The College of Liberal Arts Doesn’t Just Have Great Teachers—It has Great Researchers
By: Nick Santangelo
When Temple students go to class, they encounter great educators who lead engaging lectures and facilitate thought-provoking discussions. And, yes, they also assign homework and give out grades. But what every student might not realize is their professors do as much, if not more, work outside the classroom as they do in it.
“We have not only great teachers but great researchers,” said Temple University President Richard M. Englert before a crowd of College of Liberal Arts faculty and staff members during Tuesday’s annual Celebration of Faculty Scholarship in the Student Center. President Englert qualified his statement by pointing to Google Scholarship’s global ranking of Temple as 18th in research.
In thanking the faculty for their research work over the past year, he also took the opportunity to mention that great teaching and great researching are “undeniably linked.” When new students enroll at Temple, they’re doing so in part because of the chance to learn from the University’s exceptional scholars.
“I’ve been around 42 years. I learned a long time ago, people don’t care who the president is,” he added. “People care who the faculty are.”
College of Liberal Arts Dean Richard Deeg echoed his words, calling the faculty “the real stars” because of the initiatives they show in conducting groundbreaking research year after year. This particular fiscal year (ending June 30), noted the Dean, the College’s faculty has submitted more research and submitted more proposals than in the previous year.
Executive VP and Provost JoAnne A. Epps spoke about how this shows the College faculty’s efforts go above and beyond what’s expected of them. “There is a certain obligation when we get hired as teachers: wake up, show up and teach. But research is not like that.”
Gender’s Role in Mental Health Disorders
So, what is research like? Well, sometimes it’s about being liked by someone who has a whole lot of “likes” herself. It’s true: social media and reality TV star Kim Kardashian recently cited a Temple University professor in a New York Times blog post she wrote about a woman struggling to simultaneously manage her mental health issues and life’s responsibilities.
“It wasn’t the type of press I really wanted,” said Psychology Assistant Professor Debra Bangasser with a laugh, “but that’s OK.”
Dr. Bangasser spent the year researching the differences in how common or uncommon certain mental illnesses are in female versus male lab rats and why those disparities exist. Only 20 percent of lab studies use female rodents and just 14 percent use both males and females in comparative studies. This is despite extensive data showing that some disorders are more common in one gender than the other.
“In my work, I’ve always compared males to females and looked at factors that contribute to disease,” said Dr. Bangasser.
What’s she’s discovered in the past year is something “no one expected.” Female rodents, it turns out, are more sensitive to the stress responses of the CRF hormone.
“If these things are happening in humans,” she explained, “it might help explain why women are more likely to get disorders like PTSD and depression, and men are more likely to get disorders like ADD/ADHD.”
Transgender Policy Issues
Political Science Associate Professor Heath Fogg Davis’ research is dedicated to gender studies. Dr. Davis, however, studies how gender issues—specifically transgender issues—affect public policy.
“Should gender matter when it comes to formal policies?” asked the professor before proceeding to a slideshow with some unexpected, but familiar, imagery. Dr. Davis showed a SEPTA boss followed by a woman holding up pictures of old SEPTA passes. The woman, he explained, was trans and had once carried two separate SEPTA passes: one denoting her as a female, the other as male.
Why she had both should be obvious to anyone who’s followed the headlines around so-called “bathroom bills” and other transgender issues in recent years. One driver turned her away when seeing her female pass, insisting she wasn’t a woman, while another turned her away when seeing her male pass, insisting she wasn’t a male. Dr. Davis called this “sex-identity discrimination,” which he described as sexism arising from the cultural norm of having only binary gender options.
“Not everyone wants to assimilate into the sex binary,” he explained. “There are gender non-binary who aren’t clear who don’t want to be classified into the binary.”
For Dr. Davis, the solution from a public policy standpoint is for forms to do away with asking for people’s genders when not entirely necessary. But when this info is required, he called for explanations of why they are so.
The New Global Environment
Of course, gender isn’t the only research topic for College of Liberal Arts professors. Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies Victor Gutierrez-Velez’ research has been focused primarily on how urbanization and where and how food is produced affects the environments and people near where that food is made. In order to look down at the food we’re producing, the professor first looked up.
“I am using satellite images to understand where food is being produced, how it’s changing the world and what the implications are on the local people,” he said.
Additionally, he’s exploring how an Asian species of mosquito has spread to Southeast Pennsylvania. The research is bringing new understanding to what the mosquitos’ influence is on the local environment.
Looking ahead, Dr. Butierrez-Velez is preparing to start a study with NASA to see how complex satellite data can be made available to and understandable by decision makers lacking the technical expertise to parse it in its raw form.
Existing Problems Viewed Through New Lenses
Meanwhile, History Assistant Professor Monica Ricketts has looked back into how longstanding problems in Latin America have been created or exacerbated by broad events.
“Why has it been so difficult for Latin American countries to build strong civilian institutions?” she asked “Why has it been so difficult to build trust around its people and long-lasting stability? Why has it been so difficult to build democracies?”
Dr. Ricketts explored events stretching back to the Spanish Crown’s establishing of standing armies for countries like Peru in 1700 to repeated wars in the region during Colonial Times. She asserted that these events, and others, caused Latinos to naturally view military men as authority figures and also empowered those men to have legitimate claims to power.
“I want my work to contribute to these struggles by illuminating the history and the possibilities ahead,” she concluded.
Race and Religion
Rounding out the panel was Religion Professor Jeremy Schipper, who is currently researching biblical references in discussions of race and religion throughout American history. The professor has two books on the way exploring this topic.
His first book takes readers on a journey to discover how Americans of various racial and religious backgrounds interpreted the biblical figure Samson as a black man. Of particular note is how some Americans saw Samson’s destruction of a Philistine temple and his many associated killings as being symbolic of resistance to and rebellion against racial suppression.
The second will center on Denmark Vesey, an African American carpenter and onetime slave who was ultimately hanged in Charleston, SC. His supposed crime was conspiring to lead a slave rebellion that would have involved thousands of slaves—the largest such rebellion in U.S. history. Vesey justified his planned uprising through his interpretation of a biblical passage.
He was convicted of treason against the state for “attempting to pervert the sacred words of God” in support of the causes of Americans “of the blackest hue.”
“I aim to show how the uses of biblical passages during the trial and its aftermath forever changed the understanding of slavery in the United States,” explained Dr. Schipper.
The Importance of Research
“You cannot have an outstanding university without having an outstanding College of Liberal Arts,” said President Englert.
The College’s research covers important and exciting topics as wide-ranging as STEM, the humanities and social sciences. And thanks to the work of professors like those highlighted in this year’s Celebration of Faculty Scholarship, the faculty has already surpassed last year’s contributions with more than three months still to go before the fiscal year ends. The College thanks all of its researchers for fostering a strong environment of discovery where our students can grow and thrive.