Azeemah Kola Receives APA Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship

Azeemah Kola, a Clinical Psychology PhD candidate, has received a 2021-22 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship, part of the Minority Fellowship Program of the American Psychological Association (APA). The fellowship will help support her as she completes her doctoral studies, and connect her to a broad network of other psychologists and psychologists-in-training who are specifically focused on working with racial and ethnic minorities. 

Kola is broadly interested in how certain groups, particularly those that are marginalized, are perceived in society.

“Thus far, I have been interested in looking at this through the principle of magical contagion, which is the idea that the essence of a person or thing can be transferred through physical contact with an object,” she says. “In my MA thesis, I found that individuals were less likely to want to come into contact with objects that had been previously handled by obese individuals, suggesting that obesity is in fact wrongly viewed as communicable.” 

Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Magical Contagion and Psychiatric Disorder,” uses magical contagion to look at the ways in which individuals treat those with psychiatric disorders. “Specifically, I am interested in understanding whether, and why, mental illness in particular may be seen as communicable, whether consciously or unconsciously, and whether this differs depending on the type of psychiatric disorder,” Kola shares. Her dissertation advisor is McWelling Todman, Professor of Clinical Practice.

Understanding exactly what conditions underlie stigma around mental health has a number of potential policy and practical applications, especially where attitudes toward mental health intersect with other issues, e.g. providing safe housing and support for unhoused populations, or dealing with mass trauma from catastrophic events like the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, mental health stigma and attitudes towards the individual may involve compounding prejudice, where biases and irrational beliefs about mental health collide with prejudices about race, ethnicity, legal status, chronic health conditions, or poverty. 

Kola’s clinical interests center on the experiences of people of color. “I am interested in how established therapeutic models may apply (or not apply) cross-culturally, and how therapy that focuses on specific events or experiences may need to respond to or be aware of greater structural and systemic experiences of racism and inequality,” she says. This year, as an extern in the PTSD Clinic at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, she is starting and co-facilitating a Race-Based Stress and Trauma psychotherapy group with her supervisor, also a woman of color. “We hope [this] will provide a space for veterans of color to acknowledge and process the often pervasive and repeated traumas of racism,” she shares.

“I felt incredibly fortunate [to receive this APA fellowship], not least because I felt empowered by the fellowship committee believing in my research, clinical focus, and its importance. I am also deeply grateful to the Psychology department at The New School and my mentors, in particular Dr. Todman, Dr. [Richelle] Allen, and Dr. [Daniel] Gaztambide, for their unwavering and beyond generous support of me and my application,” Kola says.

In addition to her studies, research, and externship, Kola writes a blog for Psychology Today and is a member of the APA’s Task Force on Climate Change, which she joined to help address the disproportionate impact of climate change on already vulnerable and marginalized groups.

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Tomas Lima Pimenta Receives DAAD Research Grant

Tomas Lima Pimenta has received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Long-term Research Grant Award for the 2021-2022 academic year.

A Philosophy PhD candidate, Pimenta will spend a year at Freie Universität Berlin working with faculty member Robin Celikates. In addition to finishing work on his dissertation, he plans to participate in Celikates’ seminars and research groups, as well as activities of the Center for Humanities and Social Change at Humboldt University, directed by Celikates and Rahel Jaeggi.

“I felt delighted and relieved with the award,” says Pimenta. “I am excited to work with Celikates closely, to live in Berlin, and I am also relieved with the financial support….I am looking forward to focusing solely on my research after October.”

Pimenta’s dissertation addresses the contemporary spread of conspiracy theories as a fundamental tool of right-wing extremism propaganda. It gives an account of the crisis of liberal democracy through the notion of trust and the increasing distrust in institutions. It also offers a political-psychological account of political paranoia as a mode of subjectivity. 

“This research is essentially motivated by the genocidal politics promoted by the ultraliberal government in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Pimenta. “It ultimately attempts to understand the suicidal logic, beyond the necropolitical logic, that dominates Brazilian society and explores the fundamental role of the conspirational subject in that process.” His dissertation advisor is Jay Bernstein, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy.

Originally trained as an economist specializing in Marxist Economics and Dependency Theory, Pimenta is deeply interested in both German and Latin American thought. In addition to this upcoming DAAD fellowship, he has twice been a fellow of NSSR’s Janey Program in Latin American Studies. “All my research interests are guided by the relevant social, political, and philosophical problems of Brazil and Latin America,” he says.

Fania Noel Receives AAUW International Fellowship

Fania Noel has received an AAUW International Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

A Haitian-born French Afrofeminist organizer, thinker, and writer, Noel is a Sociology PhD student broadly interested in Africana studies, critical race theory, Black feminism, Haitian diaspora and capitalism studies. For her dissertation, she is studying Black feminism on a global scale, highlighting “tension/divergence and convergence in ideology, praxis and political agenda and organization between Black feminism movement in predominantly non-Black countries and the ones in Black countries regarding white supremacy, neo-liberalism, hetero-patriarchy, (neo)-colonialism and internationalism/panafricanism.” She is working closely on this research with Deva Woodly, Associate Professor of Politics, and Benoit Challand, Associate Professor of Sociology.

Receiving the news about the AAUW fellowship was a joyous moment for Noel amid a year of remote study; she felt “like Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé’s Savage Remix,” she shares. She plans to utilize the fellowship support to do archival research and carry out interviews across Europe in Summer 2021 and in Haïti in December 2021. 

In addition to her academic work at NSSR, Noel organizes with grassroots movements such as Mwasi-Collectif Afrofeminist against anti-Blackness and Black feminism in France. She is also deeply involved in writing and publishing; in 2014, she founded Revue AssiégéEs (Besieged), a political publishing project led by women, queer and trans people of color, and in 2019, Syllepse Edition, a radical French publishing house, published her book Afro-communautaire: Appartenir à nous-mêmes (Afro-Community: To Belong to Ourselves). A manifesto, Afro-communautaire presents an Afro-revolutionary and anti-imperialist utopia for the political organization of Black people in France against racial politics and neoliberalism.

“I believe in radical Black feminist futures,” says Noel. “My commitment to Black Feminism politics, and Black liberation anchored the sense of accountability by not reinforcing the ‘carceralisation’ of knowledge in academia. My goal is to use the resources in my disposition to create political collective power where Black struggles are.”

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National Science Foundation Awards Jeremy Ginges for Research on Religion and Human Conflict

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Jeremy Ginges, Associate Professor of Psychology, a major grant to support a multiyear research project entitledReligion and Human Conflict.”

The award, totaling $646,716, will support Ginges and the members of his Social and Political Psychology Lab — including New School for Social Research Psychology graduate students Anne Lehner and Starlett Hartley, and postdoctoral fellow Mikey Pasek — as they develop, according to their abstract, a “theoretical framework that will allow us to understand, predict and model how religious belief influences intergroup relations, sometimes encouraging cooperation and tolerance, and at other times promoting conflict.” A supplemental award of $47,700 will allow Ginges to involve six undergraduate students from underrepresented groups from Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts in the research project as well.

Throughout his career, Ginges has focused his research on two main questions: How do humans decide whether to cooperate across cultural boundaries, and why do people sacrifice everything (their own lives, the lives of loved ones) for an abstract cause like a nation or a god? He and his lab members have investigated these questions in places around the world that oscillate between “extreme conflict and surprising cooperation,” such as Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Fiji, and Indonesia.

“The mainstream view was that beliefs in moralizing gods [gods that police behavior], and different divergent beliefs in gods….spread because they help groups become tightly knit cooperative entities that could outcompete other groups. It’s another way of saying they cause intergroup conflict,” explains Ginges. “We’ve been doing research showing that that’s actually not the case.”

In a recent article led by Julia Smith, an NSSR graduate and current doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Ginges and his co-investigators show that, contrary to those mainstream views, belief in moralizing gods actually discourages dehumanization of other ethnoreligious groups. His lab is currently preparing a paper on an experiment in which participants were given a set amount of money and encouraged to share it with strangers. Participants initially gave more money to members of their religious group, but when prompted to think about their god, they ended up giving more money overall, regardless of who they were interacting with.

The NSF grant will help Ginges and his lab members better understand exactly when and how belief in moralizing gods makes intergroup relationships better, and when and why it sometimes makes them worse. In the case of the money-giving experiment, if a norm is to share money, thinking about god will enhance that generosity. However, if a norm is to fight a different ethnoreligious group, then thinking about god might instead increase that aggression.

In addition to better understanding how religious beliefs may have shaped, and continue to shape, cooperation between people living in diverse, complex societies, Ginges hopes that his research may inform public policy on a range of issues.

“There are implications for this research in how we understand issues around multiculturalism, particularly religious diversity and immigration,” he explains. “And also, understanding more deeply when religious belief can be used, or is used, to promote prosociality can help organizations aimed at encouraging cooperation.”

Given improving pandemic conditions, Ginges is hopeful that he and his lab members can begin running filed experiments in this multiyear project in Fall 2021. Research and fieldwork will take place with participants in the U.S. as well as Israel-Palestine and Fiji.

The New School for Social Research Launches Three New Graduate Minors

 This piece originally appeared in the New School News

 

Graduate students at The New School have a unique opportunity to enrich their academic experience through cross-disciplinary study in graduate minors. These programs give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in disciplines outside of their primary field of study, gain exposure to new ideas and research methods and practices, and develop new ways to think about the world. Recently The New School for Social Research (NSSR) announced three new minor programs launching in the fall 2021 semester: Global Mental Health, Anthropology and Design, and Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism.

These new minors build on NSSR’s innovative academic approach, combining social theory, policy, and design. “These new graduate minors will enhance the experience of graduate students at The New School by giving them access to focused knowledge outside the boundaries of the standard learning pathways,” says Will Milberg, dean of The New School for Social Research. 

Today mental health problems are among the leading causes of mortality and disability around the world. The Global Mental Health graduate minor explores some of the most pressing issues contributing to the ever-increasing number of people living with mental health disorders worldwide. Organized by Adam Brown, associate professor of psychology and vice provost for Research, the program is open to graduate students across the university and draws on a variety of disciplines and methodologies to give students a foundation from which to critically examine mental health treatment gaps and disparities in care. Brown was interested in creating a program that would address the many intersections that factor into this problem.

“There continue to be major gaps in access to care and stigmas that make it hard for people to gain access to mental health care throughout the world,” says Brown. “Some of the current challenges require the development of new mental health interventions. However, many of the challenges are related to policies, inequities, and other aspects of basic human rights. We need not only psychology graduates, but also students from across the university to think carefully and ethically about ways to work across sectors and contexts to re-imagine mental health delivery and care.”

The field is expected to experience tremendous growth in the next few years, as concern about mental health and well-being expands to new environments . “We are already seeing companies, schools, and governmental agencies investing more in mental health strategies to support their staff. I am hopeful that this minor can prepare our graduates to take on leadership and transformational roles in this space, whether they are coming from the perspective of psychology, strategic design, political science, economics, and so on.” 

Blending social science with design, the Anthropology and Design minor prepares students to think more critically and creatively about anthropology and ethnography, the designed world, and their own research. Students have the opportunity to study design and technology through an established discipline that emphasizes reflective methodology, ethical frameworks of analysis, and awareness of the political stakes of both research and creative practice. It builds on the Anthropology + Design area of study, which was created two years ago and attracted students from various programs in NSSR, Parsons School of Design, the Schools of Public Engagement, and Eugene Lang College.  

In organizing this program, Shannon Mattern, professor of anthropology, drew on the relationships she’s built from her numerous collaborations with faculty and students — everything from organizing events to curating exhibitions to serving as a guest critic in Parsons studios — in her 17 years at the university. “Every semester, I reach out to select faculty to make sure Anthropology students would be both welcome in and prepared for their classes. Students in those other programs — Data Visualization, Design and Technology, Design and Urban Ecologies, Environmental Policy, History of Design and Curatorial Studies, Media Studies, Public and Urban Policy, Theories of Urban Practice — also join us in NSSR. This intermixing makes for a dynamic, constructive space of collaboration and knowledge sharing,” says Mattern.

Also launching this fall is Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism, which explores the theoretical foundations and political manifestations of radical democratic and anticolonial traditions. Organized by Carlos Forment, associate professor of sociology, and Andreas Kalyvas, associate professor of politics, the minor examines the changing meanings and practices of dissent, resistance, and self-rule that have emerged in the modern world. Currently available only to NSSR students, the minor will provide participants with a sophisticated understanding of alternative approaches for the study of power relations, regimes of knowledge, and the social movements that develop in response to them.

“The minors allow participants to engage more deeply with faculty and students from different disciplines who share their intellectual interests,” adds Milberg. “This represents an important innovation in our graduate curriculum, and I look forward to seeing how students take advantage of this opportunity.”