As part of a commitment to socially engaged and meaningful research, the NSSR Dean’s Office supports a range of student-organized projects and conferences each year. Even amid a pandemic, NSSR students have envisioned incredibly creative, intellectually rigorous, and community-minded projects and conferences. Read on for more about the Fall 2021 recipients of our MA Project Grants and the Dean’s Conference Fund, who are launching their projects and conferences in 2022.
MA Project Grants
NSSR launched the MA Project Grant program in 2016 to improve the research environment and academic life for master’s students. Every semester, student join together to create and launch projects across disciplines that address pressing contemporary questions while also building lasting community at the school.
The Fall 2021 recipients of the MA Project Grants are:
UN:RESOLVED (by The En[…]Clothed Collective)
In an attempt to explore how clothing acts as a mediator between various “bodies,” states and environments, En[…]Clothed collective hones in on the lived experience of embodiment at the intersections of design practice, material culture, philosophy, religion, anthropology, and sociology.
Organizers: Gabrielle Vazquez (Anthropology) and Fiona Dieffenbacher (Parsons)
The Faculty for Meditative Research and Learning(FMRL)
Drawing from the disciplines of Psychology, Anthropology, Political Science, and Philosophy, FMRL is a forum for scholars and practitioners who are engaging with meditation and contemplative practices as unique areas of scientific inquiry, areas that have been historically ignored by the Western academy but are now gaining widespread attention due to their implications in public health and consciousness studies.
Organizer: Jon Epstein (Psychology)
Dean’s Conference Fund
Often times trans- and interdisciplinary, NSSR student-run conferences blur and contest traditional lines inside and outside of academia and are one of the most productive sites for intellectual growth at the school. They are also where students begin to make their mark as active scholars in their field.
In Spring 2022, the Dean’s Conference Fund will support the following NSSR student-run conferences:
In response to the worldwide need to While athletes are celebrated for doing the impossible physically, there has been growing recognition that athlete mental health has been greatly overlooked. Must well-being come at the expense of competition? What would sports look like if wellbeing and mental health were seen as integral to training, competition, and injuries? Efforts to transform sports culture will require diverse perspectives and frameworks.
Date: January 28, 2022
Organizers: Nicole Ross and Chloe Sherrill (Psychology)
The second graduate Political Concepts conference will convene students from all fields of study at NYU, UC Riverside, Harvard, and Duke at NSSR, each focusing on a single concept – including abolition, statistics, and paradise – with the express intention of resituating its meaning in the field of political discourse.
Dates: March 25-27, 2022
Organizers: Helia Faezipour (Politics), Allan Hillani (Philosophy), Clover Reshad (Politics), Jochen Schmon (Politics), Paula Cucurella, Christina Chalmers
Decolonizing Eastern European Studies – Knowledge as an Object of Inquiry
Since the end of the Cold War, numerous attempts have been made to understand the nature of the transformation taking place in Eastern Europe and the ongoing legacy of socialism. Conceptualized through the lenses of postsocialism and more recently postcolonialism, the changing characterization of the region has marked the shifting politics of representation and politics of identity. The aim of this conference is to critically assess and challenge these dominant conceptual frameworks.
Tentative dates: April 6-8, 2022
Organizers: Karolina Koziura and Agnes Szanyi (Sociology)
With/In Environments: Reimagining Frameworks and Practices for Environmental Philosophy
The 20th Annual NSSR Graduate Student Philosophy Conference asks how we might reorient the language and practices of philosophy in a way that can enable us to adequately respond to ongoing environmental crises.
Dates: April 14-17, 2022
Organizers: Dante Apaestegui, Veronica Dakota Padilla, Eva Perez de Vega, Vidya Ravilochan, Sarah V. Schweig, James Trybendis(Philosophy)
Contradictions in Capitalism: Feminist Perspectives
This conference explores the deepening tensions inherent within capitalism that both shape and are shaped by dynamics of exploitation. While feminist movements have identified the contradiction between production and reproduction as a central contradiction in capitalism, the categories of class and race point to the contradictions of extractivist capital accumulation and exploitation of labor performed by racialized and expropriated populations. Far from being accidental or exceptions to an otherwise functional economic system, structural violence and asymmetries arising from these contradictions are persistent because they form the very foundation of capitalism. This conference seeks to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue, situating academic knowledge production within the social movements that inform its analyses.
Dates: April 23, 2022
Organizers: Altaira Caldarella (Gender and Sexuality Studies), Patrich Co (Politics), Charlie Ebert (Philosophy), Penelope Kyritsis (Economics), Mette Kierstein Nielsen (Gender and Sexuality Studies), Lena Nowak-Laird (Philosophy), Isaiah Turner-Wyatt (Philosophy), Cassandra Williams (Sociology)
Sex Workers Built the Internet
Porn built the internet. Erotic BBS groups built the internet. Camming built the internet. Craigslist Casual Encounters built the internet. Desire built the internet. “Sex Workers Built the Internet” addresses this deleted history, centering sex workers’ experiences, voices, and activism in an urgent retelling of the internet’s past, present, and possible futures.
Date: May 2022
Organizers: Sarah Epstein (Psychology) and Livia Foldes (Parsons)
On December 4, near the end of a year defined by COVID-19, MA and PhD students from the Psychology department at The New School for Social Research gathered on Zoom to present their research on the global mental health landscape amidst the global pandemic.
The symposium was organized by Julia Superka, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology, and Olivia Cadwell a PhD candidate in Cognitive, Social, and Developmental Psychology. As members of the Trauma & Global Mental Health Lab, both have been working on pandemic-related mental health issues for months. But they didn’t realize that so many of their peers were as well.
NSSR’s Psychology department is a collaborative space. “I have always thought of this department as a community who uses tools, theories, and methods from psychological science as a way to inform and respond to our most critical challenges,” says Adam Brown, director of the Trauma & Global Mental Health Lab and Associate Professor of Psychology. Students conducting research throughout the department’s 16 labs have opportunities to discuss their work and its implications for broad-scale problems. Amid a shift to remote learning, those interactions have changed. “The chats that happen before class and collaboration that sparks in the hallways are much harder to organically build,” Superka says. Brown approached Superka and Cadwell with the idea for a student-led symposium to bring those students together.
In November, Cadwell and Superka circulated flyers inviting Psychology students with research at any stage related to COVID-19 to present their work. They received 12 abstracts with extraordinary breadth, and then coordinated across different labs, countries, and time zones to make the virtual symposium a reality. Topics included “data about clinical symptom severity and possible predictive markers for developing psychopathology during the pandemic…different ways technology was impacting the therapeutic process and being developed to reach as many people having difficulty coping as possible,” and “the implications of COVID from a global lens, including international research specifically in Turkey, India and China,” Superka recounts.
Research in Action at The Safran Center
Brown opened the virtual space by celebrating the adaptability of the students, so many of whom made changes in their research to address the urgent mental health needs the pandemic caused or exacerbated.
“One of the most remarkable things about being at NSSR is being surrounded by peers who have pivoted and adapted their research so quickly to this crisis,” Superka echoed in her opening remarks.
While national studies have looked at the impact of the pandemic on mental health generally, they have not closely analyzed symptoms for people already receiving treatment when the stay-at-home order began. The first project, presented by Clinical Psychology PhD student Hally Wolhander from the Psychotherapy work group from Safran Center for Psychological Services (directed by Richelle Allen, Assistant Professor of Psychology), focused on this often-overlooked demographic and measured patients’ symptom-severity during the pandemic. The group’s research showed that Safran Center patients with strong therapeutic alliance — the cooperative, working relationship — with their providers seemed to remain on track for reducing the severity of their mental health symptoms. Wolhander added that the group was still curious about the impact of teletherapy (versus in-person therapy) itself.
A group led by Psychology MA student Leslie O’Brien took up that very question in their presentation on “The Effect of the Transition to Teletherapy on Therapeutic Alliance during COVID-19.” O’Brien began, “Previous literature has indicated that psychologists have raised concerns about the impact of virtual conferencing on the psychotherapy process and therapeutic alliance.” To this group’s surprise, the patients and therapists they surveyed developed a high degree of therapeutic alliance, equal to previous years. The Center did increase the number of appointments patients receive in response to the pandemic, so the research might imply that the additional appointments had some success in preventing symptom deterioration–additional research could show whether that’s the case.
Another Safran Center work group focused on how the shift to teletherapy affected PhD students completing their training at the Center. Many student therapists initially opposed the switch to telehealth, Wolhander explained, because they were concerned that they would receive less broadly applicable training. But by June, students largely reported a neutral or positive experience, and most reported that they felt they had developed new skills.
The Psychological Life of the Pandemic
NSSR’s Psychology labs have also turned their attention to the relationship between mental states, emotions, and navigating these famously unprecedented times.
Clinical Psychology PhD student Emily Weiss from the Psychopathology Lab (directed by McWelling Todman, Professor of Clinical Practice) presented on the implications of a familiar emotional state during the pandemic — boredom. Different people, she explained, have different propensities toward boredom generally. But people who have felt increased boredom since stay-at-home orders began don’t necessarily have a higher boredom propensity. The differences, while subtle, could have a significant impact on distress. While boredom proneness and state boredom both are associated with higher rates of depression, for example, people with lower boredom proneness and higher state-boredom seem to have higher rates of hope and optimism for the future. Likewise, higher boredom-proneness is associated with higher COVID-19 infection, but not higher concern about the virus.
Heleen E. Raes, an MA student, presented research, also housed in the Psychopathology Lab, on the impact of pandemic boredom on substance use, hypothesizing that people more susceptible to boredom may be more likely to use alcohol and drugs.
MA student Ali Revill’s group within the Safran Center found that extraverted patients and patients with lower emotional dysregulation — inability of a person to control or regulate their emotional responses — have experienced higher mental illness symptom severity.
MA student Olivia Friedman presented on an app designed in the Trauma & Global Mental Health Lab to build self-efficacy, a critical tool in a moment where feelings of helplessness run rampant, and Cadwell presented research on the influx of politically-fueled COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
Superka presented on behalf of her research group of NSSR and Suffolk University students, which looked at the risk of moral injury — an injury to an individual’s moral conscience and values resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression — for people navigating social distancing and other transmission-related guidelines. Actions that feel like moral failures, like forgetting to wear a mask, can lead to feelings of moral injury, which has long-term negative mental health outcomes. “The pain experienced by individuals who suffer from moral injuries confronts us with the fact that we are, at the core, empathic and moral beings, for whom living in a just world may be just important as living in a safe world,” Superka concluded.
NSSR Psychology students come from dozens of countries around the world, and many have taken an international approach to their research. Cognitive, Social, and Development Psychology PhD student Meymuna Topcu, presenting research conducted within the Cognitive Psychology Lab (directed by William Hirst, Malcolm B. Smith Professor of Psychology), compared perceptions and projections of COVID-19 between the United States and China, including individuals’ perceptions of personal and governmental efficacy, and their estimated death and infection numbers.
MA student Busra Yaman, from the Trauma & Global Mental Health Lab, focused on “Perceived Stress, Achievement Motivation, and Resilience Among Domestic and International Graduate Students,” comparing Turkish international students to American students. While she found no significant differences in stress levels between the groups, she did find that international students did not lose motivation despite their high stress levels, while domestic students did. Likewise, international students with higher motivation had higher levels of resilience, while domestic students did not.
MA student Zishan Jiwani turned the symposium’s attention to India, which has had the second highest COVID-19 infection rates and an extremely strict lockdown. Little research has looked at the virus and lockdowns’ impacts on rural parts of the country. Jiwani presented on behalf of a group within the Center for Attachment Research (co-directed by Howard Steele, Professor and Co-Chair of Psychology and Miriam Steele, Professor of Psychology), on “Understanding the Mental Health Impact of Fear of the Coronavirus amongst Low-Income Women in Rural India,” where women have been cut off from their communal spaces. The group analyzed data from surveys given to women in their homes in the Bahraich District in Northeast India, asking questions about fear of the virus and perceived loneliness. Research found that increased loneliness, increased fear, and increased mental health challenges are all highly associated with each other. Jiwani suggested that these results could influence public health decisions — the epidemic of loneliness requires care and attention, too.
Fostering a Collaborative Space
Around 50 people attended the event, including faculty and students from across the psychology department and throughout the university. By the time presentations came to a close, the collaborative spirit that characterizes NSSR was palpable — students with overlapping research swapped information in the chat, and some of the presenters had already begun answering questions before the formal Q&A began.
The Q&A included many suggestions for furthering research, like including job-loss data in boredom analysis. Adam Brown also proposed a question about the surprising results of the research on telehealth and therapeutic alliance, and Howard Steele sparked a conversation about therapeutic alliance and cultural crises.
Cadwell and Superka hope to recreate this digital community space in the form of future symposiums that highlight ongoing research from within the Psychology department and beyond.
“We saw this [symposium] as a great opportunity for people to come together and talk about the research that we’re doing. It’s really incredible how much everyone has adapted. There is other research being done throughout NSSR broadly…so we are really interested in organizing a recap symposium of the ongoing crisis points we experienced in 2020, including the economy, protests and police brutality, the election cycle, and other global catastrophes,” Cadwell says.
“After we moved to remote learning, I was proud to see how quickly our students stepped up and adapted their research to study the complex psychological impacts of COVID-19. The symposium underscored the breadth of research being carried out across our labs and the sophistication in which our students are doing this work,” Adam Brown reflects. “This end-of the-semester student-led event was a wonderful opportunity for them to share their cutting-edge findings with one another and to create that much needed sense of community that we all miss.”
Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguini and Tortellini.
Mention Jan Gross and his 2001 book, Neighbors, and the word ‘controversy’ will soon follow.
The book, which documents the murders of nearly the entire
Jewish population of the town of Jedwabne, Poland during World War II,
explicitly challenges a long-accepted narrative that denies Polish complicity in
the fate of Jewish Poles during the war. Since its publication, the book has provoked
virulent responses from all sides: academic, political, media, popular. It has inspired
renewed investigations and broad, heated conversations about the very heart of Polish
identity. And it has made Gross — a former imprisoned student dissident who
fled Poland in 1969 — again an unwelcome figure in his home country as he
continues to publish research on anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence in
Poland during and after World War II.
That commitment to disseminating knowledge in the face of dangerous opposition has earned him the 2019 Courage in Public Scholarship Award from the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS) at The New School for Social Research (NSSR).
In a Public Seminar article, Matynia recalls the genesis of the Courage in Public Scholarship Award, when a global group of alumni from TCDS’s annual summer Democracy and Diversity Institutes gathered in 2014 amid a “an ethical and intellectual crisis facing academics in Europe and beyond”:
“Drawing on the ethos of the University in Exile, and their own New School experience, and the conviction that especially in dark times universities carry a special responsibility vis-à-vis society, they considered in two intensive working sessions both the mounting problems and possible ways to address them…
“The outcome of the debate was distilled in their final statement, known as the Wroclaw Declaration, which calls into being the ‘NSSR-Europe’ initiative, an intellectually engaged microcosm of The New School for Social Research within the new post-cold-war Europe.”
In that Declaration, members determined that they would
engage in “recognizing and honoring courage in public scholarship through
awards and fellowships.” Acting quickly, they presented the first Courage in
Public Scholarship Award on June 9, 2015 to Ann Barr Snitow, a “prominent
American academic, writer, and activist committed to gender justice and
equality, whose work in Central and Eastern Europe over a quarter of a century
has helped to recast social discourse, reshape the culture, and empower women
in this part of the world.” The ceremony was held at the Chancellery of the
Prime Minister of Poland, and was hosted by Minister for Equal Treatment
Malgorzata Fuszara, a professor of law and sociology and friend of Matynia and
of TCDS. In the years following, the Award was given to NSSR Professor Emerita
and famed Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller and Professor Ewa Letowska, former
Ombudsperson and judge on Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.
The coming 2019 ceremony marks the first time the award will be given at NSSR, and is part of The New School’s Centennial celebrations. It’s a fitting moment for the award to come to New York; though it may be just four years old, the values it represents — a drive to bring scholarship to the general public, intellectual curiosity, and a commitment to challenging the status quo despite fierce opposition — build directly on the 100-year-old history and founding values of The New School itself.
“It’s a question of academic freedom and we stood for it. That’s
how we [The New School] were initially in 1919, in 1933, and then in 1989,” Matynia
says, referencing the school’s founding as a progressive institution where no faculty
would be bound by loyalty oaths; the University in Exile, which rescued nearly
200 scholars fleeing from Nazism and fascism between 1933 and 1945; and the
collapse of communism just 30 years ago — a period that a new era of The New
School as well as Matynia’s own life and academic career.
Arriving as a postdoctoral fellow at The New School in 1981, Matynia expected to return to Warsaw the following year. But when Poland declared martial law, she ended up staying in the United States, teaching at several colleges before returning to The New School in the mid-1980s. In 1990, she became the director of the East and Central Europe Program, now TCDS, to help revitalize post-Communist scholarly life and create relationships between universities in the region and NSSR.
TCDS’s D&D Institutes began in Poland in 1992 to support scholars in East and Central Europe — Gross taught courses at the first and second institutes and returned in the early 2010s as a guest lecturer — and a sister D&D Institute also met in South Africa from 1999 to 2015 as that country grappled with its own democratic future.
Fittingly, Matynia’s research in political and cultural sociology addresses democratic transformations, especially in emerging countries with a legacy of violence. She, like many, hoped that 1989 would mark a clear transition to democracy for East and Central Europe. That hasn’t been the case; today, Matynia notes, many freedoms — of gender, of movement, of speech, of public gathering — are endangered in the region as well as in the United States.
“The whole concept of freedom is something which is difficult for increasingly right-wing regimes to tolerate,” says Matynia. “At this moment, there are so many threats to knowledge in general that I think it’s even more important than ever to make everyone aware of it. The principles of the way we live, of our democratic life, of society are threatened” as institutions that examine history and society are silenced or closed. As two recent alarming examples, Matynia cites the move of Central European University from Hungary to Austria after government pressure and the forced removal of the director of the Second World War Museum in Gdansk, Poland for challenging accepeted Polish narratives of the war — much like Jan Gross.
As these outlets for critical thought disappear, suspicion,
mistrust, and conspiracies spread even more quickly, making the 2019 Courage in
Public Scholarship Award that much more meaningful — and timely.
In the months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, The New School for Social Research Professor of History Oz Frankel proposed a new course named simply “Trump as History.” It’s quickly become one of the department’s most popular courses among Eugene Lang undergraduates. Research Matters spoke with Professor Frankel about how he developed the class amid one of the most shocking electoral upsets in history.
“I was convinced it would never happen,” says Frankel, reflecting on the unexpected victory, “and [U.S. President Donald] Trump would be consigned to history” Hence the history course. Needless to say, things turned out differently. But while its initial framework had to change, the course took on a new purpose and significance.
The contemporaneous nature of the subject presents interesting challenges for a historian. “The problem is that Trump is a current event, he is a work in progress,” explains Frankel. This gives rise to a crucial methodological question: “Perhaps it’s too early to historicize him?” Instead, Frankel harnesses that very lack of historical perspective to demonstrate to students the value of thinking historically.
“I actually make the argument that the media is already thinking of Trump historically, but perhaps in the wrong ways,” Frankel says. The most popular of those ways is drawing historical analogies. “Trump is like…insert your preferred historical figure here. There are continual attempts to find some historical precedent, from Richard Nixon to Pat Buchanan to PT Barnum,” he explains. “There was also a drive to dig up — especially before the election — prophecies from the past that somehow predicted the rise of Trump, like the Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, Richard Rorty’s 1998 book Achieving Our Country, or that Carl Sagan quote.”
Frankel sees these approaches as symptoms of a state of crisis and public bewilderment that pushes society to look to the past in order to grapple with the present. However, these efforts rely on a narrow conception of history and miss the important structural and historical roots of Trumpism. “Analogies are accessible, but they often reduce history to a succession of personalities. I address these popular comparisons with my students and we discuss why they constitute problematic ways to engage the past.”
In other words, bigger questions of how we think about history today, and what kind of historical consciousness is cultivated among the public, guide the course. These questions concern popular perceptions of history as well as “the kind of historical imagination propelling people like [Steve] Bannon or Stephen Miller” and “the influence in these two cases of [early 20th-century German philosophe Oswald] Spengler, with his organic and cyclical conception of history. It’s a very pessimistic, reactionary view.”
Frankel encourages his students to move past Trump as an individual and to think of Trumpism as a historical and political phenomenon. “Trump is a tool for thinking about patterns of American history we didn’t pay much attention to in the early part of the 21st century.” Specifically, Frankel guides students to narrow in on “the history of American populism, of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and its historicity, issues of masculinity, politics and spectacle, as well as the subject-position of the businessman as a cultural hero. We also have the history of ‘fake news.’” Weaving these historical threads together allows the students to map “what was in the DNA of American democracy that was conducive to something like Trumpism.”
Drawing on a variety of sources, including journalistic articles, academic publications, films, and blogs, Frankel leads students through an exploration of each of the key themes that contribute to Trumpism such as populism. “During the election, Bernie [Sanders] and Trump were both being labeled as populists,” Frankel recalls. “In class, we explore the long historical arch of populism in U.S. history, which brings us to late 20th century, the Tea Party, current reflections on the idea of the white working class and the question of why people are ostensibly voting against their material interests.” Another theme is racial dynamics, especially the often ever-defensive identities congealing around whiteness. Frankel comments, “Why do whites feel threatened? Whiteness is usually ‘transparent,’ but when whites feel threatened, then they become white. There is along thread of paranoia and fear in American history.”
Related concerns about social and cultural decline — cross political divisions. Frankel assigns his students George Packer’s The Unwinding (2013), which weaves together short biographies that document familiar themes of de-industrialization, the demise of institutions, the unraveling of the American social fabric, and the ascendance of “organized money.” While the book’s thesis comes from the political Left, it also overlaps with Bannon’s bleak view of the trajectory of American history, encouraging students to think beyond entrenched political distinctions.
In addition to considering historical continuities, Frankel encourages his student to consider what is new and unprecedented about the Trump moment in American political life. While Trump’s seemingly improbable political victories throughout 2016 could be cast as a series of flukes that might have ended very differently, they also show us the importance of accidents and of individual agency in history. “Trump certainly has the capacity of creating a new political reality; he already took over the Republic party and introduced new dynamics into the American public sphere.”
Trump is titillating, and students — many of whom were not necessarily interested in history before — are eager to grapple with these issues, including their own role in the current political moment. Frankel insists upon it, remarking, “I ask students to reflect on our complicity in the Trump phenomenon, the near-addiction that we have all developed to Trump, something that’s become so ingrained in our daily existence.” And, for many, the very reason they signed up for the class.
Lucas Ballestin is a PhD candidate in Philosophy. He specializes in political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. His dissertation is on psychoanalytic theories of political ideology in the 20th and 21st Centuries.
“While anthropologists have long been interested in cultural otherness, we often seem to feel closer to an Amerindian shaman than to the reductionist philosopher down the corridor. This led me to take an ethnographic interest in neurophilosophers and to explore the common ground between anthropologists of science and empirically oriented philosophers of mind who have both been frequenting brain research facilities since the 1970s without ever talking to each other.”
Bio | Langlitz received doctoral degrees both in medical anthropology (Berkeley) and history of medicine (Berlin). He is an anthropologist and historian of science studying epistemic cultures of mind and life sciences, especially neuroscience, psychopharmacology, and primatology. He was trained as a physician before conducting ethnographic fieldwork in two neuropsychopharmacology laboratories in Switzerland and California on the revival of psychedelic research since the 1990s.