How does the history of COVID-19 look after a year of archiving?

ASU faculty reflect on how 'Journal of the Plague Year: A COVID-19 Archive' has developed over the last year

April 5, 2021

On March 13, 2020, former President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, thus marking the beginning of the pandemic for many Americans. On that same day, just a little over a year ago, history faculty head and Professor Catherine O’Donnell reached out to the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Richard Amesbury and Associate Professor of history Mark Tebeau with an idea. 

She suggested that the public history team facilitate a repository of, what she referred to as, “this strange time,” for future historians to use for projects and research. Tebeau and Amesbury wrote back almost immediately to express their support for the idea. Thus, “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19” was born. It was named after Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel, “A Journal of the Plague Year,” which documented the experience of the bubonic plague in London in the year 1665. mask at playground Image courtesy of "A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19." Download Full Image

Tebeau began assembling a website and reaching out to colleagues at other universities, such as Northeastern University and George Mason University. The journal had over 160 contributions after being up and running for only one week. 

“That first weekend, it was just me, Mark and Richard taking pictures and uploading them,” O’Donnell said. “But Mark and then partners elsewhere, especially through George Mason University, created the human and digital infrastructure for it and it grew and grew.”

The archive’s team grew as undergraduate and graduate students from Arizona State University and the other universities joined the team of faculty members already involved. The growth of the journal was also enabled by the Institute for Humanities Research and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Cohen who helped to provide funding for the project.

In the year that has gone by since the launch, the archive has grown and now holds almost 13,000 contributions from people across the world. People have sent in photos, paintings, videos, written stories, classroom lesson plans, news clippings and many other forms of media to document their unique and shared experiences. 

“It's humbling to see people's determination,” O’Donnell said. “But I should add that I also am impressed that people are willing to share their struggles. Putting them in context isn't denying them, and I'm glad people are willing to write about how they're bored, or frightened or despairing.

“I think the archive gives people a vehicle that is neither public nor private and it connects their individual experience to a communal one. The pandemic has created both extraordinary isolation and extraordinary collective efforts, and the archive is a testament to that.”

As the archive continued to reach milestones in the number of submissions, those curating it began to notice how it evolved as events happened or news stories broke. Clinical Assistant Professor of history Kathleen Kole de Peralta, one of the faculty members at ASU working on the archive, mentioned this.

“Every time we turn a page in the pandemic story there's a flurry of submissions to the archive reflecting that change,” Kole de Peralta said. “The archive reflects the pulse of the contributors. It shifts and changes in real time, most recently the archive reflects the intersection of the pandemic with social justice issues and concerns about gun violence.”

The team also began to notice where there were silences within the archive. Wanting to make sure the project was as inclusive and expansive as possible, they actively set out to find the voices that were missing. 

“People have come up with all kinds of themes around which to collect and that has meant greater, though still not sufficient, inclusion of rural communities, older people and communities of color,” O’Donnell said.

A few other groups the team is looking to include were mentioned by postdoctoral scholar and American Council of Learned Societies fellow Marissa Rhodes, a curator of the archive.

“Though this work has just begun, we now have collections from around the world that highlight the experiences of Indigenous people, incarcerated people, and others whose stories aren't typically included in traditional archives,” Rhodes said. 

This goal to include the voices of those who have been left out of other archives has been a mission of the journal from the beginning.

In an article published by ASU News when the archive first launched in March 2020, Tebeau said: “In a sense, this is kind of guerilla history. We want stories from everyone: those who are not as digitally active, older folks who are at the greatest risk, communities of color, which may be impacted differently than others. The best archives are those which are most representative.”

As vaccines begin to roll out around the world, the pandemic and its effects are far from over. The archive going forward must consider not only when to stop collecting materials, but also how to preserve all of the submissions. 

“Next steps definitely include continuing to curate and organize existing collections, ensuring that the archive will be safely preserved, a challenge with digital materials,” O’Donnell said.

It is a challenge to preserve digital materials as technology is constantly evolving. This creates the possibility of the technology used to create the archive to be obsolete within a few years. Luckily, the archive team has kept this in mind and are going forward with this challenge in mind. 

Submit content to the COVID-19 archive, or browse through it.

Rachel Bunning

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

ASU school welcomes political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz as artist-in-residence

April 5, 2021

For more than 25 years, award-winning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz has advocated for Latino and immigrant rights through his work. Now, he is bringing his passion for these issues to Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies to serve as the school’s first-ever virtual artist in residence.

“We are very excited to welcome Lalo to ASU, The College and our school,” said Irasema Coronado, director and professor of the School of Transborder Studies. “His background and years of advocacy for the Latino and immigrant communities are an indication of his transboundary connections. We welcome his contributions to our interdisciplinary work and are eager to promote the arts in the process.” Award-winning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz will be the School of Transborder Studies' first-ever virtual artist-in-residence. Download Full Image

In this role, Alcaraz will take on a variety of projects in collaboration with school faculty and give lectures on his work and other topics of relevance. One of the first projects he’ll tackle is a strategic campaign to dispel misinformation around COVID-19 and the vaccine in Latino communities in partnership with Gilberto Lopez, assistant professor in the School of Transborder Studies. 

Alcaraz will develop a series of illustrations to bring culturally relevant information on the COVID-19 vaccine to California’s agricultural Central Valley and beyond. These efforts will contribute to an ongoing project that Lopez has been working on since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 20, Lalo will give a lecture titled “Cartoons That Cross The Line,” where he’ll share some of the editorial cartoons he’s done over the course of his career on immigration and the Mexican-American border.

Alcaraz said he was drawn to the School of Transborder Studies because the topics taught within the school align with his work and background. Growing up in San Diego, California, to Mexican immigrant parents, he was close in proximity to the Mexican-American border. 

“I always write and create about the border,” Alcaraz said. “I'm from the border and it's just always with me. So naturally I was fascinated by the School of Transborder Studies. The work they do is right up my alley ... so collaborating with them really seemed like a perfect match.”

Alcaraz received a bachelor’s degree in art from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon graduating, Alcaraz created "La Cucaracha,” the first nationally syndicated political Latino daily comic strip for the Los Angeles Times.

Throughout his career his work has extended beyond comic strips to television and film writing, consulting and producing. He has contributed as a writer and cultural consultant on several well-known movies and TV shows including the animated TV show “Bordertown” and Disney’s Oscar-winning Pixar movie “Coco.” 

He is currently the cultural consultant, consulting producer and writer on the Nickelodeon animated series “The Loud House” and “The Casagrandes.” Alcaraz is also the co-host of the satirical radio talk show, the Pocho Hour of Power on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles.

His work as a freelance editorial cartoonist earned him a spot as a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in the editorial cartooning category

Today, Alcaraz resides in Los Angeles with his family — where he will work remotely during his virtual artist residency through fall 2021.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Indigenous Culture Week emphasizes unification

April 2, 2021

There’s something new this year for Indigenous Culture Week.

It’s the word “Indigenous.” Sacramento Knoxx portrait Interdisciplinary artist Sacramento Knoxx will lead a live performance and an interactive workshop as part of Indigenous Culture Week at ASU. Download Full Image

Previously known as Native American Culture Week, and before that, American Indian Culture Week, the new name can be accredited to the advocacy and hard work of current Indigenous students. 

“We’re unpacking this term ‘Indigenous’ and sharing it with our communities,” said Lourdes Pereira (Hia-Ced O’odham and Yoeme), an undergraduate student double-majoring in American Indian studies and justice studies, who works at the ASU Library’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center. “It’s not a new term, but it’s still something people are learning how to use. It’s an international term.”

Indigenous Culture Week events are happening April 2–11 across all campuses at Arizona State University, located on the ancestral homeland of the O’odham and Piipaash people.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous people and promote Indigenous voices.

Voices like Sacramento Knoxx, an interdisciplinary artist from Detroit, whose “versatile background with different forms of music allows him to blend traditional and contemporary styles creating dynamic storytelling experiences with live music performances, dancing and video projections that take audiences on a participatory journey and a creative experience.”

Knoxx will be leading two events for Indigenous Culture Week. Sponsored by the Labriola Center, the RED INK Indigenous Initiative and the Department of English, Knoxx’s interactive workshop on April 6 will focus on creating music and lyrics from patterns and structures of sound. He will present a virtual music performance on April 7. 

Other events include a pride run, a virtual walk-through experience of the American Indian Boarding School exhibition at the Heard Museum, a talk on unresolved trauma and a screening of the film “Sisters Rising,” the story of six Indigenous women fighting for their personal and tribal sovereignty.

Pereira says the push for the term “Indigenous” came out of a desire to communicate greater inclusion and a more deeply rooted connection to the land and to each other — an idea threaded throughout the Indigenous Culture Week Library Guide, created by Pereira and fellow student workers at the Labriola Center, including undergraduate students Elizabeth Quiroga (Tohono ‘O’odham), majoring in social justice and human rights with a minor in American Indian studies, and Mia Johnson (Navajo), majoring in applied computing.

The library guide is aimed at informing Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike about all the resources available to them at ASU, and it offers a historical look at the culture week celebration. 

It is also an attempt at examining the language surrounding Indigenous people – an idea conveyed visually through a gallery of promotional posters of past culture weeks.

“We need to think about our words more carefully and what we’re advocating for,” said Quiroga, who identifies with the term “Indigenous” rather than “Native American.”

“I feel like part of the issue in America is being focused on our own issues, individualizing all of our problems, but the issues we face here in America as Indigenous people, recognized or unrecognized, these are the issues being faced across the world,” Quiroga said.

Johnson offers an important reminder that Indigenous issues are not just historical — they are current.

“We’re not extinct. In classes, I’ve heard instructors talk about us as if we’re not around anymore,” Johnson said. “The O’odham and the Navajo – this is not just a historical story. These are contemporary issues — legal issues and social issues.”

To learn more about Indigenous Culture Week, visit the ASU students’ library guide and check out the week’s calendar of events.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

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Unlocking the mystery of education and autism

April 1, 2021

Teachers College professor says parents and schools must collaborate to form a seamless system of support

In the span of a century, students with autism have gone from being institutionalized in sanitariums to having careers in the STEM field. And despite those strides, academic institutions and teachers still don’t have a firm handle on how to effectively educate many students with this disorder.

That’s a real problem because autism is the most rapidly growing developmental disability in the United States, according to Juliet Hart Barnett, an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, whose research focuses on instruction for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), quality teacher preparation and translation of research findings into classroom practice. 

Barnett is hoping to take advantage of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 to enlighten parents, policymakers and the community at large as well as increase understanding of people with autism to inspire a kinder, more inclusive world.

ASU News recently spoke with Hart Barnett to put a spotlight on the hurdles that people living with autism face every day.

Woman with blonde hair and black top

Juliet Barnett

Question: Would you give me a general working definition of autism spectrum disorder and what the current prevalence rates are?

Answer: Sure, a working definition is a logical place to start. Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. To receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, we typically use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the psychology field. A child must demonstrate limitations in three primary areas: social interaction, communication and what are called stereotypical or unusual patterns of behavior, interests or activities — the hand-flapping, spinning and rocking behaviors we often see, for example. There is also a high need for structure and often ritualized routines, changes to which create serious anxiety for individuals with ASD.

In day-to-day life, these children have difficulty picking up social cues from their environment, forming relationships, using language effectively and regulating their sensory input. One way to think of it is that people with ASDs handle information in their brains differently than other people, and correspondingly, experience the world differently as well.

Now, in the past, ASD was actually considered a low-prevalence disorder. Today, it is the most rapidly growing developmental disability and is ranked as the sixth most commonly classified disability in the United States. According to the (Centers for Disease Control), it is estimated to currently affect 1 in 54 children. ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups but are more than four times more common in boys than girls. More people than ever before are diagnosed with an ASD.

Q: Tell us historically how students with ASD have been served in our schools and what are your thoughts on more inclusive practices for this population of students?

A: The study of autism is relatively new to the field of special education. And, historically, our education system didn’t do a great job of meeting these students’ needs, in part, because it wasn’t clear what we were looking at. Some of the characteristics of ASD were thought to overlap with those of disorders such as schizophrenia. It was also thought most of these students had low cognitive ability. As a result, many individuals with ASD were misdiagnosed and placed in highly restrictive settings, such as institutions, and removed from the public eye to live out their lives.

The good news is our understanding of this exceptionality has been rapid, and our decisions about how to effectively include students with ASD can be informed by the considerable knowledge base about their characteristics and needs. For example, we now know that many students with ASD can achieve at a high academic level or have cognitive abilities that should qualify them to benefit from the general education curriculum, yet their social and behavioral difficulties often hinder their successful inclusion in general education settings. In fact, students with ASD have one of the lowest rates of inclusion compared to students with other disabilities. Therefore, quality teacher preparation that addresses how to work with the growing numbers of students with ASD has become critically important.

Q: OK, then what are implications for how we prepare teachers to respond more effectively to students with autism?

A: The unique challenges presented by children with autism can quickly overwhelm unprepared teachers. Educators need direction on how to understand and address the behavioral problems and social communication needs of children with ASD, and they require practical techniques that they can use throughout their school day. There is also a rising expectation that students with ASD will access and develop the same core curricular content knowledge that their typically developing peers do, which ushers in a related need for evidence-based educational interventions to support students’ learning.

As the number of children diagnosed with ASD increases, colleges of education must ensure that general and special educators are prepared to teach these students effectively and to respond to their behavioral issues. Although both general and special educators are likely to encounter students with ASD in their classrooms, most teacher education programs actually provide little training in evidence-based practices for teaching students with the disorder. So, it’s not surprising that teachers rarely employ evidence-based instructional strategies with students with autism.

So, one of the major implications for colleges of teacher preparation is that we must find ways to integrate autism-specific content and strategies in our course work and our teacher candidates’ experiences. One of the most effective treatments for ASD is applied behavior analysis (ABA), yet ABA interventions are not typically available in our schools nor are part of teacher preparation programming. So, we have some work to do. These are no longer the students tucked away in self-contained special education classes. Students with ASD are — and will increasingly be — children all teachers will encounter, and with some regularity.

Q: What are the current postsecondary outcomes for students with autism?

A: The postsecondary outcomes of individuals with autism spectrum disorder are substantially worse than peers with other disabilities, across a number of important quality of life dimensions. Research suggests that adults with ASD are characterized by frequent unemployment or underemployment, with fewer than half holding a paying job. Community living and social outcomes are also poor. That is, young adults with ASD have a relatively low likelihood of living independently, are often likely to be living with parents and have limited friendships.

On the other hand, it’s also estimated that 40% or so of young adults with ASD do enroll in colleges or universities post high school graduation. However, most institutions of postsecondary education aren’t prepared to support the rising number and unique needs of students with ASD. Encouragingly, some universities are taking the initiative to develop programming to assist students with ASD in transitioning successfully to college life. ASU’s Employment Assistance and Social Engagement (EASE) peer mentoring program is a good example of a program focused on assisting students with autism with the transition to college life as well as career readiness skills to facilitate their success.

Q: You mentioned applied behavior analysis as an effective, evidenced-based practice for working with students with autism. However, these services are not typically available to schools. How do you address that gap?

A: This is such an important question and one that we are currently grappling with in the field. Applied behavior analytic approaches are recognized as the most effective basis for treatment for children with ASD. These interventions are useful in minimizing problem behaviors such that children with ASD can often be educated with typical peers for at least part of the school day. But ABA services are typically delivered by private agencies and aren’t currently an integral part of the special education services offered by most schools as part of students’ individualized education plans.

There has been some hesitancy on the part of public school systems to implement ABA-based interventions. Public school administrators’ lack of specific training on the needs of students with ASD, financial restraints, the lack of sufficient numbers of qualified ABA professionals and teachers, and limited support for paraprofessionals all result in barriers to the adoption of ABA-based programs.

A primary objective of my current research agenda is to determine the most effective ways for behavior analysts and school personnel to collaborate in their implementation of ABA as they seek to meet the needs of students with ASD successfully. Teacher educators are uniquely qualified to take a leadership role to address the lack of specific teacher training on ASD and to prepare their candidates for collaborative roles alongside ABA and other related service providers. In the (Mary Lou Fulton) Teachers College, we are currently engaged in a redesign of our undergraduate teacher preparation program, which will include a number of specialization areas, including in autism and ABA, to begin to address this issue.

Q: How do parents of children with ASD effectively advocate for their children, given the current challenges to securing the appropriate services for them from school districts?

A: Historically, parents of children with disabilities have in large part been the recipients of schools’ decisions about their child’s education. They understandably may defer to the expertise of school professionals, who tend to use lots of education jargon and acronyms, which can be confusing for a lot of parents. With this recognition, our special education law emphasizes the importance of helping parents advocate for their children and ensuring parents have an equal voice at school meetings related to their child’s education.

My role as a special educator and autism researcher preceded my role as a parent of a young child on the spectrum. I now appreciate firsthand how the feelings that come with having a child with a disability can so quickly overwhelm and disorient, even when I’m more conversant on special education law, policy and interventions than anyone at the table. No words can adequately explain the concern and anxiety that accompany parents of children with ASD in most contexts, let alone at school-based meetings that feel decidedly high-stakes, in that they determine educational access and services, and signal specific types of long-term outcomes for their child.

In short, parents must become their child’s best advocate. Become familiar with federal laws, state laws and relevant judicial decisions related to ABA and other evidence-based services for children with ASD. It’s also important that parents learn about the legal and school-based dispute resolution systems to advance their efforts on behalf of their children. Many parents are increasingly requesting ABA-based educational interventions because of their documented effectiveness for individuals with ASD and some are able to work with school districts to secure such services in some form.

As parents, we also want to maintain our optimism. We strive to trust that most school personnel are acting in good faith and want to make a difference in the lives of children, even when there are notable differences in perspective about what educational programming and services should look like. Parent or professional, the goal of all team members is a productive, collaborative partnership. When parents and schools collaborate to form a seamless system of support, children thrive, including those with ASD.

Top photo illustration courtesy of iStock/Getty Images.

Celebrating Herstory: Join the conversation with ASU's 3 female executive vice presidents

April 1, 2021

Arizona State University is on the verge of making "herstory." Soon the university will for the first time have three women in the position of executive vice president.

Maria Anguiano was named executive vice president of Learning Enterprise in December 2020. Prior to that, she served as senior vice president of enterprise strategy beginning in fall 2018. Breaking Barriers: Conversations on the path to leadership Download Full Image

Nancy Gonzales has been named as the university’s next executive vice president and university provost and will begin her tenure on July 1. Most recently, Gonzales served as dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sally C. Morton serves as executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, a position she began on Feb. 1. Morton came to ASU from Virginia Tech where she served as dean of the College of Science, as well as interim director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

In honor of this milestone and of Women’s History Month, all three leaders will participate in a virtual event titled “Breaking Barriers: Conversations on the path to leadership” from 8 to 9 a.m. April 9, via Zoom. The event will feature a student-moderated conversation with Anguiano, Gonzales and Morton, who will share their insights on what it means to break barriers and how students, staff and faculty can chart their own course for leadership.

This event is presented by Knowledge Enterprise, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Educational Outreach and Student Services and the ASU SDG5 Coalition. It is part of the “Celebrating Women’s Empowerment at ASU” event series showcasing ASU’s initiatives and partnerships advancing Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls. The series included Gender Equality Under the Law & WE Empower U.N. SDG Challenge Launch and the Impact of Global Women’s Leadership for the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Former U.N. Ambassador Amanda Ellis, who was the first woman to head the New Zealand Development Agency and also served as lead specialist of gender for the World Bank now serves as director of global partnerships for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, one of the co-sponsors of this event. In explaining why it’s important to highlight women in leadership like Anguiano, Gonzales and Morton, Ellis quotes renowned poet Maya Angelou: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

“Angelou’s words remind us how important it is to have diverse positive role models to help us envision better and more inclusive futures,” Ellis said. “While the diversity dividend has been well-documented, demonstrating a 6% higher return on investment where female representation in senior roles is 30%, the data is disappointing: only 1 in 4 parliamentarians is female, a third of global boards have no female representation at all and only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.”

It’s clear there is more work to be done when it comes to female representation in leadership positions across industries and across the globe, but Ellis believes ASU is working to be the change that the world needs to see. For example, ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and EdPlus partnered with global organizations including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations and the World Bank on the SDG5 Training for Parliamentarians and Changemakers to accelerate policy change that advances gender equality around the word.

“As the top university in the U.S. for both innovation and United Nations Sustainable Development Goal impact, ASU can have a powerful multiplier influence through both demonstration effect and practical impact,” Ellis said. “Despite women now comprising more graduates than men globally, higher education leadership is notoriously male; ASU is demonstrating commitment to disrupting those prejudices.”

Toni Farmer-Thompson, deputy vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services, another event co-sponsor, feels ASU is leading by example when it comes to modeling female empowerment in leadership.

“I believe the recent promotion and restructure of the organization (ASU) resulting in the appointment of three women EVPs by President Crow acts as a phenomenal example not only for higher education but organizations at large,” Farmer-Thompson said. “Additionally, ASU has a number of assets and activities devoted to advancing and empowering women. It will be important to curate and collaborate transforming these efforts into equity accelerants.”

Farmer-Thompson hopes that people walk away from this event feeling inspired “to dream, plan and execute on their God-given talent” and “to commit to creating greater awareness and action around the development and proliferation of talented women.”

To join in the conversation with these dynamic and inspiring leaders on April 9, visit the event page to register and learn more.

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


5 doctoral students begin inaugural Race Relations Scholar program

March 30, 2021

In fall 2020, the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies launched a new initiative to promote the study of racism and racial relations in graduate studies at Arizona State University known as the Race Relations Scholar Award.

Five on-ground students pitched essay projects and were awarded the scholarship to join the first cohort of Race Relations Scholars. The students are from different programs from across ASU disciplines, each bringing a unique approach to the topic of race relations.  stack of books Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

Students were chosen based on a submitted proposal describing how their research is related to race relations, or how they plan to conduct research on the topic. 

“All of the award’s students are focusing their research essays to improve race relations in some way,” said Regents Professor of history Donald Fixico. “Their writing projects address a range of topics including African American, Latino American and Indigenous peoples. They are addressing the problems of social injustice in society that have been widespread throughout the country.”

ASU News caught up with them to ask about their proposed projects and research. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Elizabeth Altamirano

Elizabeth AltamiranoElizabeth Altamirano 

Elizabeth Altamirano is a sixth-year doctoral student in the counseling psychology program at ASU. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida and an associate degree from Broward College

Her parents were forced to flee Honduras in 1980 due to violence and extortion by gangs, severe levels of poverty and generational trauma to seek asylum in the U.S. They remained undocumented and struggled to obtain citizenship before the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalized most undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the country prior to January 1, 1982.

Altamirano faced hardships as a member of a mixed-status family and as a Latina in the U.S. with language barriers, acculturation stress and limited mental health services. In spite of these difficulties, she learned the value of resilience and familismo, which remains a central part of her identity as a proud Latina.

“My personal experiences inspired my career ambitions to serve the Latinx community and sparked my initial interest in psychology,” Altamirano said. “My parents' bravery and sacrifices also encouraged me to take advantage of the educational opportunities they never had.”

Question: What research do you focus on outside of the Race Relations Scholar Program?

Answer: I have a wide range of research experiences and summer programs that enhanced my knowledge of diverse populations. As a McNair scholar, my research sought to understand the relationship between depressive symptoms and psychological constructs such as acculturation, psychological homelessness and marginalization among Latinx immigrants in the community of Florida. As a doctoral student, I conduct research on police brutality among Latinx individuals. 

Also, I have been a research assistant for several independent research projects that focus on Latinx health disparities. For example, I serve as a graduate research assistant for Dr. Luz Garcini, where we investigated the mental health of recently deported immigrants and their experiences with deportation. Furthermore, I was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Minority Health and Health Disparities to participate in a summer program, Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training, under the mentorship of Dr. Steve Lopez from the University of Southern California. 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your proposed project?

A: As a scientist-practitioner, I have sought to further inform practitioners on how to incorporate multicultural awareness into therapy through my research. There is a paramount need to explore the challenges faced by Latinxs to enhance their quality of life and decrease their psychological distress. More specifically, my research is centered on the mental health needs and social injustices towards Latinx communities. Currently, for my dissertation, I will further advance the LPOPS subscale by establishing reliability and validity via confirmatory factor analysis. Results will also help counselors understand a group that has largely been ignored in discussions of police brutality. Data collection is currently underway and I am on track to finish my dissertation before starting a clinical internship.

Q: Was your proposed project one you were already developing or one you developed for the program?

A: It was already in development and serves as my dissertation. 

Q: In your own words, what is the importance of research into race relations?

A: My research has promoted my understanding of ethnic minorities' experiences with the police and legal system. Collectively, these research experiences informed my clinical work as results suggest that to decrease health disparities, it is important to understand the hardships encountered and the factors involved in perseverance among Latinxs. My goal is to continue embracing the scientist-practitioner model to spread awareness of the adversities the Latinx community endures, provide culturally and evidence-based treatments that can address the mental health needs of Latinxs and establish interdisciplinary collaboration to advocate and improve the health and well-being of the Latinx community. Overall, bringing awareness to a community that has been ignored when it comes to police brutality is important. 

Jamal Brooks-Hawkins

Jamal Brooks-Hawkins earned his bachelor’s degree in theater from DePaul University and a master’s degree in sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University before enrolling at ASU. 

After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, he worked in community-based organizations for about 10 years before returning to school. He first joined the ASU community in 2015 and received his master’s degree in social work in 2017. 

Currently, Brooks-Hawkins is working on earning a PhD in gender studies from the School of Social Transformation. His work looks at social justice movement-building and strategies used to address, process and combat violence and stigmatization.

In addition to his studies he is the president of the Gender Studies Graduate Student Association, an assembly member at-large for the Graduate and Professional Student Association and a co-chair for the JEDI Committee, Graduate and Professional Student Association.

His project for the Race Relations Scholar program will focus on transformation with focus on Black sexualities. 

Jamal Brooks-Hawkins was unable to participate in a full interview at the time of publication.

Valencia Clement

Valencia Clement

Valencia Clement is a Haitian American scholar and artist from Queens, New York. She received a full scholarship by the Posse Foundation to attend Vanderbilt University where she majored in human and organizational development. 

During her time as an undergraduate, she led several multicultural organizations and served as a resident adviser and head resident. And after receiving her bachelor’s degree, she was awarded a Peabody Honors Scholarship, the most competitive and prestigious award a student can receive from Peabody College, to complete her master's degree in public policy from Vanderbilt.

“During that time I worked for Peabody's inaugural Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” Clement said. “Upon graduation from Vanderbilt, I went on to work for a digital humanities project called ‘The Wisdom Project,’ where I interviewed elders in the southeastern region of the U.S. on their historical memories of their regions. I also worked as an evaluator in Peabody helping to evaluate the southeast AIDS education training center.”

While she was working, she worked to establish herself as a poet and thought leader and in January 2019, she published her debut poetry collection, “Pale. Pa Ale: Speak. Don't leave.” She has published three more collections since then that discuss issues of medical racism, culturally relevant curricula, anti-Blackness, community organizing and epistemic justice. 

She is currently earning her PhD in education policy and evaluation from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Question: What research do you focus on outside of the Race Relations Scholar Program?

Answer: Outside of the scholar program my research focuses on epistemic justice, pedagogies of humanization and resistance praxis of multiply marginalized communities, including looking at how multiply marginalized people resist hegemonic socialization in pursuit of their authentic selves. My first solo journal publication is forthcoming in the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy. It is titled "Our ancestor's gifts: Interpreting intergenerational knowledge about developing a teaching identity." My work is about challenging notions of expertise, knowledge and "scholarship"  to be more inclusive in the interest of creating research that humanizes people with dimensions of difference. 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your proposed project?

A: My proposed project explores the pedagogical value of Black cultural artifacts as a source of culturally relevant curricula for Black communities, especially gender and sexual minorities. My work is a theoretical piece that helps unpack the Black liberation philosophies nested in Black cultural products in the 20th century. For example, I look at the literary and creative works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Maya Angelou, August Wilson, Langston Hughes and more, and unpack the important lessons that each author lays out for Black people to learn how to cope with global anti-Blackness, ancestral amnesia and hegemonic trauma. My goal for this paper is to show education policymakers and practitioners that cultural artifacts are not solely a source of entertainment but a source of critical philosophical thought and healing, transformative pedagogy. 

Q: Was your proposed project one you were already developing or one you developed for the program?

A: It's been an idea that I've had but have never had the tools or time to develop it further. In my undergraduate program, I wrote a paper about the Black church's influence on musicality of Black people in the South so I've always had an interest in cultural artifacts and how they inform social pedagogy, however, now I'm moving my interests to incorporate more cultural artifacts and I have more tools as a result of the classes I've taken to make a quality argument. 

Q: In your own words, what is the importance of research into race relations?

A: This country suffers with historical amnesia when it comes to the harms inflicted on minorities especially Black, Indigenous and immigrant communities. The academic has reinforced this racial bias by publishing and distributing pseudoscience that showcases national racialized ideologies that deem nonwhite constituents culturally and morally inferior. Although there has been a legacy of Black intellectualism since the beginning of time, it's been obscured by an academy that would rather teach "foundational" authors despite their racist, sexist, classist, homophobic postures. Unless we can take a real look at the harms Western research has done to minorities, globally, we will continue to perpetuate these harms. This paper provides a compelling argument for why Black cultural innovators should not only be seen as entertainers but philosophers. By acknowledging the anti-black discrimination that excluded Black people from scholarly spaces, we can take the next step and take the charge of epistemic justice through curricular inclusivity.

Steven Sasa Marsiglia

Steven Sasa Marsiglia

Steven Sasa Marsiglia is a second-generation Samoan American. He received his bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies and anthropology from University of California, Berkeley and then attended the University of Pennsylvania to earn his master’s degree in education. 

He worked in higher education as an admission counselor at Loyola Marymount University and in 2018 he began working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology at ASU, which he earned in 2020. Marsiglia is currently enrolled in the human development and psychology doctoral program at ASU.

“I really wanted to do both research and licensed clinical mental health work for populations that are typically underrepresented in academia, which is what led me to now being a third year in the counseling psychology PhD program,” Marsiglia said.

Question: What research do you focus on outside of the Race Relations Scholar Program?

Answer: Outside of the scholar program I focus on health disparities and access research, essentially trying to understand social determinants of health, or why communities make the health care decisions that they do. I work with my adviser's data on Latinx sexual minorities, which was a part of a National Institutes of Health grant, and I also do research on Native Hawaiian and other Indigenous Pacific Islander populations. 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your proposed project?

A: My proposed project attempts to outline the importance of decolonizing our teachings of psychology. Right now, psychology emphasizes "multiculturalism" and "cultural competence" as part of its ethical core components as we train future clinicians to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds. However, psychology is still complicit in using language and pedagogy that disadvantage Indigenous communities. I am proposing a decolonized theoretical framework to be incorporated into future psychology pedagogy that will contend with issues of colonization, imperialism and the creation of settler states by the U.S. that have created lasting impacts on the health of current generations of native peoples. These issues in particular are often ignored because we lack Indigenous voices and representation in psychology and in most professional health fields in general.

Q: Was your proposed project one you were already developing or one you developed for the program?

A: The project is an expansion of a research manuscript, which is currently under review, that explores the effects of census classifications of race and ethnicity. 

Q: In your own words, what is the importance of research into race relations?

A: The study of race relations is pivotal to understanding where our research methodology has come from, and why we choose to do things the way we do now as research scientists. I believe some researchers do not fully understand that a lot of the tools and terminology we use today were inherited from harmful methods of inquiry. From a top-down perspective, this is why we still have adverse misrepresentation in published manuscript samples such as "Asian or Pacific Islander," or Middle Easterners still forced to check "white" in study solicitations, etc. A repeated phrase we used in undergrad while I was studying ethnic studies was "know history, know self," from Filipino scholar Jose Rizal. It's still as important today that researchers know where they and their field have come from in order to know where to go — to do research that is not just impactful, but equitable and socially just. The study of race relations I believe embodies that mentality. 

Kira Olsen-Medina

Kira Olsen-Medina

Kira Olsen-Medina grew up in Arizona and competed in scholastic chess tournaments. She loved the game and wanted to share her passion for it with kids. For the last five years she has worked with students ages pre–K through eighth grade across the greater Phoenix area.

“These experiences are also what made me fall in love with teaching, becoming a mentor and helping kids discover confidence in their intellectual abilities was extremely rewarding,” Olsen-Medina said. “Especially as a woman in a male-dominated sport, young girls need to know that the game is not just for boys.”

Olsen-Medina received two associate degrees from Phoenix College, in forensic technology and in social sciences before attending ASU. At ASU she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology before enrolling in a master’s degree program for American studies, which she is currently working on. 

Question: What research do you focus on outside of the scholar program?

Answer: I am currently working as a graduate research assistant with Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez at the School of Transborder Studies at ASU. I have been helping with two grant proposals, the first project, the High School Equivalency Project, focuses on establishing pathways for migrant seasonal workers and their families to obtain their high school equivalency. This work will improve our understanding of the complexities of transnational labor and the generational impacts on Latinx educational attainment. For the second project, we are proposing to study the long-term effects of legalization and naturalization through the Immigration Reform and Control Act on the educational attainment and socioeconomic mobility of Mexican-origin beneficiaries and their children. 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your proposed project?

A: The working title is, “Legal Status and Educational Attainment among Latinx Immigrants in the United States.” It is studying the historical evolution of the borderlands as a means of understanding contemporary xenophobic discourses linked to colonial legacies. I examine how nation-state social structures such as immigration policy, border enforcement, deportation mechanisms and national identity continue to shape the power dynamics of migration. My research will consider how these politicized social structures, racialized illegality and varying dimensions of legal status affect Latinx immigrant’s social stratification and intergenerational mobility in the U.S. 

Combining a historiographical analysis of immigration policies that have legalized unauthorized immigrants, such as IRCA and DACA, including descriptive statistics from Current Population Survey (2014–2018) data to look at the heterogeneity within Latinx subgroups’ education attainment, by countries of origin and nativity status. 

Q: Was your proposed project one you were already developing or one you developed for the program?

A: My proposed project was something I was already developing for my thesis and I felt my research was a good fit with the new fellowship program. I think it is great that ASU is acknowledging the need for programs like this. And in doing so, has developed an interdisciplinary space for rising scholars to build a community of support and have critical discussions about race relations in the U.S. Which has also helped to develop our own research projects.   

Q: In your own words, what is the importance of research into race relations?

A: We are at a critical juncture in this nation’s history and how we move forward matters. There is an extensive history of racial domination under which this country was built on, so to say the events at the Capitol this January were not deeply tied to issues of white supremacy would be short-sighted at best. This research project has provided intellectual space to call-out these overwhelming hypocrisies. I believe we need to take a stand as a community, in solidarity, against anyone who supports or endorses ideologies of white supremacy.

The Biden administration has released a progressive immigration agenda and I am excited to see more humanitarian policies enacted. Immigrants have been dying at disproportionate rates during this pandemic, putting their lives at risk to work essential jobs and yet we have done extraordinarily little as a nation to acknowledge their contributions. For example, immigrant Filipino nurses working front-line jobs have accounted for 30% of COVID-19 related deaths among nurses yet they only make up 4% of the nurse workforce. Meanwhile other countries have extended various rights and benefits, even citizenship, to essential immigrant workers in recognition of their service.

Rachel Bunning

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

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Small rebellions: ASU Zine Collection shines light on creative activism

March 26, 2021

Freedom is a word that comes to mind when describing the unmediated self-publishing space of zines, short for “fanzines” or “magazines,” a creative space that Rachel Leket-Mor, an associate librarian at Arizona State University, discovered for herself about a decade ago.

“I first came to know zines (pronounced ‘zeens’) through the IsraPulp Collection and figured out quickly that these materials are different,” Leket-Mor said. “Once I realized there are zines in the world, I began looking for them.”

Leket-Mor, the open stack collections curator for the ASU Library, is the creator of the ASU Zine Collection, now available at Hayden Library, where community members are invited to explore unique, unfiltered voices – many of them from Arizona – in print form.

“Zines come in many shapes and forms,” Leket-Mor said. “They may be hand-pressed or digitally born, prepared in cut-and-paste technique or hand-drawn, printed in color or produced in black and white, created by one person or put together by a group. Whatever DIY form they take, zines uphold free spirit and an ethos of anti-corporate publishing. They claim space for expressing artistic freedom, authentic personal pain or pure 'joie de vivre'.”

Rachel Leket-Mor

Pamphlet-like, zines tend to have small print runs, somewhere between one and 500 copies, and are produced often by just one individual out of a desire to share personal knowledge or experiences. 

Some titles from the ASU collection include: “Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself: Native American Feminist Musings” and “Fracking Can Be Fun.”   

Arizona zines, in particular, were the focus of a 2020 research cluster supported by the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) and co-led by Leket-Mor and Ron Broglio, a professor in the Department of English.

“Zines come from a long line of self-published protest works, dating back to pamphlet versions of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ to fuel the American revolution against British rule and on to 1960s protest lit, and then into the counterculture punk movement of the '70s and '80s,” said Broglio, co-director of IHR and director of the Desert Humanities Initiative. “In times when the world feels beyond our control, writing and making zines provide people an outlet, a voice and solidarity through community.” 

Years in the making, the ASU Zine Collection is the result of Leket-Mor’s growing connections with a community of scholars and practitioners at ASU and beyond who are interested in zines, zine-making and the radical work of small press publications.  

These connections, and the communities they bring together, will be celebrated April 2–3 at the inaugural ASU Zine Fest, a virtual gathering of makers, collectors, students, scholars and anyone interested in zines and zine culture, hosted by the ASU Library and IHR. 

During two days of presentations, attendees are invited to explore “Making on the Margins” and “DIY Voices of the Community,” covering topics like queerness, chronic illness, punk poetry and feminism.

Video by ASU Library

Charissa Lucille, owner of Wasted Ink Zine Distro, a zine library and Phoenix storefront that serves as a kind of headquarters for Arizona zinesters, will talk about how “failing, losing, unmaking and not knowing” are the keys to finding creative freedom in the world of self-publishing. The keynote presentation, “Margins: Writing as Magic-Making, Self-Publishing as a Literary Tradition,” will be given by Ariel Gore, founding editor and publisher of “Hip Mama.” 

ASU alum Amber McCrary, local writer and founder of Abalone Mountain Press, a publishing space for Indigenous writers, will lead a presentation on Indigenous zines and zine-making.

“Zines were my foundation on discovering my voice and discovering a world of people that embraced everything that was considered too nerdy or too weird in my small town,” McCrary said. “Once I started making zines and seeing the reaction, it helped me communicate thoughts I always would think of but never felt brave enough to put onto paper.”

McCrary will co-present with Alex Soto, an assistant librarian, who leads the activities of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at the ASU Library. Together, they regularly develop and deliver workshops on writing, creativity and zine-making for students and the ASU and greater Phoenix Indigenous community. 

“The work Amber is doing highlights how Indigenous peoples have ‘indigenized’ Western mediums in order to convey contemporary Indigneous existence,” Soto said. “As an Indigenous librarian, I feel it is crucial to share her work with the ASU community since it shows the range of our Indigeneity. The Labriola Center has partnered with Amber on multiple occasions to provide zine workshops for students. In these collaborations, we witnessed the need to further create space for zine culture within the library. Building on Rachel Leket-Mor’s efforts, the Labriola Center is working towards a zine section within our collection.”

About 50 zines are ready to explore in the collection display at Hayden Library, with many more in processing to become available soon. 

Rare primary-source materials, zines can serve as helpful tools for research and teaching, said Leket-Mor, who helped several faculty members incorporate zines into their course curriculum. Recent examples include assistant professor Heather Green's fall 2021 class "Art Zines: Self-Publishing, Protest & Change" in the School of Art and the spring 2020 class "Making Zines for Social and Environmental Issues," co-taught by Broglio and Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Creative writing and art programs may be more receptive to zines, but thanks to their wide-ranging topics and vibrancy, especially when authored by peers, zines can inspire students in all disciplines from education to sustainability to science," Leket-Mor said. 

Zine making as a therapeutic approach is springing up in new environments as well — in health care settings and high schools — where the opportunity to express ideas and creativity with a piece of paper, scissors and glue, rather than through a technology device, is bringing about positive outcomes for zine creators.

The final presentation of Zine Fest will look at the zine-based resurrection of a radical feminist newspaper, “The Revolution,” revered in its day in 1868–1872. 

Today's editorial team of The Revolution (Relaunch) will explore why they believe social justice is a more creative pursuit than a polemical one – and why creative activism is more important than ever.

Top image: A collage of zine elements by ASU alumna Amber McCrary, zine maker and founder of Abalone Mountain Press, a publishing space for Indigenous writers.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library

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Hispanic students continue to thrive at ASU

March 25, 2021

Excelencia in Education briefing highlights the importance of 'Hispanic-Serving Institutions,' programs

Hispanics make up an increasing part of Arizona’s student population, but the key to their success in higher education is for universities to be intentional about supporting them, according to Arizona State University President Michael Crow.

Crow spoke at the "Arizona Briefing on 25 Years of Hispanic-Serving Institutions,"  a livestreamed event on March 25 sponsored by Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes Hispanic student success in higher education.

The event looked at progress over the past 25 years, when the federal designation of “Hispanic-Serving Institution” was created to describe colleges and universities whose student bodies were at least 25% Hispanic.

At ASU, Hispanic enrollment increased 51% for combined on-campus and online students from fall 2016 to fall 2020, to nearly 29,000. ASU's six-year graduation rate for Hispanic students who started at ASU in fall 2014, the most recent data available, was 61% as reported to the Arizona Board of Regents. That’s higher than the statewide six-year graduation rate of 47% for Hispanic students at four-year institutions, according to Excelencia in Education.

But enrollment is not enough, Crow said. Universities must make sure Hispanic students are supported on their path to graduation. Over the past 25 years, ASU has redesigned the university and established purposeful goals.

“We opened the door to working-class and working-poor Hispanic families, but we knew if we did that and no one graduated, who cares,” he said.

“Our outcome in the past 25 years has been a huge acceleration.”

Three years ago, Excelencia in Education awarded ASU its “Seal of Excelencia” to acknowledge the university’s work toward supporting Hispanic students’ journeys to a bachelor’s degree. 

“The most important thing we’re doing is lowering all of our shields,” Crow said.

“Universities have been shielded: ‘You can’t get in if you don’t have enough money.’ Or, ‘You can’t get in if you didn’t get an A in chemistry in high school,’” he said.

“We’re lowering the shields and we’re seeing massive engagement of Hispanic students.”

Among ASU’s programs cited by Excelencia in Education were:

  • The Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, founded to increase the number of minority, first-generation and low-income students that enter higher education. It has expanded from a one-year to five-year program and now accepts male students and fathers. The program, which starts in the eighth grade, includes mentoring, parent involvement and early outreach. About 73% of HMDP graduates attend an institution of higher education directly after high school, and 56% of HMDP students will graduate college in four years or less.
  • The Joaquin Bustoz Math-Science Honors Program, started in 1985, is an intense academic experience that helps students to pursue university mathematics studies while still in high school. The program offers a university experience for students who are underrepresented in the mathematics and science fields.
  • The Quantitative Research for the Life and Social Sciences Program supports students from the undergraduate to the postdoctoral level. It includes summer research training institutes; long-term support for alumni; research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students; and opportunities for national and international visitors.
Excelencia in Education panelists

Excelencia in Education co-founder Deborah Santiago moderates a discussion with University of Arizona President Robert Robbins and ASU President Michael Crow during Excelencia in Education’s “Arizona Briefing on 25 Years of Hispanic-Serving Institutions” webcast, Thursday, March 25, 2021. ASU and UArizona are among to most active state institutions providing pathways to Latino student to educational and economic success and advancement. Screenshot by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, said that the organization takes a data-driven approach. Among the statistics she discussed:

  • Population growth has driven growth in the number of Hispanic-Serving Institutions nationwide, which numbered 189 in the mid-1990s and now number 539.
  • Nationwide, 17% of all institutions have the HSI designation, but 67% of all Hispanics attend an HSI.
  • In Arizona, there are 14 HSIs (including the Downtown and West campuses of ASU), and 42% of Latinos attend an HSI.

ASU and the University of Arizona were in the first cohort of 14 institutions to be awarded the Seal of Excelencia, Santiago said.

“ASU and the University of Arizona showed very clearly that using data aligned with practice and leadership are ways to show intentionality and make a positive difference for Latino students while serving all students,” she said.

ASU’s enrollment is approaching the HSI designation, according to Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of outreach partnerships at ASU.

“We will submit our numbers and we will be on that list,” he said.

The designation, as well as the Seal of Excelencia award, will be a draw in recruiting faculty, Hidalgo said.

“It signals to the academic community that ASU is a place for faculty who want to work with diverse communities in a high-impact environment,” he said.

Tiffany Ana López, vice provost for inclusion and community engagement at ASU, said the award is a validation of ASU’s charter.

“It’s not only access and inclusion, but how they succeed, and Excelencia is recognizing the work we put into our students’ success,” she said.

“There’s an energy in the present moment of what we’re doing at ASU and also what we’re doing as part of the statewide efforts toward the future.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly spoke at the event, and noted that the recently passed federal pandemic aid package will bring some financial relief to Arizona, including $2.6 billion for Arizona’s public K–12 schools and $683 million for the state’s higher-education institutions, as well as $187 million for broadband internet access in rural areas.

Kelly said that the federal government needs to support universities that graduate Latino students.

“Arizona’s Latino population is young and the state’s economic success is connected to Latino college attainment, particularly those pursing degrees in STEM fields,” he said.

“Arizona’s companies are depending on us to produce an educated workforce that will strengthen our economic position in the world.”

Top photo: Valeria Rios waves to the stands at Hispanic Convocation on May 10, 2019. Photo by Nicole Neri/ASU

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


Brain injury research explores sex-dependent therapeutics

March 24, 2021

Nearly 2 million people experience a traumatic brain injury in the United States every year. Just as each person is different, their injuries present in different ways.

This complexity means people who suffer traumatic brain injuries may not receive effective treatments that heal the core injury to the brain. But one factor — how the injuries differently affect females and males — brings unique challenges and opportunities for future treatments. A graphic of a brain illustrating traumatic brain injury Arizona State University Associate Professor Sarah Stabenfeldt and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Associate Professor Rachael Sirianni are leading the first exploration of sex-targeted drug delivery for traumatic brain injury in a five-year, $2.5 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health. The project will improve the fundamental understandings of sex differences in traumatic brain injury and help design more effective nanoparticle delivery treatments. Graphic by Erika Gronek/ASU and Shutterstock Download Full Image

Sarah Stabenfeldt, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and Rachael Sirianni, an associate professor in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, are leading the first exploration of sex-targeted drug delivery for traumatic brain injury.

The five-year, $2.5-million project funded by the National Institutes of Health will improve the understandings of sex differences in traumatic brain injury to help design nanoparticle delivery systems for more effective treatments.

“A concussion or head injury can cause lasting impact,” Stabenfeldt said. “Prevention can minimize that, but we also need to do better about diagnostics and therapeutics. There’s so much we don’t know or understand.”

Understanding traumatic brain injuries

Depending on the severity of a brain injury, many different outcomes can occur. Symptoms range from bleeding to inflammation and other disruptions to normal functions, and they can change over the hours and days following the initial injury.

Our brains also appear to display sex-dependent biological differences relevant to injury and treatment.

“When you look into the clinical literature, it has been shown that males and females do report differential symptoms, and females report more prolonged symptoms after a head injury,” Stabenfeldt said.

A key sex-dependent discovery about traumatic brain injuries is the disruption of the blood-brain barrier.

In their normal state, blood vessels in the brain are very restrictive about what they allow into the brain. They protect it from substances that might hurt neuron cells — creating a very carefully controlled blood-brain barrier. In other parts of the body, however, blood vessels allow all sorts of nutrients, waste and other substances to transfer between vessels and cells. After a traumatic injury, the brain’s carefully controlled system falls apart.

This disruption also presents differently in females than in males. One of the many factors that could be causing this difference is varying levels and cycles of sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in females compared to males. While these levels already differ in healthy people, brain injuries also cause additional hormone disruption for both sexes.

The complexity is daunting, but it’s also why Stabenfeldt says she is really excited about this research and its potential to improve traumatic brain injury outcomes. Such an opportunity led her and Sirianni to propose a grant to the NIH.

“If we discover that this differential blood-brain barrier disruption is a function of sex hormones, it gives us a clue about whether those hormonal processes should be targeted,” Sirianni said. “The information from this work could tell us whether that’s important in designing therapies in the future.”

Their team is the first to look at injury-impaired hormone systems when assessing their role in treatment.

“If we're basing our dosing on healthy models, but the pathology completely changes how the body is going to respond to, uptake and process different pharmacological strategies, then we're going to be really off base when we're trying to develop therapeutics,” Stabenfeldt said.

Building on an exciting discovery

Stabenfeldt and Sirianni’s project expands upon research conducted by a former doctoral student from Stabenfeldt’s research group who was co-advised by Vikram Kodibagkar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at ASU.

Vimala Bharadwaj, now a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, focused her doctoral research at ASU on investigating the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after a traumatic brain injury in animal models and how it can be used as a unique delivery window for nanoparticle-based treatments.

It was a difficult line of research in which Bharadwaj had to navigate many failures, but she was motivated by working in such an exciting area of research. She came out the other side with notable successes that have far-reaching implications. It was Bharadwaj’s observations that led the team to hypothesize that brain injuries may present differently across sexes.

“Specifically, we demonstrated that the nanoparticles accumulate near the injured brain tissue via the disruption of the blood-brain barrier,” Bharadwaj said. “Next, we discovered that the blood-brain barrier disruption and consequent nanoparticle delivery was sex-dependent, where the females showed prolonged and extended blood-brain barrier disruption compared to males.”

This laid the critical foundation for researchers to understand sex-dependent differences in the pathology of brain injuries.

Stabenfeldt didn’t expect to see these results, and when she shared them with Sirianni, she was very excited.

“When you see something so fundamentally biologically different, it means there’s an opportunity to utilize that biology in some fashion,” said Sirianni, who was not involved in the research with Bharadwaj. “We are also therapeutically oriented and want to ask, ‘Can we utilize that difference for a therapeutic end goal to benefit the way we treat traumatic brain injury in males versus females?’”

A new treatment strategy

In addition to the possibilities of exploiting blood-brain barrier disruption differences in males and females, nanoparticle systems also provide researchers a new avenue to evaluate drug treatments.

Systemic drug delivery through an IV or pill means dosages have to be safe for other organs and systems in the body. Drugs administered in these ways also get filtered out of the blood quickly, and repeated doses have a rollercoaster effect of cycling high and low concentrations of the drug reaching the injury.

Drugs that were previously seen as unsafe or ineffective when given systemically can instead be targeted directly to the injury microenvironment through nanoparticle delivery systems.

“With these nanoparticle systems, we’re looking at how we can revisit a drug that showed promise in preclinical studies or clinical trials but then failed,” Stabenfeldt said.

Stabenfeldt and Sirianni are assessing a strategy in which they exploit the disruption of the blood-brain barrier to have their nanoparticle-based treatment accumulate in the injured region of the brain for a longer, sustained local delivery.

Nanoparticle-based therapeutic delivery systems also show strong sex-dependent differences, so the team will explore how to most effectively use them in female and male injury microenvironments.

This work is also an important step into more inclusive research that involves females as well as males, who until recently have been the scientific standard. When preparing for the NIH grant, Sirianni said she found very little existing research that explored nanoparticle interaction in female versus male biological systems.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be contributing to some of that knowledge,” Sirianni said. “We really want to impact both the basic understanding of why there is differential pathology and also achieve a therapeutic, translational goal of identifying sex-specific therapies. If we can identify ways that nanotechnology could target male versus female pathology, that would be truly transformative.”

Multidisciplinary team collaborates for complex research

Research into such complex systems would not be possible without a multidisciplinary team collaborating to achieve a common goal.

Targeting nanoparticle delivery to unique sex hormone microenvironments in an injury environment takes many different areas of expertise and experience working with complex human and drug delivery systems.

“Every time you bring diverse ideas and diverse approaches into a room, it’s going to improve the kind of science you can do,” Sirianni said. “The way we interpret and understand the data will absolutely benefit from more individuals being part of it. This particular topic intersects many fields, so by necessity, it’s essential to have many contributors.”

Christopher Plaisier, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools (in which Stabenfeldt also teaches), brings expertise in systems biology and informatics to help the team determine the role of complicated factors such as hormone cycles and regulation.

Outside of biomedical engineering, Heather Bimonte-Nelson, a professor of psychology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, lends expertise in how sex hormones change in animal and human systems. Jason Newbern, an associate professor of genomics, evolution and bioinformatics in the ASU School of Life Sciences, will contribute to the project’s behavioral studies. And Trent Anderson, an associate professor of basic medical sciences at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, will assist with visualizing nanoparticle distribution.

Sirianni has a long history at ASU, from earning her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering to working as an ASU adjunct professor while maintaining a primary faculty appointment at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Sirianni says prior work with Stabenfeldt, Bimonte-Nelson and exceptional ASU graduate students on other multidisciplinary projects has opened the door to fruitful collaborations between labs and universities and garnered interest from federal funding organizations.

“When you develop these collaborative teams and working relationships, knowing how you can benefit one another and integrate skill sets and expertise is a really important part of doing impactful work,” Sirianni said.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01NS116657. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

The photos in this article were taken before the current pandemic social distancing and face covering requirements went into effect.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Student-led film organization to foster inclusivity, collaboration and community service

March 23, 2021

The Sidney Poitier New American Film School became its own entity in fall 2020. With a new name, expanding faculty and new facilities around the corner, other new possibilities have emerged and continue to evolve. One of these exciting possibilities is a newly formed student-led organization, the Film Alliance.

The Film Alliance is a coalition of students representing the e-boards of all of the student groups on campus that are focused on filmmaking and careers in the film industry.   Download Full Image

“Everyone felt students should be encouraged to attend all club meetings and events,” said Sedona Saulnier, co-founder and treasurer of the alliance. “And we recognized the importance of a nurturing environment where networking was made a bit easier. The industry can be so competitive and students should be working together to learn as much as they can and help each other be the best version of themselves.”

Once just a distant dream of the several established, career-based and professional-development student film organizations, the Film Alliance is now the umbrella club of these groups. Fostering communication and cross-collaboration between clubs, the formation of the alliance allows for the creation of larger-scale events, reassurance that events won't overlap with each other and amplification of the students' voices on campus. 

“An organization like the Film Alliance had already been a topic of conversation between the film clubs in the past,” said Valeria Valdes, chair. “However, no one knew how to go about creating this process. Therefore, this project was always at a standstill.”

When ASU announced last year the film program would become its own school and there would be a brand new school to host these organizations, the transition gave hope in the midst of the pandemic and huge shift in learning. The student leaders began to evaluate possibilities of this new group.

“Back then, the presidents of each club were the point of contact for getting (the Film Alliance) started. When I attended, I knew everyone had the vision and desire to make it, but they just didn't know how to create it,” Valdes said. “With the transition of leadership that spring, the talks ended with no fruit. Then, last fall, everyone started talking about doing this again, but this time the vice presidents were a part of these meetings in addition to the presidents.” 

The inclusivity of more students inspired Valdes to take initiative, reaching out to ASU’s Tessie Bracken, coordinator for student organizations and leadership, to learn about the process and made sure the organization completed the necessary requirements and the constitution with the help of Jacqueline Lemke, head of marketing for the Film Alliance and president of the Entertainment Business Association group, and Stella Foval, alliance head of operations. 

“Valeria and I wrote the constitution together, Stella kept us organized, and we all took many meetings figuring out the way to best handle the situation,” Lemke said. “The Film Alliance is a collection of club leaders coordinating together to both improve and provide more valuable opportunities to the film community at Arizona State University.” 

The Film Alliance includes representatives from each of the following clubs: the Association of Filmmakers at ASU, Maroon and Gold Entertainment, Fade In:, Entertainment Business Association, Association of International Media, and Hollywood Invades Tempe

The Film Alliance is now officially a club at ASU, and their mission, simply put by Saulnier, is “to foster a community for the film students of ASU. We are dedicated to providing students with a supportive, inclusive and unified film community on campus. We promote collaboration between member organizations and strengthen the voice of the film community at ASU.”

The leaders of the alliance also said they want to do service as an organization when they announced the new group to the faculty, staff and students in the Sidney Poitier New American Film School. 

“In application, we are developing a student town hall, a community service project and coordinating club events to integrate member bases with each other in the hopes of opening up more dynamic collaborations between students,” Foval said.

The upcoming town hall will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 23–25. The event is open to students, where they will be given the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions regarding the future of the film school, in turn helping the Film Alliance’s Visioning Committee with its goals for growth down the line.

“We plan to do service each year, in this digital environment we plan to create resources about sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Lemke said.

Students can get involved with the Film Alliance through the group’s events and community projects.

“The organization is open to those outside of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School and clubs outside this school can also apply for membership,” Valdes said. 

Keep up to date with all Film Alliance events, workshops, bootcamps and more by following them on SunDevilSync and @filmallianceasu on Instagram.

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre