263 posts categorized "Behind the Headlines"

July 26, 2016

Victim Blaming: When We Do It and When We Don’t

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider the following stories that were in the news recently:

Story 1: A female college student at Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was studying abroad in Puerto Rico. After a night out at a bar, she went to the roof of her apartment building with a security guard who was employed by the apartment complex to protect its residents. The guard then raped her. The security guard (a former police officer who was suspended for selling bullets to an undercover agent) was found guilty by a Puerto Rican court and is serving up to twenty years in prison. The young woman is suing WPI because the university leased the apartment building and students were required to live there. Her lawsuit asks the court to consider if WPI adequately screened the security guards to ensure that they were safe and trustworthy.

In court, lawyers from the university’s insurance firm questioned the students’ actions and decisions, and insinuated that she was partly to blame for the rape. They claim she engaged in excessive drinking, risky activities, and bad judgment. In effect, the university is arguing they are not responsible for what happened to her; it was her behaviors that resulted in her being raped. WPI may recognize this woman as a victim of sexual violence, but they are suggesting that she should be blamed for her own victimization.

Continue reading "Victim Blaming: When We Do It and When We Don’t" »

July 12, 2016

Challenging Confirmation Bias: Ways to Widen Your Perspective

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

It feels like there’s a lot going on. A presidential election and all of the discussion about gun and immigration politics. Supreme Court rulings. Orlando. Black Lives Matter.

There is good reason to raise that rainbow flag or post that Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn. If you are white, straight and cisgender, the persons of color and LGBTQ folks you know might appreciate your signs of support. Someone walking by your house might take comfort in seeing some love.

There are plenty of unconscious reinforcements that support our preexisting thoughts on events, what psychologists call a confirmation bias. Confirmation bias and ethnocentricism (what sociologist William Graham Sumner described as the assessment that one’s own culture and values are superior to others) lock together. These twin forces block, slow, and alter our ability to be good allies for folks who are unlike us.

Continue reading "Challenging Confirmation Bias: Ways to Widen Your Perspective" »

June 01, 2016

Connecting Across Race

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

The Black Lives Matter movement was made possible by social media, and offers an opportunity for different groups to have a conversation about race in America.

My grandparents were very religious and active in the civil rights movement. Bomb threats were directed at churches in the Washington D.C. area that planned to house southern African Americans making their way to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In coordination with their church, my grandparents housed dozens of men and women in their home. (For a vivid retelling of the time by one of the key figures in the movement, see John Lewis's graphic novel, March.)

Continue reading "Connecting Across Race" »

May 02, 2016

Polling Methods

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are polls getting less reliable? Some say so. Our changing technology, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle, can have an effect on opinions and behavior. People who hear that a candidate already has a good lead might change their opinion or not show up to vote. On the other hand, some estimates of the error rates of polls suggest that they are somewhat stable as pollsters change their methods to adapt to society's dictates.

Or are polls still pretty accurate, taking the pulse of the people? Some say so. If the difference between opinions is huge, then a poll can certainly pick that up. However, if opinions are just a few points apart, polls may not be able to show those differences accurately.

Continue reading "Polling Methods" »

April 25, 2016

Affordable Housing: An Oxymoron?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago, I had a student who was extremely anxious as the summer approached. While most of her classmates couldn't wait for graduation or summer break, she was scared. She had no family and had no place to live. Her worry about finding short-term housing was preventing her from sleeping at night and she began having difficulty in her coursework.

This is just one example of one of the challenges many people face—and not just students or low-income people. The cost of housing has priced many people out of the rental market, even people with steady incomes. The rental website Zumper lists the average rents in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. In nearly half (22) of these cities, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $1,000. That's about what a minimum wage earner makes in a month before taxes, assuming they earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and work 40 hours a week.

Continue reading "Affordable Housing: An Oxymoron?" »

March 31, 2016

Policing, Solidarity, and Conflict

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Many news stories have noted that violent crime rates have risen in some cities, and some are blaming the so-called "Ferguson Effect." What does this mean?

The Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times discussing the relationship between communities and their police departments. He mentions the "Ferguson Effect" yet redefines it when looking at Los Angeles and its crime related statistics.

Continue reading "Policing, Solidarity, and Conflict" »

March 25, 2016

Spatial Inequity and Access to Abortion

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Abortion and women's access to abortion are often contested issues within the United States. A recent poll by Pew Research found that 51% of Americans think that abortions should be legal in all or most cases. Yet, 49% of Americans polled think having an abortion is morally wrong. How does this difference in legality and morality impact legal decisions?

Have you heard about the Texas abortion regulations case? In 2013, the Texas solicitor general passed an omnibus abortion bill (HB2) that places additional restrictions on abortion providers. Regulations include requiring doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles from the clinic where they perform abortions, and requiring abortion clinics to be retrofitted to comply with building regulations that would make them ambulatory surgical centers.

Continue reading "Spatial Inequity and Access to Abortion " »

February 26, 2016

Popular Culture, Race, and Representation

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Zahira Kelly, who writes an advice column for The New Inquiry and for the blog Bad Dominicana, was recently on my campus to talk about the lack of Afro-Latin@/x representations within American and Latin American culture, history, and popular media. In her candid conversation, Zahira spoke honestly about her frustrations with systemic racism and heterosexism, and she mentioned the hate mail that she receives because she speaks openly about her experiences as a Black Latina.

While Kelly's talk highlighted the personal ways that racial erasure in popular media affects her on an individual level, it also showcased the lack of representations of a variety of people of color within our popular American consciousness. This negation of difference among and between communities of color both homogenizes these complex lived experiences and reinforces a simplistic understanding of race and culture that relies heavily on skin color and privileges whiteness.

Continue reading "Popular Culture, Race, and Representation" »

February 24, 2016

When Our Heroes are Also Villains

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

"We can be heroes, just for one day." This is the famous line from one of David Bowie's most popular songs, "Heroes." Bowie was indeed a hero to many people, and his passing at the beginning of the year was met with an outpouring of sadness from fans around the world. Bowie was known as a musical genius, a gender-bending norm breaker, and a crusader for racial justice in the music industry. But he was also known to have had sex with underage groupies and for some critics this dark side of his legacy is something we should not ignore.

Continue reading "When Our Heroes are Also Villains" »

February 15, 2016

Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are following this year's presidential election at all, you have probably heard about various candidates' poll numbers. While on the surface, polls seem like a simple way of describing who is ahead—if your poll numbers are higher than the other person's, you are "winning"—but unless you understand the margin of error it is easy to misinterpret poll results.

Let's say candidate A is polling at 44 percent among likely voters, and candidate B is polling at 42 percent. Candidate A is clearly ahead in a close race, right? Wrong.

Continue reading "Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters" »

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