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.

 

 

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

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.

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.

Faculty Spotlight: Tim Redmond

In 2013, Tim Redmond launched 48hills.org. During our conversation we discussed his project tracking evictions and how teaching affects his journalism.

Tim Redmond

How did you end up at USF?

I started in the Masters of Urban and Public Affairs program. I have been a journalist all my life. I was at the Bay Guardian for about 30 years, and I started 48hills.org, which is a digital daily newspaper. I’ve been writing about urban studies and urban issues my entire career, and at USF, I taught Urban Public Policy and then Economics of Social Justice in the Master’s in Urban and Public Affairs. The Media Studies Department was looking for someone to teach journalism, so now I teach—journalism, investigative reporting, American journalism ethics, civic media, and in the master’s program.

What research are you doing right now?

One of my master’s students and I are working on a major project that’s tracking evictions of longtime residents in the Mission and looking at who replaced them. We’re doing a socioeconomic, demographic, political and real estate study. We’ve chosen 14 buildings where there was an Ellis Act eviction, a no-fault eviction where the tenants are forced out so that the owner can flip the places.

We’re looking at who was living there, when they got evicted, where they went—a lot of them have had to leave town—and who moved in. This is all done through public records and through investigative techniques that I teach. We’re putting together a profile of the changing Mission, building by building, to show people the impact of the tech boom and the Ellis Act and that this wave of displacement has had on longtime San Franciscans.

Where did the research process start for this project?

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project looked at one building with a contested eviction. I thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that for the entire Mission?” I’ve learned in investigative reporting that if you take on to bigger project, it never gets done. You need to take on a project that’s doable. We picked 14 buildings and analyzed building by building. That means going down to the assessor’s office and pulling all of the records on who owned the building, how long it’s been owned, who sold it, who bought the building, when it was flipped as condos, who those people are, and then go and knock on doors. A lot of the folks who move in have no idea that they’ve displaced a longtime resident. They’re just looking for a place to live. It’s doing a lot of public records work, research and phone work, and then knocking on doors.

I’m really interested in displacement and the economic impacts of displacement in San Francisco. A couple years ago, I did a big project with another reporter looking at how many of the new condo buildings in San Francisco are vacant. As many as 30% of the units appear to be unoccupied. We did that by using public records, by looking at the tax bills for each of those places, and looking to see if the tax bill went to the same residence. Most homeowners get their tax bill at their home. For 30% of the units, the property tax bill is going to New York or someplace else in California. Then you find that the person getting the tax bill owns six other houses in the state, and you get a sense that they’re not using this as a full-time residence.

How do you do these collaborative projects?

Sometimes freelance writers or researchers actively involved in political issues come to me. Some of it comes from activists and participants in the political process. Some of it comes from just noticing things.

When I started 48 Hills, I thought San Francisco as always needed to progressive daily newspaper back when I got into the business that would have required tens of millions of dollars for printing presses, so they’re expensive stuff. Now it’s a few hundred bucks for a designer and a WordPress template to get started. Rather than trying to make a profit off this, we just try to break even. This is community supported journalism. I like to think that we’re paving the way for that model. I also like to think that someone’s going to give us $5 million, and we’re going to hire a whole bunch more staff.

It’s a fairly small operation, but I don’t think you have to be a huge operation to have an impact on the community. We’re active in the community. It’s not just news, obviously. We do a lot of arts, culture, and entertainment. Democracy cannot survive without journalists, and local democracy cannot survive without local journalists.

How did you first become interested in journalism?

My first year of college, I walked into the student newspaper office and said, “Hey, I’d like to volunteer.” I ended up spending four years working in the student newspaper. By the time I graduated, I was editor and also learned that even a small publication can have a huge impact.

In 1978, the big issue on campus was university investments in businesses that did business in South Africa. This was the days of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was still in jail. Archbishop Tutu was calling on American institutions to divest from companies that did business in South Africa. I was wondering how much business Wesleyan does and how much of the portfolio is in companies doing business in South Africa. It’s a private university. It’s not public information, but we managed to get it. We did a big story on the front page listing all the investments in companies that did business in South Africa, raising all the questions, and talking about the divestment and the international anti-apartheid movement. Six weeks later, 200 students took over the president’s office. The New York Times was there, CBS, NBC, helicopters, the police. We had this little twice a week newspaper with 2,500 copies, and we had this impact.

I got out to San Francisco and started working for the Bay Guardian, which at that time was a relatively small weekly newspaper. I realized that you don’t have to be the New York Times have an impact on your community. Community journalism can have a huge impact. The Guardian grew from a circulation of 30,000 to 150,000, and we went from about 28 pages a week to about 170 pages a week. I was there through all of this growth and always kept in mind that this is community journalism with a goal of making this a better place for the people who live here.

I started off covering real estate development, tenant issues, gentrification, city planning, which became one of my key beats. I started realizing that the battleground over development in San Francisco was in thick environmental impact and economic impact reports that no one was reading. The planning commissioners weren’t reading them. The supervisors weren’t reading them, and the mayor clearly wasn’t reading them. Most daily newspaper reporters weren’t reading them because they had deadline in four hours.

I started looking into all of these government documents. When you have the data in front of you, and you can say this is the impact this project is going to have on the city—how many more cars it’s going to put on the streets, the impact on Muni, and the impact it’s going to have on water and sewer. You can just say to the decision makers, did you even know this? You’re approving this and they’re not paying for any of this? I’ve always been fascinated with data, and I’m very interested in discrepancies and knowledge missing from the political puzzle.

I call myself a political reporter, which means I write about politics, but I’m also a reporter who’s political. The politics of San Francisco, in many ways is the politics of land use and development, because that’s about who gets to live here and who doesn’t. Who lives here votes here.

What are you looking at next?

I want to write a book about how the baby boomer generation, my generation, lost faith in government and how that’s affected American politics.

My parents’ generation didn’t mind paying taxes because my parents saw government as the force that beat the Great Depression and won the World War One and World War Two. I just missed the Vietnam War. I was born in ’58, so I missed the draft by two years. The people I grew up with saw government as the force that wanted to send you to die in Vietnam and put you in jail for smoking pot. When Ronald Reagan said “Government is not the solution, government is the problem,” a lot of baby boomers said, “Yeah, you’re right.” In 1980, a majority of the people who subscribe to Rolling Stone magazine voted for Ronald Reagan.

Right now, the two fundamental issues facing humanity and civilization are economic inequality and climate change, and they’re completely linked. Those are problems that can only be solved with collective solutions, which requires government action. It requires new rules and regulations that companies have to follow. Economic inequality doesn’t happen on a voluntary basis. Philanthropy is not going to solve a problem that has to be done by government through taxation and redistribution. How do we convince the next generation that that’s worthwhile? I also want to turn my economics of social justice class into a book, but I don’t know if we’ll ever get around to that.

How does teaching inform your work as a journalist?

I am constantly interacting with the next generation of readers. I constantly think about how my students get their information and about how journalism is evolving. My students are full of great ideas.

One of the best ways to learn to be a better journalist and editor is to teach. I teach students clarity, how to write, how to write in a way that other people can understand, particularly in fields like economics. I try to teach that journalism is about making people understand things. Part of what I do in my economics and social justice class is trying to translate complex stuff into a form my students can understand. It’s always about making information clear for people.

Faculty Spotlight: Michelle Millar

Michelle Millar lived in Las Vegas while working on her Ph.D. in Hospitality Administration. During our conversation, we discussed sustainability and greening in the hotel industry, the relationship between academia and industry, and her recent research.

Michelle Millar

How did you first become interested in sustainability?

I grew up conserving because we had to, which is the case for a lot of people, but I really began to focus on sustainability after I took a trip to Costa Rica and stayed in an ecolodge. I didn’t go with a research agenda, but I came away with a completely different perspective of what travel could be. Since the ecolodge was such a tiny place, I was able to meet other people from around the world. One couple was very conscientious about the environment and their impact on it, and they really struggled with the fact that they flew from England on a really long flight to get to this place that is so caring for our environment. That thought stuck with me.

What I quickly learned was that, in the hotel industry it is referred to as “greening” the industry, not ecotourism, which really implies only environmental awareness. Sustainability is bigger, however—it’s about the planet, it’s people, and also making a profit—yet very few people were approaching it that way in the hotel industry-related research. Sustainability is a concept that changes depending on who is giving you the definition. When I started my research in the greening part of sustainability, no one else was doing it. It’s evolved, fortunately, and has become more popular in our industry and in research

After that trip to Costa Rica, I started digging into the literature about ecotourism, but because the ecotourism world is so vast, I honed in on hotels and what they can do in terms of being green—what they can take from an ecolodge like the one I visited and bring to everyday hotel life. It started with what consumers want in a green hotel and a green hotel room. Do they want low-flow water shower heads and/or dispensers in the room instead of individual amenities? Do they want recycling? Do they care about whether the sheets are organic or bamboo? I ended up with a model that identified what consumers would be willing to stay in and pay for since there’s often an extra cost for a greener hotel—or at least there is a perception that there is an extra cost.

Describe your recent work.

I teach classes in the Hospitality Management program about managing meetings and events. I’ve written two papers about whether or not hospitality industry managers want students to learn about sustainability in college. The interest has grown exponentially in the past few years as colleges offer degrees in meeting and event management. I’m trying to understand what the industry wants from our students in terms of sustainability and if they even believe it’s a skill students should have. We can then report to schools that this is what the industry believes is important to know in terms of sustainability and keep our curriculum relevant.

What was it like switching from the hospitality industry over to academia?

I was a travel agent for sixteen years, and I came to a point where I was ready for a change and decided I would go get my Ph.D. I had a friend who was a professor who   told me to go for it, and if I didn’t like it, then I could do something different afterwards. I loved it, especially the teaching and would never have thought I would be going in this direction in my life. For me, it was a pretty easy transition going back to school, partly because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but actually earning the Ph.D. was the hardest thing I had ever done.

I lived in Las Vegas for five years when I did my Ph.D., and the industry down there is effective at conserving for cost savings. For example, in Las Vegas, they recycle all water—the water you see in the fountains in Vegas comes from reclaimed water. They’re taking water from the laundry and cleaning it to a certain degree and putting it back to the fountains. You can’t drink it but you can use it. The gaming industry of Vegas uses less water than the entire community of Las Vegas because of water-saving measures. Their laundry facilities are state-of-the-art and use less power. Some properties have their own electrical co-generation plant or they have solar panels in the desert that they draw from. On the Vegas Strip, many of the larger properties have people in the back sorting trash. Another example of how the Las Vegas community attempts to conserve is through farming. There is a pig farm outside Las Vegas where all the food waste goes to feed the pigs. Then the farm sells the pigs back to the industry to use locally. All of these practices opened my eyes further to the role that sustainability can play in the industry—and it was Las Vegas!

When you initially started down this track, were you always very conscious that you wanted your research to be applicable to industry?

I did because the hospitality industry isn’t going to change the world in terms of research—it has to be applied—and that’s why it became important for me. Since I came from the industry, it was very important for me to have the connection between the two because industry doesn’t necessarily read our research journals, but I can share research with them via other avenues. It’s a good way for me to maintain the connection to industry.

I’m involved in industry associations such as the Green Meeting Industry Council. Being an educator on that committee allows me to share what we’re doing in academia and in hospitality and sustainability. The people in that association are executives or they own their own meeting/planning company, but they’re all in it because they care about the environment. An association such as the Club Managers Association of America is completely unrelated to sustainability, but being a part of it affords me the opportunity to talk to managers of golf clubs and country clubs about sustainability about what they can do and what they need from us in terms of research. Those are important avenues to reach the industry.

How do you bring your knowledge of industry and research into your courses?

The industry part is easy because students like to hear your experiences in it. So whoever you are, if you’ve worked and you teach, you can marry the two easily. For me, it’s more about sharing that I have a passion for sustainability. There aren’t just one or two lectures devoted to it, it’s infused throughout from Day 1. I can bring it into my classes and say that this is what I’ve found or this is what the industry believes you should know about sustainability.

Do students have a passion for learning more about these things, too?

Over the past seven years, the interest is rising. Students recognize the ethical side of this work. I have definitely seen a change with this generation—they do seem to care and they want to make choices that incorporate that ideal. San Francisco in particular is exceptional. Some of my students are from different parts of the U.S. and the world, and they understand that we’re uber-exposed to issues of sustainability here. It’s not the norm, however, and they recognize that when they go home they have the opportunity to educate others about these ideals.

What brought you to USF?

They had a job posting for a hospitality professor with a research focus on sustainability. It was very specific, and I felt it was written for me. All my friends who saw the posting told me I needed to apply. I grew up in Concord, California but lived in other parts of the U.S. for several years, so this job brought me back home.

I didn’t know about USF growing up, so even when I applied for the job, I didn’t know a lot about this campus. Reading about USF and teaching to the whole person resonated with me. When I came here for a pre-interview, I really hit it off with the Deans of the program and the faculty. All of that clicked together, and here I am today!

Faculty Spotlight: Rachel Brahinsky

Rachel Brahinksy began her career as a Bay Area reporter. During our conversation, we talked about her research, historical geography, and how San Francisco has changed over the years.

Rachel Brahinsky

 

How did you first become interested in research?

Before I did my Ph.D., I was a journalist. I was always curious and wanted to find the stories that weren’t being told. Before that, in college, I took a lot of African American Literature classes, which opened up this narrative that was absolutely outside of the standard history that I had been taught. Experiences like that set me down the road of trying to find more of those stories. There’s a multiplicity of narratives and lives and relationships. The power dynamics at play, and how things are written, is really important.

How did you start with journalism?

I always wanted to write. When I was working on my undergraduate thesis my writing professor thought I was too political, and my politics professors wanted me to get away from the storytelling. I wanted both and thought both were possible. I went off and got an internship at The Valley Advocate, which is a lot like The Village Voice, The Bay Guardian, or City Paper, and did that for about a year. Then I came here for an internship at The Bay Guardian and was a reporter there for 5 years.

How did you transition from journalism to your Ph.D.?

I had repetitive strain in my arms from typing really fast all the time, which is what you do when you’re a reporter, so I went through a round of physical therapy to deal with that. I came out of that process a lot better physically but realized that it wasn’t sustainable for me to be at a desk in a stressed-out position all day long.

I wanted a different pace, and teaching was something I was always interested in. Ultimately, I was trained as a human/critical geographer. That does mean certain things about how I understand what matters and what to look for in research, but my work is very interdisciplinary. I bring history, urban planning, ethnic studies, African American studies, and a little bit of gender studies together in a geographical frame.

What are you working on now?

My primary book project evolved out of my dissertation, which was called “The Making and Unmaking of Southern San Francisco.” It was a story about Bayview Hunter’s Point, race, redevelopment, and industrial land use—and how all of those things fit together over the course of about 100 years, so it covers a long historical geography. I’m expanding that and the working title is Race in the City: A Story of Property. It’s a book about the way that race fits into those categories of property and ownership, how race and space make each other, and how urban change and urban development can help us understand both how race and racism are created and re-formed, and also how to deconstruct them. It’s a story of urban development and fights over social justice and urban planning.

I also have a collaborative book that is called A People’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a social and political history of the Bay Area, mostly focused on social-movement histories in the form of a scholarly guidebook. We take you to lots of sites and tell stories about social movement histories that intersect with that place. It builds out of an urban field class that I teach at USF where we walk around different neighborhoods and I teach students about landscape theory and the history and politics of place.

Is there a story that really resonated with you?

When I was doing research on the Fillmore District and thinking about the intersecting displacement of African American and Japanese American communities, I came across this about this group of women in Bayview. People would say “If we had the Big Five around, things would be different—they knew what they were doing.” And I was like: what’s the Big Five? I ended up studying them—there were more than five of them, it turned out, and the people included in the group changed over time. It was an evolving organization. They were African American women who were struggling economically and financially in Bayview, and they saw what had happened in the Fillmore where twenty square blocks were razed to the ground by the redevelopment agency, with people displaced from their homes and businesses.

At the time, Bayview was covered with temporary war housing. It was never meant to be permanent, and about 20 years later it was falling apart. The redevelopment agency turned to Bayview and started making plans for clearance and development there. The Big Five went down to various meetings and said: “If you want to develop in Bayview, you have to come through us.” They persisted, and they became part of the redevelopment process. Bayview Hill was actually remade actually quite beautifully. The vision people have of Bayview now is distorted by time, but when housing was first remade on Bayview Hill with little cul-de-sacs, it was quaint and cute and welcoming. The streets are all named after these women, so you’ll see their names all around the hill: Eloise Westbrook, Marcelee Cashmere, etc.

But there was not really an economic development plan that came with the housing development plan, so Bayview continued to struggle, even though people were happy to be living in this brand-new housing. The end of the story is challenging, but there was this moment of about 15 years where community members were figuring out how to turn resources toward the community and learning how to work together to organize. There were challenges, but these women were what some people call street scholars, and they learned all the language of urban planning “setbacks” and “maximum heights.” They taught it to themselves and each other and they went down to the meetings and they said this is what we need in our neighborhood. And they kept doing it, and sometimes they would get hired. That gets complicated. Some people said they sold out because they were willing to become part of the agency, but what they won for the community was very significant. It was a small community effort where people learned from other neighborhoods and were really able to make a difference, for a moment.

How do you bring your research into the classroom?

My research shows up in the material through lectures, and sometimes a student will ask a very innocent question, which kind of sparks me to think, “I don’t know the answer and I need to go figure that out,” and it sends me down some new research paths. I find the teaching process really fun in that way. Ultimately, I want my students to leave with the capacity and curiosity to keep asking questions and to see that as an integral part of their lives.

Do you have a moment when a student asked you a question and it guided your research?

A couple of years ago I had students reading a book by Neil Smith, a classic book on gentrification. The question that came out was “what comes next after gentrification?”  In some ways it’s simple—of course we don’t know what’s next, but when you’re studying cycles of urban change, you need to think about the patterns of the past and what they may be turning in to, as we study them.  And there was something about the simplicity of that question that sent me down this research path, hoping to clarify the language I use when I teach about the changing city. There’s always something new to understand.