 rebellion was a critical moment in Detroit history and certainly in my own memory as a Detroiter. The incident was sparked as a consequence of an encounter with the police and these encounters were very frequent, unfortunately, and were almost always directed at people of color,” Boyd said. Almost a year after the ‘67 Rebellion, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As a young academic, this event directed her course of study and her interest in activism. “I’ll always remember that, because two days before [King] was killed, I turned 18, and in terms of my adult life, it really set forth you know what I was going to be about and eventually activism and academia have been my purpose,” Boyd said. 
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Michigan grapples with COVID-19's disproportionate impact on people of color's mental health

COVID-19 has taken a toll on mental health in Michigan and across the world, but new Wayne State University research shows that burden has been heaviest for people of color. WSU researchers Peter Lichtenberg and Wassim Tarraf are examining how race, employment, and socioeconomic status intersect with pandemic-related stress, depression and anxiety. They've used U.S. census data to identify individuals to poll every two weeks about how their mental health has changed throughout the pandemic. "The findings that we have are pretty concerning," Tarraf says. "What we see through the data is a large percent of individuals who do report that they have mental health issues. What’s also concerning is these rates of mental health issues have remained stable over time. … People are not adapting and there are not enough tools for helping them reduce that level of stress. It is worth mentioning that rates are higher for people of color than those reported among whites." Lichtenberg and Tarraf also took stock of the social determinants of health that are affecting their subjects' mental health. "Food insecurity and job loss really stood out to us," Lichtenberg says. "65% of people with food insecurity had mental health issues. The numbers were similar for job loss in the household during the time of COVID-19."
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How can America heal from the Trump era? Lessons from Germany’s transformation into a prosperous democracy after Nazi rule

Sylvia Taschka, senior lecturer of history, wrote a piece for The Conversation about the post Trump era. “Comparisons between the United States under Trump and Germany during the Hitler era are once again being made following the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Even in the eyes of German history scholars like myself, who had earlier warned of the troubling nature of such analogies, Trump’s strategy to remain in power has undeniably proved that he has fascist traits. True to the fascist playbook, which includes hypernationalism, the glorification of violence and a fealty to anti-democratic leaders that is cultlike, Trump launched a conspiracy theory that the recent election was rigged and incited violence against democratically elected representatives of the American people. This is not to say that Trump has suddenly emerged as a new Hitler. The German dictator’s lust for power was inextricably linked to his racist ideology, which unleashed a global, genocidal war. For Trump, the need to satisfy his own ego seems to be the major motivation of his politics.”
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A brief history of the term ‘president-elect’ in the United States

Mark Satta, assistant professor of philosophy, wrote an article for The Conversation offering perspective on the term president-elect. “On Jan. 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States. Until then, he is president-elect of the United States. But what exactly does it mean to be president-elect of the United States? As a lawyer and philosopher who studies word meaning, I have researched the meaning and history of the term “president-elect” using publicly available resources like the Corpus of Historical American English – a searchable database of over 400 million words of historical American English text. I’ve also used Founders Online, which makes freely available many documents written by the nation’s founders. “President-elect” is not a term that is legally defined in U.S. law. Rather, the term’s meaning has developed over time through its use by the public. Its use can be traced all the way back to George Washington.”  
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Storming the U.S. Capitol may be new to Americans, but the violence is a familiar theme

Even living in a time of isolation, the shockwaves that spread across the nation Wednesday were seismic. After insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, the first breach of its kind in more than two centuries, an insistence also arrived that the events were like something from another country. Strain of Violence raises the question is violence as American as apple pie? Kidada Williams, a Wayne State University historian who studies violence, would say yes. “Some scholars have argued that slavery and settler colonialism are the down-payment of the Revolution; they’re the down payment on American success,” said Williams in an interview with the Inquirer Thursday. “If you’re able to achieve significant success using violence, why would you use any other tactics?” Williams, who is writing a book on Black families who were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan amid Reconstruction, said the insurrection reminded her of the Civil War: The rebels were upset over election results, white progressives responded as a matter of preserving the country. The level of surprise this week at the attack at the Capitol, she said, reflects a deep belief in American exceptionalism that sidesteps our history of violence to focus on victories. America, she explained, erases its body count. “The federal government is expert at destabilizing movements that it perceives as a threat,” said Williams, who pointed to the American Indian Movement and the Black Power Movement. “The White Power movement has only recently been seen as a threat.”
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How does your brain wake up from sleep?

Hilary A. Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, and Aneesh Hehr, Wayne State University medical student, wrote an article for The Conversation’s “Curious Kids” series. “When you’re asleep, you can seem completely dead to the world. But when you wake up, in an instant you can be up and at ‘em. How does the brain turn on awareness or consciousness? This question has puzzled scientists for centuries – and continues to do so. While scientists don’t have the full answer yet, they are finding clues by studying people’s brains as they shift between sleeping and waking.”
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Most of Michigan's 24,000 contaminated sites await cleanup that might never come

Michigan environmental law assigns responsibility for contamination not to the owners of the land, but to those who caused the pollution, however long ago, provided current property owners take some protective steps. Some 14,000 of the state's contaminated sites have no responsible party that can be identified — either it's unclear who caused it or those responsible no longer are around. That means the sites will fall to Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EGLE or the EPA — taxpayers — to deal with as needed. And that number isn't likely to get reduced much anytime soon. Of those 14,000 sites, EGLE this year funded remediation activities at about 450. "Something is broken" in how Michigan handles its contaminated lands, said Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University, a co-director of the university's Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research, or CLEAR. "There are more contaminated sites being left open than should be the case. The problem is dollars, and the problem is many, if not all, of these sites are legacy sites. Regulations against use of the sites, that doesn't solve the problem."
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How promising is the vaccine news if people won't take it? | Opinion

Kristin Taylor, associate professor in Wayne State’s Department of Political Science, co-authored an op-ed about the forthcoming vaccine and prospects for serious public participation. “The last few weeks have brought a key tool in the fight against coronavirus: Moderna recently announced that a vaccine in Phase 3 trials was nearly 95 percent effective, exceeding even the most optimistic projections. Pfizer and BioNTech have also made similar announcements. But excitement about a forthcoming vaccine has been tempered by the reality that more and more Americans report having serious reservations about getting vaccinated. Alongside further vaccine development, the incoming Biden administration will need a strategic communication and public outreach plan aimed at fighting what public health experts call vaccine hesitancy.”
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Joe Biden has promised to end Trump's Muslim and African 'travel ban'. But its legacy will be felt for years

For many Muslims, the real issue behind the travel restrictions is Islamophobia. Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at Wayne State University, warns against “only understanding Islamophobia through the Muslim ban” and remains skeptical about just how much Biden will do to root out systemic Islamophobia. “The Biden administration won’t engage in the same kind of Islamophobia as Trump does” but we may see a continuance of bombing countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as sweeping domestic surveillance programs that target Muslims.

COVID-19’s impact on education

The majority of American public school students are now well into a virtual school year and data from around the country is starting to show that middle and high school students are falling behind. This week Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, one of the biggest districts in the country, reported an 83% jump in middle and high schoolers earning F’s this year compared to last year. In the independent school district in Houston more than 40% of middle and high school students are failing at least two of their classes. And in St. Paul, Minn. the superintendent reports nearly 40% of public high school students have failing marks, double the normal number. Hannah Schacter, psychology professor at Wayne State University and an expert on adolescent development, joined a discussion about COVID-19’s impact on education. 
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Kids, teens could be feeling pandemic-related stress. Here's how parents can help

From the global pandemic to the divisive 2020 election, kids and teens are absorbing a lot of the same stress 2020 has brought adults; and what's worse, is that at a time when play dates or sleepovers are discouraged for public health reasons, kids might be needing that social outlet the most. Most organized youth sports are on hold right now, and many school districts in Michigan have moved fully remote due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. “During adolescence, this is a time when kids are really primed to want to explore their environment, to seek out new experiences. And being stuck at home with your parents isn’t really the best way to fulfill those developmental needs," said Hannah Schacter, an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State. In the onset of the pandemic -- kids, especially teens, missed out on some key social milestones like prom, sporting events, and graduation. “And now suddenly you have moments of hope, of maybe it’s getting better and maybe we’re heading back there and then suddenly that’s shifting," Schacter said. Until Dec. 8, high school students statewide are learning remotely due to the an epidemic health order aimed at the slowing the spread of the virus. It's a move Schacter said could pose a greater problem for students who rely on in-school academic or social support. “It requires a greater sort of pro-activeness to seek out those services which is not always entirely possible in a virtual environment."
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Meet Michigan's incoming Supreme Court justice: Elizabeth Welch

Wayne State University professor Robert Sedler, an expert in constitutional law, said while Elizabeth Welch's election to the Michigan Supreme Court means there are more justices nominated by Democrats than Republicans, partisanship doesn't always determine how justices vote. He noted rulings where GOP-nominated justices David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement have sided with their Democratic-nominated colleagues. A notable exception, Sedler said, was the October ruling in which the court decided that a 1945 law that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relied on for her emergency orders to combat COVID-19 was unconstitutional. The four GOP-nominated justices all ruled to void the law, sparking anger from Democrats. "It was not typical of the decisions coming from the court," Sedler said. "The court acted in a very partisan way." Sedler said while the court and the elections for justices are officially nonpartisan, he believes members keep their political support in mind. "You don't forget who brought you to the dance," he said.
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Wayne State University and Karmanos Cancer Institute to host two-day symposium focused on advancing health equity and the impact of COVID-19

Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute will host the “Community-Engaged Research Symposium to Advance Health Equity: The Impact of Coronavirus Now and in the Future,” on Dec. 1 and 2. The virtual symposium is free and open to the public; registration is required and can be completed online. “This is our third annual symposium, and we are honored to take on the challenge of adapting it to the pandemic,” said Rhonda Dailey, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and public health sciences, and scientific director of the Office of Community Engaged Research at Wayne State University. “The virtual platform is a convenient way for academicians, community organizations and community members involved in community-based research to present their hard-earned work related to COVID-19. We hope that attendees will use the symposium to form new, lasting connections and partnerships.” Community-academic research partnerships are more important than ever, according to Hayley Thompson, Ph.D., professor of oncology in the Wayne State School of Medicine and associate center director for community outreach and engagement at Karmanos Cancer Institute. “Just like cancer, heart disease and a host of other conditions, the burden of COVID-19 is greater in communities of color, in under-resourced areas and among groups who are marginalized in other ways,” said Thompson. “If we want to generate data and knowledge that can make a difference, meaningful collaboration between these groups and academic researchers is essential. This symposium is one step toward real collaboration.”
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3 reasons for information exhaustion – and what to do about it

Mark Satta, assistant professor of philosophy, penned an article for The Conversation about epistemic exhaustion.“An endless flow of information is coming at us constantly: It might be an article a friend shared on Facebook with a sensational headline or wrong information about the spread of the coronavirus. It could even be a call from a relative wanting to talk about a political issue. All this information may leave many of us feeling as though we have no energy to engage. As a philosopher who studies knowledge-sharing practices, I call this experience “epistemic exhaustion.” The term “epistemic” comes from the Greek word episteme, often translated as “knowledge.” So epistemic exhaustion is more of a knowledge-related exhaustion. It is not knowledge itself that tires out many of us. Rather, it is the process of trying to gain or share knowledge under challenging circumstances.”
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A new pilot program at Wayne State looks to shore up an often overlooked part of education - financial literacy

The Craig Fahle Show featured guests Matthew Roling, founding executive director of Wayne State’s Office of Business Innovation, and Julie Hollinshead, adjunct faculty member of the Finance Department at the Mike Ilitch School of Business. The two are responsible for the launch of a new pilot program, the WSU Financial Capability Center. It is designed to give students access to financial tools and qualified individuals who can support, guide and enable them to organize and stabilize their lives financially and get on the road to financial security. 
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CBD sales soaring, but evidence still slim that the cannabis derivative makes a difference for anxiety or pain

Hilary A. Murasak, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, wrote an article for The Conversation on the rise of CBD usage during the pandemic. “Many people have turned to cannabis and its derivatives as they search for pandemic relief, and one of the most widely available ones is CBD. It is also legal and readily available. You can buy oils, tinctures, capsules, gummies, cosmetics and even toilet paper said to contain the molecule. Martha Stewart has a line of CBD products, and some companies are marketing CBD products for holiday gifts. And, you can even buy CBD products for your pet. An investment bank has estimated that this market will be worth $16 billion by 2025, even though many of the products that allegedly contain CBD may not contain any CBD all. And, if they do, the amount often is far less than the amount stated on the product bottle or box.”

WSU digs Hamtramck again; signs pact with museum

Wayne State University students are wrapping up part two of their archaeological dig in Hamtramck. Two years ago, the students did the first phase of their project: digging into the history of the site of the old Village Hall on Jos. Campau, between Grayling and Alice streets. The second dig began in August, and wrapped up this week. Village Hall was built in 1914, and also housed the village fire department and police station. Working under the direction of WSU anthropology professor Krysta Ryzewski, the students have collected an assortment of items from the site of Village Hall, as well as about 17 other buildings that occupied the area over the years. The goal of the class, Ryzewski said, is to interpret the items to learn about the lives of the people, mainly immigrants, who lived and worked there for more than a century. “We’re looking to uncover the unwritten history that tells us about the rise of Hamtramck in the early 20th century,” Ryzewski said. This second dig was held because the previous one was so successful. In fact, aside from revealing information about the past, the experience led Wayne State University to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Hamtramck Historical Museum, to cooperate on future projects. The official signing saw Stephanie Hartwell, dean of the WSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Museum Executive Director Greg Kowalski each signing the document. This agreement provides that the museum will offer internships to students, invite WSU researchers to participate in a variety of projects in conjunction with the museum, host guest lecturers from WSU, participate in joint grant writing opportunities, and publicize the joint ventures. In return, WSU will recruit students to do internships at the museum, provide faculty consultation to assist with projects, help identify grant sources, invite museum staff to lecture at the university, and share digital media and library resources with the museum.  
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Opinion: What we can learn from COVID-19 supply chain issues

Hakan Yildiz and Tingting Yan, both associate professors of global supply chain management at the Mike Ilitch School of Business with Wayne State University, wrote an op-ed regarding COVID-19 supply chain issues. “Global supply chains have been hit hard by COVID-19. The automotive industry is among the primary industries that experienced major disruptions and Michigan felt the economic devastation with record unemployment rates. As supply chain academics, we have been conducting research to understand the impacts of the pandemic to supply chains, how companies have responded and what they should do. In partnership with the Automotive Industry Action Group and QAD, we have conducted a multi-industry, multi-country survey. We have also conducted interviews with professionals and participated in innovation-incubating hackathons.”
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Amy Coney Barrett sizes up 30-year-old precedent balancing religious freedom with rule of law

Mark Satta, assistant professor of philosophy, wrote a piece for The Conversation on religious freedom with the rule of law balance. “Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s first week as an active Supreme Court justice began on Nov. 2 and almost immediately included a case that could test her credentials as a religious conservative. On the surface, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which was argued in front of the court on Nov. 4, concerns whether the state can require organizations it partners with to accept same-sex couples as foster parents. But underneath are questions about how Barrett and her fellow justices will deal with a decades-old Supreme Court ruling that could have wider implications for religious liberty cases. The case in front of the justices concerns how Philadelphia partners with private organizations – both religious and secular – to find homes for children in foster care. In 2018, Philadelphia learned that two organizations, Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services, had religiously motivated policies against placing children with same-sex couples in violation of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance.”