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

CRASE PechaKucha

Celebrate USF Presenters

CelebrateUSF PechaKucha
Saturday, October 19, 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
Gleeson Library Monihan Atrium

PechaKucha Challenge and Happy Hour
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 3–5 p.m.
Lone Mountain 100 – Handlery Room

CRASE hosted two PechaKucha’s during Fall 2019—the PechaKucha Challenge and Happy Hour with 90 attendees and the Celebrate USF PechaKucha with over 230 attendees including students, alumni, faculty, staff, and leadership. PechaKucha is a presentation style in which the speaker talks about their work with 20 slides shown for 15 seconds each (5 minutes in total). The format keeps presentations concise and fast-paced and powers multiple-speaker PechaKucha Nights across the globe.

Our featured presenters included:

  • Liat Berdugo, College of Arts and Sciences, Art + Architecture
  • Brandon Brown, College of Arts and Sciences, Physics
  • Shawn Calhoun, Gleeson Library Geschke Center
  • Laura Chyu, School of Nursing and Health Professions, Health Professions
  • Candice Lynn Harrison, College of Arts and Sciences, History
  • Jeremy Kasdin, College of Arts and Sciences, Engineering
  • Shabnam Koirala-Azad, School of Education
  • Michelle Millar, School of Management, Hospitality Management
  • Michelle Travis, School of Law

CRASE Statistics and Methods Camp

Qualitative Research Methods Session

Over 35 faculty members attended one or more workshops during the CRASE Statistics and Methods Camp.

Building and Sustaining a Research Program Using Mixed Methods

Designed for researchers at all stages of their careers and fields of research, this workshop focused on how to implement a mixed methods approach to creating research that is programmatic and generative. During the workshop, participants: (1) Honed in on their research priorities; (2) Created a storyboard of their research arc; (3) Learned different mixed methods designs and how they can be used in mapping career trajectory; and (4) Learned about multiple types of methods and make decisions on how and when to use them appropriately. This holistic approach to research methods helped augment faculty research programs and career trajectories.

Dr. Christine Yeh, Professor of Counseling Psychology at the School of Education, has taught mixed methods and completed numerous projects employing a sequential mixed methods design.

Qualitative Research Methods Refresher

This workshop focused on qualitative data analysis was designed for faculty who have collected (or are about to collect) qualitative data and are trying to figure out what to do next. The first half of the workshop covered popularly used data analysis methods such as grounded theory, thematic analysis, and discourse analysis. Participants did initial analysis using a “data session” model often used by discourse/conversation analysts (but really can be used by anyone doing qualitative coding). The second half of the workshop covered technologies for qualitative analysis with special emphasis on Dedoose: a cloud-based (and desktop) qualitative data analysis software that is reasonably priced and allows for team coding.

Dr. Evelyn Ho, Professor of Communication Studies, has taught qualitative research and led numerous interdisciplinary projects using qualitative methods.

Creating Surveys Using Qualtrics

This workshop covered how to get started in using Qualtrics, a software program that allows you to create surveys quickly and easily using both open and close ended types of questions. Qualtrics is more powerful than Google Forms and its menus allow you to create different questions and responses, score and recode data. With the click of a button you can see your results or download data for analysis in Excel, SPSS, etc. In this workshop, faculty spent time creating surveys according to their research needs.

Dr. Saera Khan, Professor of Psychology, has taught how to use Qualtrics for research to her undergraduates in her advanced research methods course and in her social cognition lab.

ANOVA and MANOVA Refresher

ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) and MANOVA (Multivariate Analysis of Variance) are statistical analyses frequently used in many disciplines of research. They allow researchers to compare meaningful group differences to reveal similarities and disparities exist among groups to inform policy, educational, and public health practices, to name a few. This workshop refreshed basic concepts of ANOVA and MANOVA and took participants step by step to gain familiarity with these statistical skills through SPSS.

Dr. Hsiu-Lan Cheng, Associate Professor in Counseling Psychology at the School of Education, has taught research methods and statistical analyses across multiple levels of graduate student courses.

No-Shame Revise and Resubmit Workshop

Presenters show spreadsheet

This workshop, led by Erin Grinshteyn (Assistant Professor, School of Nursing and Health Professions) and Christine Yeh (CRASE Co-Director and Professor, School of Education), helped participants develop strategies for tackling manuscript revisions by sharing project management tools for tracking manuscripts and how to manage conflicting advice. Workshop facilitators walked participants through revision letter templates and provide tips for tackling the next revision in a no-shame, supportive environment.

Participants felt that the templates and tips were very helpful and that the presenters were very knowledgeable.

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.

Thinking Through Drawing: Rubens and the Rhetorical Art of Eloquence

Lusheck presenting on Rubens

Following the recent publication of her monograph, Rubens and the Eloquence of Drawing (Routledge/Ashgate, 2017), Associate Professor Kate Lusheck (Art History & Museum Studies) discussed the graphic art of the great, seventeenth-century painter, Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640) in light of the historical and rhetorical concept of eloquence. In this large lecture style talk, Lusheck presented a close, case study approach, focusing in detail on how one Rubens drawing of Medea and her dead children powerfully demonstrates the artist’s interest in drawing together form and content through an unusually conscious approach to style and emulation. Cross-disciplinary in her concerns, Lusheck demonstrated how such spectacles of graphic eloquence, grounded in borrowing from ideas located in great texts and objects of the distant and recent past, highlight Rubens’s fascination with creating more conceptually robust models of design. She contends that in the end, such drawings reflect the inimitable ways of thinking of an erudite, humanist artist who loved to design as much in his mind as on paper.

Is Development on San Francisco’s Treasure Island Viable?

Professor Tanu Sankalia discusses the history of Treasure Island and how earthquake risk, toxic contamination, and sea-level rise still imperil plans for large-scale, capital intensive, development on the island.

The man-made, low-lying, Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Photo copyright Barrie Rokeach 2017.

Few Bay Area residents are entirely aware of Treasure Island’s presence, and fewer still know its history: when it was built, how it has been used over the past decades, and what are plans for its future. Despite its very central location in the San Francisco Bay, this flat, low-lying, man-made island has remained at the periphery of most people’s local and geographical consciousness.

As an architect and urban planner, Treasure Island first caught my attention when plans for its redevelopment were unveiled in 2005. The project was promoted as a cutting-edge sustainable development, especially at a time in the early 2000s when sustainability had caught on rapidly among architecture and planning firms. Yet I was intrigued as to how a multi-billion dollar development that consumed great resources, required massive new infrastructure, and was proposed on what appeared to be a risky site (more about this later), could actually be sustainable.

Over the last eight years, my research on the planning and design history of the redevelopment project, together with contributions from a group of excellent scholars on a range of historic and contemporary issues concerning the island, has recently culminated in a co-edited book, Lynne Horiuchi and Tanu Sankalia, Eds., Urban Reinventions: San Francisco’s Treasure Island published by the University of Hawaii Press. While our work focuses on a single site and underscores its local significance, it also reaches out to topics of global importance such as the Pacific Rim, New Deal, world’s fairs, World War II, Cold War military industrial complex, nuclear contamination, sustainability, and eco-cities, among others. This research has also informed my teaching as I have been able to use Treasure Island as a case study in the urban planning and design course I teach in the Masters of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM) program at USF.

The Army Corps of Engineers built Treasure Island between 1936-1937 with New Deal money. It was constructed concurrently with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, to serve as San Francisco’s airport, at a time of major transportation infrastructure expansion. Between 1939-1940 the island hosted the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), which shifted the focus of world’s fairs as venues of science and industry to representations of international unity exemplified in the idea of a Pacific Rim interconnected through commerce and trade. World War II scuttled this utopian imagination, and in early 1942 Treasure Island was converted into an active naval base that cycled 4.5 million US soldiers on their way to and back from the Pacific theater of war. After World War II, Naval Station Treasure Island focused on training and distribution activities until it was officially closed in 1997. In 2011, the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a redevelopment project for a new sustainable city of 19,000 residents, which critics and commentators see as an example of twenty-first century, “ecotopian” urbanism.

Underlying Treasure Island’s historical narrative, our research found that since its conception, the island has remained a contested site with federal and local agencies vying for its control. These agencies have recurrently shaped the physical character of the island (what we call urban reinventions) through ambitious projects like the airport, world’s fair, military base and now, eco-city. But despite these important historical lessons, which are crucial in understanding how cities and communities conceive projects, the material risks—earthquakes, toxic soil and rising seas—surrounding its latest grand vision are rather pressing.

Treasure Island was built on the shoals of the natural Yerba Buena Island from dredged bay mud filled into a trough enclosed by a sea wall made of large boulders. The shoals, which function as bedrock into which tall buildings must pierce their foundations, are deeper away from the island. Although most buildings in the proposed plan are clustered where the shoals are shallower, there is considerable infrastructure on parts of the island that geotechnical reports (produced in the first reuse plan of 1996) indicate to be unstable. Given the island’s proximity to some of the Bay Area’s largest earthquake faults, a significant tremor can cause the landfill to function like jelly.

Toxic soil remains a major concern on Treasure Island. The US Navy established a Damage Control School in 1947 during its tenure on the island to train naval personnel in decontamination procedures in the event of an atomic, chemical or biological attack. For training purposes they built a mock training ship—the USS Pandemonium—from scrap metal, which was periodically contaminated with cesium-137 and a diluted solution of radioactive bromine-82. In 1971, they dragged this mock ship from the northwest to the southeast of the island further spreading radioactive substances across the island. According to the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the state agency charged with monitoring toxic cleanup at Treasure Island, the island’s soils contain a long list of toxic chemical substances harmful to humans including plutonium and radium. Furthermore, the current Historical Radiological Assessment report that the Navy must produce to guide management and remediation of toxic soils states that the island’s soils simply cannot return to their pre-military state.

Almost twenty years after the redevelopment process for the island was initiated, we have greater awareness about climate change, global warming, and one of its major effects—sea level rise. Maps produced by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the San Francisco Public Press show Treasure Island and the edges of San Francisco Bay under threat from rising seas and storm surges. There are plans to raise the entire island and build a higher, stronger seawall to protect against this danger. Still there is little evidence—especially considering the example of Miami Beach, which is constantly inundated despite its massive seawalls and giant pumps—that such measures will actually succeed.

The Bay Area indeed needs more housing, which Treasure Island’s development could well deliver. There are also many good ideas such as manmade wetlands, urban agriculture and energy efficient buildings, in the redevelopment plans. But they well may be great ideas in the wrong place. Why jeopardize billions of dollars in development and risk the lives of almost twenty thousand residents on an unstable, contaminated, low-lying island site?

Looking back to the very construction of Treasure Island and its recurrent urban reinventions, I am reminded of the German writer W.G. Sebald’s prescient observation that “it is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity.” It is in moments of vulnerability that governments, cities, and communities take on ambitious and, often, risky projects. In recognizing this risk, it still may not be too late to rethink the viability of development on Treasure Island.

Announcing the Fall 2017 Interdisciplinary Action Group Grant Award Recipients

CRASE will fund three proposals for the Fall 2017 Interdisciplinary Action Groups: Preservation in the Midst of Change.

Flint’s Legacy: Trusting Science and Pursuing Justice
Rachel Brahinsky, Urban and Public Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences
David Donahue, McCarthy Center for Public Service and The Common Good
Alice Kaswan, School of Law
Jack Lendvay, Environmental Science, College of Arts and Sciences
Thomas MacDonald, Environmental Science, College of Arts and Sciences
Teresa Moore, Media Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
Peter Novak, Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, Lead
Jeffrey Paris, Environmental Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
J Michael Robertson, Media Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
David Silver, Environmental Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
Rebecca Seeman, Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences
Carol Spector, Gleeson Library | Geschke Center

We propose a series of events centered around the themes of environmental justice, water safety as a human right, and belief in science. Through a theatrical production, an educational symposium, and exhibits, we will educate the USF community about the realities of the water our community drinks, the water issues in greater California, and the water issues in towns like Flint, MI across the country.

Forum for Transnational Collaboration in the Arts
John Zarobell, International Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
Pedro Lange-Churion, Modern and Classical Languages, College of Arts and Sciences
Tanu Sankalia, Art and Architecture, College of Arts and Sciences
Sumer Seiki, Teacher Education, School of Education

The goal of the “Forum for Transnational Collaboration” is to bring together emerging voices from previously marginalized countries that are poised to become an essential part of the global conversation in contemporary art today. The relationship between art and globalization is seen by many experts as a one-way street in which powerful countries, their art institutions, and their artists, dominate a broadening sphere of cultural production. There is more than a grain of truth in that analysis, but this Forum aims to provide a platform for the development of a countervailing narrative.

The Preservation of the Human Dignity and Rights of the Trans Community
Daniela Domínguez, Counseling Psychology, School of Education
Jane Bleasdale, Leadership Studies, School of Education
Amie Dowling, Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences

Through the use of advocacy, activism, and a social justice framework, we will create an experiential, and creative space that will promote the idea that our society functions best when celebratory spaces and initiatives are inclusive of Trans individuals. Our exhibit will be grounded in intersectional practice, an appreciation for the preservation of Trans rights, and it will reflect a spirit of resistance to the reversal of progress. Our project, consisting of a photo exhibit and dramatic performance, aims to demonstrate that students, educators, administrators, and members of the San Francisco community, will not sit quietly when discrimination takes place against the Trans community. Through photography and staged readings, we will demonstrate the unique advantages of committing to the notion that all Trans individuals deserve equal rights, protection, and a satisfactory academic/professional/military career.