Affective Engagement in #StopAAPIHate on Social Media: The Role of Emotion in Driving Engagement for Counter-hate Content on Twitter

Zifei Fay Chen (Communication Studies, CAS), June Y. Lee (Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Strategy, and International Business, SOM), Shan Wang (Data Science, CAS), Diane Woodbridge (Data Science, CAS)

 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic in early 2020, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have experienced an uptick of anti-AAPI discrimination, racism, and hate incidents. These hate incidents range from individual acts of shunning, verbal harassment, and physical attacks, to civil rights violations including refusal of service and workplace discrimination. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a total of 10,905 anti-AAPI incidents were reported from March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021, causing significant detrimental impact on AAPI persons’ mental health. Importantly, scholars and activists have noted that these anti-AAPI hate incidents are not only associated with the anti-AAPI rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also have their historical roots of anti-AAPI discrimination and racism, such as the “perpetual foreigners” and “Yellow Peril” stigmas, as well as the “model minority” myth that was used to delegitimaze and silence concerns from the AAPI communities.  

To cope with racial trauma, many AAPI persons have turned to social media to view related content, share information, participate in online communities/forums, and join discussions. Besides being a coping tool, social media can  also be a tool to advocate for counter-hate messages and facilitate social movement.  Previous social media research has highlighted the role of emotion, where it was suggested that by engaging with emotion-carrying content on social media, people can better regulate their emotions and reconstruct their emotional episodes. In this Interdisciplinary Action Group project supported by CRASE, we set out to explore if and how emotion may drive engagement in counter-hate content on Twitter during the #StopAAPIHate movement. 

We drew insights from the emotion theories, social media engagement literature, and used machine learning and computational methods to analyze data. To delineate a more nuanced understanding, we focused on two types of frameworks in our categorization and analyses of emotion: (1) the valence approach where emotion was categorized into positive, negative, and neutral, and (2) the discrete approach where emotion was further categorized into joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. 

Data Collection

Using Twitter API for Academic Research, we collected tweets between January 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. The retrieval search criteria included 1) tweets written in English and 2) tweets with at least one of the following hashtags: #StopAAPIhate, #StopAsianhate,  #IAmNotAVirus, #WashTheHate, #RacismIsAVirus, #IAmNotCovid19, #BeCool2Asians, and #HateIsAVirus, resulting in a total of 1,773,683 tweets. 

To identify sentiment (negative, positive, and neutral) and the existence of six discrete emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise) in the tweets, we used the RoBERTa model, the robustly optimized Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) Pre-training Approach. 

We then applied the developed models for sentiment/valence analysis and discrete emotion classification. Further, we developed a regression model and applied feature importance to understand the valence and discrete emotions affecting the level of engagement (likes, retweets, and replies) towards a tweet.

Preliminary Findings

Emotional valence reflected in the counter-hate content on Twitter

Among all tweets collected, about 22.7% were negative, 25.3% were positive, and 52% were neutral. In this analysis, one tweet may only include one valence. 

Discrete emotions reflected in counter-hate content on Twitter

Among the tweets collected, about 21.5% contained anger, 17.4% contained sadness, 11.9% contained joy, 5% contained disgust, 2.1% contained fear, and 1% contained surprise. In this analysis, a single tweet may include multiple emotions or no emotion. 

The impact of emotional valence and discrete emotions on social media engagement

Emotional valence was a moderate predictor of the number of favorites, retweets, and replies, along with other tweet features including hashtag counts, referencing another tweet, multimedia attachment, and replying to other users. For discrete emotions, the emotion of anger, sadness, and disgust were predictors of the number of favorites, retweets, and replies, along with other tweet features including hashtag count, referencing another tweet, multimedia attachment, and replying to other users. Particularly for replies, joy was also shown as a predictor in driving the volume of replies. 

Next Steps and Implications

The current stage of the project has demonstrated the features that drive engagement in counter-hate content on Twitter. For the next steps of the study, we will continue building models that inform the direction and magnitude of the effects specifically from each emotional valence and discrete emotion. Using these research insights, we hope to achieve a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of the effects from emotional valence and discrete emotions in driving further engagement in counter-hate content. And in order to achieve this engagement, we will provide greater empirical communication evidence from the large data set to further support the #StopAAPIHate movement on social media.

Faculty Spotlight: Annette Regan

Annette K Regan is Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Community Public Health Practice Concentration in Orange County, CA

When did you realize you had a passion for epidemiology?

I didn’t know what epidemiology was until I was in my fourth year of psychology in undergrad. I was about to graduate, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I was volunteering in a sleep lab, and one of my coworkers was talking about epidemiology. I started looking into it, and it sounded perfect for me. It was math plus health plus all these things I liked all in one field. On my first day in epidemiology class during my MPH at Emory I thought, “This is where I belong.” Epi is one of the best fields. We can tackle all of these different health problems and use data and data science to better understand important health problems and identify effective solutions. 

How did you end up at USF?

My family was transitioning back to the US from Australia, and we were looking for a place where our family could be happy and grow. My husband and I settled on southern CA – he works for the State Lands Commission (oil and gas guy) and fortunately USF was hiring for a MPH faculty in Orange County to extend their MPH program. Starting this MPH program in OC sounded really exciting. And our family is definitely settled here – we welcomed our son right before I started at USF!

Can you describe some of your recent work?

Right now I’m really busy with COVID-19 vaccine evaluation. I recently completed a series of papers on COVID-19 infection during pregnancy and how it affects the health of the mother and the infant.  I’ve just launched a large study looking at COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness in mothers and babies. Another big study I’m working on in collaboration with Boston University is a preconception cohort study to examine vaccine exposure around the time of conception and whether it influences the risk of miscarriage. We recently published a paper showing that vaccination is not associated with fertility but that COVID-19 infection in the male partner could reduce one’s chances of getting pregnant. It might be my favorite paper I’ve worked on, because it’s the only research I’ve ever done that was mentioned on SNL! Anthony Fauci also talked about it to try to dispel these myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and fertility.  

I think it’s also important to acknowledge other impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had beyond infection. In addition to examining the direct health impacts of COVID-19, I’m also currently leading a large cohort study on the mental and societal impacts of COVID-19 on pregnant individuals, their partners, and their babies. It’s been very meaningful to learn from parents about their experiences birthing and parenting during the pandemic.

What has it been like doing so much research on COVID and vaccines during this pandemic?

Interestingly, I didn’t originally want to do COVID-19 research because I knew everyone was going to be doing it. I supported some student work looking at the impact of COVID-19 on childhood vaccination, but felt like I didn’t want to take on COVID-19 research myself. It’s a tough field. Almost any project you start to draft up has already been published five times by the time you get started. But, I’ve been doing influenza research for so long, all of my influenza colleagues were entirely consumed by COVID-19 work, and I just knew I was going to have to start doing this work eventually. Just as I was coming back from maternity leave, the recommendations started to come out for COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, so this was my sign that I could not continue to do the type of research that I do around respiratory diseases and vaccines and without including COVID-19. 

How do you bring the themes of your research to your courses at USF?

This past Fall, I offered a vaccine epidemiology course for the first time. It was a really fun course to teach and I think the students got a lot out of it. There has never been a better time to teach about vaccines than during a pandemic!

I also get a lot of students who are interested in doing research, so I have a few Research Assistants and volunteers who are helping with my cohort study. I bring in a lot of my own research as examples in my classes especially when teaching epidemiology methods. 

What are you planning on doing next?

Taking a nap. But seriously, what I really want to do is continue to grow this COVID-19 research area with pregnant individuals. They are a really high risk group, but they have the lowest vaccination rates. I want to use the results of my work to co-design interventions with communities to improve maternal immunization rates. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to increase these vaccination rates. I also want to build more of a team and further mentor junior scientists to do this work. I really want to develop the next generation of scientists in this area. 

Teaching Social Justice: Critical Issues for the Intercultural Communication Classroom

Brandi Lawless, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Studies, has co-authored a new book with Yea-Wen Chen of San Diego State University.

 

By Brandi Lawless

The motivation for my new co-authored book is three-fold. First, Intercultural Communication is one of the top 3 most-offered communication classes across the country, often fulfilling Core/General Education requirements for cultural diversity. However, most instructors who teach the class are only taught how to teach Public Speaking (if they receive pedagogical training at all) and are not specifically taught intercultural communication, which is quite different. Second, some instructors are even handed the class because they look “intercultural,” which unfairly saddles instructors of color and international instructors with additional pedagogical burdens without having excellent resources with which to teach this class. Third, even for the most experienced and knowledgeable instructors, the intercultural communication classroom can be an emotionally and intellectually heavy place for many students and teachers, like other classes that also fulfill our Cultural Diversity (CD) requirement. Sensitive topics arise and students must face complex issues with intellectual curiosity and collegial respect. To navigate the precarious waters of intercultural communication, teachers need an intentional, proactive approach to foster meaningful discussion and learning.

After struggling to teach this type of course and navigate the difficult conversations in each class, my co-author and I created this book as a sort of pedagogical guide. Each chapter presents conceptual overviews, student activities, and problem-solving strategies for teaching intercultural communication. We work our way through eight categories of potential conflict, including: communicating power and privilege, community engagement in social justice, and assessing intercultural pedagogies for social justice. In addition to empirical studies and our own classroom experiences, our book features personal narratives of junior and senior intercultural communication teacher-scholars whose journeys will encourage and instruct readers towards more fulfilling teaching experiences. We wrote this book so that anyone could pick it up and have a stronger foundation for teaching these topics. It is well suited for new and continuing instructors of courses that teach about culture, diversity, and social justice (particularly Intercultural Communication) and for graduate students learning how to teach these topics.

I’m excited to use the principles of this book in my own teaching, more intentionally. I have yet to teach Intercultural Communication since the publication of the book, but have been rethinking the content and structure for the next time I teach the course. I’m anxious to hear feedback from others and to continue to grow in my pedagogical approach.

 

 

 

 

Fearful News Traveled Slow on Twitter in Disinformation Campaigns

By Violet Cheung

As a psychology professor with a specialization in mass emotion and public sentiment, I have conducted research on anger, fear and anxiety in the contexts of terrorist attacks, cyber insecurity, and the migrant crisis. In 2018, I was aware of the rising prominence of social media in shaping public opinions and the limited utility of traditional analytic tools on large datasets from social media. I owe a debt of gratitude to a workshop at CRASE for its guidance and inspiration on one of my research projects at USF. The recently published findings shed light on the affective strategies in foreign disinformation operations.

In Twitter’s first release of data on state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, Russian and Iranian troll farms posted a majority of their tweets in fearful and negative sentiments according to our research published by the American Psychological Association. Furthermore, each additional fearful word in a tweet was found to correspond with a drop in “Likes” and retweets. Negative tweets were disengaging as compared to positive (and even neutral) ones. Since the dataset contains users’ responses from the entire Twitter space to a large number of tweets, the results have a high degree of confidence.

Twitter’s data corpus contains roughly 4,000 accounts and over 10 million tweets by Russian and Iranian operatives. The study, published in Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, identified a majority of the tweets as retweets and therefore focused on a subset of about 1.5 million unique English tweets that originated from the fake accounts. These unique tweets were not sent uniformly throughout the entrenched information warfare that spanned from 2010 to 2018. Rather, a third of them were concentrated in the year prior to the 2016 US election.

The results contradicted the notion that “bad news travels fast,” as well as the burgeoning research on polarization, and even some well-established emotion theories. For example, the negative bias theory would assert that negatively framed information is disproportionately influential and salient compared to positive and neutral events. As such, negative tweets have the potential to engage the audience and spread on Twitter.

However, fear is a negative emotion in a class of its own. The functionalist approach to emotions, pioneered by Darwin, purports that fear’s adaptive function is to prompt a person to freeze, hide or run away – tendencies more akin to disengagement than engagement on social media. Fearful tweets are inherently negative and as a result both emotion undercurrents have to be considered. After all, the dataset contains a lot of negative tweets with a major of them employing fearful themes. When negativity and fear work in opposite directions, the effect of fear prevailed over that of negativity in this dataset.

Much of the media’s reporting on election interference stressed the foreign operatives’ strengths but failed to acknowledge the lack of sophistication in their strategies. Russia and Iran overinvested in fear mongering and undelivered in engagement. That said, the Russian disinformation operation seemed more nuanced than Iran’s. The Russian troll farm might be aware of the unpopularity of fear and only used the strategies at the critical moment. They spent from between early 2013 and late 2014 ingratiating themselves with upbeat tweets, only to revert to fear in time for the 2016 election. Iran’s campaign adhered to fear tactics throughout their accounts’ lifespan.

The rich data trove released by Twitter in late 2018 could have left me feeling overwhelmed if it were not for a workshop on statistical computing in R, offered by CRASE in the summer of 2018. It piqued my interest in big data analytics and I decided to learn more about it by taking a class at USF during my sabbatical in 2018-2019. The rest of my sabbatical was spent on analyzing Twitter’s data corpus with the help from student assistants at USF in psychology, computer science, and business. One of my student co-authors now works on big data in a tech company in the Bay Area. Another student co-author has just completed his Master’s degree at the University of Washington in Human Centered Design and Engineering. What I gleaned from this experience is that professional development, sabbatical, research projects and student outcomes do not have to be competing forces but forces to be marshalled to build synergy and purpose.

 


Citation of the Article: Cheung-Blunden V., Sonar, K. U., Zhou, E. A., & Tan, C. (2021). Foreign disinformation operation’s affective engagement: Valence versus discrete emotions as drivers of tweet popularity. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP). Published online July 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/asap.12262

The lead author can be reached via email vcheung@usfca.edu

Event Recap: An Afternoon with Tommy Orange

The Center for Research, Artistic, and Scholarly Excellence (CRASE) had the immense pleasure to host celebrated novelist Tommy Orange over three separate events held over Zoom on April 19, 2021.

In the first session, Tommy Orange spoke to a select group of about 15 students from the English Department, the School of Education, and the MFA in Creative Writing program. All the students attending had read There There and had the chance to pose questions they had wondered about in class directly to the author, which is a rare opportunity. Topics ranged from the potential pitfalls of writing autobiographical fiction, the challenges of experimental writing, the importance of indigenous literature, strategies for building characters, and even the thorny ethical dilemmas that can come when one writes about people who are still alive (and just so happen to be members of your family).

Students had great questions about the use of perspective and point of view in the novel, such as the use of second person in one of the chapters. Tommy Orange gave us great insight as to how this is part of his creative process, and how he plays with perspective to see “what it will do” to the story. Additionally, he gave us insight into how much of the story is based on his own experiences, woven into these characters, invoking the concept of “auto-fiction.” These ideas really stuck with students and, again, the opportunity to engage a writer directly with their thoughts, observations, and inquiries was a wonderful way to develop their academic experience! Tommy Orange responded with both thoughtfulness and graciousness. The students asked smart question, and he responded in kind. The event was a great success.

During the second event, Tommy Orange met with faculty to discuss the pieces they wrote in response to his book. Faculty responses, which were published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Scholarship, reflected on place and identity in a modern world. Each faculty who wrote a response explained their piece to Tommy Orange and how the book inspired their work. The conversation between Tommy Orange and the faculty responders evolved into a dialogue related to his thoughts on the response pieces and next steps for his writing.

When asked about how Native Americans can bridge the dichotomy between tradition and modernity—a theme he addresses in his book—Tommy Orange said that one of the challenges he liked to take up in his writing was giving voice to Native Americans in the present, because they are always otherwise spoken of in terms of the past, relegated to history as it were. He brought up the arguments made in David Treuer’s excellent essay that make a persuasive case for returning America’s national parks to its original peoples. In addressing the experience of visiting national parks and the question of representing Native Americans in the present, Treuer writes, “Indians were barely mentioned on the signage, and I don’t remember meeting any Native rangers or even sensing that we existed as anything other than America’s past tense.”

In the final session attended by over 160 people, Tommy Orange was in conversation with Laleh Khadivi, novelist and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at USF. In this wonderful, wide-ranging conversation they spoke about the writing process, the genre of auto-fiction (writing that is close to memoir but not quite memoir), literary influences, and Tommy Orange’s second book, among other topics. Tommy Orange read from There There, a section titled “Apparent Death,” and spoke about how his own graphic dreams had informed the depiction of a mass shooting. While his reading struck a somber note—“….the fact that we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, alive, only to die in the grass wearing feathers”—it was extremely relevant in the context of ubiquitous gun violence, and the here and now of Native Americans in the country.

(With contributions from Erin Grinshteyn, Christina Garcia Lopez, Dean Rader and Tanu Sankalia)

Philosophy in the American West, A Geography of Thought

Picture of Gerard KuperusUSF Associate Professor of Philosophy, Gerard Kuperus, published a co-edited volume (with Brian Treanor and Josh Hayes, Routledge, 2020) about philosophy in our part of the world—the American West. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle could be considered to be the contemporary equivalent of Ancient Athens, certainly in terms of its wealth, and possibly also as a place ideal for thinking. While Athens was influenced by Asia to the East, the West Coast of the USA is in dialogue with Asian traditions to the West, Europe to the East, Latin America to the south, and is home to indigenous philosophies. The American West as this meeting ground for different traditions can be seen as a fertile basis for philosophy and it is this insight that provides the philosophical background to Philosophy in the American West.

The project started with the 10th anniversary meeting of the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition (PACT). The conference took place in 2018 in Yosemite and was organized around the theme “Thinking in the West.” PACT is an organization co-founded by Kuperus and has brought together philosophers from different traditions (including Asian and Indigenous), artists, and writers. As a West Coast organization PACT has always emphasized place even while it has attracted scholars from all parts of the country as well as Europe and Asia. In many ways the book is the result of the collaborations that PACT has engaged in during its first decade.

Philosophy in the American West explores the physical, ecological, cultural, and narrative environments associated with the western United States, reflecting on the relationship between people and the places that sustain them.

The American West has long been recognized as having significance. From Crèvecoeur’s early observations in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), to Thoreau’s reflections in Walden (1854), to twentieth-century thoughts on the legacy of a vanishing frontier, “the West” has played a pivotal role in the American narrative and in the American sense of self. But while the nature of “westernness” has been touched on by historians, sociologists, and, especially, novelists and poets, this collection represents the first attempt to think philosophically about the nature of “the West” and its influence on us. The contributors take up thinkers that have been associated with Continental Philosophy and pair them with writers, poets, and artists of “the West.” And while this collection seeks to loosen the cords that tie philosophy to Europe, the traditions of “continental” philosophy—phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and others—offer deep resources for thinking through the particularity of place.

The book contains twelve original chapters, including (besides the chapter and co-written introduction by Kuperus) two contributions from other USF faculty: Amanda Parris (Philosophy) and Marjolein Oele (Philosophy).


For more information:

https://www.routledge.com/Philosophy-in-the-American-West-A-Geography-of-Thought/Hayes-Kuperus-Treanor/p/book/9780367489502

The Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition (PACT): https://pactphilosophy.org/

The Art of Insurrection

Pedro Lange-Churión and John Zarobell

On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd and the public has seen, at long last, that our justice system is capable of prosecuting and punishing police officers who brutalize black and brown bodies. This decision can in no way reconcile the injustices faced by minorities in this country. Indeed, during the trial, it was reported that on average three people of color per day are killed by police officers in the United States. This story is not resolved but the protests against police violence that took place over the summer of 2020 and the civil disorder that resulted have also reignited a creative legacy of protest art that has been a key element of social protest movements around the world and in the Bay Area.

This piece, a collaboration between us, was an effort to capture the political divides in this country as they emerge on the contested streets of Oakland. The rifts left by Donald Trump’s efforts to drag the country away from any social progress we might have achieved over the last 100 or so years frames both, the civil unrest and our efforts to read it through the renegade public art that materialized in the very center of the city. We aimed to create a dialectic between images and texts about the city, about racial politics, and about the revolutionary efforts to demand rights for all people and to assert, above all, that Black Lives Matter.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Floydway

Street sign painted with text "Floydway"
Photo: Pedro Lange-Churión

You had such a vision of the street                                                 As the street hardly understands —T.S. Eliot, Preludes

*

This renaming to Floydway marks the street as a site of trauma. Floyd himself looks on. It is a moment of discontinuity that generates a new symbolic, an intervention against the reality of the power and violence of the state, manifested in the planning and maintenance of the city. Rancière calls this dissensus, this break in consciousness that emerges from the rewriting of the street in the name of those subverted by it. The subversive laughter brings out an unintended response to the city as it is.


Citation and link to the full article:

Lange-Churión, Pedro, and John Zarobell. “Report from Oakland: The Art of Insurrection.” Theory & Event 23, no. 5 (2020): S-110-S-126. muse.jhu.edu/article/775406.

Faculty Spotlight: June Lee

June Lee is an Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Strategy, and International Business at University of San Francisco’s School of Management, and recent recipient of the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award from the Women in the Academy of International Business. This award recognizes one female AIB junior scholar for her potential and high-quality research in international business and gender. Our conversation discusses her research interests and how she became a professor at USF.

Briefly describe your research and recent work. How did you first become interested in this topic?

Before I began my career in academia, I was working in financial services. During the global financial crisis in 2008, I noticed that entrepreneurship was withstanding the weight of the crisis; in fact, entrepreneurship was booming. So I became interested in the discipline academically, and decided to pursue graduate degrees at Stanford University where I studied entrepreneurship and innovation.

How have the themes or focuses of your research changed over time? Are the discourses changing in international entrepreneurship and gender?

In recent years, I became more interested in the international aspect of entrepreneurship. Everything is becoming global these days, and unsurprisingly, entrepreneurship is at the forefront of this phenomenon. This leads to interesting topics that we can study and observe. For instance, immigrant entrepreneurs that I interviewed were utilizing cross-border resources and networks, and their outcome and performance would vary greatly because of the institutional contexts that they were faced with. I also became interested in the journey undertaken by female immigrant entrepreneurs—how and why they were choosing to become entrepreneurs, and how their multi-faceted identity shaped the type of entrepreneurship activities that they were engaged in.

What research or work are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my recent publication on female transnational entrepreneurs. In this study, my co-author and I developed a qualitative case study of Korean American female entrepreneurship in the San Francisco Bay Area and explored the intersectionality dynamic of ethnicity and gender. My study establishes a specific ‘gendered’ trajectory of female transnational entrepreneurs whose entrepreneurial motives and performances are influenced and shaped by a number of different individual and structural factors (e.g., gender, family role, immigrant status, ethnic identity, and transnational networks and resources).

Lee, J. Y., & Lee, J. Y. (2020). Female Transnational Entrepreneurs (FTEs): A Case Study of Korean American Female Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Emerging Economies, 6(1), 67-83.

When you earned your PhD from Stanford University, were you focused on becoming an academic or did you consider another career?

My focus was to find an opportunity with which I could apply my knowledge, skills, and interests in the areas of entrepreneurship. In particular, an academic position that would allow me to engage in entrepreneurship research and education was compelling to me.

What brought you to USF?

I discovered this USF faculty position through a professional association to which I belong. I did like the proximity to San Francisco Bay Area, which is considered as the hub of entrepreneurship and innovation. In addition, it would allow me to leverage my existing network of entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, and other professionals in this area. Finally, I liked the balance of both teaching and research at USF and how the two could be aligned to inform each other.

What does the Emerging Scholar Award mean to you?

It was definitely a humbling experience to receive the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award from the Women in Academy of International Business. It motivates me to keep learning from more experienced scholars and senior researchers, and to make greater contributions to the field.

What are you looking at next?

I am working on numerous exciting research projects in the field of international and gender entrepreneurship, with faculty members at both USF and other institutions. For example, one study examines how female immigrant entrepreneurs utilize social media platforms in their entrepreneurship journey; another project assesses the impact of COVID-19 on the Silicon Valley entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Hard Questions: Learning to Teach Controversial Issues

Photo of Judy PaceJudy Pace, Professor in the School of Education, has published a new book. It’s based on a cross-national study–funded by the Spencer Foundation–that examines teaching controversial issues, teacher educators’ methodology for teacher preparation, and novice teachers’ efforts in secondary classrooms. Pace was recently selected to be part of a pilot cohort of grantees in the Spencer Foundation’s Research Communications Grant Program, aimed at broadening the impact of research.

Teaching controversial issues in the classroom is now more urgent and fraught than ever as we face up to rising authoritarianism, racial and economic injustice, and looming environmental disaster. Despite evidence that teaching controversy is critical, educators often avoid it. How then can we prepare and support teachers to undertake this essential but difficult work? Based on a cross-national qualitative study, Hard Questions: Learning to Teach Controversial Issues, examines teacher educators’ efforts to prepare preservice teachers for teaching controversial issues that matter for democracy, justice, and human rights. It presents four detailed cases of teacher preparation in three politically divided societies: Northern Ireland, England, and the United States.

Pace developed a grounded theory that explains an organizing principle across teacher educators’ approaches called “contained risk-taking.” As a group, the teacher educators taught a set of eight strategies for exploring controversial issues in classrooms while containing the potential risks, such as classroom conflict, harm to students, and recriminations from parents or administrators. Contained risk-taking is particularly relevant for teaching controversial issues in a highly contentious and polarized political climate.

The book traces graduate students’ learning from university coursework into the classrooms where they work to put what they have learned into practice. It explores their application of pedagogical tools and the factors that facilitated or hindered their efforts to teach controversy. The book’s cross-national perspective is compelling to a broad and diverse audience, raising critical questions about teaching controversial issues and providing educators, researchers, and policymakers tools to help them fulfill this essential democratic mission of education.

In the following interview, Professor Judy Pace discusses her new book with Valentina Sarmiento, a recent graduate of the USF Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. They talk about how the book speaks to the current political moment, differences in approaches to teaching controversial issues, and generative ideas for applying the book’s lessons to curriculum development and teaching in today’s classrooms.

Faculty Spotlight: Susan Steinberg

USF Professor and English Department chair Susan Steinberg is the author of four books and recent recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. Awarded on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, Professor Steinberg was chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants in the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation’s ninety-sixth competition. Our conversation discusses her writing achievements and plans for the future.

Susan Steinberg photo

When did you realize you had a passion for writing?

I liked to write stories as a kid, and I kept diaries as a teenager, but I was always more interested in visual art—I went to art school and majored in painting. At the end of my junior year, I was injured in a car accident and couldn’t paint for months. During that time, I was writing a lot—they were mostly rants that I wrote in columns in a spiral notebook—and I continued to work on these after I was back in the studio. I gradually started taking the writing more seriously, and after graduating, I decided to take a few workshops and was encouraged by a teacher to pursue an MFA in fiction.

How did you end up at USF?

After grad school, I taught in a small town in western Missouri for two years.  It was a great experience, but I wanted to live in a city again, so I applied for several teaching jobs and was most excited about USF.

How has winning a Guggenheim Fellowship impacted your writing?

The Guggenheim has coincided with the pandemic, and I haven’t fully benefitted from it yet.  That said, I feel inspired just knowing the support is there, and I’ve been hard at work on a new project. Once we can travel again, I plan to do much of the writing in Paris and Rome.

Describe some of your recent work.

My most recently published book, Machine, is an experimental novel that follows a group of teenagers living in a beach town in a summer during which a girl drowns; the narrator is a girl who’s fixated on the night it happened.  My previous book, Spectacle, is a collection of linked experimental short stories.

How have the themes of your writing evolved over time, and have recent events changed those?

I’m often convinced that we write one story for our entire lives; it just takes on new forms and details from piece to piece.  Recently, I looked back at some things I wrote when I was a teenager, and I was amazed by how much it resembled the writing in my books, even formally.  I often write about family dysfunction, relationships, gender, privilege, trauma, and loss.  Recent personal events have shifted the themes even more, but recent global events haven’t contributed as much. It’s unlikely I’ll be writing about the pandemic or the election.

How do you bring these themes to your courses at USF?

I don’t intend to bring my own writing topics into class, though similar issues often appear in the work we’re discussing, whether it’s published or student work.  My course topics are often on whatever I’m questioning at the time. Most recently I’ve taught courses on Point of View, Excess, and Literary Controversy, and next semester I’m teaching a course on Distance at the University of Iowa.

What are you looking at next?

I’m currently working on a novel which attempts to subvert the literary “trope” of the “missing girl.” It also explores perceptions of masculinity.