Empowering students to counter hate with dynamic, integrated initiatives

McCain Institute's Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project awards go to three university teams for creativity in combating targeted violence

July 16, 2020

In February 2019, the Anti-Defamation League released “Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience.”

According to the report: Students holding labels in front of their faces The Labels Project was part of an entry in the McCain Institute's Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project competition Download Full Image

  • 53% of Americans said they had been subjected to hateful speech and harassment in 2018.
  • 59% believe online hate and harassment are making hate crimes more common.
  • 22% feel less safe in their community as a result of online hate.

Even more sobering for today’s students: More Americans have been killed or injured in mass school shootings since today’s college freshmen were born than were killed in the entire 20th century.

As part of its mandate to encourage and nurture character-driven leadership, the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University worked with EdVenture Partners to sponsor Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project. EdVenture’s Peer-to-Peer programs empower competitions worldwide that invite university students to develop messaging and digital media campaigns to address hate, bias and extremism.

The goal of these campaigns is to create branding that is “credible, authentic, and believable to their peers and resonate within their communities.” For the McCain Institute-sponsored Peer-to-Peer competition, teams from eight universities across the nation submitted initiatives, products and tools developed to confront the related crises of hate and school-based violence.

On June 23, three teams — from Arizona State University, Johns Hopkins University and Missouri State University — presented their concepts in an online final competition before a panel of judges who determined first, second and third place. The teams would receive cash awards that would allow them to continue work on their projects.

The judges were:

  • Ambassador Mark Green — executive director, McCain Institute.
  • Nick Rasmussen — executive director, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism and senior national security fellow, McCain Institute.
  • David Gersten — acting director, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention.
  • Beth Goldberg — research programs manager, Jigsaw at Google.
  • Kim Dozier — global affairs analyst, CNN.
  • Sofia Gross — public policy manager, SNAP Inc.
  • R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. — president, Cintana Education.

Each team provided a 15-minute video presentation of their project, then answered questions live from the panel of judges. The judges then selected first, second and third place, awarding prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000 to allow the teams to continue developing their concepts.

Before announcing the winners, Ambassador Green congratulated the finalists, telling them, “The Black Lives Matter movement protests have done a great service to America by forcing us all to look ourselves in the mirror, to admit that racism, inequality and injustice are not merely history; they're reality in too many communities across this country. Our namesake, John McCain, called on all Americans to unite against hatred and bigotry. I could not be more proud of these teams for answering that call and enlisting their communities to do the same.” 

Connect to Protect logo Third Place ($1,000): Johns Hopkins University — 'Connect to Protect' 

Connect to Protect is an integrated digital marketing campaign designed to reduce the possibility of instances of targeted violence in the Johns Hopkins University community by establishing an environment students find inclusive and positive. The team created videos, social media challenges and a series of trivia events to foster community connectedness. View the Connect to Protect presentation.

What the team said:

Co-CEO Cecilia Camille Zayas told the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, “After conducting a survey, multiple in-depth interviews and a focus group, we decided to center our campaign around the idea of inclusivity and connecting with each other to protect each other, especially populations that are more vulnerable to targeted violence. We hope this campaign will make our campus and the surrounding community of Baltimore a more inclusive place where microaggressions and more targeted acts are not tolerated in any way, and instead people work to promote inclusion.”

What the judges said:

“With their remarkable project, Johns Hopkins used trivia to mobilize what they've referred to as a silent majority, to get them moving so they'll be silent no longer, and to show that they are a majority, and they are changemakers.”

Next steps:

“Connect to Protect will continue to raise awareness regarding racism by implementing trivia events at surrounding universities. By continuing to host trivia events, we hope to create a connected community and initiate discussion and change. With the current social and political climate, our hope is that our trivia events will inspire the participants to enact change themselves while learning about various issues.”

Incite Insight logo Second Place ($3,000): Arizona State University — 'Incite Insight'

The ASU team focused on violence originating in the self-identified incel culture. “Involuntary celibates” have allegedly been responsible for recent incidents of mass violence, including the May 20, 2020, shooting that wounded three at the Westgate Entertainment District in northwest Phoenix, Arizona. View the Incite Insight presentation.

What the team said:

Team member Camryn Lizik: “Some of our initial research findings of (students in) Arizona State introductory courses showed us there were very high rates of loneliness among our own student body. In conducting research of incels we found that this was an overlapping theme, so we chose to target our own student population because we believe there is quite a bit of overlap, and quite a bit of incentive for incoming freshmen who feel this way to perhaps look to incelism as a foundation for them.”

What the judges said:

“Arizona State University impressed all of the judges with how seriously it took the challenges that are presented by that term ‘incel.’ They were very purposeful in not using that term but instead getting at the problems it represents without turning off an audience to make sure they remain relevant. We were also impressed with the scalability built into their project.”

Next steps:

“Incite Insight has plans to expand. We’d like to continue gathering stories and to record additional episodes of the podcast. We’ve discussed the possibility of hosting a forum with ASU students to discuss violence, gender and loneliness, and are looking into online means to do so. Our success in the Peer-to-Peer competition validated the need for campaigns based on inclusivity and acceptance. Because of the financial prize that came with our placement, we will now have additional funding to promote the project and hopefully scale its impact.”

KEY Campaign logo First Place ($5,000): Missouri State University — 'K.E.Y. Campaign'

Missouri State also chose incel culture as their focus, but decided to address the roots of its negative aspects in younger children. They enlisted parents and local school teachers in promoting their K.E.Y. campaign — Kindness Empowers Youth — an experiential learning program focused on teaching emotional intelligence, self-concept and healthy coping skills to elementary school students. View the K.E.Y. campaign presentation.

What the team said:

Team member Jordan Moore: “When we chose incel ideology as our focus we knew we didn’t want to talk about it directly to these third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. A big portion of the campaign was going to have to be educating the community about this growing concern of incel violence. That’s when we started going into schools, where you can start educating the teachers about it, and gradually explaining it to parents in a way that didn’t frighten them.”

Read an in-depth Q&A about the winning K.E.Y. campaign with Jordan Moore. 

What the judges said:

“What impressed us all is the fact that you enlisted not just the targeted youth themselves, but parents and educators in this cause. We think there is remarkable potential for your project as well as the others. We challenge you to take this day and go higher and go further and we're looking forward to watching you succeed.”

Next steps:

“The award will be put back into the campaign to further develop our game and lesson plans … building out the game and making it more engaging for the kids. We just applied for a grant through the Department of Homeland Security, but we’re also looking for other grants to apply for — local grants in the St. Louis and Springfield areas or statewide in Missouri. We're in the process of becoming a 501c3, and team members are in conversations with educators in the Springfield area and elsewhere in Missouri to hopefully begin implementing these ideas in the fall.”

Written by Erik Ketcherside for the McCain Institute

ASU faculty awarded patent for shoulder rest that lets violinists feel the sound

July 16, 2020

For years, violinist Seth Thorn, an instructor in Arizona State University's School of Arts, Media and Engineering, wanted to expand how traditional instruments were played, learned and used to perform.

“I’ve been tooling around with my acoustic violin and digital technology, using a computer to transform the way it sounds when you play it,” Thorn said, “but there’s always been something disjointed about feeling this vibrating, sounding instrument under your neck that’s completely unrelated to the transformed sound you’re hearing from the computer.” Instructor and violinist Seth Thorn holding his hybrid violin Instructor and violinist Seth Thorn playing his hybrid violin in the iStage, School of Arts, Media and Engineering, Arizona State University. Photo courtesy of Seth Thorn. Download Full Image

Thorn said digital musical instruments often lack elements of traditional musical instruments that “make them so rich to play and to learn, like having sound come out of the body of the instrument rather than remote speakers” or feeling sonic vibrations in the tips of your fingers when you play. So Thorn decided to change that. 

“Lots of violinists use a shoulder rest to ease strain on their neck when playing,” he said. “When I realized I could add some small transducers to it to make you actually feel the digital sound you’re hearing, it completely transformed my practice — a real ‘eureka’ moment for me that has brought lots of joyful playing of this hybrid instrument.”

Thorn and Clinical Assistant Professor Byron Lahey designed the new haptic feedback violin shoulder rest and have been awarded a U.S. patent. This digital extension for the violin can be used to replace the standard shoulder rest on violins for ergonomic support. Unlike the traditional shoulder rest, this digital shoulder rest is designed to serve as a silent metronome, to assist hearing disabilities and to entrain rhythm, all by using haptic feedback as its delivery method.

ASU Skysong Innovations is helping to market the device to a variety of sound and music industry parties.

WATCH: View a full demonstration of the hybrid-feedback shoulder rest.

Thorn answered some questions about this new digital extension for the violin and what inspired him to create the device.  

Question: Has any of your past research influenced this project? If so, how and what projects?

Answer: My research relates movement and computing through the lens of the violin. How can we track the salient gestures and movements in violin playing with sensing technology and couple them to sound processing to give the feeling that your violin is a very different instrument? The violin is already so incredibly expressive, so this is a big challenge. Extremely subtle changes in the tension of your wrist and fingers yield very different expressive dynamics, which is why it takes 10, 20 or 30 years to learn how to play it expressively. So you might think, what’s the point of trying to “augment” the violin with digital technology if it’s already so refined? Well, it’s really this refinement and nuance that has so much potential impact for human-computer interaction research: If you can be attentive to how these microscopic changes inform the sound production, then you’re on the way to learning how to design highly refined digital interfaces and responsive media more generally. Musicians and artists are experts in this — we need more of them in this kind of research! 

Q: How are you hoping this haptic shoulder rest will impact those learning violin?

A: There’s this feeling people have, I think, that the violin is “complete,” that it’s reached the apex of its development and there’s nothing left to do. But it’s important to remember that the violin has had five centuries to develop, and that along the way, decisions were made that gave the violin a definite character, like the tension of the strings, the shape of the bow, etc. But these decisions could have been made otherwise. The big philosopher of technical evolution, Gilbert Simondon, reminds us that even the most “concrete” technical objects are still “abstract,” that is, there’s always more potential in these objects that can be teased out by experiment. Putting haptic feedback technology into a violin shoulder rest is one example: Nobody ever anticipated this, but the potential has been there all along.

Now, to get to your question — what if the practice of violin playing evolved into a practice where you not only learn the instrument, but you also change it, creatively transforming it using digital technology with an app on your phone? People learn, create and are motivated in so many different ways, and maybe some people would want to make this part of their practice, even the center of their practice. It’s a big motivation. Let’s see what happens in the next 500 years.

Q: How is Skysong partnered with this project?  

A: I showed the shoulder rest to a colleague at the ASU Synthesis Center who’s familiar with my work, and his immediate response was, “You should patent it!” I was so encouraged by the enthusiasm, but I also had a lot of uncertainty about what the process might entail, and I felt unprepared for it. Then I learned about Skysong. They took care of the piles of paperwork related to the utility patent, and now we’re discussing licensing the technology to some big industry partners in music technology, or even creating a startup. Skysong has been great — they take care of the business and red tape stuff, and I get to keep my creative focus on developing and improving the technology. 

Q: Can this hybrid technology positively affect a certain group of people or demographics?

A: Haptic technology introduces a lot of exciting possibilities for people with sensory impairments or learning difficulties. In particular, you can improve sound or music perception for individuals with hearing loss by adding haptic feedback to increase the sensory dimensionality of a digital interface — or even a violin! With the violin, in fact, very little haptic feedback comes from the base of the violin into the neck and collarbone of the player. Most of the information you get is from the mechanoreceptors in your fingertips, which are most sensitive to vibrations around 250 Hertz. So adding haptic feedback felt by the collarbone and neck, delivered by this haptic technology, doesn’t disrupt those natural dynamics. It just adds feedback to a felicitous space. 

Q: How will this technology benefit or change live performances? 

A: If you’re playing in a rock band, you get your own amplifier next to you in order to localize your sound. It makes you hear and feel that the sound you’re contributing with your instrument is emanating from your position on the stage. My big vision with the haptic violin technology is an ensemble of violinists who, in the same way, confidently play their digitally transformed instruments with the help of this local, multisensory integration provided by the shoulder rest.

There are also opportunities for radical new ways to compose music. Like, instead of having a traditional score and conductor coordinating an ensemble, what if the “score” consisted in “taming” a capricious instrument, by playing it, that seems to have a life of its own. The haptic elements in my shoulder rest are basically small speakers, and if you drive them hard enough you can make the body of the violin resonate in really captivating ways. There’s an opportunity here to rethink the way ensembles coordinate, and how we can play together differently, or even what it means to play “together.” We can use haptic signals to cue that. There’s really a lot of versatility with this technology.

Q: What are your long term goals and plans for this project?

A: So to get to the big picture — the really big picture here — I’m going to refer to Jacques Attali, a famous French economist and finance minister who wrote an influential book in 1985 called “Noise: The Political Economy of Music,” in which he predicts and celebrates the return of “very ancient forms of production,” and music for “immediate enjoyment” rather than “spectacle.” The haptic shoulder rest really isn’t anything until you couple it with digital technology that transforms the sound of the violin in some way, so the question becomes: How do you do this? How do artistic decisions about the response actually evolve and come to be? You code some stuff, then you pick up your violin and give it a try. Then you make some adjustments, or you throw everything out and try something new, and so on.

By experiment, you negotiate the action of playing the violin with the multisensory perceptual feedback you get. And you learn a lot as you do this. Now, when you really think about it, this is an extraordinary scene, because it’s precisely that “ancient mode of production” Attali is talking about, even though it’s mediated by the most advanced real-time computing capabilities we have nowadays. It’s like crafting a violin, but instead of finding the right wood, carving it, “tap toning” it, reshaping it and so on, you’re doing all of this with code. But it’s still artisanal work, not industrial work — it’s very highly refined. Adding haptic feedback enriches the whole process.

So, to answer your question, my big vision for this project is the proliferation of these personal musical instruments that recapitulate ancient artisanal practices by means of advanced digital signal processing — a felicitous merging of bits and atoms. The haptic shoulder rest gets you closer. I don’t want to forget to mention my colleague Byron Lahey, who helped build the first prototype with me and shares part of the patent. While I could've done this project on my own, it would’ve been a big mistake not to solicit his advice and abilities as a master craftsman. We share an office in Stauffer B, so the collaboration just emerged organically. This is one of my favorite things about AMESchool of Arts, Media and Engineering: All these people of very different abilities, with collaborative instincts, in a big shared space. I also want to thank violinist Katherine McLin of the School of Music. She’s such a prolific and talented musician, but also very forward thinking. She brought her studio over to the Synthesis Center to try out my hybrid violin. The whole event was a lot of fun. 

Megan Patzem

Multimedia specialist, School of Arts, Media and Engineering