image title

ASU faculty to fight fake news with 'teach-in'

Misinformation damages our ability to steer society, ASU professor says.
ASU professor Christopher Hanlon organizes event to push back on false info.
November 30, 2016

University experts gather at West campus to explain, contextualize current events in service to citizenship

Mosques across California received letters threatening genocide against Muslims this week, and although authorities say they didn’t rise to the level of hate crimes, ASU associate professor Patrick Bixby said they represent the latest example of Islamophobia in the U.S.

Anti-Muslim bias has been one of many topics in the news around which ASU associate professor Christopher Hanlon says there’s much misinformation — so he has organized an event to do something about it, leveraging the expertise of campus experts on religious freedom, immigration, climate change, abortion, women’s rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Hanlon’s “teach-in” starts at 11 a.m. Thursday on Fletcher Lawn at the West campus. It will feature presentations from associate professor of English Patrick Bixby and other faculty from ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. The event is free and open to the public, and Hanlon hopes “students take away a renewed sense of curiosity about what is real and what is not real, and a heightened sense that not all the information circulating in the public sphere right now is authoritative and reliable.”

“And I also hope they take away a sense of agency, a sense that as citizens, we’re obliged to engage and inform ourselves so that we can help to steer our society in the right direction,” said Hanlon, an associate professor of English.

Here’s a sneak peek at what some of the professors will have to say about:


Although the term “Islamophobia” emerged in the early 20th century, Bixby said there is a long history of Muslim bias in Western culture, going all the way back to the Crusades.

More recently such bias could be seen in presidential campaigns that called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., as well as a register of all current Muslim U.S. citizens, he said.

Bixby, who studies post-colonialism, said that since the election, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has seen a spike in crimes against Muslims.

“I want students to consider the topic with some historical context in mind,” said Bixby, “so that they can be better informed when considering their civic activities over the next four years.”

Fake news and social media

Associate professor of social and behavioral sciences Alex Halavais specializes in social media’s place in politics and learning.

This past election cycle, fake news stories were all over Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.  

Many pundits said the spread of misinformation played the biggest role in determining the outcome of the election. Halavais said that’s “probably hyperbole,” but fake news is definitely prevalent.

There are three reasons people need to be wary of fake news, Halavais said:

  • When people make a decision based on bad information, they often make the wrong decision.
  • Perpetrating false information by sharing clickbait stories on social media can result in real problems.
  • When you pass on bad info, “it makes you look stupid,” Halavais said. “People won’t trust what you’re saying, and you end up looking credulous and gullible.”

 If he could ensure students graduated with one skill, he said, “it’d be the ability to determine when information is real and when it’s fake.”

Religious liberties

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, some more conservative groups have been pushing for bills at both the state and federal level that would allow individuals who object to marriage equality based on religious grounds the right to not comply with the law.

The Arizona Senate Bill 1062 that was first introduced in 2014 was just such a bill, said Tuomas Manninen, senior lecturer of philosophy. It was ultimately vetoed, but it would have given businesses the right to claim a religious objection to providing services to customers.

“Looking at it in a more philosophic way, I would say we need to strike a balance between individual liberties and equalities for all,” Manninen said. “We need to ask if certain bills would really create equality or if they would grant privileges to one group whose interests don’t support another’s.”

Abortion access and the law

“As of 2012, the latest comprehensive info we have on abortion rates in the U.S. is that they’re the lowest they’ve ever been since abortion became legal,” said associate professor of philosophy Bertha Manninen, citing information from the Guttmacher Institute. “And 91.4 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester.”

So the idea that abortion, and specifically late-term abortions, are an epidemic in America is just wrong, she said, adding that abortion in general is a topic “that can be more mired with misinformation.”

Manninen will also be talking about what would need to happen in order for certain laws to be overturned.

“There’s a process, and there are steps that need to be taken,” she said. “You can’t just sign a piece of paper and overturn a Supreme Court decision.”

image title

From 'bulldozer bait' to a beehive of artistic activity

100-year-old warehouse turns into a creative, inspiring space for ASU students.
Public can tour Grant Street Studios during First Fridays art walk.
November 30, 2016

Downtown Phoenix warehouse reborn as state-of-the-art Grant Street Studios, where ASU artists create and inspire one another

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

Ceramic cows are taking over an old warehouse in downtown Phoenix where artist Elliott Kayser has his studio: small, painted cows spotted with little bumps in contrasting colors, medium-size cows giving birth to shiny golden calves, a large terracotta relief of cows on a modern cattle farm.

In a different part of the same historic building, Alvin Huff works on a massive steel sculpture threaded with and entangled by rope. He says he’s inspired by existence in macro and micro scales, the ecological view of things vs. DNA and the way things are structured.

The two artists are graduate students in ASU’s School of Art, and although their work doesn’t look anything alike, both say they’re influenced by the place where they produce it: Grant Street Studios. Once destined to become rubble, the 100-year-old structure now serves as the state-of-the-art center of activity and production for graduate fine arts programs in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. And the public is invited to see the space from 6-9 p.m. the first and third Fridays of each month, including during this week's First Friday's art walk.

Kayser calls it “a beehive of sorts. The creative energy around here is buzzing, and there’s an opportunity for dialogue with artists from other disciplines.”

Huff agrees, saying: “I like that we have all the different departments together. It’s good to be inspired by other people, and I like to see them grow. We kind of mentor each other.”

A sampling of artists at Grant Street Studios; see their fuller video stories later in this story. Videos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Originally constructed by Paul Litchfield's Southwest Cotton Company in 1917-18, the sprawling two-story building at 605 E. Grant St. later housed Karlson Machine Works. By 2004 — when artist and developer Michael Levine bought the warehouse — it was, in his words, “bulldozer bait.”

Three years of restoration led to the building receiving the grand prize in the 2007 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Awards: “Levine achieved a standard of rehabilitation that is rarely met,” judges wrote, “due to his skill in blending the contemporary with the historic fabric.”

Recognizing an extraordinary and extraordinarily well-situated space, ASU School of Art Director Adriene Jenik arranged to move graduate programs in painting and drawing into the building in 2014, along with the Step Gallery, and a critique space.

In their new home, the MFA students enjoyed spacious individual studios with high ceilings and natural light, wireless internet connections and the flexibility to accommodate special needs and equipment. Almost immediately, Grant Street Studios became part of the thriving downtown Phoenix arts scene, linking students with established professional artists and downtown gallery spaces.

Jenik says that Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper, who arrived at ASU a few months after the first programs moved to Grant Street, “got the vision that was being put forward, and he supported it 100 percent.” 

In fact, the School of Art’s presence in downtown Phoenix dovetails with Tepper’s vision for a design and arts corps that will serve the city, an initiative designed both to invigorate Phoenix and to give students the real-world experience they need to realize their ideas in a practical setting.

Between 2014 and 2016, other School of Art graduate programs in fine arts also migrated from Tempe to Phoenix, including intermedia, sculpture, fibers and photography, together with the Northlight Gallery, which showcases photographic work.  

In the spring of this year, ASU purchased the building from Levine, which made it possible for the ceramics program to move into the space as well. The printmaking program, meanwhile, is scheduled to make the move downtown in 2017.

At the ceramics program’s grand opening in the new space on Nov. 19, visitors toured the students’ new studio spaces; viewed “Exchange: A Group Ceramics Exhibition” at Step Gallery, featuring works by ceramics graduate students from ASU and San Diego State University; and admired the new Blaauw kiln, one of two that ASU received thanks to a grant from the Windgate Foundation. 

According to Susan Beiner, recently named Joan R. Lincoln Endowed Professor in Ceramics, Blaauw kilns have been internationally recognized as some of the most sophisticated and efficient kilns in the ceramic field.

“These kilns are state-of-the-art and can be controlled either manually or via computer to provide exceptionally precise firing conditions,” Beiner explains. “With their higher efficiencies due to better insulating material, zone control and burner technology, we are able to consume significantly less natural gas, thus reducing energy use and expense. The kilns are also designed with a safer burner system and produce much less heat loss to the kiln exterior, resulting in a safer environment for our students.”

Another resource Beiner points to proudly is the glaze room, which she says “helps stimulate problem solving and creative thinking of glaze chemistry.”

“There’s no other institution in the country with a diverse array of resources quite like ours,” said Garth Johnson, curator of ceramics for the ASU Art Museum, noting that the ASU ceramics program was already one of the top ceramics programs in the nation before the move. In addition, the photography program is ranked ninth in the country and the printmaking program fifth. U.S. News and World Report ranks the ASU School of Art 20th nationally among fine arts schools.

One important aspect of the ceramics move is the access to various kinds of equipment in the same building, Beiner says, which allows students alternatives for mixed-media works. A new 3-D printer lab opened to students this semester.

Touring the new facilities, Greg Lehmann, who heads the ASU Art Museum board, called ASU “a trailblazer in the development of creative spaces in the Valley. The fact that ASU stepped up to anchor itself in the arts district shows real vision.”

Ceramicist Kayser, meanwhile, says the space has allowed him to make his work bigger — he nods to the large terracotta ceramic frieze of cows, in progress, that takes up a good part of one of the studio’s walls. More than that, Kayser says, is the effect of having the whole community of graduate students from other programs such as sculpture, photography and painting in one physical place.

“It allows for impromptu conversations,” Kayser says. “Those ideas percolate, and they end up having a big impact.”

Jenik says that students being able to get together across practices is one of the most important aspects of the new space. The other, she says, is “the interchange with the public. You can see how it raises the bar for the students. And the public gets to see the students’ talent, which was somewhat hidden before. Now, we are in a space made for us, a space with an open door to the community.”

A closer look at artists in the studio

Four ASU students explain the inspiration behind their work.

Elliott Kayser, ceramics artist (follow him on Instagram here)

Alvin Huff, sculptor (follow him on Instagram here)

Molly Koehn, environmental artist (follow her on Instagram here)


Andrew Noble, intermedia artist (follow him on Instagram here)

Top photo: The exterior of Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Craig Smith

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist , Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts