Academics and research in the news

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Michigan’s effort to end gerrymandering revives a practice rooted in ancient Athens

John Rothchild, professor of law, wrote an article for The Conversation. “Michigan has embarked on an experiment in democratic governance using a technique employed in Athens 2,500 years ago but little used since: the selection of government officials by lottery rather than by appointment or election. The 13 officials selected by lot in August make up Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. By November 2021, the group will draw election districts used to elect officials to the Michigan Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. The redistricting process occurs every 10 years, after the Census Bureau determines how many representatives are allocated to each state. Historically, state legislatures have been responsible for redistricting. But throughout U.S. history gerrymandering – drawing election districts to favor the political party that controls the state legislature – has characterized the redistricting process…Michigan’s commission, created by a 2018 ballot initiative, is unique. As a professor who teaches constitutional law and, occasionally, ancient Athenian law, I am fascinated by the fact that Michigan’s seemingly novel experiment in governance is based on a process that is thousands of years old.”
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On International Safe Abortion Day, Detroit law professor weighs in on latest SCOTUS nomination

On International Safe Abortion Day, Sept. 28, organizations that advocate for women to have the right to choose are speculating how the Supreme Court nomination of devout Catholic Judge Amy Coney Barrett will impact their mission. One law professor believes the confirmation hearing might not provide many answers. "Planned Parenthood is always under attack in certain states by the opponents of reproductive freedom," said Robert Sedler, distinguished professor of law at Wayne State University. "I suspect Judge Barrett will try to skirt the question as much as she can." He believes concerns regarding Roe vs. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision that protects a pregnant woman's freedom to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restrictions, are unfounded. "I think it's simply hype. My view as a constitutional law professor is that I expect the Supreme Court to follow doctrine and precedent. In terms of the Supreme Court overruling Roe V. Wade, as I say, that would be extremely unlikely," he said. 
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Spotlight on Hispanic Heritage Month on Inside MI's African American Vote series

Spotlight on the News: Inside Michigan's African American Vote series celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and examined the impact and influence of the largest minority group in America. How are leaders of Michigan's Hispanic and Latino/a community using their power and voice to increase the cultural diversity of the U.S.? Among the guests was Jorge Chinea, History professor  and Director, Center for Latino/a & Latin American Studies.
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Mental health expert: Limit news intake, check in on friends

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University, was a guest on Detroit Today hosted by Stephen Henderson. Javanbakht says there are multiple factors that contribute to stress, all of which are present in the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the rapid transition and change in lifestyle has made the already traumatic situation more stressful for many and adds that all the unknowns around the virus can also create stress. “There’s also a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty always makes any difficult situation even more difficult.” Javanbakht says limiting negative news intake and checking in on friends can really help mental health. He says that friends can learn coping skills together, easing stress. “If I am happy, if I am doing well, share it with others. Call a friend and be encouraging, even lend some money if someone needs it. If I don’t have happiness, I can’t share it with others.”
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Experts say Trump downplaying risks of the coronavirus was not justified

President Trump has defended the way he downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus. He says he was showing leadership during a time of crisis, but that's the opposite of what crisis management experts recommend. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe spoke with Wayne State University Professor Matthew Seeger. After 9/11, he helped the Centers for Disease Control develop plans for talking to the public about emergencies. “Whenever I hear, you know, the rationale of panic as an explanation for why people are withholding information, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Seeger says past crises have shown that people rarely panic in these situations, and that's why experts recommend transparency. “When there is an announcement of a hurricane warning in South Florida, people don't panic. I mean, they don't abandon everything and jump in their cars and drive north.”
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Tense political culture reveals Black literature’s role in white America

In this installment, Wayne State University assistant professor of African American Studies Valerie Sweeney Prince, author of “Burnin’ Down the House: Home in African American Literature,” discusses the role of African American literature from Ralph Ellison’s time to the present, and questions whether Black literature exists in a pure form considering the white lens of the publishing industry. On the recent killings in Kenosha, Wis., Prince says the white lens impacts so many aspects of Black life, not just in literature. “When someone is tweeting ‘law and order,’ that is very clearly a frame of reference that allows a 17-year-old white kid with an assault weapon to not be seen as a murderer,” she says. When it comes to Black literature, Prince says the question is about who ultimately gets to determine what audiences read and internalize about Black life in America. “Blackness exists because it’s a culture. We have music, we have food, we have dance, we have all these things, a way of speaking, a way of just being and seeing and living in the world. But what does not exist are the mechanisms by which these things get codified and communicated outside our culture.”
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The 19th Amendment was ratified 100 years ago — these 10 women changed politics since

The women who made up the suffrage movement a century ago were dismissed, degraded, even jailed. Yet they persisted. But even after women secured the right to vote (for most women – many women of color, especially Black women, notably remained disenfranchised even after ratification of the 19th Amendment), the fight to be elected to office was long and fraught. After helping secure the right for women to vote in her home state of Montana in 1914, social worker, pacifist and suffragette Jeannette Rankin set a new goal. Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in 1916, four years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment and as the U.S. was debating whether to enter World War I. "She was an ardent suffragist,” said Liette Gidlow, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. “And it's not necessarily remembered this way these days, but Americans' feelings about being involved in the first World War were very mixed."
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As teachers brace for student learning losses, many worry about the impact on Michigan’s most vulnerable students

As schools across Michigan begin an unpredictable new year, teachers are facing what may seem like an insurmountable task: Helping students, particularly the most vulnerable, who’ve experienced learning loss because of the pandemic. There is little doubt that the disruption caused by COVID-19, marked by an unheard-of shift from physical to remote learning, will leave many students struggling academically. That concern runs especially deep in cities like Detroit, home to long-existing inequities and students whose communities have borne the brunt of the virus’s damage. Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, an assistant professor at Wayne State University, says schools offering choices between in-person and remote instruction should have considered the needs of students who may have suffered the greatest losses. Most district leaders left it up to parents to decide between the two. “Parents choose what’s best for them,” Lenhoff said. “But that really leaves it up to chance whether the students who would benefit the most from face to face are the ones who are going to sign up for it.” Lenhoff said it’s “scary, frankly,” to think about the long-term consequences for students from low-income families and students of color who attend economically segregated schools who will “are likely bearing the brunt of the learning loss.” 
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The psychology behind why some college students break COVID-19 rules

Going off to college is, for many young adults, their first real plunge into freedom and adulthood. It’s where they’re encouraged to take risks and find new connections in dining halls and laundry rooms. But those collegiate rites of passage aren’t possible if they’re largely confined to an extra-long twin bed in a stuffy dorm room, peering out at the world through barred windows. The fall 2020 semester looks a lot like that for some undergraduates who’ve returned to campus during the pandemic. And as anticipated, some of those undergrads have already started to rebel. CNN spoke with experts about the drivers behind these risky decisions, including Hannah Schacter, assistant professor and developmental psychologist at Wayne State University. Teens are also particularly sensitive to the potential rewards of risky decisions at this stage in their life. It’s not that they don’t understand the negative consequences, but they struggle to regulate those impulses that lead them to take risks because the potential reward is too great, said Schacter, who leads a lab at Wayne State University on adolescent relationships. “It’s this combination of being restricted from social contact for a while at an age where spending time with peers is so essential to development, to making teenagers feel good, and so, there’s some sort of calculation going on where the perceived benefit — ‘I get to spend time with friends’ — seems to be outweighing the potential costs,” Schacter said. When you plop students back on campus after a spring and summer spent cooped up in their childhood bedrooms, many of them will take those opportunities to connect with their friends and strangers. Their fear of the virus may be overtaken by their eagerness to connect, she said. “No one’s going back to college because they want to sit in their dorm all weekend by themselves,” Schacter said. “Peers are so essential that it’s no coincidence that we’re seeing these behaviors more and that they’re particularly peer-oriented,” Schacter said.
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Schools caught in a ‘no win’ reopening situation

“School 2020 is going to be radically different than school 2019. No educator, administrator or parent has a model, and there is no one model that will work for all schools,” said Roland Coloma, professor and assistant dean, Division of Teacher Education, at Wayne State University. “The lack of universal internet access, for us to implement a fully online teaching and learning format, is one issue, as is full speed broadband. If they're using Zoom or Google classroom with 20 to 25 students – that's a lot of internet and broadband. We will also need to insure that every family will have enough computers, tablets, devices, as well as for parents or caregivers. We are also assuming that these homes will have an adult present who can supervise these children, and are not working outside the home.” Lauren Mangus, PhD, assistant professor for educational psychology at Wayne State University, offers a sobering consideration faced by all educators this year: “We're trying to cram education into a crisis. This is an ongoing tornado. This virus is not detectable to the naked eye. When students are stressed, it can manifest in different ways and can impede learning. School is important, but it is very difficult when students are stressed.”
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Has the Detroit Institute of Arts lost touch with its home town?

The Detroit Institute of Arts had just avoided selling off parts of its collection to help pay the debts of the city that owned it. It had a new, independent ownership structure, new revenue streams and a new standing as a museum that tried to replace the foreboding demeanor of many art institutions with a more welcoming, visitor-centered experience. And it had a new director, Salvador Salort-Pons, who had come from its ranks, a charismatic curator and Spanish-born scholar of Velázquez, who seemed to understand its struggles and its future and who took office to a rousing ovation at a board meeting in 2015. But five years later, at a time when museum leaders across the country are being challenged on whether their institutions are systemically racist, few are confronting as many thorny issues as Salort-Pons. “There has been discontent,” said Jeffrey Abt, professor emeritus at Wayne State University who has written about the history of the institute. “I can see how it is potentially perilous. On one side are the unhappy staff members who are objecting to Salvador’s administration,” he added. “On the other side are the friends outside the museum he has made over the years who think that, here, they have someone who is championing their cause.” Bill Harris, a writer and emeritus professor of English at Wayne State University, said he visited the institute as a young boy even though he didn’t feel welcome. “It has evolved from that, but it’s still a white institution,” he said. Melba Joyce Boyd, a professor in American Studies at Wayne State University, said that she respects much of what Mr. Salort-Pons has done but because of its location and audience, she said the institute has special responsibilities. “The D.I.A. should be the number one place for African-Americans in the whole country,” she said. “Detroit should be taking a lead on a lot of these issues.”
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What COVID-19 can teach us about community resilience

COVID-19 has left many feeling isolated and alone. However, disasters like this impact whole communities, which means that effective solutions to disaster-related stress can be found in community connections and community-based partnerships. Erika London Bocknek, PhD is a licensed family therapist and associate professor of Educational Psychology at Wayne State University. She directs the Family Resilience Laboratory at Wayne State, is associate editor of the Infant Mental Health Journal, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Infancy and Adversity and Resilience Science. Bocknek participated in a Q&A about the issues of isolation and loneliness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
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‘For the future benefit of my whole race': How Black women fought for the vote before and after 19th Amendment

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, some Black women tried to register to vote and were successful and “those successes, even though few in number, inspired fresh efforts to suppress Black voters,” according to Liette Gidlow, associate professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit, who is working on a new book, “The 19th Amendment and the Politics of Race, 1920 —1970.” When "disfranchised Black women asked the League of Women Voters and the National Woman's Party (NWP) to help, the main organizations of former suffragists turned them down," Gidlow wrote in an article. "NWP head Alice Paul insisted in 1921 that Black women's disfranchisement was a ‘race issue,’ not a ‘woman's issue,’ and thus no business of the NWP. The failure of white suffragists at that moment to address the disfranchisement of southern Black women reverberated for decades to come and undercut the efforts of women of both races to make progress on issues of shared concern. Black women continued to develop political power in the face of disenfranchisement, racism and sexism. Mary McCleod Bethune founded a school for Black children in Daytona, Florida, in 1904 and became one of the most important Black educators, women’s rights leaders and government officials. In 1922, she organized hundreds of women to vote in a mayoral election in Daytona. The night before that election, the Ku Klux Klan marched through the school grounds and she “stood them down," Gidlow said.
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5 reasons to let students keep their cameras off during Zoom classes

Tabitha Moses, MD/PhD candidate at Wayne State University, wrote an article for The Conversation about the challenges that online instruction can pose for students if they are required to keep their cameras on during class. “As the 2020-21 school year gets underway – both at the K-12 and college level – many students find themselves attending online classes via Zoom or similar teleconferencing platforms. Although sticking with remote instruction may be the correct decision from the standpoint of public health, it is not without problems. As a researcher who studies behavior and the brain, I have found the evidence suggests that online instruction can pose a range of challenges for students if they are required to keep their cameras on during class. Here are five reasons why I believe students should be allowed to keep their cameras off instead: Increased anxiety and stress; ‘Zoom fatigue;’ Competing obligations; Right to privacy; and, Financial means and other kinds of access
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Michigan declares racism a health crisis. Without funding, it’s symbolic

With two pen strokes last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared racism in health a priority within the state’s government offices. But health leaders say it will be the follow-up — funding, policy change and enforcement — that determines whether the move is symbolic or transformative. “I'm glad they're getting people to the table … The thing is we've been discussing this and discussing this and discussing this,” Dr. Lynn Smitherman, a Detroit pediatrician, associate chair of medical education at Wayne State University, and a diversity and inclusion champion for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “You still have to do something. Discussion without action is just another academic exercise,” she said. At a panel discussion last week organized by Wayne State University and others, Dr. Michelle Williams said Black Americans also face institutional racism when they are sick — with access at times only to lower-quality care and even clinicians that turn them away or don’t listen to their concerns. Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, has studied lead poisoning extensively and said Black children in Detroit often live in older homes that have high levels of lead paint, which can impair learning and hinder lifetime earning potential. Thompson said he has called for strengthening laws that hold accountable the landlords who don’t address those issues, but a lack of political will has stopped short of making that happen. An official declaration that racism plays a role in policies — and a commitment to address it — may finally make a difference, he said. “This takes serious, clear, ongoing focus,” he said.
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Obama is trashing Trump, reigniting an old feud

In recent months, Obama has waded back into the fray more so than before. He openly criticized the administration's response to coronavirus publicly. In remarks to donors that leaked to the NYT, Obama said Trump played on "nativist, racist, sexist" fears. Moreover, comments Obama made in his eulogy to John Lewis, the former civil rights activist and congressman, were also indirectly critical of Trump, taking aim at the use of federal agents against protesters and attempts to undermine mail-in voting. "As he delivered the eulogy, Obama felt the moral urgency of the moment: To honor Lewis, Obama had to speak up in that moment. And he did," Liette Gidlow, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University who edited the book Obama, Clinton, Palin: Making History in Election 2008, told Newsweek. Suggesting Obama had been "extremely restrained" about Trump previously, she said the "urgency of the moment" perhaps pushed the former president to be more expansive. "The republic is in trouble because a number of powerful officials, up to and including Trump himself, have taken actions that show their willingness to undermine basic democratic norms," Gidlow said.
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Wayne State-led team explores link between diabetes, obesity and liver disease

Diabetes, obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are all common diseases that can lead to serious health implications. NAFLD affects over 30% of Americans, and is characterized as a fatty liver, which can progress to an inflammatory and fibrotic liver, called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), as well as liver cirrhosis. The molecular causes of NAFLD and NASH are still not fully understood and, to date, no FDA-approved drug is available for NAFLD. A major hurdle for scientists is understanding the causal relationships between NAFLD, diabetes and obesity, which are often presented together in patients and treated as comorbidities. Without a clear understanding of their causal relationship and root cause, drug development may fail. Faculty from Wayne State University’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences are leading a team of researchers to understand the causal relationships between these three diseases in hopes of developing a treatment.Wanqing Liu, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Wayne State, along with his collaborators, recently published a paper in the Journal of Hepatology that attempts to understand the molecular causes of NAFLD. The team conducted a large-scale genomic analysis called Mendelian randomization, a strategy similar to a randomized clinical trial that relies on a naturally occurred randomization of genetic alleles in human populations.
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Until teachers feel safe, widespread in-person K-12 schooling may prove impossible in US

Michael Addonizio, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, wrote an article for The Conversation about the challenges of reopening in-person K-12 schooling in the U.S. “Safely resuming in-person instruction at U.S. public schools is important for the academic, physical, emotional and social well-being of children and their families. It’s also a key factor for the nation’s economic recovery. But in mid-July, despite considerable pressure from the Trump administration, many school systems around the nation had announced that they didn’t yet believe that anything close to resembling a traditional schedule would be feasible before the 2020-21 school year starts. Many school districts, including those in Los Angeles, San Diego and Houston, three of the nation’s largest, were planning to be fully online.”
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Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' is still relevant and revealing, 50 years later

Fifty years ago this summer, vibrating with agitation and energy, Marvin Gaye headed down the wood steps into a Detroit  studio and made his anthem for the ages. “What’s Going On,” a poignant musical masterpiece crafted in a season of unease, persists as a timely backdrop to another heated summer, half a century later, when the world feels upside down. Racial tensions, police controversy, environmental anxieties, a globe on edge — they were the topics on the front burner when Gaye rebooted his musical career and took control of his creative vision inside Motown. “What’s Going On” was richly Detroit. Gaye had been “all over the city, soaking up Detroit’s vibes and moods as he was recording,” wrote the Freep’s Bob Talbert, who was tight with Gaye at the time. With its seasoned jazz and big-band players, Motown’s ace Funk Brothers and the DSO, the track was a collective hometown feat. “People always talk about various influences out of Detroit. This really was a hometown effort that went worldwide. It captured that community sensibility and coming-together during a challenging time,” said Chris Collins, a music professor and director of jazz studies at Wayne State University. “The production — the openness of the music involved — was a pretty spectacular example of what can come out of that.” Collins said his 22-year-old son is enamored with the song and album. “It's in his musical life as a young person,” said Collins, also director of the Detroit Jazz Festival. “I think that speaks to the power and sincerity of that recording. It spans generation and communities.” At Wayne State, ethnomusicologist Josh Duchan’s course on 20th century popular music zeroes in on “The Message,” the pioneering 1982 rap hit by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “A song like that — which is much more explicit in its lyrics — is kind of the extension of what Marvin Gaye and ‘What’s Going On’ did years earlier,” he said. “It’s looking around at the world and saying: These are not the conditions we all hoped for.”