New ASU course focuses on dismantling racism, reshaping the humanities

December 15, 2021

The summer of 2020 gave way to the largest protests for racial justice and civil rights in the U.S. during the 21st century. Realizing the need to stand in solidarity with human-rights protesters who took to the streets and the desire to implement effective and meaningful change to actively fight against racism, the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University created the Anti-Racism Committee.

Part of the mission of the committee is to “make lasting reforms in our primary area of expertise as educators and teachers by critically rethinking pedagogical approaches, course curriculums and student events to center Black and brown voices and experiences.”  ASU building with a sunset in the background. Download Full Image

In line with the mission, and to help students and the broader community understand the ongoing realities of systemic racial violence and oppression, new courses within the school were developed and continue to be developed. 

One such course launched for the first time in fall 2021, titled “From Racism to Justice: Reshaping the Humanities in the 21st Century.” The iCourse emerged from the work of Associate Professor of history Julian Lim, Lecturer of philosophy Michelle Saint and Assistant Professor of religious studies Shamara Alhassan, who taught the course.

The course is the first in the school to be listed across the three disciplines that focuses on racism within the humanities.

“The purpose of this introductory course is to train a new generation of scholars to use critical humanistic inquiry to dismantle racist epistemology and, to this end, provide a basic understanding of the way race, racism and white supremacy function across our disciplines, and ultimately help us reshape the humanities to center justice, equity and reparations,” Alhassan said. 

The students who took the course were drawn to it in different ways. Rhianna Cheetham is earning a bachelor’s degree in social work and initially chose the course to fulfill a cultural diversity credit.

“I expected this course to touch on how racism is occurring, what caused it and what is working in those aspects of improvement,” Cheetham said. “This class was about these things, but also so much more than that. This class focused on the responsibility that we have, as students, teachers and community contributors, to have epistemic reparations and not only recognize injustice, but do something about it.”

Farhat Ali, a double major in political science and women and gender studies, took the course because she had taken a previous class with Alhassan and enjoyed her teaching style.

“This course was everything I expected it to be,” Ali said. “It tied in history, contemporary issues surrounding race and racism, feminism and gender, intersectional identities and even music in order to create a framework for understanding how we move towards liberation.”

Engineering undergraduate JJ Sales was intrigued by the title of the course and decided to enroll. 

“I wanted to be involved in talking and especially learning more about racism besides reposting and retweeting posts on what we hear in the news and or facts about racism like how America was built by racism,” Sales said. 

The class used Yellowdig as the main platform for communication, which students said contributed to “deeper conversations” and allowed room for “extensive conversation.”

“(Alhassan) has such a fresh and unique take on how she teaches, and I love that she brings in so many different elements and forms of inclusive education to support all kinds of learners,” Ali said. “She is also incredibly open to conversations and feedback, and I love that she’s always readily available to support her students.”

Along with the discussions and readings about the broader issue of racism, students learned about current issues at Arizona State University and allowed them to develop ways to actively combat them.

“The final assignment for the course provides students the opportunity to create epistemic reparation action plans for SHPRSSchool of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and ASU,” Alhassan said. “These plans encourage students to apply what they have learned about racism in the humanities to implement practical, sustainable and accountable solutions for addressing these issues in SHPRS and ASU.”

The plans developed by the students will be used to support the work of the Anti-Racism Committee and the work within the school to address the issue of structural racism. 

“I'm just grateful that this class exists, and I just hope that in the future that most if not all colleges and schools across America have this kind of class,” Sales said.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

ASU researchers among group to receive $15.7 million NIH grant for the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

December 15, 2021

Researchers from Arizona State University are among the leads for a new prestigious grant expected to total $15.7 million over the next five years from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to provide continued support for the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Associate Dean and Professor David Coon co-leads the Outreach, Recruitment and Engagement (ORE) Core with Jessica Langbaum from Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.  Health North on ASU's Downtown campus is home to Edson College ASU is one of seven organizations with researchers collaborating in the Arizona Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. Download Full Image

ASU Psychology Department President's Professor Heather Bimonte-Nelson and Roberta Brinton from the University of Arizona co-lead the Research Education Component.

Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, or ADRCs, are congressionally designated NIH Centers of Excellence. They play crucial roles in the national plan to address Alzheimer’s disease, the advancement of research and care for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and the effort to find effective ways to treat and prevent these devastating diseases as soon as possible.

The new grant will help establish the role of promising blood tests in Alzheimer’s research, clinical trials and clinical care, and will support Arizona’s efforts to help find effective prevention therapies by 2025.

Edson College Associate Dean and Professor  smiles at the camera he is wearing black rimmed glasses and a purple button up shirt

David Coon

With this new funding, Coon says their core’s efforts will continue to focus on recruitment and retention as well as providing education, outreach and engagement programs to help people with and without the disease, their families and professional caregivers. 

Coon, who is also the director of ASU’s Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging (CIHRA), says the ORE Core will also work closely with another team, the clinical core to support their inclusion in research studies to advance the fight against Alzheimer’s disease together.

“The ORE Core helps increase awareness about the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the challenges faced by people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their family caregivers. It is also critically important to remember that until there is a cure, there is care,” Coon said. “So, we also develop and evaluate programs and services designed to reduce stress and distress that arise from these challenges.”

This work goes hand in hand with several of the ongoing research projects at CIHRA.

“Arizona, like the rest of the world, is aging and growing increasingly diverse. Between now and 2025, Arizona is the state projected to have the greatest increase in its proportion of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Both the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and CIHRA are dedicated to involving people from diverse backgrounds and listening to their voices to help advance prevention, treatment and care,” said Coon.  

In her role as co-director of the Research Education Component, Bimonte-Nelson’s focus is to cultivate success for future leaders in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research. 

Psychology Department President's Professor  smiles straight into the camera. She's wearing a floral blouse and is standing in front of a lush green tree.

Heather Bimonte-Nelson

“I consider this role an honor as well as a tremendous responsibility,” she said. 

Specifically, she says Research Education Component scholars will have opportunities for personalized, foundational, innovative and multi-disciplinary training using their collaborative cross-institutional approach, optimizing scholar success as trailblazers in a breadth of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research domains.

“We are immensely appreciative to our enthusiastic mentors, the state of Arizona and the NIH for supporting our shared goals to facilitate the success of the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias scientists using an inclusive, cutting-edge, team-based scientific approach to yield a powerful and sustained impact on the field,” said Bimonte-Nelson.

The Arizona ADRC includes researchers from seven organizations: Arizona State University, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, Barrow Neurological Institute, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona. 

“We could not be more grateful to our participating researchers and institutions, the state and NIH for the chance to make a profound difference in Alzheimer’s disease research and care,” said Eric Reiman, director of the National Institute on Aging-supported Arizona ADRC and executive director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. “In addition to our other goals, we hope to become a go-to resource for the development of promising blood tests, find effective Alzheimer’s prevention therapies within the next five years and capitalize on our ADRC resources to support these endeavors.”

Since becoming the first multi-institutional research program to receive an ADRC grant in 2001, Arizona has become the most extensive statewide collaboration in Alzheimer’s research in the country. 

The Arizona ADRC has made groundbreaking contributions in the early-detection diagnosis, study and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, studies of the aging mind and brain, and the roles of brain imaging and emerging blood-based biomarkers in these endeavors.

To learn more about the work of the ADRC, visit the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium website.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation