From a law degree to the (basketball) court

April 28, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Born and raised in Casper, Wyoming, Rahnee Jackson is passionate about sports. As her college volleyball career was coming to an end, she knew she wanted to be on a path where she would continue to be involved in sports in some way. Portrait of Rahnee Jackson, ASU Law Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB) graduate. Rahnee Jackson, ASU Law Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB) graduate. Download Full Image

Wanting to experience life outside of Wyoming, Jackson made the move to Arizona to pursue her undergraduate degree, and two years after graduating, she joined ASU as a program coordinator for Intramural Sports & Sport Clubs at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex.

As part of the Sun Devil community, Jackson couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree, so she enrolled in the Allan “Bud” Selig Sports Law and Business program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to pursue her Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB), helping her grow as a young professional and connecting her to a large network of people in the sports industry.

During her time at ASU Law, she interned for Sun Devil Athletics, where she assisted with eligibility, Academic Progress Rate and other areas of athlete academia.

“It was also a cool experience to be a full-time employee and student of the university, and experience life from both lenses. I felt like I was able to do more on-campus activities and engagement than I may have done if I wasn’t an employee,” Jackson said.

We spoke to Jackson to learn more about her ASU Law experience and what the future holds for her.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I followed the Selig SLB social media and liked what I saw. I dove deeper into the program information, and my “aha” was the intimacy of this program and the people who were part of it. To be around others who are just as passionate about sports as I am was exciting. I knew it would be an experience that would allow me to elevate, learn from smart people and form a connection with influential young adults.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?

A: I chose the Selig Sports Law and Business Program for the curriculum – I saw the courses and was intrigued by the mix of the two areas of focus. To have a bit of law education to tie into sports business is genius.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: This is tough because every single one of them has sprinkled great lessons on me along the way. There was a mentor session that I had with Glenn Wong where he spoke powerful words to me that flipped a switch in me to get after it. That man is incredible, and to feel like I had him in my corner was quite empowering.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Remember your “why” and keep pushing. There will be times that you feel defeated, unmotivated, stressed and tired, but you have to keep going. Work hard through the finish line and know that every feeling, good and bad, will be worth it in the end. Stay proud of yourself.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I may be biased – but I loved the Sun Devil Fitness Complex for myself. A place where I could relieve stress with a good workout. I also enjoyed the law building, whether it be the main courtyard area outside or the private courtyard area on the fifth floor. Perfect places to study, socialize and enjoy the weather.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Thankfully, I landed what I would call my dream job in January, months before graduation. I handle off-court player development and engagement for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. My plans are to continue to excel in my role, continue to advance within the organization and make a difference in people’s lives. After graduating, I will have a tiny amount of free time added back to my schedule, so I hope to find time for a vacation or two – as basketball season allows, that is.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would put money toward homelessness and toward pollution. Teaching lessons to the younger generation to make a difference in the future. If they’re knowledgeable in the two topics between K–8th grade, they can apply change during high school and beyond.

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online

How personality, genetics impact link between racial discrimination, problem drinking

Study finds new protective role for personality trait, emphasizes importance of representation in genetic research

April 28, 2022

Racial discrimination is connected to problematic alcohol use in Black American youth. 

A new study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence has shown that this connection differs based on personality traits. People who tend to act impulsively in response to negative experiences are more likely to report problematic alcohol use that is associated with racism. People seated around a table holding acloholic beverages clinking them together in a "cheers" motion. A new study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence has shown that people who enjoy seeking out new experiences are less likely to report problematic alcohol use that is associated with racism. Image by Fred Moon/Unsplash Download Full Image

But, people who enjoy seeking out new experiences are less likely to report problematic alcohol use that is associated with racism. Though this personality trait is thought to be a common risk factor for alcohol use disorder, this study suggests that people with sensation-seeking personalities can better tolerate or cope with difficult situations such as racism. 

“We found that who you are in terms of personality traits related to impulsivity was an important factor that affected the impact of racial discrimination on alcohol use problems,” said Jinni Su, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University and first author on the paper. 

The work, which was a collaboration among scientists at ASU, Rutgers University and Virginia Commonwealth University, also examined genetic risk factors for problematic alcohol use among Black American youth.

Experiencing racial discrimination can contribute to problem drinking

The study included 383 college-age participants, and all were assessed for personality traits related to impulsive behaviors. The participants were also asked about their experiences with discriminatory microaggressions and about their alcohol use.

One personality trait that was examined was negative urgency, or the tendency to act without thinking when feeling distressed. Participants who scored high on assessments of negative urgency and indicated experiencing racial discrimination were more likely to engage in problematic drinking.

“Discrimination is a stressor and can make people feel negative emotions like anger or sadness,” Su said. “It makes sense that people who already have a tendency to act impulsively under stressful conditions in general have a higher risk of engaging in risky drinking as a result of discrimination.” 

From risk factor to protective personality trait

Another personality trait that was assessed was sensation seeking, or the tendency to pursue stimulating and new experiences, even if it means taking risks. This personality characteristic has been so frequently associated with problem alcohol use that it is commonly considered a risk factor for excessive drinking

The participants who scored high on assessments of sensation seeking were less likely to engage in alcohol misuse associated with racial discrimination. In this study, the personality trait of sensation seeking was protective against some of the consequences of experiencing discrimination. 

“This finding was surprising given the research findings showing that sensation seeking is a risk factor for alcohol use. We found the opposite -- that sensation seeking attenuates the association between racial discrimination and alcohol problems,” Su said. “We think what might be happening is the tendency to seek out novel experiences makes people better able to tolerate emotionally arousing situations. It’s possible that having this personality trait means you are more likely to have acquired a wider range of coping skills and are thus more resilient to stressful experiences.”

The importance of including underrepresented populations in genetic studies

In addition to personality traits, the researchers investigated the genetic risk for alcohol misuse in the participants. To calculate the influence of genes on problematic drinking behaviors, they used a rating called a genome-wide polygenic score. This score is based on how an entire genome — which is the complete genetic instructions for a living organism like a human being — is associated with a trait or behavior.

Among the study participants, the genome-wide polygenic score for having an alcohol use disorder was not associated with problematic alcohol use.

“We know that genetics can play an important role in behavior, and though we did not find an association in this study, it does not necessarily mean the relationship is not there. We likely cannot see it because the predictive power for using genome-wide polygenic scores in people of color is limited due to their underrepresentation in large-scale genetic studies,” Su said.

Genome-wide polygenic scores are calculated from large datasets that can include millions of different genomes. Most of these large datasets overwhelmingly consist of genomes from people with European ancestry. 

In this study, the dataset used to calculate the genome-wide polygenic score included just over 56,000 Black Americans. Other studies that have examined genetic risk factors for alcohol use disorder have used datasets that include over 1 million genomes from people with European ancestry.

“People of non-European ancestry remain underrepresented in genetic studies, which means we are not doing a good job characterizing genetic predispositions in these groups of people,” Su said.

The research team consisted of Su and Angel Trevino of the ASU Department of Psychology; Sally I-Chun Kuo of Rutgers University; and Fazil Aliev, Chelsea Williams, Mignonne Guy and Danielle Dick of Virginia Commonwealth University. The work was funded by the Institute for Social Science Research at ASU and by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Science writer, Psychology Department