Educational Psychologist Delves into the True Psychology of African American Students

kevin-cokley-bookIn this excerpt from the introduction to his new book, The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism: A True Psychology of African American Students, psychologist and professor Kevin Cokley delves into his own history as a high school and college student, and explores how the evolution of his academic identity intersected with his evolving racial identity.

The book, which was published earlier this year, challenges the dominant narrative regarding black student achievement by examining the themes of black identity, the role of self-esteem, the hurdles that result in academic difficulties, and the root sources of academic motivation. In it, Cokley proposes a bold alternate narrative that uses black identity as the theoretical framework to examine factors in academic achievement and challenge the widely accepted notion of black anti-intellectualism.

High School

By high school, I had been identified as a “smart” student. I was in the highest-level classes that were available. I thought of myself as a good student, and fully embraced making good grades as a part of my academic identity.

I never considered myself as one of those super-smart, academically gifted students who always made straight As. However, I considered myself an above-average, hard-working student. I made honor roll often, but not all of the time. I did not make the National Honor Society, a disappointment that lingered with me for several years.

The defining moment in my young academic career were two programs called Medicine as a Career and Focus on Biology. They were summer enrichment programs geared toward academically gifted minority students (mostly African American) and Appalachian Whites (defined as Whites living in rural Appalachian areas who were presumably economically disadvantaged).

The programs brought these students together for two and five weeks, respectively, on the campus of Wake Forest University. The purpose of the programs was to encourage more ethnic-minority and economically disadvantaged students to pursue a career in medicine.

I had never been in a setting where there were large numbers of serious, goal-oriented, academically gifted Black students. The pride that I felt from my selection and participation in the programs was immeasurable. It was the first explicit experience that connected my identity as a Black student to my academic performance, and it changed me forever. When I completed the summer programs and returned home to get ready for school, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I also had a newfound resentment toward my White classmates, and toward living in a small, predominantly White “hick” town.

My eyes were now open. I was angry because I felt that for years I had been deprived of the opportunity to reach my potential as a student. I was also angry because I had considered myself a special Black student because I was excelling in my classes. I realized that I harbored beliefs that Black students could not excel academically, and that I believed I was the exception.

Living with a group of academically gifted Black students made me realize that I was, paradoxically, special yet not special. A whole new world of possibilities had been opened to me, and my racial and academic identities became more solidified. I had developed a new racial consciousness, and I was now empowered to be more vocal on race-related issues, while other Black students continued to sit back passively. I was ridiculed by certain Black and White students for being too militant, which only fueled my emerging Black consciousness.

College

Wake Forest University is a small, highly selective private liberal arts school filled mostly with upper-middle class White students. Being accepted there—the first Black student from my high school ever to do so—was a very proud moment in my life.

Within the first couple of days of college, I was approached and asked by some White students if I was a football player. I responded by saying no, and proudly pointed out that I was there on academic scholarship. It was a rude awakening to what would be the first of many “encounters” that the African American psychologist William Cross would describe.

I can vividly recall those first few days of college walking in the quad area and seeing a Confederate flag displayed from the dorm room of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. That flag was a constant reminder of the history and culture of Wake Forest and the old South, and a reminder that African American students were ethnic and racial minorities in an overwhelmingly White and sometimes unwelcoming environment.

Like many first-year college students, I was overwhelmed with the freedom I had to go anywhere I wanted, stay awake as long as I wanted, and pretty much do anything that I wanted. Academically, I could take whatever classes I wanted. Also like many first-year college students, I was pre-med, and I took biology, chemistry, psychology, and Latin in my first semester. After having attended two summer enrichment camps that were geared toward increasing the number of ethnic minorities in medicine as a career, I was certain that this was my destiny. However, biology and chemistry changed my destiny!

I struggled mightily in those classes, and ended up failing both classes while making Cs in my psychology and Latin classes. This was a rude awakening to the beginning of my college experience. I lost my academic scholarship, and was immediately placed on academic probation after my first semester. Never had I experienced such academic struggles before. A wave of self-doubt suddenly surrounded me, and my academic self-concept was shaken to its core. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Was I not smart enough to be there? Did I really belong? If I flunked out of school, it would embarrass not only me, but my family.

My parents were extremely proud that I was attending Wake Forest University. Black students from my hometown, Pilot Mountain, were not supposed to be academic achievers. We were not supposed to go to colleges like Wake Forest University. If I flunked out, I would be confirming the doubts of all the naysayers who (I and my family believed) wanted me to fail.

The atrocious start in my first year haunted me for my entire four years of college. The truth of the matter was that I really was not as academically prepared as I should have been to do well in college. I did not know how to study effectively, nor did I know the amount of time that was needed to thoroughly master the information being presented in classes. I did not understand the importance of scheduling regular meetings with my professors to discuss material that I did not understand. For that matter, I did not even always know what I truly understood and what I did not. I rarely sought academic help, and when I did, I could not help but feel self-conscious about being a Black student who needed academic assistance. My academic self-concept took a beating during those four years of college, and left me wondering what my future held in store.

During the time that my academic self-concept was taking a beating, my racial consciousness and Black identity was growing. I entered Wake Forest already having a pretty strong Black identity that had been enhanced by my experiences in the two summer enrichment programs at Wake Forest. However, college is an experience in which racial and ethnic differences are often emphasized to a degree not seen in high school. There are numerous student organizations based on racial and ethnic identities and themes. Additionally, famous and provocative speakers are routinely brought to campus to stimulate and foster dialogue on important racial issues.

I immediately became involved in the Black Student Association (BSA), a staple organization seen on many predominantly White college campuses. I also joined the Gospel Choir and later a Black fraternity.

The BSA was the center of social and political activity for Black students on campus. One of my most vivid memories of the BSA was protesting South African apartheid. The BSA had partnered with another organization to stage a dramatic enactment of apartheid activity in the student cafeteria. When given a sign, several Black males (myself included) walked to several seemingly unsuspecting White females (who were actually willing participants in the demonstration), grabbed them out of their seats and dragged them away. The reaction was swift and dramatic. Several white males stood up, clearly angered and disturbed by what they were witnessing, and demanded that we stop.

At this point, a member of the BSA stood in front of the cafeteria and made a statement about apartheid, indicating that what people had just witnessed was a regular occurrence to Black people living under the brutal regime of South African apartheid. The adrenaline rush that I received from participating in this demonstration was incredible. More importantly, it was an influential experience that contributed greatly to my emerging critical racial consciousness.

Two speakers were brought on campus who had perhaps the greatest influence on my critical racial consciousness and increasing pride in my racial identity during college. These speakers were Jawanza Kunjufu and Na’im Akbar. Jawanza Kunjufu is best known for his book Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys. Na’im Akbar is a highly regarded and outspoken Black psychologist who advocates an Afrocentric philosophy to understand the conditions and psychology of Black folks.

The impact that hearing these two men speak had on my racial identity was incredible. Both men exuded a confidence, racial pride, and sense of purpose and commitment to Black people that I had never witnessed before. Na’im Akbar (or Baba Na’im, as he is affectionately called) was especially influential, as he sowed the early seeds of what would become my embrace of Afrocentric psychology.

Years later, I attended my 20-year class reunion. I was excited to see friends and acquaintances whom I had not seen in many years. One of these individuals was a White female named Tina. Tina had attended high school with me, and we ran track together both at East Surry High School and for a summer track club. We were also in all of the same advanced classes, and played in the band together. We were close friends in and out of school. Our lives were remarkably parallel in academics and athletics, so it was no surprise that we both applied and were accepted to Wake Forest University.

Once Tina and I started college, however, our paths rarely crossed outside of track. We were not in the same student organizations, and we did not socialize together. We had never talked about this, and in fact we had very few conversations while attending Wake Forest.

20 years later, I contacted Tina via Facebook and arranged to meet with her at our 20-year class reunion. During dinner, we reminisced about old times, especially the traumatic false start that I had in high school. Then a conversation that I did not anticipate took place.

Tina indicated that something had been bothering her for so many years, and she had always wanted to talk with me about it. She basically wanted to know what happened to us. Why didn’t we stay close while in college? I thought about her question very carefully. I do not think I had ever really thought about it much, and as I was reflecting on her question, the answer became obvious. I decided to be very candid with her, and responded by saying that I essentially discovered my Blackness in college.

I lapsed into a mini-lecture on the psychosocial development of Black college students, and how my racial identity was impacted by attending a predominantly White school. I talked about the importance of being around other students similar to myself, and the importance of belonging to Black student organizations for my racial identity. I also talked about my academic struggles, and the fear of failure that I thought would be attributed to being Black.

By the time I was a senior, I did not know what my future held in store for me. I did not think my grades were good enough to get accepted into any graduate program in psychology, so I never considered that a viable option. I participated in the job fair and hoped that my resume would be attractive to some company. I was encouraged when a pharmaceutical company contacted me for an initial interview. Later, I received another invitation for a second interview. I was very excited, and thought that I might actually have the chance of having a job waiting for me upon graduation. However, a third interview did not happen, and a job offer never materialized.

I was in a very bad place emotionally. In an independent research paper that I wrote in my last semester, my words reflected an angry and disillusioned Black male student, as evidenced by the title of my paper, “The Unknown Societal Conspiracy to Denigrate African-American Males.”

In the paper I made the following statement: “My feelings about myself are such that I feel as though I have disappointed my family, teachers, and, most importantly, myself. I did not make Dean’s List once while in college. My feelings of high aspirations upon entering college have been shattered beyond repair. My future is unknown. The person that I thought I would be upon graduation has never materialized. Many would say that I made my bed, now I must lie in it. And to a certain degree, this is true. However, I refuse to accept all of the blame. Social forces at work all around me have molded me into an embittered young Black man. Now I’m almost a college graduate. God only knows what young, uneducated and impoverished Black men must be feeling.”

As I reflect on my college years, I see that my time at Wake Forest was marked by two distinct experiences: one of academic struggle, and one of emerging Black consciousness. It is no accident that these themes would later define much of my scholarly work on African American students. 

Dr. Kevin Cokley is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology as well as the Department of African and African American Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to his extensive background in academic research, Dr. Cokley serves as the editor-in-chief for The Journal of Black Psychology and director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.

New Historical Novel by Former UT English Professor to Release this Fall

Harris headshotFormer UT Austin fiction writing and modern literature professor Elizabeth Harris will be releasing a novel Mayhem:  Three Lives of a Woman (Gival Press) this fall.

The historical novel, scheduled to drop Oct. 5, 2015, engages issues of gender, vigilantism, recovery from trauma, and nostalgia for the rural and small-town past.

Winner of the 2014 Gival Press Fiction Award, the book follows two stock farmers in 1936 Texas who are accused of castrating a neighbor. Mayhem is the story of their crime and its consequences, the violent past and standard gender relations that enable it, and its economic displacement of the modest, well-connected woman who occasions it.

“A great novel gives us Genesis, and so Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman calls a world into being. We get not only the odor and crackle of rural Texas beginning a hundred years ago, but also the spirits of that time and place. We suffer with a rancher’s wife, a woman catastrophically misunderstood. Violence proves inevitable — but then comes the real miracle. Elizabeth Harris summons up not one world but several, in rich and moving succession. Itʼs as if redemption were sympathy: as if to peer deeply into anyone is to understand everyone. If this sounds less like a God and more like a great storyteller, well, thatʼs what weʼve got. Harris squeezes palaver and tears from her Texas clay, even while making sure we see the gifted hands at work.”

— John Domini, author of A Tomb on the Periphery and other novels, as well as stories, criticism, and poetry.

Harris’ stories have appeared in a number of literary journals and have been anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of Wind,  The Iowa Award, and Literary Austin. Her first book, The Ant Generator, received the University of Iowa’s coveted short fiction award.

The Writers’ League of Texas recently interviewed Elizabeth Harris about her favorite writers. She stated: “People ask you who your favorite writers are when they want you to talk about reading, and I name some books and their writers, but I seldom love everything a writer has written. I’ve been a passionate reader all my life, and I love many different books for different reasons.”

As yet untitled, Elizabeth’s current project is another contemporary novel with a historical setting. She and her husband, who are birders, divide their time between the Texas Coast and Austin.

Preview an excerpt of Mayhem at: www.elizabethharriswriter.com.

 

 

 

Q&A: Sociologist Ben Carrington Talks Race, Sports and Politics

30143_97814129010313Starting today, athletes, head coaches, researchers and academics from across the nation are convening at the Forty Acres to discuss ways to improve academic and career success for Black student athletes. To celebrate The Black Student-Athlete Conference, we are bringing back a post from our archives featuring a Q&A with UT Austin Sociologist Ben Carrington, author of “Race, Sport and Politics” (Sage, Sept. 2010).

Read on to learn more about his research on athletes of color, and how academics can play a critical role in dispelling racial stereotypes that continue to be enforced in the media today. 

Go to this website for more about the conference, hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and two of its units: the African American Male Research Initiative and the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color. Use #blackstudentathlete to participate in the live Twitter conversation.

This post was originally published in August, 2010.

Benjamin Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ben Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

 What is the major theme of your book? 

I argue that the sociology of sport needs to go beyond some of the traditional ways of thinking about race and sport. Once you understand sport’s historical and contemporary role in shaping racial discourse, you not only see how race impacts sport, but also how sport itself changes ideas about races and racial identity in society as a whole.

How did the world of sports alter perceptions of race during the 20th century?

At the beginning of the 20th century, whites were considered to be superior to blacks, intellectually, aesthetically and even physically. By the 1930s, this logic begins to shift as blacks are viewed as potentially physically superior to whites in matters related to sports. Jack Johnson played a pivotal role in challenging these ideas of white supremacy when he became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, which is supposed to be the epitome of superior physical strength.

What role do you believe does politics play in sports?

Some people argue that sports work like a distorting mirror. It has an ideological effect that makes us believe we’re all happily a part of the same world. In the World Cup, one of the FIFA advertisements stated, ‘this is not about politics, war, religion or economics. It’s about football.’ That makes us feel like we’re all human beings that love the same sport. But in truth it’s all about politics when you see politicians in the stands promoting their countries and wearing their national colors. On one hand it’s an apolitical platform for games and entertainment, but on the other hand sport is deeply infused with political ideology.

Your book argues that the media continues to perpetuate fears of the black male athlete. Could you point out a recent example of this? 
 
The April, 2008 cover of Vogue generated some controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. In the picture, LeBron has striking similarities to the classic ‘King Kong’ image carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor that draws upon white fears about black male hypersexuality and violence. The magazine cover metonymically plays with these deeply racist symbols in using one of the world’s most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.

Looking back at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, could you give me an example of racial bias among the sports media?

When the United States played Ghana in the World Cup, the Ghanaians were often described as both ‘athletic’ and ‘unpredictable.’ That notion implies they’re emotionally unstable, and that even they don’t know what they’re going to do next. But at the same time, they are somehow endowed with extraordinary physical strength and ability, as if the other players at the World Cup are somehow ‘unathletic.’ Their culture is attributed as unstable, so these racial attitudes, which are not just about Ghana but ultimately about all black people, are reproduced in sports. It’s what sociologists refer to as ‘racism without racists.’ Nobody aside from extremists admits to being racist anymore, but we often use ways of seeing the world that rely upon racial frameworks that end up producing racist effects and outcomes. This is what I refer to in the book, drawing on the work of the sociologist Joe Feagin, as the ‘white colonial frame.’ There are no objectively existing ‘races,’ only ways in which we see race, and sport plays a very important role in the production and reproduction of these ideas about race and racial difference.

You argue that black athletes are commonly seen as physically gifted and intellectually stunted. What do you mean by this?

You see this in the way that many people believe that black athletes are ‘naturally’ gifted for sports, implying that their success comes from within, that it is rooted in their biology. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that there is a split between the physical and the intellectual. Just as we might admire an animal’s spectacular physicality, we don’t therefore assume that animals have our cognitive capabilities. So the praising of black athleticism often serves to reinforce notions of black intellectual inferiority.

How do you believe these stereotypes are perpetuated in the sports media?

White sports commentators and journalists used to be very explicit in comparing black athletes to monkeys and gorillas and cheetahs. Today they are more circumspect and instead tend to over-emphasize black players physical attributes – power, speed, strength and so on – and conversely tend to highlight the ‘intelligence’ and ability to ‘read the game’ of white athletes, who supposedly lack the ‘natural advantage’ of their black peers but can make up for it by their better play-making abilities. You often see this in how white basketball and football players are described, especially quarterbacks.

I would also add that college sports help to perpetuate these myths, especially given how committed big-time college sports programs are to winning conference and national titles using the labor of predominately black ‘student-athletes.’ At the same time, they demonstrate a lack of concern with actually graduating these students, most of whom will not go on to become professional athletes. Thus, these issues are really systemic, running through professional sports to the college level and even into high schools where we see similar patterns.

What kind of reaction do you hope to get from your fellow sociologists after your book is released in September?

The book challenges mainstream sociologists to take sport more seriously than they have done up until now and takes sociologists of sport to task too for not engaging critically enough with questions of race, so I’m hoping there will be a reaction of some kind. Better to be discussed and debated than ignored is my motto right now.

 

‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’ Author Wins $10,000 Hamilton Book Award

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, professor in the Departments of History, Middle Eastern Studies and Religious Studies, won the $10,000 grand prize at the Hamilton Book Awards for her work “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” (Knopf, 2013) on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

The awards are the highest honor of literary achievement given to published authors at The University of Texas at Austin. They are sponsored by the University Co-operative Society.

TJQIn “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” Spellberg recounts how a handful of the country’s founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the tolerance of Muslims to fashion a practical foundation for governance in America. For more about the book listen to her podcast on the History Department’s Not Even Past website.

Four other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

– Desmond F. Lawler — Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, for his work “Water Quality Engineering: Physical/Chemical Treatment Processes,” co-authored with Mark Benjamin, University of Washington; Published by John Wiley & Sons

– Huaiyin Li — Department of History, for his work “Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing”; Published by University of Hawaii Press

– Allison E. Lowery — Department of Theatre and Dance, for her work “Historical Wig Styling: Volumes 1 and 2”; Published by Focal Press/Taylor and Francis Group

– Mark Metzler — Department of Asian Studies, for his work “Capital as Will and Imagination: Schumpeter’s Guide to the Postwar Japanese Miracle”; Published by Cornell University Press

The Hamilton Awards are named in honor of Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regent Chair-Emeritus in Law. Professor Hamilton was chair of the Co-op Board for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001, and was in large measure responsible for the Co-op’s uncommon growth and profitability during that period. Visit this website for more about the award winners.

Richard Pells’ War Babies Released

War BabiesWar Babies: The Generation that Changed America by Richard Pells, emeritus professor of history, was released in August by Cultural History Press. Pells examines the lives of famous Americans born between 1939 and 1945, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

War Babies may be ordered from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1t39MPD

Read an excerpt: http://authorrichardpells.com/excerpt-from-war-babies-carl-bernsteins-memories-of-mccarthyism

A Q&A with Ecosickness Author Heather Houser

Take a look at your surroundings. Are you sitting in a climate-controlled office next to a window overlooking a sea of traffic? Or are you skimming this article on a porch swing underneath a shady oak tree? Whether you’re surrounded by wide open spaces or a concrete jungle, your environment is significantly affecting your emotional and physical well-being.

Houser-bookAuthors such as David Foster Wallace and Leslie Marmon Silko have explored this intrinsic bond with the natural world in a genre of fiction called “Ecosickness.” In a new book Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction, UT Austin English Professor Heather Houser shows how contemporary American novels and memoirs are developing a new understanding of the connections between ecological damage and physical health.

Read on to learn more about her book and how this new mode of contemporary American fiction is sparking questions about the current state of our environment—and the potential consequences of techno-scientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems.

How did you become interested in this particular literary genre?

My initial interest was in 20th-century narratives of disease. As I read a wide range of works on this theme, I began to notice many writers couldn’t talk about disease without also depicting built and non-built environments and ecological issues. I was aware of environmental health memoirs such as Susanne Antonetta’s Body Toxic and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, but what I was finding didn’t quite fit this genre. Unlike these books, ecosickness fiction is less interested in determining the causal link between environmental conditions and disease. Instead it imagines how emotions, narrative techniques, and aesthetics bring body and earth into relation. One way I explain this in Ecosickness is by showing how recent U.S. novels and memoirs “medicalize” environmental representation, that is, how they figure space using specialized anatomical and physiological terms, often ones referring to the body in a state of dysfunction. Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a rich site for this representational strategy.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

How can people benefit from gaining an awareness of their environmental surroundings?

To put it bluntly, the environment is us; self-awareness and awareness of social, economic, and political structures emerge from environmental awareness. For many, spending time in more natural settings and interacting with animals produce joy and rejuvenate. This is certainly an important benefit of environmental awareness. Yet even if we’d rather be inside playing video games than out swimming in rivers, we’re still embedded in our environments. The state of our surroundings affects our health, where we live, how we get from point A to point B, what we eat, and much more. Just as importantly, the environment is a repository for changing historical and social conditions; it records individuals’ and a culture’s values.

Is there an Ecosickness author in particular who inspires you?

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead inspired the ideas for the project, even though it may be the book in Ecosickness I enjoyed reading the least. It’s challenging because of its length, huge cast of characters, loose structure and depictions of violence and depravity. It’s the most overtly political book I examine and imagines a revolution sweeping through the Americas that will destroy capitalism and colonialism and restore and heal lands expropriated from indigenous peoples.

Silko builds anxiety through a number of strategies, above all through scenes in which villainous characters use biotechnologies like genetic manipulation and artificial ecosystems to promote injustice. We might think anxiety is useful for stirring up a population and fomenting revolution; I wondered if this was the case. I asked whether, in the novel, anxiety impinges on the very possibility of revolutionary action the book otherwise advocates. Almanac was so inspiring to my research because it powerfully demonstrates that environmental scholars need to account for the full spectrum of environmental effects and study how those emotions influence our ethical and political orientations.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

A crucial takeaway of Ecosickness and my other research is that we can’t comprehend environmental challenges and their ethical dimensions through the languages of science and economics alone. We must call on aesthetic tropes, metaphors, and narratives and the knowledge they produce. Our bodies and emotions are crucial conduits to understanding and responding to environmental change. I emphasize this point in the book’s conclusion, when I describe ecosickness fiction as “an invitation to read its stories out into the world. It opens channels to the talk between policy and psychology, aesthetics and activism, education and ethics, and data and doxa that positive interventions in pervasive sickness demand.”

Could you highlight a particular message in this book that is relevant today?

One of the thrills of studying contemporary culture is that most everything I research is relevant today. But if I had to choose a message that’s most relevant both today and in the day-to-day, it’s that we must approach techno-scientific “fixes” to illness and environmental with respectful skepticism. Ecosickness authors aren’t technophobes or antiscience, and my book doesn’t encourage these positions either. I hit on the idea of respectful skepticism throughout my readings but perhaps most poignantly in the chapter on AIDS memoirs by Jan Zita Grover and Wojnarowicz and how they conceptualize discord. Grover’s and Wojnarowicz’s books show discord to be crucial to the medical politics of AIDS and the environmental politics of land development because it helps us strike a balance between trust in science and skepticism toward it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I hope Ecosickness expands our sense of what counts as “environmental literature.” When I say this is my research area, people often assume I study Henry David Thoreau or Edward Abbey. Yet environmental representation is all around us, not just in works by artists we think of as environmentalist. Those representations shape how we perceive the world off the page and govern our responses to it. Therefore, it’s important to identify unexpected environmental tropes and examine their workings and functions wherever we find them.

From MOOC to eBook: John Hoberman on “Age of Globalization”

ohn Hoberman

John Hoberman in a video lecture on EdX.org

In Fall 2013, Dr. John Hoberman was among the first University of Texas professors to offer a MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course as part of edX,a consortium with Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and other global institutions of higher education. The course, Age of Globalization was very well received by the thousands of students worldwide who actively participated.  But for those who were not seeking to earn a certificate of completion, Hoberman wanted to offer the course in another format.   Thus, the College of Liberal Arts worked together with The University of Texas Press to create an enhanced e-book version of the course, now available to anyone who wants to better understand the systems of competition that drive globalization.

The video and audio enhanced e-book “Age of Globalization” is available in multiple e-reader formats, as well as through a standard web browser.

“When academic interest in something called “globalization” first came to my attention in 1995, it struck me as a remote and exotic topic,” says Hoberman.  Over the years, he’s found it a nearly limitless topic that allows deep and wide exploration into how the world works as a collection of overlapping systems.

For Hoberman, writing the lectures and writing the book were largely one and the same thing. “Composing the lectures required doing a lot of online research during the writing process.”  For the MOOC, these lectures were videotaped short 9- to 13- minute segments, divided into twelve sections.  “I wrote the twelve sections aiming for a jargon-free clarity of presentation that suited both the video lectures and the eventual e-book text. “ The transcripts from the video production became the basis for the text of the enhanced e-book.

“I’m very glad the electronic book is available because it is undoubtedly a more efficient learning experience than watching and listening to the videos, even with the text scrolling down on the right-hand side of the screen,” said Hoberman. “The advantage of the visual MOOC experience is that the narration is integrated with hundreds of useful and instructive images such as maps and photos of all sorts of things. The e-book contains dozens of images, including some that are interactive, but watching the MOOC on screen will understandably be the more dramatic visual experience.”

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Hoberman continues to monitor current global developments, such as various international  organizations including United Nations, NGO’s like Greenpeace, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the major international sports federations that are affiliated with it. He points to the recent 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games as an opportunity to watch globalization in action.

“The transnational IOC, which is accountable to no authority other than itself, represents itself as a peace movement that promotes human rights,” says Hoberman.  “But, in 2007, the IOC awarded the 2014 Winter Olympiad to Vladimir Putin and Russia, despite Putin’s merciless war against Chechnya (1999-2000) and his subversion of democracy in post-Communist Russia. The question here is whether a global ‘movement’ run by a group like the IOC is willing to take principled stands on behalf of ‘global norms’ that conflict with the objectives of dictatorial regimes. In fact, the IOC always fails to enforce “global norms” that represent humanitarian principles. In this case, President Putin rewarded the supposedly peace-promoting IOC by attacking Ukraine only days after the Closing Ceremonies of the Sochi Games,” Hoberman points out.

“The moral of this story is that the lofty claims of all global organizations should be carefully scrutinized and compared with what they actually do or do not do to promote the welfare of the global community.”

Hoberman’s compelling new e-book delves into the topics of Transportation, the Media and Internet, Transnational Organized Crime, Small Country Self Assertion, Popular Culture and Sports through the lens of Globalization, exposing the dramatic narrative of positive and negative forces that are affecting us all.

Follow these links to purchase the Age of Globalization enhanced e-book by John Hoberman:

Web-based ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal
Apple iBook: https://itun.es/i6g82Qg
Amazon Kindle ebook: http://amzn.com/B00HQ50T8K
Google Play ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal-google

The Buck Stops Here

Global Shell GamesHit TV series like Breaking Bad demonstrate just how far criminals will go to conceal their piles of dirty money. But of all the countries in the world, these illicit activities are most easily carried out under the guise of shell companies right here in the United States.

A shell company is a business in name only, with no actual employees or products. It exists only on paper and can be set up within a matter of hours. They are the global getaway cars for criminals involved in money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, drug trafficking, and perhaps even terrorism, says Michael Findley, assistant professor of government.

To see just how far they could go to secure an untraceable shell company, Findley and his research team impersonated a range of criminals – from money launderers to terrorist financiers to drug traffickers. They made thousands of email solicitations to nearly 4,000 services in more than 180 countries around the world. Despite the glaring red flags signaling potential security threats, they were able to secure approval to set up untraceable shell companies online for as little as a few hundred dollars.

“On the whole, forming an anonymous shell company is as easy as ever in the United States, despite supposed increased attention following 9/11,” says Findley, who focuses much of his research on terrorism and counterterrorism.  “The results are disconcerting and demonstrate that we are much too far from a world that is safe from crime and terror.”

International laws mandate shell providers to require notarized photo identification from clients. Yet the researchers found almost half of the firms they solicited failed to ask for proper identification—and one fifth did not want any photo ID at all. The grim results are detailed in the authors’ new book, Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime and Terrorism. Findley conducted the investigations with his co-authors Daniel Nielson, of Brigham Young University; Jason Sharman, of Griffith University; and their team of research assistants.

Michael Findley

Michael Findley is a political scientist in the Department of Government and co-director of Innovations for Peace and Development.

Among the top offenders is the United States. The findings show that Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming are some of the easiest places in the world to score an illicit shell operation. In fact, classic tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Jersey are much more compliant with transparency rules than the rich, powerful countries.

While shopping around the United States for anonymous shell companies, the researchers were able to seal the deal in less than three hours after trying about a dozen approaches. However, in so-called tax havens, it took more than double the time and effort.

Enforcement is not especially expensive, given that even tiny tax havens and developing countries are able to apply international standards on corporate transparency, The problem, Findley says, boils down to necessity.

“Tax havens have tightened up the standards much more vigorously than other places, partly because they have to,” Findley says. “They have to protect their incorporation industries and make sure they don’t fall out of favor in the international community. By tightening up their standards, perhaps by necessity, they make it possible to have this good business-operating environment.”

To fix the problem, Findley says shell company providers need to require proper ID from their clients, especially foreigners. But most importantly, regulators need to follow up with providers to make sure they’re up to code. Random audits requiring the information on the actual owners of shell corporations would not cost much and appear to make the difference for the most law-abiding countries. The laws need to be enforced at the international, national and state levels, Findley notes.

Until the United States and other countries in the elite Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) start playing by the rules, corruption will continue to run rampant all over the world.  Organized crime will flourish, drug cartels will run smoothly, and corrupt officials will live the life of luxury on stolen money, Findley says.

For example, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych owned a presidential palace, a private zoo, a vintage car collection and many other luxuries thanks in part to anonymous shell companies, Findley says.

“I would like to see this type of leader go away,” Findley says. “What we have found here is not a silver bullet solution, but it is a very important part of the puzzle. Money drives corruption. If we could understand the money laundering process and take steps to track the real people in control of shell companies, it would be much more difficult for organized criminals and possibly terrorists to carry out their nefarious activities.”

Go to this website for more about the book: www.globalshellgames.com

Architecture Professor Receives Subvention Award for Book on Early Colonial Buildings in Oaxaca, Mexico

Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the Office of the Vice President of Research, Subvention Grants Program. The award will support the book named “Mixtec Stonecutting Artistry / El arte de la cantería mixteca” to be published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico Press.

Ibarra, who was involved in the restoration of early colonial buildings in Oaxaca Mexico, had been planning for a number of years to study the three beautiful sixteenth-century churches of la Mixteca in southern Mexico.

Benjamin Sevilla

His curiosity for these buildingsarose from the extraordinary refinement in the construction and the outstanding ribbed vaults forming the ceilings. These churches have been recognized by art historians for their monumentality, the exquisite pieces of art found in the buildings, and because of their important role that they played in the historic events that took place during early colonial times in Mexico. Ibarra’s work looks at the buildings from a different perspective.

“The churches of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca, and San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcoloula are unique pieces of architecture in the Americas, they are the continuation of the Gothic architecture on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.” wrote Professor Enrique Rabasa who is the author of the book’s foreword.

In order to develop his analysis, Ibarra relied in the latest technologies, which allowed him to analyze the buildings in the digital environment. This required first, to establish collaboration agreements with institutions and the government of Mexico, in order to obtain the permissions for the documentation of the buildings. Once the agreements were in place, Ibarra used a 3D laser scanner that created a 3D model in the computer. These 3D models were analyzed obtaining the information of how the vaults were designed and how they were built stone by stone. The study looks at the buildings from the point of view of the methods of construction and the transference of building technology necessary to complete such complex buildings. The methodology implemented by Ibarra is illustrated through sixteenth-century and eighteenth-century depiction methods in combination with digital models creating a number of attractive drawings and 3D prints.

Parallel to this book, Ibarra has curated an exhibition that includes fifteen models created with 3D printing technology and thirty-seven panels profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. The exhibition is currently traveling through different cities in Mexico and the US, and it will visit the city of Austin in late 2014. “My goal is to place these buildings in the global context of the History of Construction,” has said Ibarra in his presentations about his research work. He notes his book “will be obligated reference to those who study sixteenth-century architecture in Mexico and those who admire the achievements of the indigenous people during this period of time.”

Cognitive Psychologist Art Markman Shows Us How to Create New Habits in Smart Change

illustration of bookThe New Year is on the horizon, and just like clockwork many people are dutifully preparing lists of resolutions that will likely be forgotten by mid-January.

Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, shows us a better way to make lifestyle changes in his new book Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, which was released on Jan. 7. Based on decades of cognitive research, the book shows how to harness the brain’s capabilities to adopt better habits – from becoming more productive at the office to curbing mindless midnight snacking.

We caught up with Markman for more details about his how-to approach for transforming bad habits into positive behaviors.

Briefly describe Smart Change.

Markman, Art 2011

Art Markman (Photo by Marsha Miller)

Smart Change starts with the observation that many people want to change their behavior, but few people really know why their brains make them continue to repeat the same behaviors they have had in the past. The more you understand about how the brain motivates you to act, the more effectively you can help yourself to act in new ways. After exploring the motivational mechanisms in the brain, Smart Change presents five sets of tools that you can use to change even the most persistent behaviors.

Why is it so hard to break a bad habit, such as late night snacking in front of the TV?

Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it. So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors. The hardest part about these behaviors is that they are habits, and so they are done mindlessly. You are often unaware of when and why you are performing the behaviors.

One of the hardest parts about changing a behavior like snacking is that your first reaction is going to be to replace the behavior with nothing (that is, not eating). But, your brain cannot learn to do nothing. So, you need to start the process by trying to replace an existing habit with a new one. If you typically snack while watching TV, maybe you should take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle while you watch. That will keep your hands busy.

You provide a free Smart Change journal online, which includes a 14-Day Habit Diary. Could you share some insight into how journaling helps people change their behavior?

Much of what you do on a daily basis is mindless. It is hard to figure out the situations in which you are carrying out the behaviors you want to change until you can become more aware of when and where you are doing them. Spending two weeks just observing your behavior gives you a lot of insight into why you do what you do now. Those insights will be helpful when you start generating a plan to change your behavior.

In this age of instant communication, people often fe

el the pressure of being “always on.” How can this book help us adjust a balance between technology and our daily lives?

If you feel like one of your habits is to carry your work home with you, then you can use Smart Change to find new habits that will create a separation between work and home. In the book, I talk about how I took up the saxophone as an adult. I had to clear time and space in my life to add a new routine. Thirteen years later, though, my life is richer for it (and I even play in a blues band on Sunday nights).

In addition to productivity and time management, how can this book help people with their personal struggles?

Your motivational system does not care whether the behaviors you are changing are ones you do at work or at home. Your brain helps you live your whole life. The principles you use to help you to be more productive at work are the same ones that engage to give you a meaningful life at home. The book draws on examples of behavior change at work and at home.

In your book, one of the five steps is to engage with people. Why is this important?

Human beings are social creatures. We are wired to adopt the goals of the people around us. If you spend time with people who have the habits you want to develop, it will naturally lead you to adopt the same goals. One important thing you can do is to find a mentor—someone who has the aspects of your life that you want. Then, spend time with that person and get to know how that person succeeds. Use their wisdom to help you make changes in your own life.

Once your readers follow the steps and successfully change their behavior, how can they pay it forward to others?

After you have your own success changing your behavior, it is time to be one of those people in the community who has the life that other people want. When you become a mentor for other people who are trying to change their behavior, it also helps you to recognize aspects of your own behavior that you still want to improve. Being a mentor can give you added motivation to continue to move forward in your own life.

What sets this book apart from other behavior modification self-help books?

There are a lot of books out there on habits and behavior change. Some of the books describe how people form habits, but they don’t provide specific tools to help you change. Other books present a model of behavior change that is presented as a one-size-fits-all approach to developing new behaviors.

Smart Change is different, because it roots everything in the science of psychology. The first two chapters help you to understand the aspects of your brain that influence your behavior. Only then do I introduce tools to help you to change your behavior. Each of those tools has an evidence base behind it. In addition, each tool requires some work. It isn’t enough just to read about changing your behavior. You have to be active in your own change. The book comes along with a Smart Change Journal that you can use to take a comprehensive approach to changing behavior.

Finally, the book ends by pointing out that all of the tools that you use to change your own behavior can also be used to influence the behavior of the people around you. Real persuasion does not involve constructing arguments to convince people that a particular course of action is the right one. Instead, it requires the development of a plan that will ultimately change people’s behavior.

Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. His recent book, Smart Thinking, presents a three-part formula to show readers how to develop “smart habits,” how to acquire high quality knowledge, and how to use that knowledge when it’s needed. He is also on the scientific advisory boards for The Dr. Phil Show and The Dr. Oz Show.