The large teleconference room in Alexander Library was seated nearly to capacity and buzzing on September 5, as SC&I faculty, staff and students greeted each other after being away during the summer. “This is one of the most exciting events of the year at SC&I,” Dean Jonathan Potter said, kicking off the New Faculty Colloquium. “We join together to share views, think about the year ahead, and welcome new faculty.”
During the course of the morning, J. Sophia Fu, Amy Jordan and Naomi Klein, presented overviews of their research and teaching, describing ways they will collaborate with colleagues at SC&I, Rutgers, and beyond, so their work makes an impact, both at Rutgers and globally.
J. Sophia Fu
J. Sophia Fu, who recently received a Ph.D. in Media, Technology and Society from Northwestern University and is expected to start as an Assistant Professor later this fall, focuses on organizations, information and communication technologies (ICTs), social networks, innovation, entrepreneurship, and computational social science.
Fu said the keywords that best describe her research are technology, organizations, networks and social impact. She explained that her recent work has focused on how nonprofits work with cross-sector partners in order to streamline social services, understand ways organizations build capacity and create social innovations, improve outcomes, engage in international development efforts, and use social media in a disaster relief context.
“I am committed to talking to practitioners and public policy makers beyond the academy, and engaging practitioners and the local community through consulting, education, and conferences.” Fu said. For example, in one of her research projects, Fu invited program officers and directors from major institutions that support social entrepreneurship and social innovation in the United States to evaluate the social innovation ideas submitted by more than 300 social ventures. “This addresses the problem in previous research that evaluations of innovations by academic researchers are often divorced from reality. It also ensures that my research has greater public policy impact.”
Fu also studies global health problems, such as the adoption of health innovations to reduce neonatal and maternal mortality rate in India and the discourse around HIV/AIDS in China. “My research program focuses on one overarching research question: how can organizations more effectively address nagging social programs and grand challenges of our era, such as poverty, public health challenges, environmental degradation, social exclusion, and human rights violations.”
Fu also studies civil society organizing, specifically what she referred to as the perplexing dynamics in authoritarian regimes, and geographical boundaries. “I’m interested in how macro-level socio-political, economic, and cultural factors influence civil society organizing. These include the perplexing state-society dynamics and the influence of repressive, hostile central governments in authoritarian states and the influence of market fundamentalism in neo-liberal democracies,” Fu said.
Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Amy Jordan traced her commitment to advancing the field of children and media to a course she took as an undergraduate at Muhlenberg College in 1981. Describing how the field evolved over the following decades, Jordan said, “In the 1990s I studied the impact VCRs had on children and how they read and watched TV and movies. For example, I looked at how Sesame Street helped children learn letters and numbers. Life was simpler then,” Jordan said.
During the last 10 years, she said, she has studied how the media impacts many of the ways children and parents cope with health issues in general and specifically the health risk posed by sugar-sweetened beverages. “Some of us know it’s better to drink water than soda, but many people don’t know this,” Jordan said. “The city of Philadelphia received money from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund an awareness campaign about the dangers of drinking too much soda. When I looked around to see what others were doing with their campaigns, I worried, because some seemed to stigmatize children with obesity.”
Today, Jordan said, her current obsession centers around adolescents and sleep. Jordan said, “Adolescents should be sleeping eight to 10 hours a night. If they don’t get enough sleep, they are more liable to have accidents, suffer from overweight, poor academic performance, and mood disorders. Fewer than one in five adolescents are getting enough sleep during the week, and it does not help when they try to catch up on the weekends.”
To address this concern, Jordan has begun a research study focused on this topic. Jordan is asking questions such as, “are iPhones contributing to sleep problems? Are they keeping adolescents from sleeping or are kids who can’t sleep getting on their phones? Are the light and sounds coming from iPhones keeping kids awake? We want to know what the deeper problem is – is it a fear of missing out if they don’t keep up with conversations on their iphones? Does checking their iphones help them relax? Are they bored? Should we be doing something about this?
“The most recent national survey on children, technology, and sleep,” Jordan said, “was done more than a decade ago. It’s time for new numbers. There is hope for new research funding in this field. A new bill, H.R. 6590 – CAMRA ACT, has been introduced with dedicated funding through NIH earmarked for study of children and media. This bill is wonderful, because in the past many funders only wanted to know how adolescent behaviors would ultimately impact them as adults, instead of focusing solely on the ages of 10 to 21 in and of itself – this is a long and very important period.”
Jordan and her colleagues across SC&I have launched a cluster, called SC&I Youth, committed to researching youth and media technologies. Key goal are “to give opportunities within SC&I for people to collaborate, and help to plant the flag of Rutgers as a leader in research in this field.” Additionally, she said, among the many great things about Rutgers is that it’s so close to New York City. “People in the children and media industry are very happy to bring their teams together to talk with students and researchers about what they are doing in this space,” Jordan said.
The first person to hold the title of Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies, Naomi Klein, is an award-winning journalist and author. Most recently Klein published the book “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists.”
Klein’s other books include “No is Not Enough, Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need” (2017), “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (2014), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” (2007) and “No Logo” (2000).
Klein explained that while she and her family just moved to the U.S. from Canada, she has close family connections to New Jersey and Rutgers University. “My father grew up in Newark, and my grandmother came to Rutgers as an adult student to train as a teacher,” Klein said.
Klein said her plans for the chair are threefold.
First, she explained, “We are immersed in a digital-technological world that is forcing us to market ourselves all the time. We need to understand the impact this has on our political culture, self-selecting leadership, how it discourages cooperation. It also makes things possible, but there needs to be a space to dig in to this new territory, a space where we can think together about the corporate self, and explore the role branding has across the political spectrum, including inside the feminist movement. It will also be helpful for students to reflect on technology in their lives, and I would like to have a conference at Rutgers around these themes.”
Second, “We need to develop more analysis around an emergent worker identity. Some are calling this the care or resilience economy – it’s the workforce involved in care and repair work, as well as trauma or disaster response, and it’s particularly important in the context of climate change and serial disasters. Many of these care workers are women of color,” Klein said. “They tend to be the most undervalued workers in the economy. Some, like several states’ firefighters, are prison inmates. They are doing vitally important low-carbon and disaster-related work that often goes unrecognized, so I’ll be looking at ways to better understand this workforce as an integral part of our climate-change response.
“The urgency of understanding and theorizing this emergent work-force identity is related to the failure of the ‘green jobs’ framework. There has been a lot of resistance among industrial labor unions to back a transition to a clean economy because it necessarily means phasing our some much-needed current jobs. That’s why it’s important to build momentum with workers who are already doing the low-carbon work of care and repair. This is a feminist issue. I will be working with the Rutgers Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) to develop a space for workers and researchers to come together at Rutgers to theorize about the next workforce.”
Klein said her third priority as chair will be to develop a new podcast that will involve Rutgers students and perhaps even be created as a Rutgers production.
“The real gift of this chair, Klein said, “is it values the work of social movements, and it is all about finding connections and recognizing intersections across movements and disciplines. I hope to help to create several spaces for movement and academic leaders to come together face-to-face and think about the barriers to better, more impactful collaboration. Social media, in addition to encouraging everyone to market themselves and be their own brand, tends to discourage this kind of deeper exchange. I hope these spaces can be an exception.
“I am really hungry to connect with people here doing all kinds of work on political branding, social movement communication, children and media, and more. I will need help navigating the university so the right conversations happen – so let’s have coffee. I am even open to you telling me ‘you should be teaching my work.’ I will definitely need help with how to make a place as complex as Rutgers work -- there are so many people here with cross-disciplinary overlaps. I already feel the clock ticking on the three years and I want to make the most of this amazing opportunity,” Klein said.