Faculty Spotlight – Marie-Claude Couture

Marie-Claude Couture is an Associate Professor and Chair of Health Professions in the School of Nursing and Health Professions. Dr. Couture was recently awarded two large NIH grants to support her research on infectious disease prevention, substance use and violence and victimization. In collaboration with fellow USF faculty, Dr. Erin Grinshteyn, Dr. Couture was awarded a R15 in 2022 to support their project, “Determining the causal pathways of social and environmental predictors of high-risk alcohol drinking among college students.” These awards are highly competitive, with a success rate between 4-17% and are used to promote research opportunities at educational institutions that have not been previously major recipients of NIH support.The award provides $432,136 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the team over three years to support their research on the determinants of high-risk alcohol consumption among college students. 

In our conversation, we talk with Dr. Couture about the research she plans to lead with support from this R15 award and her plans for future research at USF. 

How long have you been at USF and what brought you here?

I arrived in 2013, coming from University of California, San Francisco as a postdoctoral fellow in HIV prevention research and global health. At the time, the Masters of Public Health (MPH) program was just launching, and I wanted the chance to teach more and help build this program from the ground up.

Prior to joining USF, I was an online instructor for a continuing education program at the Public Health Agency of Canada while completing my PhD at Université de Montréal. I taught a range of online epidemiology courses for healthcare professionals. There was a real need for this type of training during this time, due to the emerging SARS epidemic, which really affected Toronto, Canada in 2003. We had 361 cases in the city with a 9% death rate. It was clear at the start that many healthcare professionals were not well prepared to respond to this health emergency, and so there was a real need to teach epidemiology and basic public health courses for all healthcare professionals. 

In addition to wanting more opportunities to teach, I was drawn to USF due to the attention the university pays to social justice. My HIV prevention research in global health often involves addressing health disparities and working with underserved communities, and this was important for continuing my research program.

Can you tell us about your research program and how it has evolved recently?

My research focuses on the intersection of substance use, violence and infectious disease transmission. Originally, my research career started with HIV prevention among marginalized and underserved populations, including drug users and sex workers. Since drug and alcohol use are major drivers of sexually transmitted infections, like HIV, my work naturally included these risk factors. As my HIV prevention work continued, I began detecting major overlaps with violence and victimization, particularly among sex workers. These issues intersect and represent my major interests and current research work.

I have always been interested in infectious diseases. I started in microbiology, with a Bachelor in Microbiology from Universite Laval, then continued with a Master in Biochemistry focusing on molecular biology from McGill University. When an opportunity presented itself to pursue my PhD in epidemiology at the University of Montreal with a team working in global health and HIV prevention, it seemed to really fit. I had the opportunity to conduct research and perform data collection in the field for my research projects with female sex workers and other vulnerable populations, including Cambodia, Thailand, Haiti, Ghana, Zambia, and Côte d’Ivoire. I have a lot of great stories from some of these crazy data collection experiences – come talk to me sometime about it!

Going forward, I plan to continue to look at the effect of victimization and violence on substance use and mental health which brought me to my current R15 work.

Can you tell us about your recent R15? What is an R15 and what work will you be doing with this award?

This grant is based on preliminary results that we got from a CRASE Interdisciplinary Action Group (IAG). In 2017, the IAG gave us a $300 award to address health post-Trump administration on mental health and substance use in college students. The title of the project was, “title was “Trumping fear: The impact of the new administration on fear and mental health sequelae among college students.”  In collaboration with Drs. Erin Grinshteyn and Dellanira Garcia from the School of Nursing and Health Professions, we looked at different forms of fear (victimization, discrimination, deportation) during the Trump administration and their effects on mental health and substance use. From this small IAG award, we published 5 peer-reviewed articles and had 13 presentations at conferences. We also used the findings as preliminary results to secure our R15 from the National Institutes of Health NIH.

An R15 is a grant awarded by the NIH to support non-research universities and to mentor graduate students in research. Our NIH R15 is titled “Determining the causal pathways of social and environmental predictors of high-risk alcohol drinking among college students” and is  $432,136 for 3 years. Dr. Erin Grinshteyn is a Co-PI on the project with me and this is a partnership with the GIS Spatial Analysis Lab in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Through this work, we hope to identify where, when, how, and with whom college students experience violence and victimization and how that impacts high risk alcohol drinking. Measuring behaviors and experiences is difficult, because they are subject to recall bias and other errors. One of the novel aspects of this project is that we are using ecological momentary assessment to follow students for 30 days and collect data on victimization and violence and alcohol use in real-time using a mobile app. Using the mobile app, we will also collect geospatial data to track where they are (e.g., what we call their “activity space”) and to identify their location when violence or victimization experiences and alcohol use happen. The GIS Spatial Analysis Lab will use the GPS coordinates from the app along with google street view to examine the environment and apply a scale to determine physical disorder, crimes, and other neighborhood-level disadvantages. This way we can connect neighborhood-level information on crime and physical disorder with substance use behavior and violence or victimization – thereby addressing structural and environmental issues through geographic information. 

We’re excited to give USF graduate students the opportunity to gain research experience through this R15. We plan to involve students in the data collection and analyses for this project, who will help us implement some of our surveys. 

What are your plans for the future?

Get more grants! Do more research! In the future, I’d really like to find more opportunities to collaborate with faculty across the university –  both within our school and across other schools. I would like to share our expertise on geospatial ecological momentary assessment with other faculty interested to use this methodology for their projects. I value interdisciplinary collaboration and would like to find other topics and research areas to collaborate.

I’d also like to continue to progress my research program on substance abuse and mental health and bring in some aspects of COVID-19. Stemming from our R15-funded work, I’d also like to work toward securing future funding to continue to learn from our geospatial ecological momentary assessment findings and to develop interventions to address substance use among college students.

 

Faculty Spotlight – Richard Greggory Johnson III

Richard Greggory Johnson III, professor of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Management, and chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at USF, recently co-edited a book titled Lessons in Social Equity: A Case Study Book, Birkdale Publishers, 2022. In conjunction with the book’s publication, Prof. Johnson planned and chaired the 21st Annual Social Equity Leadership Conference (SELC) that was hosted by USF and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). The conference was attended by over 1500 participants, and was organized by a team of over 25 people who worked hard to deliver a program that inspired, informed, and introduced various elements of social equity in public administration and public policy to attendees from numerous fields.

In our conversation, Prof. Johnson talked about his co-edited volume, the 21st Annual SELC conference, and his research interests. 

Can you tell us about your recently published, co-edited volume?

The book is the first of its kind on social equity with case studies on how to teach classes on social equity in the field of public administration. The research, broadly speaking, is in the area of human rights, and takes into account issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity and disability. I have been interested in researching these areas for some time now; for instance, the question of “allyship,” and how this concept relates to social equity. The book also takes a global approach to social equity with case studies from places like India where we see many human rights infractions. In the book, we also examine the issue of women in the military and how equity plays out in that case; or, the question of how men are sexually abused in the military, which is a serious matter we don’t hear a great deal about. Other questions of pay scales and social equity, intersectionality, and gender inequality are also covered in the book. At the core of social equity is the idea of human rights, and that’s what we need to pay attention to.

Can you tell us about the conference you organized?

The 21st Annual Social Equity Leadership Conference (SELC) that was hosted by USF and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), was a great success. In short, it was a fabulous conference. Given COVID-19 restrictions, it was a virtual conference with about 1500 people attending online, and 300 speakers. As conference chair, I made the decision early on that we would not be charging registration fees and this was a first for this conference. It will also go down in history as the second SELC conference hosted by a Catholic university, and on the West Coast for the second time. Years ago, we did not have social equity scholars and now we do have them; and, this is changing hiring practices in many different fields, including in academia where social equity is now being included in hiring practices. 

How did you get into the field of public administration and public policy? And, how did you choose to become a social equity scholar? 

My parents were civil rights workers. They were involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League. I got a chance to witness firsthand their activities in social movements. I attended an HBCU and that really helped me get to where I am. That said, I got into the fields of public administration and public policy by accident. My undergraduate education was in urban planning, and I had plans to go to law school or pursue a master’s in public administration. At the time, traditional programs in public administration had no focus on social equity and did not pay it much attention. Nonetheless, it was at the University of Vermont where I took up a tenure-track position that I became more aware of social equity and what it meant. I realized that this is what I have been interested in all along, and I had the good fortune that I could now research this area in greater depth. Over the past 20 years, from about 2003 until now, I have been researching areas of equal pay and how this relates to race, ethnicity, and gender in the field of public administration. I am now working on issues of disability in public administration. It has been a fruitful journey. 

How did you come to USF?

I was a tenured associate professor at the University of Vermont. I had a home and a great life there. One of my colleagues, a USF professor who is now retired, approached me at a conference and asked if I would be interested in joining USF – because I would be in San Francisco. I took my colleague up on his offer—it was a free trip to San Francisco and an opportunity to get out of Vermont in the winter—and came to interview at USF. I got an offer to teach, and here I am 12 years later. 

Research plans for the future?

I always have some book or article in my head. Currently, I am particularly interested in disability awareness and disability rights in the workplace under the umbrella of social equity. I am also drawn to researching intersex individuals in the workplace. There’s not much known on the subject because not so long-ago parents and/or physicians made individuals decide one way or the other, and what we are finding out is that as a child grows up it is quite likely that their gender is something else. I would like my research and work to have an impact globally. I see myself as a citizen of the world, I love to travel, and I am working on further internationalization of the masters in public administration (MPA) degree at USF. This relates to my research interest in cultural competence and intersectionality as they relate to the field of public administration. 

 

 

 

Faculty Spotlight: Sergio De La Torre

Sergio De La Torre, Associate Professor of Fine Arts in the Department of Art + Architecture at USF, was recently awarded the Art for Justice Fund grant for $100,000. The fund is focused on supporting and promoting art projects that take on the prison industrial complex in the United States. Awardees are nominated from a large pool of individual artists and artists’ collectives working in the United States. 

Prof. De La Torre was nominated for the remarkable work of his Sanctuary City Project, which investigates the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the implications of border arrests, and the emergence of private detention centers. Using art that includes print-making, banners, billboards, photography, and video, Prof. De La Torre’s goal is to reveal the hidden and not-so-hidden motivations behind the U.S. government’s punitive actions in the sphere of immigration and the space of the U.S – Mexico border. 

In our conversation, Prof. De La Torre talked about the award, his work, and future projects.  

Tell us how you received the award and your reaction on learning about it?

When I received the award, I got an email in March 2022 from a person saying that they were looking for Sergio De La Torre because he, that is I, had received an Art for Justice Fund award. At first, I thought this was a phishing email. Is this real? The email sender then said that if I don’t believe him, I should check my spam folder. I did, and there it was, in my USF email spam folder where it said I had received an award from the Art for Justice Fund in the amount of $100,000. I was absolutely elated! 

Going back, can you tell us how you got into art, or became an artist? 

That’s another funny story. I finished high school in Mexico when I was 17 years old. I was born in San Diego and so was an U.S. citizen living in Mexico. At 18, in Mexico, you have to decide which citizenship you are going to pick (back then, 1984, there was no dual citizenship) and so I picked the U.S. I never saw myself living in the United States and therefore was kind of surprised that I picked U.S. citizenship. I couldn’t continue studying in Mexico as a national but had to continue as a foreigner and with tuition very high, I didn’t go to school for three years. I had to then establish residency in the U.S., which is when I started working in San Diego. During this time, I took ESL classes, and got thoroughly bored. A friend of mine said, “study art because you don’t need to speak English.” And that’s how I got into photography, painting, design, drawing, and printmaking at the Southwestern College in Chula Vista. 

The art teachers there were part of a collective focused on “border art.” They organized art events – performances, dinner parties, conversations – and had branched out into these other forms in contrast to traditional drawing, painting, and sculpture. Back then, the border didn’t have a wall, it wasn’t militarized, and was far more fluid (that’s where most of the migration from other parts of South and Central America took place, through Tijuana). 

During the 1980s, I was not particularly drawn to “border art” or the kind of work my teachers were doing. I didn’t fully understand these forms of art practice and their implications. After coming to San Francisco in the early 90s—I came to study photography at the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC)— acquiring some physical distance between myself and the border is what helped me understand my relationship to the border and the art practices around it. Later, I went and got an MFA in Fine Art at UC San Diego where I worked on my film MAQUILAPOLIS that examines the lives of factory workers at the U.S.-Mexico border. The film premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and was received very well. 

So, my becoming an artist, and my current practice, owes a lot to my early teachers who were practicing “border art’, in particular Liz Sisco.

What can you tell us about your art practice?

During my arts education, I came to the realization that museums and galleries were no longer at the center for the display and dissemination of art. There were other places that were far more vital for art. That realization changed my practice and made me focus more on process, research, interactions with audiences, talking to subjects, and so on. Subsequently, I turned these immersive and experiential practices into artwork. My work is indeed present in museums and galleries but understanding these processes and practices has informed my work. 

What projects are you working on and what are your plans for the future?

An immediate project is to finish a book for the Sanctuary City project. The book will include every phrase we have collected and every poster we have made – about 40 of them – that speak about immigration issues and sanctuary cities. The book will also include data about immigration policy and practice from 1989, when San Francisco became a sanctuary city, to the present. I also have new projects I am working on, in particular about “surveillance ankle monitors” and for that I am working with Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) and the Dreamer Fund. My plan is to interview people that wear these monitors and understand the stigma as well as the emotional and psychological states they go through. I am envisioning an audio installation that expresses these feelings. 

Installation of Sanctuary City posters at the Palo Alto Art Center.

 

 

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.