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Six Things We Learned from FSU Faculty

This semester, we had the pleasure of working as Media Interns with the FSU Office of Faculty Development and Advancement. One of our projects in this role was to create a blog composed of faculty member interviews to highlight their efforts and spread the word of positive work throughout our university. Nearing the end of our term with this great office, we decided to compile 6 things that we have learned while taking classes and meeting with FSU faculty from all different disciplines!

 

1. Understanding different perspectives opens your mind.

Jennifer Enoch- Department of English- Doctoral Student

In Professor Jennifer Enoch’s course Rhetoric (ENC3021) she lectures on varying groups of rhetoricians, from Ancient Greek to Contemporary American. By including contrasting narratives in the journey of the course and legitimizing differing opinions in class, Ms. Enoch shows her students how to use diverging ideas to deepen their understanding of the topic. From the beginnings of the study of Rhetoric to the modern-day, rhetoricians have gone to war over ideas, and Ms. Enoch is able to wield these arguments for deep in-class discussions, intellectually stimulating written exams, and a welcoming class environment where all opinions are valued. Ms. Enoch’s lighthearted and thoughtful approach to teaching encourages her students to put forth original work that furthers the in-class discussions of Rhetorical theory.

 

 2. Introspection is the key to embracing yourself.

Dr.  Tomi Gomory- Associate Professor of Social Work

The Human Sexuality class (SOW4152) taught in London by Dr. Tomi Gomory, Associate Professor of Social Work and former Fulbright Scholar, encourages students to use the information that they collect at exhibits, cafes and bookstores in the nearby Soho neighborhood to learn more about their own definition of sexuality, the importance of loving those around you, and how to lift up and support your community. Through activities dedicated to introspective writing, students learn how to embrace theirselves in a holistic and intellectual manner. Sex is a topic that is both over-discussed and misunderstood by college students, but Dr. Gomory’s course takes steps towards enlightening young people about the beauty, power, connection, and power of human sexuality.

 

3. Your community is your classroom.

Dr. John Reynolds- Professor and Department Chair, Sociology Department

In his London Campus class Social Problems (SYG2010,) Dr. John Reynolds, Department Chair and Professor of Sociology, wields the city of London as his classroom, leading his students on adventures all over the city. He guides his students through local markets, famous British landmarks, museums, parks and small cafes so that they are able to experience the city firsthand, while taking a closer look at the social problems that Londoners struggle with. By finishing the semester with a project dedicated to a problem that students found personally intriguing, Dr. Reynolds allows his students to become sociologists themselves. By taking his class, I learned that the community is my classroom, my neighbors are my teachers, and my textbooks are museum stubs.

 

4. The people you work with are just as important as where you work.

Dr. Ashby Plant – Professor of Social Psychology

This piece of wisdom actually came from every professor I spoke with. When asked, “What is your favorite part of working at FSU?” all of them included in their answer “the people.” Their excitement when talking about working with colleagues who respect, challenge, and encourage them in their professional lives is contagious. Dr. Ashby Plant mentioned in our interview that the people she works with create a fun, supportive, collaborative program that makes it a pleasure to work together. Taking this wisdom, it is easy to see that the people you surround yourself with have a huge impact on your career, so it is crucial to like them!

 

5. Collaboration is the key to ingenuity and success.

Stacey Makhanova- Department Social Psychology, graduate student, doctoral candidate

“Two heads are better than one” is something we have all heard before. When it comes to your professional career however, it can be easy to remain in your personal bubble with your individual struggles, goals, and deadlines. Stacey Makhanova, teacher of social psychology at FSU, exemplifies the endless possibilities that open up when you make the effort to collaborate with others. Stacey works in multiple psychology labs on campus researching different but related topics. By doing this, she is able to take the expertise and knowledge of one mentor and researcher and apply it to her work in other areas. For her, this has only increased her understanding and success in her work.

 

6. Start now.

Kevin Curry- Assistant Teaching Professor- Department of Art

While shadowing his class, Kevin Curry told his students, “the biggest enemy of creation is hesitation. Start now.” This advice seems simple, but considering the time we spend procrastinating, this is really something to take to heart. I found it thought-provoking that he phrased it as hesitation is the enemy of creation. Creativity is something we would like to harness and use at our convenience, but that is not how it works. Often, when you have to start a project or task, you may not start right away for fear that the work will not be good enough. What Curry points out here is that if you don’t start now, you could prevent yourself from freely working through the struggle of mistakes and challenges that ultimately lead to your best work.

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Let’s Have a Bigger Conversation- with Kevin Curry

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Kevin Curry

When you look at a computer screen, you likely do not see the potential for endless creation, interpretation, and art education. That is exactly what Assistant Teaching Professor Kevin Curry envisions as he leads his Digital Foundations courses at Florida State University. Embracing the technological capabilities of the 21st century, Curry constructs a unique learning environment for his art students where he mixes education, computers, and art.

With an extensive professional background in graphic design and advertising, Mr. Curry has since left the ruthless advertising industry to embrace newfound passions in art research, art residencies, and teaching. He didn’t always want to teach, but after earning his master’s degree he reflects that he gained an appreciation for what a good professor can do, the difference they can make, as well as the challenges that come with the job. “For a while that’s why I really didn’t want to teach; it’s a lot of work. Now, it’s a challenge I like struggling with.”

Now that Mr. Curry is teaching, he does so with gusto, innovation, and compassion. Shadowing his Digital Foundations course, I witnessed how he interacted personally with each student, making sure everyone had the support and instruction they needed. It was apparent from observation and speaking with him that Curry truly sees each student as an individual with a unique perspective and something worth saying. At the start of the second project of the semester, he told his students, “the biggest enemy of creation is hesitation. Start now.” This advice is valuable to students, professionals, and creators alike.

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The prompts that Mr. Curry presents to his classes for projects are open-ended and thought-provoking and he makes clear that there is no correct answer or result he intends for his students to accomplish. Many student artists go on to create work that taps into the deeper questions of humanity and contribute to this greater commentary, but often they do it unintentionally. By prompting students to be introspective and reflect on personal moments, Curry allows them to naturally tap into these relatable and revealing ideas in their work and become aware of them. He explains that once the work is finished and they review it together they often realize what the piece is saying and what it can represent in relation to current issues and the human condition.

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Curry explains that often working as an artist and teacher can be isolating if one does not make an effort to reach out to others collaborate. He sees the value in collaboration after having positive personal experiences with it so he makes a steadfast effort to continue to create new opportunities and platforms where collaboration can happen. One of these efforts is his work with the FSU FAR program. “Through  my role as a Faculty in Residence at FSU’s Facility for Arts Research (FAR), I am establishing an initiative called COLLAB, which will provide an opportunity to examine the ebb and flow of ideas, aesthetics and language through collaborations with and between individuals in all fields of research. COLLAB, would be a scalable, intra-university pilot program of curated dialogues with faculty from other departments and disciplines here at FSU, based on the model of a working artist’s studio in regards to exploration, experimentation and investigation.”

Kevin Curry is not just a teacher. He is, among other things, an artist, a husband, a father, a researcher, a traveler, and an inspiration and mentor to his students. How did he get to this point? As B.J. Neblett said, “we are the sum total of our experiences.” Curry’s formative experiences began as a child when he moved around a lot. Constantly changing countries and learning new cultures while still holding on to memories of previous homes embedded in him a curiosity  about memories and how we attempt to retain our fleeting experiences. This interest can be seen through his work done during his 2016 artist-in-residency hiking from Alaska to British Columbia. During this residency, Curry photographed then later 3D printed the busts of the various people he met along the trail. This was his way of remembering and reflecting on his experience.

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3D printed heads from the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency.

An influential part of Kevin Curry’s life was his work in graphic design and advertising. After a successful career, he left advertising as the industry became saturated and negative in nature. Now fully engulfed in his artwork, Curry embraces his past through a project reconstituting old abandoned signage. He notes the project’s connection to his past in how the signs, “at one point had this language that served a function of informing people, or swaying them to do or buy something, or pointing them in a direction. That’s basically what I did while I was in advertising.”

Life experiences translated into artistic expressions are what create meaning in an artist’s work. Each person lives a unique life, but throughout it, we all experience similar ups and downs, joys and struggles. These connecting events are what makes an artist’s work relatable and meaningful to viewers.

One piece of Mr. Curry’s work literally connects people. The piece is a floor based sign titled “Conjunction” which has the word “and” in the middle. When two people stand on each side, it triggers the neon “and” in the middle to light up. As these two people stand on the artwork, they are now connected to one another for the few moments they are there. Naturally, families and couples often try it, but Curry’s favorite moments are when two strangers use it. One stranger approaches the other and asks them to stand on the piece with them in hopes they will interact with the art and make the sign light up. This piece is a statement of connection as it joins each person who interacts with it to Curry, the creator, while also linking the two people standing on it through physical interaction as well as language.

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Kevin Curry with his wife, Holly Parker Curry, and their daughter, Dawson.

Kevin Curry has led a life of discovery, introspection, adventure, experience, and expression. He now passes all these things on to his students. Sasha Azevedo said “we can teach from our experience, but we cannot teach experience.” Curry embodies this ideology as he takes his accumulation of knowledge and experiences and uses them in prompting his students to reflect on their own lives in order to create art with deeper meaning from within themselves. He says, “I consider my classrooms to be fluid environments. There are tasks to be done and assignments to be solved, but I’m less interested in producing a syllabus that is so task driven that students lose sight of why they are here in the first place. It shouldn’t be just to crank out assignments and get the degree. What makes you different?” It is this philosophy of teaching that makes Kevin Curry an exemplary teacher that Florida State University is proud to have.

Curry continues to be an asset to Florida State University and the Art Department as he is continually learning and improving his work, research, and teaching. The future for Mr. Curry is not written in stone or strategically planned. Instead, it is a process that will continue to be shaped by a growing family, a rotation of students, professional colleagues, and every life experience.

– Alison Amann

Faculty Teaching Abroad

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Florida State University’s International Programs are consistently ranked among the top in the country, due to the International Program staff and faculty who are dedicated to enriching the experiences of students who choose to study abroad. Unlike other universities in the U.S, Florida State owns and operates four campuses abroad: Florence, Italy; Valencia, Spain; London, England; and Panama City, Panama.

Only one percent of American students study abroad, and those who go are searching for adventures outside, and inside, the classroom. Florida State professors who teach abroad employ their host city as a teaching tool. Professors of Art History can lead their class in the Egyptology wing of the British Museum, and Biology Professors can hop on the tram in Valencia and explore the Spanish Mediterranean coast with their students. Archaeology classes have a wealth of experiences to pursue in Florence, and Mathematics professors can lecture on architectural advances. Opportunities to bring class out of the classroom are endless, and additionally, professors are welcome to explore their host countries on their own and with International Programs organized trips.

FSU professors may teach abroad in the fall, spring, summer, or spring break semesters. Spring break and summer programs can vary from Nepalese Disaster Management Immersion, to Indonesian Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Immersion. Faculty members who teach abroad bring a passion for their subject, and infuse it into a curriculum that is dependent on the host city. Professors have the opportunity to craft a course that teaches students subject area knowledge and how that knowledge lives in the new culture. For example, professors of Italian Language equip their students with the tools to correctly order a gelato in the native language and converse with the store employees. Professors of Feminist Literature can teach FSU students how to ride the tube in London, while on their way to the Women’s Library in the London Metropolitan University.

If you would like to create relationships with international experts in your field, lead students on life-changing adventures, and enjoy time abroad with your fellow FSU community, consider teaching abroad in next year’s term!
The Faculty Application for Spring Break 2020 – Spring 2021 will open in November 2018. Please contact IP-Faculty@fsu.edu with any questions.

Open Doors and Open Minds

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Diversity of Thinking – a conversation with Dr. Iain Quinn

The nationally distinguished Florida State University College of Music is a hub of activity, probably because of the more than 1,000 students who have made their musical homes in the hallways and classrooms of the college, honing their skills with peers and studying an array of musical styles that range from jazz to opera. Dr. Iain Quinn, Assistant Professor of Organ, Coordinator of Sacred Music and former Fulbright Scholar, has performed in many of the major musical venues around the world. The door to his office is thin and sound seeps in from outside as students tune their instruments and rehearse choral works nearby. The first question I ask Dr. Quinn, who is originally from the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, is if he has enjoyed living in Tallahassee.

“I like it very much. It has proved to be a wonderful city for children. We have three small children in our house and one has to balance everything for a healthy work and home life. The College of Music is also particularly collegial and I’m fortunate to work with tremendous people on a daily basis.”

Before receiving his PhD in musicology in 2012 from the University of Durham, located in north-east England, Dr. Quinn studied at The Juilliard School, The Hartt School, the University of Hartford, (BM, summa cum laude), and the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University (MM). He has also been a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and a Visiting Composer in Chapel at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. As an organist, musicologist and composer, Dr. Quinn presents his students with the opportunity to understand the role of music in worship through a nuanced, worldly and expressive lens. He believes that his love for music grew out of his childhood experiences in the local cathedral choir.

“I grew up singing in a cathedral choir, so I was immersed in high quality music very early on and absolutely loved that. I wanted to take up the organ, but the route to that was always via piano study in the first instance. I began with the piano around age seven and then added trumpet lessons before starting organ lessons at thirteen.

One of the BBC orchestras is based in Cardiff, my hometown. It was possible for us to hear a major orchestra perform significant repertoire all the time. You saw people that were your parents age or older engaged in this glorious pursuit as a living profession yet with an extraordinary reach into history.

A thread that keeps coming up when I teach non-music majors – especially during the summer as part of an International Programs course in London – is the role of living composers that are writing new works, because many people assume that everything is a part of the museum culture and somehow antique. That’s simply not the case. There are tremendous opportunities for people to experience new music and our own campus has an especially strong commitment to new music.”

Sacred polyphony, Gregorian chants and hymns in Christian liturgy have a wealth of history, and Dr. Quinn structures his courses around the historical context of different pieces. Many Americans recognize hymns as they attend a Sunday Mass, but may not know the intricate details that go into the creation and performance of sacred music.

“We have a sacred music undergraduate degree, that includes courses that I teach, not the least of which is Hymnology. We have two tracks, organ and voice, and part of the coursework is undertaken at the Department of Religion. We also have a practicum, which studies the contemporary aspects of working in the church from an academic perspective and how this work evolves from one generation to another and historically. Critically, students see how the role of music in the larger Western canon has developed in relation to sacred music and vice versa.”

Sacred music is such a narrow branch of musicology, so what differentiates religious music from secular classical music? What makes sacred music specifically sacred?

“Firstly, because it is intended for use in worship. But, beyond that, there are various prescripts and protocols that composers have to abide by. In terms of musical style, composers continually test how far the envelope can be pushed in terms of artistic ideas and yet still be fitting within the context of a liturgy. The music should not draw attention to itself; it should fit as part of the whole, as much as the stained glass does, as much as the altar frontal does. You want it to be all as one. There are composers who, throughout history, have had a certain gift that could both elevate the experience of a worshipping environment while also contributing to the larger musical art form. Of course there are also many composers that have only written for the church and done so extremely well. It is a particular gift to be able to do both because the demands are extremely different.”

As a top producer of Fulbright recipients, Florida State University professors have seen their fair share of the world, and for the well-traveled Assistant Professor Dr. Quinn, his time in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2017 was filled with performing, lecturing and learning about local life.

“I was a Fulbright scholar in Russia last Spring, and it is slightly eerie now because my Facebook photos are coming up with the one year anniversary, and here I am in the Florida heat! I taught at the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory, which is one of the leading conservatories in the country and indeed the world. I was teaching organ students in lessons and lectures, and also playing some recitals. I chose Russia in part because I had been twice before, but also because it was a completely different culture. I spent a lot of time in advance of the trip reading Russian literature, both nineteenth and twentieth century fiction, to see whether there really was a connection between the way people were discussed and the people I would then encounter, and found that it was incredibly close in many instances. Several Russians commented on this while I was there often noting the impressive accuracy of one author over another who managed to capture the spirit of the people or a moment in history. I also wanted to be somewhere where it wasn’t simply a different language amidst different architecture and music, but where clearly there was a different way of seeing the world. None of us have any choice where we are born, and there are fortunes and misfortunes that come with that. In the grand landscape, Russia is still one of the affluent countries by comparison to most of the rest of the world. However, Russian thinking is completely different in terms of the professions, how artists are viewed, the balance of what is expected of politicians, and many other areas. Experiencing even a small part of this culture for four months inevitably broadens one’s thinking and like all educational experiences challenges the individual to open their eyes still further.”

Dr. Quinn noticed stark differences between students in Russia and those in the United Kingdom and United States in terms of the discussions around history and the extent of the role it plays in contemporary everyday lives.

“Everything is a matter of context and the context for Russians is quite simply different because it centers on a remembrance of the Second World War and in turn a very long view of history. You wouldn’t expect someone in your generation [a college student], in the course of meeting for coffee, to be discussing the last world war and yet this topic came up in numerous conversations with adults of all ages because as a Fulbright administrator put it to me during our Washington orientation “when you’ve lost more than twenty-five million people and had a city (St. Petersburg) under siege for almost nine hundred days you have a different view of life.

The current system was exactly as it had been explained during our orientation. It is understood that you do not criticize the Russian government, you never mention corruption and under no circumstances do you criticize the Russian president. If you follow the rules, it’s highly unlikely you’d have any issues at all and in St. Petersburg you’re experiencing one of the very great cities of the world. For me it would be second only to London. However, stories of researchers who showed up at one library without advance permission while failing to cancel the appointment at another and consequently found their visa revoked for five years are not unheard of.

It is understood that you are a foreigner and there’s an inherent respect for that because it’s expected in return. Although I’ve lived in the US almost continuously since 1994, I suppose I still sound very British and that has an amusing response in Russia. “So, we’ve both [the UK and Russia] seen better days!” was a common rejoinder and there is far more in common than one might at first think not least in a similar appreciation for dry humour.

Russians are very deep thinkers, and there is the expectation that you can ask as many questions as you like, but you will never really understand the soul of the country. You see that in the literature where there is layer upon layer upon layer of character development and yet it’s all important. Dostoevsky springs to mind but frankly the length of Tolstoy’s novels makes perfect sense on so many levels as does the bluntness of Vladimir Sorokin’s writing or the relative melancholy of Olga Grushin’s books on a quite different level. Each provides something of a glimpse into a different and elaborate world.

The character of much that I encountered was summed up in the last week of four months when an administrator said, ‘Well, it is because we don’t understand it [our country fully] ourselves. We don’t understand why certain things happen, we don’t understand why injustices happen, but we live with it, because we are a great country, and we have a rich history, and we’ve seen off far worse in the past.’ Despite a history that has never been easy for the average person, one is left with a sense that you’re amongst some of the kindest people around, well aware of where they stand, where their country stands, and what is going on elsewhere. Stephen Kotkin’s book Armageddon Averted is the perfect complement to the (semi-)fictional landscapes portrayed in the literature although frankly you also realize how close to the mark John le Carré is.”

Dr. Quinn believes that it is vital to encourage a wide range of discussion between students of different backgrounds in his classroom. With over 2,000 international students from over 130 countries, FSU supports a diversity of opinion and a culture of internationalism. This is reinforced by the work of International Programs which provides opportunities for FSU students to spend time studying abroad.

“Diversity, whether on campuses or in communities at large, encourages a continuing dialogue that when sustained allows people to understand the importance of subtlety and nuance in our conversations and actions. When I’ve spoken to diplomats, this view is reinforced over and over again. To cooperate with people in other countries you really must have a sense that subtle differences really do matter.

The more we can spend time thinking outside our own area of experience, the closer we are to making meaningful contributions to society. As President Kennedy remarked “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” We are fortunate to have a diverse campus that can channel multiple points of view, encourage stimulating intellectual debate and nurture students who are critical thinkers that constantly ask questions. When you have a classroom with someone from Alabama sitting next to someone from Brazil who is next to someone from Washington state next to somebody from Tallahassee you’re inevitably going to encourage a diversity of opinion and that must always be warmly welcomed because that’s the real world. With an often easily polarized media, the campus conversation and research culture has taken on an especially critical role because it is important that we all think about the world we are to some extent shaping for ourselves as well as future generations.”

Dr. Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Organ and the Coordinator of Sacred Music at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

To learn more about his work, please click here.

-Zoe Zirlin, FSU Class of 2020

Planting Seeds for Change

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When Dr. Ashby Plant first arrived at FSU in 2000, the social psychology program was in its infant stages. The psychology department was seeking a new professor who studied race relations and intergroup bias. Dr. Plant was familiar with Dr. John Brigham and his research on prejudice here and she agreed to come visit. Plant beamed, “I visited and just fell in love. Everyone in the department was so warm. It was just such a welcoming place.”

Today, Dr. Plant teaches undergraduate courses surrounding stereotypes, bias, prejudice, and social issues. She also is the lead researcher in The Plant Lab on campus, a lab that “focuses on prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination as well as individual’s motivations to respond without prejudice, prejudice reduction strategies, and intergroup contact.” The Plant Lab engages six graduate students from around the world, such as Stacey Makhanova from our previous faculty spotlight, as well as around 25 undergraduate students at FSU.

Dr. Plant began her undergraduate career as a math and philosophy major, but by graduation, she had changed to a psychology and English major. “I love psychology because it allows me to explore questions about the world in a scientific and mathematical way. I fell in love with social psychology because it allows you to understand the world as a whole as opposed to only individuals.”

Digging deeper, Plant explained that she hadn’t realized until asked by a colleague that her passion for social psychology really originated from her grandfather. Dr. Plant’s grandfather lived in Little Rock, Arkansas during a time referred to as the Little Rock Crisis. This was the time period when schools were segregated and groups were fighting for desegregation. Dr. Plant’s grandfather was the Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas at the time and fought passionately for desegregation of schools. Plant recalls her grandfather being heavily involved in desegregation as well as overall improvement of interracial relations and was thus regarded as a wonderful and courageous person in the community. This was part of what influenced Plant to regard improving race relations and social justice as noble and valuable work.

Today, Dr. Plant researches and teaches about different issues than those her grandfather was fighting, but they share a common goal of connecting different people and reducing prejudice among groups. I asked Dr. Plant how she manages to teach about such significant but sensitive topics as prejudice, stereotypes, and racism in her classes. “In my class, I try to acknowledge the fact that we are all exposed to biases and stereotypes that are out there… and that doesn’t make us bad. Not making it about blame, but making it about let’s understand why these things happen. Learning where these things come from and why we do them helps people realize it’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way.”

Asking Dr. Plant why she believes teaching and researching about diversity is important on a college campus, she answered, “In part because for some students, they may not have had the opportunity to interact with different people, ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds until they get to a university setting.” She went on to say how most students arriving on campus are curious and eager to learn about and interact with new and different people. Therefore, professors should

support this positive intergroup interaction and create an environment where that is accepted and encouraged.

Dr. Plant’s philosophy of teaching centers around the concept that the classroom should support an encouraging active engagement with the material. Students should be prompted to think about how they would respond in situations and not just be passive consumers. When it comes to her research, Plant aims to look at the world and consider what are the important questions. She looks at history and considers how things have changed over time and then deciphers what those big picture, impactful questions are that need to be looked at in the lab.

One of the big picture questions that Dr. Plant has researched concerns the source of people’s prejudice in social interactions. Dr. Plant considers her 1998 paper, “Internal and External Motivation to Respond Without Prejudice,” her most influential scholarship. In this study, Dr. Plant discovered that if a person is internally motivated to not show prejudice, they will be eager to meet new, different people. An external motivation can originate from the fear of being judged poorly by others if one shows prejudice. If someone is externally motivated to not show prejudice, they will be more likely to avoid people that are different from them so as not to “mess up” and be perceived as prejudiced. Other results show that a person’s predisposition to being prejudiced is influenced by many factors including cognitive processing, emotions, life experience, and likely genetics. Perhaps most importantly, this piece also demonstrates that regardless of one’s natural expression of prejudice, we all have the ability to control and improve our natural tendencies to work toward a more just society. These findings are so influential that they are still used to understand research in psychology labs today.

When asked what impact she hopes to accomplish through her work, Dr. Plant replied that with her teaching, she aims to challenge her students to reflect on their attitudes and encourage them to have more positive intergroup interactions. She hopes to show students that even if they aren’t there yet, reducing bias is something they can work toward. Additionally, Dr. Plant always works to increase critical thinking in her students by showing them how to identify a question and then figure out how they can answer it using science.

Regardless of the positive impacts one makes, no successful professional can go their entire career without facing criticism. For Plant, the majority of criticism comes in two forms. A critic may either believe that these issues cannot be studied scientifically without being influenced by researcher’s bias or they may not see these topics as legitimate problems that need attention.

To combat the first concern, Plant works exceptionally hard to be critical and careful in the way she and her team approach their research so that people are not able to claim that the work was biased in any way. In the second situation, when someone views the research topic as not a big problem in society, Plant relies more on her intuition and team to know that the work is essential. For example, when looking into law enforcement officer’s decisions to shoot, she had people ask why she would study such a small issue. However, they asked this before the numerous unjust police shootings occurred in our country and the issue became extremely prominent.

Another way to combat bias in research is to collaborate with other faculty. Plant says the social psychology department is very collaborative with sharing ideas, methods, and results of research,

and this is valuable in understanding her own work. For example, Dr. Plant works with doctoral candidate Stacey Makhanova in the Plant Lab. Stacey also works with Dr. Jon Maner in his lab where they look at human fundamental motives to protect ourselves and how this can exacerbate sensitivity to outgroup members. This perspective was then brought to the Plant Lab and was able to help when looking at the previously mentioned study of law enforcement officer’s response to threats.

Through and through, Dr. Plant is a people person. People are the basis of her career, her research, the reason she began working at FSU, and why she enjoys continuing to work here. “We have a very collegial, collaborative program that just makes it so much fun. I enjoy it because the people are interesting, fun and we work well together”

The field of social psychology is continuously evolving to include more areas of research and push the boundaries of what can be studied scientifically in the lab. Through the influential work of Dr. Plant and her colleagues, Florida State remains at the cutting edge of this field. We are proud to support Dr. Plant and look forward to learning from her future research.

– Alison Amann

Gerontological Social Work: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

JeanMunn2016-200x300A Sit-Down with Dr. Jean Munn, Florida State University College of Social Work

Associate Professor Dr. Jean Munn’s office is comfortably situated between colleagues at the College of Social Work’s wing in the University Center. The quiet courtyard that lies behind her window is filled with students milling around and studying, enjoying the spring sunshine. Natural light floods her office, which is kept neat and airy. As I sit down, Dr. Munn’s friendly and comforting demeanor helps me understand why she chose to pursue social work as her academic field. After receiving her M.S.W, and later a Doctorate in Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Dr. Jean Munn decided to make her home in Tallahassee, Florida at Florida State University’s esteemed College of Social Work. Her speciality, Gerontological Social Work, first impacted her life when she decided to enter her mother into a nursing home. There are 1.3 million elderly Americans that currently benefit from long-term continuous care. Dr. Munn and her mother, like countless families who rely on nursing homes to provide comfort for their loved ones, were failed by the level of care that the gerontological staff operated on.

“I was interested in Geriatric care because my mother was a resident in a nursing home, and we realized shortly after she got there, that we really didn’t know much about the environment that she was in. We didn’t know how to help her navigate that environment. We didn’t know how to look for care for her.”

Many people struggle with their relatives’ aging process, which can include a plethora of nursing homes, caregivers doctors, social workers, nurses, medicines, and illnesses, making this stage confusing and overwhelming for those who are already overwhelmed with change. Dr. Munn attributes her career path to two poignant events in her life. The mentorship of Dr. Sheryl Zimmerman, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill influenced her dedication to palliative and geriatric care. Additionally, the passing of her mother under hazy circumstances at a nursing home while receiving Hospice care motivated her to uncover the details of our care system for the elderly.

“Palliative care became important for two reasons; one because I was working with a mentor, Sheryl Zimmerman, at UNC, and she had a grant to study end-of-like and long term care. And then while I was completing my PhD, my mother actually died in a nursing home, and the circumstances surrounding her death influenced my focus on end of life and specifically on nursing home personnel. We had a rather unfortunate experience with hospice, where hospice didn’t actually provide care for her at the end of life as they had agreed to, so it opened my eyes to the necessity that we cannot turn all long term and end of life care over to hospice. We need to make sure that the staff who are always going to be there care for the residents.”

Through her research, Dr. Munn realized that the impact of care staff in geriatric and palliative care can seldom meet every need, and millions of families are left to desperately try to try to compensate without help or guidance. In Spring, 2016, she was awarded with the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship, hosted by Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, to study the aging process and gerontological care in a country whose social work profession is relatively new. Before 1989, when the Czech Republic was controlled by the Soviet Union, social work was not trusted, and the practice was non-existent. In the past twenty years, efforts have been made to legitimize social work in academic and public spheres. During her studies in Prague, Dr. Munn was surprised with her findings.

“I did some teaching, I also presented workshops at two other universities in the Czech Republic and I interviewed social workers to determine how they saw their roles addressing end-of-life issues and how they worked with residents. These were social workers assigned to care homes, but they also worked with residents in the community, which is a model of care that we don’t have in the United States. I was very surprised with what I found. First of all, I expected social work in the Czech Republic to be focused on social welfare, more political, policy level questions, but what I found was a lot of really young, invested, social workers who were doing direct care with residents in the care homes and the community surrounding them. Social work in the Czech Republic is really unique, because during the communist period, social work was considered suspect. There were no social workers, that term would never be used in the communist period. When the communists left in 1989, the School of Social Work at Charles University was re-energized and reinvented. The School there is really only about twenty-five years old, so it is a really unique situation, because you have one of the oldest universities in Europe, and you have one of the youngest departments of social work.”

Academics who embark on a Fulbright Fellowship bring back a newfound understanding about the international proceedings of their field, and Dr. Jean Munn sees both similarities and differences between American and Czech social workers. “The broadened perception is the recognition that the Czech Republic is now where the United States was about 25 years ago in terms of Palliative care. The commonality is that we as social workers have a lot of difficulty in articulating our roles. In the United States, we also have difficulty articulating our role at the end of life.”

Dr. Munn also recognizes the United States’ advancements in her field, and how our history of academic freedom has led to a refinement and advancement of American social work.“I have greater appreciation for our sophistication of the profession. The social work departments in the Czech Republic were not the only places that had had to reorganize after the communist period. I appreciate more the academic freedom that we have here. You see what happens when academic freedom is taken away, and you see how long it takes to reinstate the universities, religious entities, and monasteries had been taken away, just the upheaval that comes, and then the length of time it takes to actually rebound from that kind of oppression. So I think I have a better appreciation for our opportunities in the US.”

Studying with international academics influenced Dr. Munn’s views of diversity on college campuses, specifically Florida State. Dr. Munn believes that experiences with people from all over the globe opens students’ minds and that college is the opportune time to branch out and explore cultures asides from one’s own. She brings diversity to her classroom in order to better her students’ understanding of the world around them, which is important in the field of social work, as social workers aid people from all kinds of cultural, racial and economic backgrounds. Interestingly, most of those who pursue social work in the U.S. are female, which also holds true for the Czech Republic, and Dr. Munn believes that if this statistic is to be changed, it will be social workers doing the work.

“I think it’s [diversity] important in the same was that it is really important to have experiences outside of the United States. I think that it broadens everyodays view of the world. It takes away some of the fear that people have, being around persons who are different from ourselves, allows us to see commonalities as well as be more comfortable with differences. I think if it doesn’t happen by the time you finish college, it’s probably not going to happen. You need to broaden yourself during a certain developmental period. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, but college is definitely the place where we are the most open and the most receptive to learning about diversity. It can start earlier and happen later, but I think those first days of indepence and beginning to see the world outside your family, is the perfect time to understand  people unlike yourselves. To me, that is key to being a human being, to having any kind of kindness or compassion or empathy. Those things happen, not just with exposure, but actually with living with people unlike yourself.”

“I would like to say that we do have a diverse student body. I think the last figure I knew was about 30% minority students. When we talk about anything like family, we talk about diverse family constellations, we talk a lot about cultural competency, understanding the context. A part of social work is understanding people in their environment, so we have to come to know diverse environments. That being said, social work classes have very few males in them, and that is not atypical of the social work profession as a whole, so we do need to look at that as a sort of lack of diversity. I am always happy when I have male students in the class because I feel like that broadens some of the perspectives when we take about roles, changes in the culture, but I will say that the class that I am teaching right now is all female.”

College professors have the rare opportunity to motivate students to fulfill what they see as the future of their fields. As for the future of Social Work, Dr. Jean Munn hopes to see an elevated level of care, which will include interprofessional teams operating together to provide integrative models of care. In 2050, an estimated 81 millions Americans will be over the age of 65, a staggering number which illustrates the importance of the future of palliative and geriatric care.

“For one thing, it will continue to increase as the older adult population increase. I think some of the current trends are toward person-centered care. This means that the goals of the individual guide the medical care and the decision making. Interprofessional teams are/will be providing care. We do training with the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing at FSU, and with the College of Pharmacy at FAMU to acquaint our students with interprofessional team care. We are at the point where everybody recognizes that there are silos of medical care, that the care provision is fragmented, so hopefully there will be moves into more integrative models of care.” By uniting the different professionals involved in geriatric medicine, the gaps in reliability will be filled.

The first piece of advice that Dr. Munn would give to a family entering the trying process of long-term care is to find the social worker. “Any nursing home with 120 beds or more is federally mandated to have a social worker. However, most nursing homes, even smaller ones, have social workers. The first advice I would give is to find the social worker, because the social workers help families navigate the system, help mediate any kind of disagreements, find information for them, and facilitate the transition.  The social worker probably has an open-door office, so if families distressed, they will have somebody to talk to.”

Dr. Jean Munn is an Associate Professor of Social Work with a specialty in Gerontology at the  Florida State University College of Social Work.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Munn’s publications and grants, please click here.

-Zoe Zirlin, FSU Class of 2020

FSU Activism in the Academy Social Justice Symposium: A Reflection

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Discussions of racism, discrimination, and injustice are rarely comfortable, but the faculty, staff, and students of Florida State University know that in order to break down societal barriers that hold us back we must engage in these conversations to educate ourselves and others.

Three weeks ago, FSU took another concrete step in the University’s ongoing efforts focusing on social justice by hosting the Activism in the Academy Social Justice Symposium. This was a two-day event which hosted keynote speaker W. Kamau Bell to kick off the weekend on Friday, followed by 5 expert panel sessions on Saturday. The weekend was intended to spark conversation, encourage networking, and, most of all, inspire attendees to find and use their voice to fight injustice.

To be direct, my perspective is one of a white, female, 22-year-old college student living in Tallahassee. If you did not attend the symposium, I am here to share my experience there through my perspective. If you did attend, let this article allow you to reflect on your own experience to bring back any inspiration and take-aways you gained there.

Friday night, W. Kamau Bell delivered his sociopolitical comedy routine “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour.” Taking a direct and honest but still humorous angle, there were as many laughs as there were moments of uncertain tension from the audience. Bell opened by reassuring the crowd that, “I know you all are going to change the world tomorrow, but while we must fight, we also must laugh.” With a focus on racism, Bell managed to keep the mood light but challenging while hitting serious topics like racism within science, the intertwined relationship of racism, sports and politics, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

At the crux, Bell made it clear that no matter who you are, racism and injustice is your responsibility. We all have a duty to use our unique voices and strengths to create a world that provides equal opportunity to every person. Using the imagery of someone who wins a race after starting on the 90-yard line, Bell described the inequalities that are “baked into the cake of America.” Perhaps a first step in deconstructing these inherent head starts is for those who are ahead to notice and acknowledge their privilege, and not feel that they somehow are more deserving or harder working than those who did not start at the same place as they did.

While FSU is an overall progressive institution, a sociopolitical comedian can not come to our University and ignore the fact that our campus culture and Seminole Indian logo is not innocent in the fight against cultural appropriation. Bell pointed out that it did not take him long to see the irony of his participation at an Activism Symposium at a University which uses a controversial Indian mascot. When it comes to issues like this, there is not a quick fix, but that does not mean that nothing should change. Bell suggested that regardless of any agreements FSU has made with the Seminole Tribe, the Seminole Indian logo is read by the public as like all others. Any relationship FSU has with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is unknown to the general public. This perpetuates constant miscommunication from our institution to everyone about who we are and what we represent.

The second day of the Symposium, Saturday, was a day of collaboration, introspection, and self-improvement. I had the opportunity to attend two of the day’s sessions including Activism in the Age of Trump and Self-Care as Political Warfare. While these sessions had drastically different emphases, they both shared a theme of fighting against the “machine” and having your voice heard. Activism in the Age of Trump was an expert panel session with five prominent men sharing a round table discussion regarding political activism. Topics ranged from protests to Twitter to allyship to political party lines. Words like fear, outrage, responsibility, and distraction were used to describe our current collective problems.

It was interesting how the professions of the experts influenced the conversation. Darryl Parks and Benjamin Crump, two prominent National Trial Lawyers, sat beside Juan Escalante, the Digital Campaigns Manager for America’s Voice, Philip Agnew, co-founder of the Dream Defenders, and Dr. Kaveh Akbar, a poet and educator at Purdue University. These various fields led the conversation from issues in the courtroom to how people organize in the age of social media, to how art and revolution go hand-in-hand. There were few stones unturned as the experts shared their personal experiences from the front lines in their fight for social justice.

During the session, attention was called to the fact that all five of the panelists were men. As a young woman in the audience, it was interesting to notice this and recognize that even in a smaller setting, it is difficult to have each and every affected voice heard on an issue. While I would have appreciated to hear the perspective of a female activist in the age of Trump, I see that it is always valuable to learn others’ perspectives when I have the opportunity to. This panel allowed me to gain exposure to the perspectives of minority, male, experienced professionals in different fields than my own. Darryl Parks and Benjamin Crump were able to shed light on what the fight for activism looks like from inside the courtroom while Juan Escalante illustrated what a life of fighting for documentation as the child of an immigrant family was like.

Self-care as Political Warfare was the second session I attended. This session was led by Dr. Laura Osteen and Kehinde Ishangi and based on the Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” This session centered around helping yourself before you can help others. The first half of the session consisted of mental reflection and introspection activities prompted by other Audre Lorde excerpts. Dr. Osteen says when it comes to self-care we have to find ways to invest in our humanity without investing in capitalist society. In our culture that values people primarily on their appearance and material wealth, we have to work to build and appreciate our inner worth.

The second half of the session, led by Kehinde Ishangi, focused on physical well-being. Kehinde is a professor of dance at FSU and recognizes that we must be in touch with our physical selves in order to achieve all encompassing well-being. To begin the activity, everyone in the room stood up and made a large circle around the room’s perimeter. What followed was a series of stretching and movements with the goal of checking in with ourselves and noticing how we felt physically and emotionally in the space. At the end, everyone in the room held hands with one another. We swung our linked arms back and forth in sync, creating a pulse in the room that created a powerful visual and emotional sensation. Both Osteen and Ishangi reminded us throughout the activities that while these were individual acts of self-care, they always relate back to how we fit into the whole.

My biggest takeaways from the weekend are that social injustice is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, allyship is not enough to end racism and discrimination- you must take concrete steps, and that it is crucial to care for yourself so that you can do your most effective work in the fight for change.

The Activism in the Academy Social Justice Symposium was an important event for FSU and our community. Regardless of how many people attended or what they gained from it, simply having an event like this one opens the floor for future communication about racism, political issues, activism, and privilege. It is clear that FSU is serious about creating change, social justice, and continuing to grow and improve in everything we do.

– Alison Amann