Social work professor to study babywearing as Fulbright Scholar

Practice said to increase bonding, provide benefits for both caregiver and child

May 25, 2023

When Lela Rankin first became a mother, she engaged in a parenting practice not many Westerners are aware of, even though its roots date back to the dawn of humankind and its advantages include providing health and bonding to both caregivers and children.

It’s called babywearing. Rankin, an accomplished Arizona State University researcher on the practice, will spend a semester in Canada further studying its benefits as a 2023–24 Fulbright Scholar. Lela Rankin "babywears" her son in a colorful cloth wrap as both look at the camera, a brick building behind them. ASU social work Professor Lela Rankin practiced babywearing with her son, who at the time of this photo was 3 years old. Rankin's research has found increased bonding and health benefits as a result of carrying a child either in a cloth wrap or backpack. Photo courtesy Lela Rankin Download Full Image

Babywearing involves carrying a child for long periods, either in a cloth wrapped around the mother’s torso or in a backpack-style carrier. It isn’t as popular in Western societies as in others, said Rankin, a professor at the School of Social Work’s Tucson campus.

Among the reasons are cultural norms and workplace policies, as well as times when children are secured in car seats or placed in swings to soothe them.

Rankin has been studying babywearing for many years and successfully practiced it herself, frequently advocating for its use nationally and internationally to enhance parenting and promote infant development.

“Babywearing is a tool that can enhance attachment and understanding of the child’s needs,” she said.

The Fulbright Scholar Program supports U.S. academics’ travel abroad to collaborate, interact and share knowledge, then return home with a deeper understanding of other cultures.

The program is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and awards approximately 8,000 grants each year, mostly to students. About 800 of the grants go to scholars such as Rankin.

Alumni include 62 Nobel Laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 78 MacArthur Fellows and thousands of leaders and internationally renowned experts in academic disciplines and many other fields in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Rankin will spend one semester in eastern Canada researching, as well as developing a collaboration between ASU and St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she will be based.

Rankin said compared to societies on other continents, parents in the West are more apt to use devices such as swings and car seats that separate them from their infants and toddlers, who, in the first months after birth, often long for the reassurance of physical contact with their caregivers.

Babywearing has actually been around quite a long time, Rankin said, adding that archaeologists have discovered evidence of the practice occurring thousands of years ago.

Her research found that babywearing provides benefits beyond mere transportation. Children and parents bond more deeply, experience reduced stress and are healthier overall.

Helps mothers 'feel the joy' through physical proximity

Carrying their children for much of the day helps mothers “feel the joy,” Rankin said. Such feelings don’t simply come through an instinct with which parents naturally come equipped; instead, they are enhanced through physical proximity, she said.

In addition, fewer instances of post-partum depression are reported in cultures where babywearing is more prevalent, Rankin said. Dads, too, can reap the benefits of babywearing in the form of increased bonding time with their children.

Rankin, who was born and raised in eastern Canada, still has family in Nova Scotia and will return there next year.

“It will be a great opportunity to be reconnected with the community there,” she said.

School of Social Work Director and Foundation Professor Elizabeth Lightfoot, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia in 2008 and Romania in 2018, said she is thrilled that Rankin’s Fulbright award will enable her to conduct more babywearing research in Canada as well.

“As a former Fulbright scholar myself and the current Fulbright ambassador for social work faculty, I know how career- and life-changing a Fulbright scholarship can be,” Lightfoot said. “We look forward to Dr. Rankin’s new partnership with colleagues in Canada and the potential for broader collaborations for other faculty and students.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Freestyle improv dance student represents ASU at national conference

May 26, 2023

Richard “Tom” Bullard, a third-year dance major in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University, has been selected to perform at the American College Dance Association’s (ACDA) National College Dance Festival in Long Beach, California, this month. 

The festival is the culminating celebration of the association's 50th anniversary. The ACDA is the largest organization serving dance in higher education in the United States. Performances for the national conference were chosen for their artistic excellence by a panel of adjudicators at regional conferences held around the country. ASU hosted the western regional ACDA conference in March.  A dancer performs on a dark stage Richard "Tom" Bullard performs on stage at ASU. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

Bullard said he is honored to be selected. His love of dance started in middle school while watching YouTube videos of the late Stephen “Twitch” Boss and Fik-Shun.

“I'd watch battle videos and performances, and that's how I started dancing,” he said.

Bullard is a freestyle improv dancer who specializes in street forms like popping, locking and tutting. He came to ASU because he was looking for a school with a strong hip-hop program, and a friend shared what a great experience they had with ASU dance. 

His solo “Emotion in Movement” is a freestyle piece that investigates the emotions people feel when they move and whether they can change their emotion but move in the same way. He said he’s excited to travel to California for the first time, but not too nervous to perform.  

“When I get on stage I just go out there and have a good vibe,” he said. “I just picture I'm by myself.”

Bullard has been preparing for the performance by developing concepts and working on movement pathways. 

“When I freestyle, I just completely tap into every element I possibly can to make a connection,” Bullard said. 

His advice for other dancers?

“Just move the way you move. Tap into your inner self,” he said. “Be yourself because trying to be someone else makes it harder.”

The ACDA Conference is held May 26–28 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, California. Bullard shared more below.

Question: What do you hope people take away from your performance?

Answer: I hope people take away new ideas — that you can basically dance hip-hop to anything, to any genre of music. It doesn't matter. Hip-hop is very emotion based, even though people don't understand that. It takes a lot of emotion to dance hip-hop. So, I'm trying to dance to everything I listen to, and I listen to everything. 

Q: What have you learned about yourself as an artist during your time at ASU?

A: One thing I've learned is I would love to travel. I also never thought I would want to teach, but I think I want to teach now. The more I collaborate with people, and the more they ask me questions, it's basically them teaching me and I'm teaching them. Talking to people about what I do has become a big thing for me.

Q: What role does social media play in your dancing?

A: It plays a pretty big role, because people always say you need to watch yourself, and I record myself like seven times a day. I post on TikTok most of the time. I've been posting on there for about two years, and I've gained a pretty decent following, so I just started to post on everything else. Now it's just an outlet for me. I post whatever I feel. I post because you have to grow at some point. People are going to see your growth. You have to put it out there and get people's opinions, even if they don't like it or if they do.

Q: What other goals do you have for the future?

A: I'm really heavy into battling, so I want to battle in the future. There's a few battles I want to travel and go see, especially Red Bull Dance Your Style. I want to travel and battle in that. It was a good experience (in the competition at the ASU Tempe campus in March). I just wish I would have gotten out of my head. I took it to another level. I was like, "It’s Red Bull; I have to do this, I have to do that.” But in reality I should just go out there and have a good time and not put too much pressure on myself.

Lacy Chaffee

Media and communications coordinator, School of Music, Dance and Theatre