What Do You Know About Disability Cultural Competence?

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a webinar on disability cultural competence to social service workers, but was met with many blank stares. As a disabled social worker myself, I often notice that the disability community is not recognized as a cultural group. Disability is also not considered as a social identity in diversity considerations, despite the ways the community feels about it. Frankly, our field has a long way to go when it comes to developing disability cultural competence. Let’s see if we can change that.

Why the We Need to Prioritize the Disability Community

You may be asking yourself, why all the focus on disability? Well, the disability community comprises 26 percent of the adult U.S. population – that’s one in four Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among children under the age of 18, estimates suggest that 4.3 percent of the population is disabled according to the U.S. Census from 2019. This means that social services workers are interacting with the disability community all over! It’s also important to note that disability transcends race, ethnicity, gender and other social identities, as seen in the graphic below (courtesy of Courtney-Long, Romano, Carroll, et al., 2017). So we need to remember to be intersectional in our  practice – these are not siloed communities.

Courtesy of Courtney-Long, Romano, Carroll, et al., 2017

Importance of Disability Identity

I’d like to transition now to talking about the importance of having a disability identity. Some people identify as disabled from a cultural perspective. Some people are not even aware that this is an option and you can open their eyes to the world of disability as a resource for them. In other words, for some, this is a missed opportunity to connect to a supportive network. For others, it’s a choice not to identify as disabled either due to stigma, internalized ableism or other beliefs. The idea is that developing a strong disability identity is super helpful with your long-term well-being. And in order to do this, you have to both connect with the disability community and with disability culture. So what is that?

What is Disability Culture?

 

In short, disability culture is the “sum total of behaviors, beliefs, ways of living, & material artifacts that are unique to persons affected by disability.” It’s essential for social service workers to be tuned in to disability culture so they can leverage it to connect with their clients. And let’s be clear, disability culture does NOT consist of disability service programs. Where we really see disability culture come alive is on social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram. You can follow some of the major disability culture hashtags to see the dialogues and debates that are hot in our community right now, such as: #DisabilityTwitter; #DisabilityVisability; #DisabilityAwareness; #IdentityFirst; #DisabilityLife; #Spoonie,#SpoonieLife, and more.

You may notice that the last two hashtags included the word “spoonie.” This derives from “spoon theory,” which is an actual theory based on a metaphor about how much mental and physical energy a person has to accomplish their activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The disability community talks about how many “spoons” they have as a unit of measurement of energy – and sometimes refers to themselves as spoonies. Please note that in teaching you this, I am helping you to develop your disability cultural competence.

How Build Disability Cultural Competence

Other ways to build up your disability cultural competence are to check out the Disability Visibility Project, which tells the stories of diverse members of the community in wonderful ways. And there are a range of organizations, such as Sins Invalid, which founded the disability justice movement. You can also read the 10 principles of that movement in this short document. This will help you to tune in to the disability pride movement. We have a pride month and a pride flag too, it happens in July.

When it comes to engaging in disability competent practice, we need to develop knowledge about disability culture and disability history. We can also consider taking the following steps to round out this competence:

First, we need to examine our own attitudes about disability and engage in reflective practice around that. You can consider your own implicit bias about the disability community through Harvard University’s Project Implicit test about ableism, or through social worker Vilissa Thompson’s guide to checking your own ableism.

Second, developing disability cultural competence over time also includes a careful look at the terminology we are using and respecting disabled people’s choice of identity-first language in many cases. You can read more about that here and throughout that site. The Harvard Business Review also has a thoughtful essay on why you need to stop using particular words and phrases. It’s a great resource and helpful read for many.

Third, we also need to think respectfully about disability etiquette and how ideas play out in different parts of the disability community. One should presume competence about us – all of us! We ask that you respect our bodily autonomy, speak to the person and not their companion/interpreter, ask before you help, be sensitive about physical contact/equipment contact, don’t make assumptions about capacity, listen to us, don’t assume you know better and if you are in doubt about what to do, ask! Writer Andrew Purlang sums up his disability etiquette request as follows:

  • Don’t be afraid to notice, mention, or ask about a person’s disability when it’s relevant — but don’t go out of your way!
  • Offer to help, but make sure to listen to their response, respect their answer, & follow their directions
  • Don’t tell a disabled person about how they should think about or talk about their own disability
  • Don’t give unsolicited medical, emotional, or practical advice
  • Don’t make a disabled person responsible for managing your feelings about their disability, or for your education on disability issues
  • If you make a mistake, just say you’re sorry and move on. Don’t try to argue that you were right all along.

Now What?

Taken together, these steps, learning disability culture, and examining our own attitudes about disability, go a long way towards the development of disability cultural competence. But none of it will do any good if we are not fighting for disability access and disability inclusion, which are central issues for the disability community. Many people think that issues of access were solved by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. But the implementation of that law is fraught and embattled, and there is lots of work to be done on the access front. Take a look at these simple guides below. They will go a long way in helping to engage the disability community and making us feel welcome! Above all, remember our movement’s rallying cry, “nothing about us, without us!”

Website Accessibility

Accessible Social Media Guide

Meeting Accessibility

Webinar Accessibility

Public Event Accessibility

America Has an Anger Problem – Can Better “Mental Nutrition” Fix It?

America is a pretty angry place these days. Formerly respectful spaces like school board meetings have become bitter battlegrounds. Some people are harassing healthcare workers and threatening restaurant staff for enforcing COVID protocols. Others are openly furious with the vaccine-hesitant. Everyone, wherever they stand on the (deeply divided) political playing field, is outraged about something.

Sure, anger is part of the human condition, but have things always been this bad? Elaine Parke thinks not—and she has a plan to get America the anger management tools it needs.

“We’ve stopped listening to one another because we’ve become addicted to our own narrow and sometimes selfish points of view,” says Parke, author of “The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time” (Outskirts Press, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-9772-4276-1, $21.95, www.12habits4allofus.org). “And we seem to have lost sight of the notion that we’re personally responsible for our own behavior.

“It’s way past time for us to take a collective deep breath and treat others with dignity, respect, and civility—and listen to them—whether we agree or not,” she adds. “It’s urgent that we make this shift now.”

Dialing down our ire is easier said than done. We are living in extraordinarily stressful times. But there’s more at play. Parke says we are shaped by the messages we consistently consume—and in today’s connected world, a lot of those messages come from our digital diet.

“Social media isn’t solely to blame for stoking our emotional flames—in fact, it was designed to be a source of information and to bring people together,” Parke clarifies. “But if your newsfeed is making you an angrier person, it’s on you to either log off for a few days or reassess the kind of content you’re engaging with. When we choose to focus on stories that are positive and nourishing, we go a long way toward resetting our emotional equilibrium.”

Parke’s “The Habits of Unity” is her attempt to help people take charge of what she calls their “Mental Nutrition.” Much in the same way that we (hopefully) approach the food we eat, we need to develop the discipline to make more nutritious mental choices every day. Her book’s 365 “one-magic-minute-a-day” motivationals make it easy to hardwire these choices into habit.

With her simple, doable framework for uplifting ourselves, boosting our mental health, and practicing unity, Parke hopes to get everyone focused on the same branded behavior each month. The idea is that the sheer force of all that concentrated positive energy sparks a unity revolution that rises from the ground up and sweeps the nation.

Yet, until that happens, we can leverage the power of  “The Habits of Unity” on a personal level by forming one good habit per month:

January: Help Others

February: You Count

March: Resolve Conflicts

April: Take Care of Our Environment

May: Be Grateful

June: Reach Higher

July: Become Involved

August: Know Who You Are

September: Do Your Best

October: Be Patient and Listen

November: Show a Positive Attitude

December: Celebrate Community, Family, and Friends

Those who’ve tried it say the plan is easy to put into practice. It feels good, so you’ll want to keep doing it. And there’s a ripple effect. As you become more positive, centered, and respectful, others will be drawn to you and your relationships will improve.

“As these ripples expand, they will improve the emotional climate in our country and make it easier to seek common ground, instead of lashing out,” says Parke. “But we can’t sit around waiting for others to take action. Each American must recommit to making our country a welcoming, affirming melting pot—instead of a stewing pot.”

Five Tips to Ease Kids’ Social Reentry

Tavyev’s strategies include:

Staying engaged at home. Tavyev, also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai, pointed out that kids who turned 2 or 3 during the pandemic might have little experience interacting with people who don’t have masks on. “We can’t just give up masks,” Tavyev said, “so that places more impetus on the family to disconnect from their screens and interact with children face to face.”

Trying to curb screen time. Children’s own screen time can also present a challenge. “If kids’ social interaction is being replaced with screen time, you could have exponentially more work in front of you,” said Tavyev. “You’re going to have to break that addiction before they will want to go out to do social things.”

Encouraging sports and games. Organized sports and other types of play—most of which happen outdoors—can help replace screen time and ease children back into social situations. “It’s something social, but lightly social,” said Tavyev. “It isn’t two hours of intense personal interaction, like a birthday party might be.” For children who aren’t attracted to team sports, Tavyev suggested activities such as martial arts classes or swimming, which are individual pursuits but still happen in a group. Younger children might enjoy group play with balls or parachutes, she said.

Letting younger children learn from conflict. When younger kids do come together, the occasional tussle if two reach for the same toy is a learning opportunity. “If they’ve only been interacting with friends on screens, you’re at home with your Legos and they’re at home with their Legos, so no negotiation has to take place,” Tavyev said. She recommended that parents let children older than 2 or 3 work out in-person conflicts for themselves. “Tell them you believe they can figure this out, whisper ideas and encouragement, but don’t come in and be the mediator,” she said.

Putting fears into perspective for older children. “For children who are feeling awkward and afraid at school or with peers, talk through the worst-case scenario,” Tavyev said. “Encourage them to imagine what might happen. Maybe they’re going to say something foolish. Maybe people will laugh at them. Whatever it is, play it out. Then stop and ask, ‘Was that so bad? Is that something that you truly could not recover from?'”

While some conflict, awkwardness and uncertainty is to be expected, Tavyev advised parents and teachers to be on the lookout for children determined to avoid interaction with others.

“If younger children aren’t showing an interest in their peers, and that is accompanied by language delay and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors, it’s time to seek help because those are signs of autism,” she said. “Parents should also seek help for an older child who was previously interested in social activity and seems to have lost their interest, because this might be a sign of depression.”

Tavyev also encouraged parents to take heart, because everyone is in the same boat. And while the brain’s ability to grow and change is at its height during the first three years of life, neuroplasticity persists well into adulthood.

“Social interaction, comfortable distance while talking, and all kinds of subtle, nuanced things have probably changed for billions of people around the world,” said Tavyev. “So even if children have missed out on certain social things, it could be that some of those things are going to become obsolete anyway. How will that change this generation of children? I honestly have no idea, but they’re all in it together.”

Too Many Young People Aren’t Getting the Jab – Can Music Change Their Minds?

When Frank Kilpatrick set out to convince more younger people to get the jab, he knew he’d have to overcome several roadblocks. One, young people tend to feel invincible, and thus somehow unaffected by the COVID-19 virus. Two, they aren’t moved by data that shows the benefits of vaccination. Three, they tend not to watch TV—especially the news—like older generations do. And so he and his team came up with a creative solution: Reach them through music.

“Music is a kind of language for young people,” says Kilpatrick, who has come together with a team of concerned citizens via the non-profit organization Ribbons for Research to figure out what will convince more Americans to get vaccinated. “It plays a huge role in their search for identity. It’s a powerful form of self-expression. It connects them to their tribe. So we figured, why not speak their language?”

He and his team realized the Gen Z (ages 18-24) and Millennial (ages 25-40) cohorts are vaccinated at low rates similar to those of rural Southern populations. To reach them, Kilpatrick’s team developed a focused PSA initiative with the theme “COVID-19 Is Not a Hoax.” The centerpiece of the campaign is a music single and corresponding music video titled “COVID-19 Is Hell.” It features the singer Rayko.

Kilpatrick urges media outlets to view, download, and share the single by clicking here, and asks television and radio stations to place it into high-visibility rotation in their schedules.

“The video is cool and fun and even sexy, yet carries a serious message,” says Kilpatrick. “By bringing a contemporary pop music vibe together with engaging images, we’re getting that message across in a way young people will be receptive to—all we need is the help of media outlets to share it with their audiences.”

The music video is an extension of Ribbons for Research’s initial public service announcement (PSA) campaign titled Shoulda Got the Shot. These video and radio segments feature portrayals and testimonials from real people who have been seriously ill or lost a loved one due to COVID-19.

“The idea behind the Shoulda Got the Shot PSAs and also this newest music video is to try a heartfelt, emotional, non-preachy, politically neutral approach we believe will resonate and move these groups to take action,” says Kilpatrick.

His collaborators on the projects include director Eric Mittleman, producer Linda Kilpatrick, and associate producer Rayko Takahashi.

To understand more about why Kilpatrick and team have decided to devote so much time and so many resources to creating this PSA project, here is a quick mini-interview with him:

Q: Who does the Shoulda Got the Shot campaign target?

A: We’re aiming this campaign at various underserved populations: politically polarized, lower income, minority, and rural audiences. We have a similar social media strategy aimed at the younger “party hearty” populations that feel invincible.

Q: Why is it so urgent?

A: Currently, although the numbers have improved over the past month or so, the U.S. vaccination rate isn’t where it should be. Quite simply, the more holdouts we can convince to get the shot, the more lives we’ll save.

Q: What makes this campaign different?

A: Our Shoulda Got the Shot PSA campaign doesn’t lecture its audience. It isn’t a blatant endorsement by politicians and scientists. It doesn’t tell people what to think. Our approach is based on the most proven type of human persuasion: human connection. These testimonials are raw and emotional and real. People will be more likely to trust these spokespeople in a way that they’d never trust a politician or scientist. These are people who look like them.

I mean, you can feel Martha’s anguish when her voice breaks as she talks about how her daddy died from a hole in his lung caused by COVID-19. When she goes on to encourage others to get vaccinated, it’s clear that it comes from a genuine desire to prevent suffering. These spots are incredibly compelling.

Q: So…why you? What drove you to launch this campaign?

A: First, this is a cause I deeply care about. I feel much the same way about it that I felt about the Stay Alive suicide prevention documentary film I produced 18 months ago. But also, thanks to my work in the healthcare communications field, I have many years of experience in producing these kinds of permission-based approaches that feature an appeal to community agreement. I know from experience this is a powerful strategy.

Q: How can others help?

A: Please…if you work with a TV, cable, or radio station, or have influence with any other media outlet, air these PSAs and/or the “COVID-19 Is Hell” single and video. Share this lifesaving content with your community. Call (424) 262-5570 to get copies of the spots delivered to you, or visit www.ribbonsforresearchvideo.org and www.ribbonsforresearch.org for a preview and for more information.

“We really have a lot of hope for this campaign,” adds Kilpatrick. “If we all join together to share these vital messages, we can help improve the numbers in under-vaccinated communities across the U.S. We can save lives—perhaps ultimately even our own.”

Study Casts Doubt on Theory That Women Aren’t as Competitive as Men

As researchers investigate reasons for America’s persistent gender wage gap, one possible explanation that has emerged in roughly the last decade is that women may be less competitive than men, and are therefore passed over for higher-ranking roles with larger salaries.

But a new study suggests that it’s likely not that simple. Researchers found that women enter competitions at the same rate as men – when they have the option to share their winnings with the losers.

The study, conducted by Mary L. Rigdon, associate director of the UArizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, and Alessandra Cassar, professor of economics at the University of San Francisco, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rigdon’s research involves studying how market structure, information and incentives impact behavior. Her work over the last 20 years has explored questions about trust, reciprocity, competition, altruism, cheating and more, with a particular focus on gender differences, especially the gender wage gap.

“If we’re finally going to close the gender pay gap, then we have to understand the sources of it – and also solutions and remedies for it,” said Rigdon, who is also a faculty affiliate in the Department of Political Economy and Moral Science in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

In 2021, women will earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, Rigdon said, meaning women work nearly three months extra to receive the same amount of pay. This statistic does not account for certain characteristics, such as an employee’s age, experience or level of education.

But even when considering those characteristics, women are still paid about 98 cents for every dollar earned by men, Rigdon said. In other words, a woman is paid 2% less than a man with the same qualifications.

Economists have considered a few possible explanations for this, Rigdon said. One theory, known as the “human capital explanation,” suggests that there are gender differences in certain skills, leading women to careers that pay less. Another theory – perhaps the most widely considered – is patent discrimination.

Rigdon and Cassar zeroed in on the relatively new theory that women are less competitive and less willing to take risks than men.

But if women were more reluctant to compete, then they would occupy fewer high-ranking positions at the tops of major companies, and that’s not the trend that’s taken shape over the last several years, Rigdon said. Women make up about 8% of the CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. While that number is low overall, it’s a record high.

“We thought it must be the case that women are as competitive as men, but they just exhibit it differently, so we wanted to try to get at that story and demonstrate that that is the case,” Rigdon said. “Because that’s then a very different story about the gender wage gap.”

Rigdon and Cassar randomly assigned 238 participants – split nearly evenly by gender – to two different groups for the study. Participants in each of those two groups were then randomly assigned to four-person subgroups.

For all participants, the first round of the study was the same: Each was asked to look at tables of 12 three-digit numbers with two decimal places and find the two numbers that add to 10. Participants were asked to solve as many tables as possible – up to 20 – in two minutes. Each participant was paid $2 for every table they solved in the first round.

In round two, participants were asked to do the same task, but the two groups were incentivized differently. In the first group, the two participants in each four-person team who solved the most tables earned $4 per table solved, while their other two team members were given nothing. In the other group, the top two performers of each four-person team also earned $4 per table, but they had the right to decide how much of the prize money to share with one of the lower performing participants.

In the third round, all participants were allowed to choose which payment scheme they preferred from the two previous rounds. For half the study participants, this meant a choice between a guaranteed $2 per correct table, or potentially $4 per correct table if they became one of the top-two performers in their four-person subgroup. For the other half of the participants, the choice was $2 per correct table, or $4 per correct table for the top-two performers with the option to share the winnings with one of the losing participants.

The number of women who chose the competitive option nearly doubled when given the option to share their winnings; about 60% chose to compete under that option, while only about 35% chose to compete in the winner-take-all version of the tournament.

About 51% of men in the study chose the winner-take-all option, and 52.5% chose the format that allowed for sharing with the losers.

Rigdon said she and Cassar have a few theories about why women are more inclined to compete when they can share the winnings. One suggests female participants are simply interested in controlling the way the winnings are divvied up among the other participants.

Another theory that has emerged among evolutionary psychologists, Rigdon said, suggests that female participants may be inclined to smooth over bad feelings with losers of the competition.

“We really have to ask what it is about this social incentive that drives women to compete. We think it’s recognizing the different costs and benefits that come from your different biological and cultural constraints,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I think we still have this question.”

Rigdon and Cassar are now developing an experiment that gets to the heart of that question, Rigdon said.

The researchers are careful to not propose policies for corporate America based on a line of research that still has many questions. But, Rigdon said, the latest finding suggests that corporations might do well to engage in more socially responsible activity.

“Maybe you’ll attract a different set of applicants to your CEO positions or your board of director positions,” she said. “Women might be more attracted to positions where there is this social component that isn’t there in more traditional, incentive-based firms where it’s all about CEO bonuses.”

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Permanent Twitter Ban of Extremist Influencers Can Detoxify Social Media

Banning right-wing extremists from social media can reduce the spread of anti-social ideas and conspiracy theories, according to Rutgers-led research.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interactionexamined what happens after individual influencers with large followings are banned from social media and no longer have a platform to promote their extreme views.

“Removing someone from a platform is an extreme step that should not be taken lightly,” said lead author Shagun Jhaver, an assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “However, platforms have rules for appropriate behavior, and when a site member breaks those rules repeatedly, the platform needs to take action. The toxicity created by influencers and their supporters who promote offensive speech can also silence and harm vulnerable user groups, making it crucial for platforms to attend to such influencers’ activities.”

The study examined three extremist influencers banned on Twitter: Alex Jones, an American radio host and political extremist who gained notoriety for promoting conspiracy theories; Milo Yiannopoulos, a British political commentator who became known for ridiculing Islam, feminism and social justice; and Owen Benjamin, an American “alt-right” actor, comedian and political commentator who promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anti-LGBT views.

The researchers analyzed more than 49 million tweets referencing the banned influencers, tweets referencing their offensive ideas, and all tweets posted by their supporters six months before and after they were removed from the platform.

Once they were denied social media access, posts referencing each influencer declined by almost 92 percent. The number of existing users and new users specifically tweeting about each influencer also shrank significantly, by about 90 percent.

The bans also significantly reduced the overall posting activity and toxicity levels of supporters. On average, the number of tweets posted by supporters reduced by 12.59 percent and their toxicity declined by 5.84 percent. This suggests that de-platforming can improve the content quality on the platform.

Researchers say the study indicates that banning those with extremist views who are promoting conspiracy theories minimizes contentious conversations by their supporters. The data from the study will help social media platforms make more informed decisions about whether and when to implement bans, which has been on the rise as a moderation strategy.

“Many people continue to raise concerns about the financial benefits from advertising dollars tied to content that spreads misinformation or conducts harassment,” said Jhaver. “This is an opportunity for platforms to clarify their commitment to its users and de-platform when appropriate. Judiciously using this strategy will allow platforms to address the problem of online radicalization, a worthy goal to pursue even if it leads to short-term loss in advertising dollars.”

Future research is needed to examine the interactions between online speech, de-platforming and radicalization and to identify when it would be appropriate to ban users from social media sites.

Public Health and Art

The Rutgers School of Public Health and the Mason Gross School of the Arts have launched a collaboration to support community-engagedarts-integrated research projects that will result in performances or productions of art.

The projects, led by teams made up of faculty from both schools, include Pilates workshops, photo series, and oral history performances.

Devin English, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Frederick Curry, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Dance, will examine the psychosocial impact of Polestar Pilates classes in three socioeconomically diverse public high schools in New Jersey. English and Curry hope that their intervention will help address anxiety and depression, which is experienced by nearly 70 percent of U.S. teens.

To address HIV-related stigma, Ashley Grosso, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Jacqueline Thaw, associate professor and director of the Master of Fine Arts program in design in the Department of Art & Design, will use Photovoice, a research method that engages people to create, discuss, and share photographs of their own lived experience. This approach is meant to raise awareness about the complex realities that marginalized populations confront. The team will focus on gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, and who HIV-related stigma often hinders from seeking, or from receiving, treatment and preventative care.

Resilience and HIV/AIDS researchers Kristen Krause, instructor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Stephanie Shiau, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, will work with Jeff Friedman, associate professor in the Department of Dance, to develop an oral history workshop and performance by people living with HIV/AIDS. Their project aims to explore biopsychosocial health outcomes and resilience in both oral history documentary interviews and via a performance of dance or movement.

“These collaborative projects exemplify how the arts and humanities can work effectively with public health to advance the work in each of these disciplines,” says Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “The work that Rutgers School of Public Health faculty are enacting with Mason Gross School of Arts faculty are indicative of the inter-and multidisciplinary efforts that must define all of our work if we are to have maximum effectiveness in our endeavors to advance health equity and the well-being of all people and populations.”

The projects will aim to address some of the five urgent public health issues, which include social exclusion and isolation, chronic disease, racism, mental health, and collective trauma, identified as priorities for cross-sector work in ae report issued by the Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America Initiative.

“These projects illustrate the power of collaboration and highlight the role that the arts can play in helping shape public health outcomes,” says Jason Geary, dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The challenges that we face as a global society are so profound and interconnected that they demand insights from every perspective, and that’s where the arts can be transformative in so many ways.”

“The Rutgers School of Public Health is excited to provide seed funding in support of interdisciplinary cross-university collaboration to promote public health through artistic mediums,” says Katie Zapert, director of research at the Rutgers School of Public Health, who developed the call for project proposals.

How Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Schools Prepares Young People to Thrive in a Multiracial Society

Debates about the value and meaning of public education are not just about report cards and standardized test scores. The hope is that public education will equip youth with what they need to reach their full potential and flourish as the next generation of citizens. To achieve this goal, most people realize that public schools need to teach students to navigate their social environments, contribute positively to their communities, and live and work cooperatively with others in the increasingly complex and diverse society.

But there is growing evidence that the United States is falling far short of this goal. Segregation and racial isolation mark most U.S. public schools. Nationally, most White students attend schools that are more than 70 percent White; and in some regions, nearly half of Black and Latino students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority and overwhelmingly poor.

The promise of diverse, integrated schools was asserted in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Since then the social science supporting school integration has only become stronger, revealing the many ways in which contact between young people from different racial and ethnic groups can transform attitudes and prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.

Building Relationships Across Groups Promotes Inclusion & Social Cohesion

Researchers have found many ways to foster inclusive schools:

  • Cross-race friendships are especially powerful because emotional bonds form that transform people’s understandings of social relations and make them more motivated to treat members of their friends’ groups as they would treat people in their own group.
  • Cooperative learning strategies promote both academic success and positive intergroup attitudes. These involve having youth from different groups work together and learn from each other, with support from teachers and school staff.
  • Norms provide youth with important values about cross-group relations. Students often become more willing to engage in contact with other racial groups when they observe others doing so in their classrooms, schools, and communities, as well as in the media.

Why Contact With Other Racial & Ethnic Groups is Important for Youth

Children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences. Once formed, attitudes and beliefs about other groups may become harder to change as youth grow older.

Of course, youth must have opportunities to get to know and interact with members of other racial groups for such meaningful cross-race bonds to develop – and diverse schools offer more of these opportunities. Studies of youth in integrated school environments show that those who learn in such schools report greater interest in living and working in racially and ethnically diverse environments when they become adults, and are more likely actually to do so as adults. By contrast, racially isolated schools may limit opportunities for youth to challenge skewed perceptions and assumptions about people from other racial groups.

Connecting Intergroup Relations to Education Policy

Providing opportunities for interracial contact in integrated schools and classrooms is critical for youth development and efforts to foster a just and vibrant nation. With insights from social science, racially integrated schools and classrooms have important roles to play, if the following principles are followed:

  • Ensure that practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easier to achieve. Many structures reinforce segregation between communities, schools, and classrooms, limiting both the frequency and quality of intergroup contact students can experience. At the federal, state and district levels, these structures can include school zone and district boundaries, narrow definitions of school quality, and limited interventions to support racial integration. Inside schools, practices like tracking that separate students into different classes based on test performance can lead to racial isolation. Viewing education policies and practices through the lens of maximizing intergroup contact may lead to reforms in how school enrollments and class assignments are designed.
  • Prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact. Clearly, dismantling the effects of segregation cannot be solely the purview of schools. Yet by recognizing the value of racially integrated classrooms as part of the learning environment, schools can support cross-racial contact and engage families and communities as active partners in building inclusive educational environments. Educators, communities, and students can work together to develop a shared vision of racially integrated schools and advocate for the resources and school conditions needed to support that vision.

As the nation faces rapidly shifting demographics amid rising social tensions, public schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring young people together across racial and ethnic lines. Guided by scientific research and civic imperatives, policymakers and other civic leaders can make use the public education system to build bridges and knock down barriers that divide youth from diverse backgrounds in classrooms and schools across the country. By helping children and youth from diverse backgrounds build positive ties with one another, diverse schools can lead the way toward a more successful national future.

What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach us About Empowering the Disability Community

Are you a fan of “Bachelor in Paradise?” Whether you realize it or not, this season of the “Bachelor” franchise spinoff took on the topic of disability empowerment. Which is not exactly an expected topic for mainstream television. For years, the “Bachelor” series has been criticized for featuring primarily White contestants, and has worked to diversify the races and ethnicities of the people they draw on the show. But what about people from the disability community or people who identify as Deaf or hard-of-hearing?

Being disabled or Deaf or hard of hearing are also social identities in American culture – identities that should not be overlooked in the show’s representation. These communities represent what some refer to as the largest minority community in the United States at 26 percent of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the following, we’ll discuss more about why this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” was so significant and what that may mean for social workers.

Introducing Abigail

A few years ago, we did have Sarah Herron on the show, a woman with a physical disability, although her presence was short-lived. But this season, the very first person down the stairs to the Mexican beachfront hacienda was Abigail Heringer, a 26 year-old woman who identifies as Deaf due to congenital hearing loss from birth. She received cochlear implants at the age of two but does consider herself disabled due to her hearing impairment and loss. Abigail was a central figure in this summer’s Bachelor in Paradise due to her romance with Noah Erb.

It was refreshing to see a disabled person in a romantic relationship given the history our culture has of thinking that disabled folks are asexual, incapable of having sex or in need of being protected from any kind of sexual contact. Abigail and Noah’s relationship has played out on television screens across Bachelor Nation – from their devastating breakup at the show’s conclusion to their rekindled romance announced subtly on social media later. This demonstrates that members of the disability community have relationships too, and that this is 100% normative behavior, with breakups, glitches, awkwardness, kissing and all!

The Dignity of Risk

So how does this relate to social work practice? One of the central tenets of good disability social work is how we need to honor the concept of the dignity of risk. This is the idea that everyone can learn from everyday risks. Central to honoring the dignity of risk is respecting an individual’s autonomy and self-determination to make choices. Also important, is the right for our clients to make choices even if social workers or other professionals in the person’s life feel that they could endanger the decision-maker in question. In order to respect a person’s dignity of risk, one should provide intermittent support even if others do not approve of the choice.

As there is inherent dignity in the experience of everyday risk, this concept suggests that limiting a disabled person’s ability to make even a risky choice, or limiting their access to the learning that comes along with a potentially emotionally painful risk, such as dating, does not foster overall wellness in the long run. Abigail, from this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is a wonderful example of the kind of empowerment needed, rather than sheltering one from risks in life.

Robert Perske famously wrote:

“Overprotection may appear on the surface to be kind, but it can be really evil. An oversupply can smother people emotionally, squeeze the life out of their hopes and expectations, and strip them of their dignity. Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become…”

Arguably, the dignity of risk may be among the most challenging tenets for social workers to embrace in their practice, but it is vital to accept given its intersection with self-determination. The dignity of risk also involves learning about the part of life that involves sexual and romantic relationships. Social workers need to remember to talk to their clients about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner. It is important not to cut off conversations about this topic, or to skirt the subject when it comes up. We must also support our clients in exploring how to engage in healthy relationships when they have the opportunities to be in them.

It’s wonderful that Abigail Heringer can be a model in reminding us of this important lesson for empowerment-oriented disability social work. One that embraces the dignity of risk for those who wish to date! With that being said, here’s to Noah and Abigail’s relationship!

Among Physicians, Men Make More Than Women: How Do We Change That?

It’s striking and familiar. A new report finds women physicians across all races and ethnicities earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, women physicians earn between 67 cents and 77 cents on the dollar compared to white men physicians.

This new data, which comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, reinforces that academic medicine must find a better approach to how they pay physicians, write Amy S. Gottlieb, M.D., and Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., in a New England Journal of Medicine perspective that lays out potential strategies to close the gender pay gap in academic medicine.

“The way we pay physicians in this country is a process in desperate need of improvement. Within our traditional way of compensating physicians, the structure is really a crucible in which all the forces that diminish women’s professional value within our institutions converge,” said Gottlieb, chief faculty development officer at Baystate Health and associate dean for faculty affairs at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate.

It’s a novel approach to considering the problem: understand the drivers beneath the standards for determining a physician’s pay and how they contribute to this persistent salary inequity, then create a new paradigm that’s aligned with institutional values and contributions from both genders.

“We need to reframe the conversation,” said Jagsi, director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.

“When you consider the primary factors that influence a physician’s salary, women are disadvantaged on every front. This model expects women to have privileges they often lack but that their male colleagues typically take for granted – access to support staff and clinical space, adequate sponsorship and opportunities to take on leadership positions. At the same time, the traditional approach to pay undervalues the types of service disproportionately expected from women,” she added.

The authors recommend institutions begin by conducting salary audits, looking in particular at hiring and promotions. Salary recommendations above or below a standard amount could be brought to a compensation board for approval, a process that would ensure no one is overpaid or underpaid.

In addition, realigning productivity-based metrics to include quality of care or institutional service would recognize important contributions where women often succeed. The authors also recommend unconscious-bias training for anyone involved in recruitment, hiring, evaluation, promotion and salary setting.

“Institutions have to start somewhere and do something. Getting the data, tracking the data, reflecting on what is in their compensation methodology that could be leading to these inequities would be a great first step,” Gottlieb said.

Why Independent Redistricting Commissions Should Draw Electoral District Maps

The drawing and redrawing of electoral districts – which happens every ten years after the Census – is a hotly contested ritual in American politics. At the center of these disputes is partisan gerrymandering, a process in which elected officials draw electoral districts to increase the likelihood their own party will win more seats in the legislature. The redistricting cycle following the 2010 Census has cast a bright light on such practices. After most states drew districts to one party’s advantage, some 240 legal challenges have been filed against the resulting district maps. Critics of partisan gerrymandering are pushing for more neutral ways to draw electoral districts, while defenders of the current system argue that redistricting is always an inherently political exercise.

Are there ways to ensure that districts fairly represent communities and avoid extreme political contentiousness about the drawing and redrawing electoral districts? My research shows that independent commissions present one viable option for eliminating extreme partisanship and serving the public interest in drawing neutral maps.

Renewed Interest in Districting by the Courts

On one hand, the courts have been willing to step in and strike down maps that dilute the ability of a minority group to elect a representative, or when a map violates the standard of equal population. On the other hand, the courts have been reluctant to overturn maps on partisan grounds. While judges have expressed unease about district maps drawn to favor one party over another, they have been unable to articulate an objective standard for evaluating when these maps create unfair advantages for one party over another.

Recent legal challenges, though, may present the courts with sufficient evidence to evaluate the partisan skew in a given district plan. The Supreme Court recently heard a case from Wisconsin where the legislative map was challenged, in part, because social scientists have developed a new set of indicators that suggested the map unfairly advantaged the Republican party. One such indicator, called “the efficiency gap,” is the ratio of a party’s “wasted votes” to the total number of votes cast – where a “wasted vote” is a ballot cast for a candidate who lost or a surplus ballot cast for a candidate who was already going to win. When the efficiency gap is very large, it indicates that one party wasted a large portion of its votes, often because the districts were unfairly drawn. Evidence of a large efficiency gap was persuasive enough that a lower court declared the Wisconsin map unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also heard a challenge to one congressional district in Maryland on the grounds that Republican voters were deprived of First Amendment rights to free association by a district plan that advantaged the Democratic Party.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently threw out the congressional map there and drew a new map for the 2018 midterm elections. In a novel development in redistricting litigation, the map was rejected solely on the basis that it violated sections of the state constitution, with no reference to the U.S. Constitution. This decision could usher in a new era of state-level judicial review of district plans, realizing Justice Felix Frankfurter’s famous concern about the courts entering the “political thicket” of adjudicating district plans. Perhaps the most tangible risk is that the state courts could be inundated with partisan challenges to redistricting plans.

Why Independent Commissions Make Sense

Rather than depend on the courts, history teaches that independent commissions can help avoid partisan conflicts or favoritism in district plans. Examples abound. Concerns that elected officials might manipulate monetary policy led to the creation of the independent Federal Reserve, and the Interstate Commerce Commission was set up to parry interferences by partisan and railroad interests. Congress handed reapportionment authority to the Census Bureau after politicians failed to reapportion the House after the 1920 Census.

The power to draw districts after each Census could be delegated to an independent redistricting commission. As they exist in Arizona and California, such commissions are completely divorced from the state legislature and therefore able to produce maps without the pressure to further or hinder the electoral fortunes of particular representatives or parties. Such concerns are always front and center when legislatures draw district plans. In contrast, social science research shows that commission-drawn plans set the stage for fairer and more competitive elections, and tend to avoid legal challenges.

How can the states institute independent redistricting commissions? Citizens in Arizona and California created their independent commissions directly, through ballot initiatives passed between 2000 and 2010. Most commissions in the West were created through ballot initiatives. Efforts to reform the redistricting process are currently underway in 18 states, and the possibility of creating independent redistricting commissions should be part of these discussions.

But many states cannot proceed by ballot initiatives or referenda. Creating an independent commission in Pennsylvania, for example, would require two consecutive legislatures to pass an identical bill which would then be submitted to the voters for their approval. Beyond a purely state-by-state approach, Congress could amend the Uniform Congressional District Act of 1967 and mandate that all U.S. House districts be drawn by an independent commission with rules and procedures to safeguard the public interest – such as having unelected civil servants select commission members and stipulating that districts must respect the integrity of cities and counties. New federal legislation could take lessons from pioneering states. The Arizona and California commissions demonstrate the value of independence, but the Arizona commission in particular focuses too much attention on a single nonpartisan commission chair. The California commission, by contrast, has four members of the commission that are neither Democrats nor Republicans and the position of the chair rotates among all members.

The “Money in Politics” Debate and Effective Ways to Improve Local Democracy in America

Ideally, local governments as the smallest jurisdictions in the American political system allow citizens to engage in a direct and substantive way. Local elections are one way this happens, as citizens select about half a million elected officials, one for every 450 adults, to serve in more than 85,000 U.S. local governments. But despite their potential to serve as entry points for average citizens, local elections suffer from the same campaign issues as state and national elections, including issues about the role of money in politics. And reform efforts to date have not done enough to limit the impact of resource disparities among contending candidates.

The Role of Money in U.S. Elections – Including Local Elections

Past research on money in U.S. electoral politics has concluded that raising campaign money is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Very few candidates win without spending at least some threshold amount, but spending more than the opponent does not guarantee victory. Candidates cannot actually “buy” an election by spending exorbitant amounts.

These patterns hold true for most local elections as well. Even though the raw dollar amounts are less, on a per-voter basis local elections are just as expensive as state or national contests. In other words, local candidates spend just as much money communicating their message to each voter. In most mid-sized and large cities, candidates need to assemble campaign funds to be competitive. Only in the smallest cities and towns – those with less than 10,000 registered voters – do candidates routinely run successful campaigns without campaign funds. Similarly to state and national elections, though, raising more money than opponents is not decisive. Wealthy, high-spending candidates are common on a local level, but they do not have a great track record of electoral success. A sizable minority of local election victors – perhaps slightly over one-third – prevail despite being outspent by their opponents.

Although it’s easier for candidates to jump into races, local elections are not more competitive than state or national elections – and most local as well as higher-level incumbents win re-election (in one study, 80% of city council incumbents win). In general, local elections resemble state and national contests. Except in scattered small places, they do not live up to their potential to be grassroots, citizen-driven affairs where money has little relevance.

Campaign Finance Reforms at the Local Level

Some cities have implemented campaign finance reforms to limit the influence of money – but without much-proven success:

  • New York and Los Angeles have public matching fund programs lauded by reformers to provide public funding to candidates who accept voluntary expenditure limits. The intent of these programs is to reduce the amount of money in elections, level the playing field, and encourage more candidates to run. However, there is scant evidence that public matching funds have much effect. After a typical “novelty effect” in the first election reforms were put in place, similar numbers of candidates run in contests that are about equally competitive. Incumbents win just as often. And candidates circumvent limits by relying on independent spending by outside groups.
  • Similarly, although legal contribution limits may reduce the number of large donations given directly to local candidates, there is little evidence that they reduce the overall amounts of money in local elections. Candidates find ways around such limits through independent group expenditures or by “bundling” contributions from multiple donors.
  • It is still too early to draw firm conclusions from Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program, which provides four twenty-five dollar vouchers to every registered voter, so that he or she can donate to participating City Council candidates. The program started in 2017, and after the novelty effect wears off, it may run into the same problems as public funding programs: many candidates may choose not to participate; the funding may not be enough to run competitive campaigns; and independent expenditures may be used to skirt the intent of the law.

Better Paths Forward

So what can be done to reduce harmful influences of money in local elections? To answer this question, problems must first be accurately diagnosed. Local candidates need money to pay for advertising, the single largest expenditure for most local candidates. Because so few voters pay much attention to local races, candidates really do need resources to get their messages out. Realistic and effective reforms could aim to reduce, not just donations, but candidates’ need to pay for advertising. Efforts to limit money in local elections are bound to fail without addressing the underlying reasons candidates must raise and spend campaign funds in the first place.

Public funding – whether matching funds, “clean elections,” or Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers – addresses the need to pay for advertising by providing taxpayer subsidies to candidates. Even though this is a reasonable approach, the voluntary nature of these programs limits their effectiveness. Some candidates may join these programs and accept their rules to get public funding so they can advertise, but many may choose to rely on private donations instead. What is more, there is little public appetite for diverting taxpayer money to candidates who fill voters’ emails and mailboxes with appeals and flyers.

A better approach is to reform campaign finance not by limiting the amount of money candidates raise and spend, but by reducing the need for candidates to pay for advertising. This means finding ways to engage citizens in local elections or providing more, and better, information to those who are engaged – or both. So far, efforts such as registration drives and voter information websites have not shown much promise. But there are other experiments that can be tried to enhance local democracy. For example, elections might become more interesting if they involved events to let citizens deliberate over contentious local issues or hear solutions to local problems offered by community groups. Candidates could be asked to reply. Even though it is not clear what can be done to reduce the need for candidates to use paid advertising, reformers should turn their attention to that key expense. Maybe money donated in local politics is not as much the issue as how money is used – and should be used – to maximize citizen interest and engagement.

The Jon Gruden Case and Why the NFL Still Isn’t Serious About Social Justice

On October 11th, the National Football League (NFL) community was shocked when news surfaced that Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden announced his resignation just five weeks into the season. Gruden was one of the most high-profile figures in the NFL over the last 20 years, serving both as a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and Monday Night Football Commentator. His resignation came after a slew of emails sent by him were made public that included a racial trope, antigay language, and a generally wide range of hurtful and insensitive rhetoric. The news was groundbreaking and hard to fathom for many who had beloved Gruden over the years, but there’s more to the story. The focus has rightfully been exclusively on Gruden and his fall-from-grace. Still, the lens of judgment has failed to focus on the multi-billion-dollar organization that has facilitated such behavior for far too long: the NFL. In the following, we’ll break down the necessary details of the Gruden case and why his resignation was essential. But we’ll also take a look into the NFL and what this case means for an organization that has a lousy track record of failing to support social justice issues, its players, and what’s morally right.

Details of the Case

As tends to be the norm in situations like this, there are many moving parts and details that are perhaps too complex to cover for this piece. With that being said, we must understand the chain of events here to better comprehend the whole picture.

From a public perspective, the Gruden ordeal began on October 8th, just a few days before his resignation. That Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing that the NFL was investigating Gruden for using a racial trope in a 2011 email to describe the NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith. Additionally, WSJ also reported that the NFL had been analyzing over 650,000 emails as part of their investigation that had begun back in June of 2021. The NFL’s investigation was spawned from a separate investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct – a perhaps even more disturbing case if you’re unfamiliar.

In part of the NFL’s investigation, they came across the initial email in question, sent to then Washington Team President Bruce Allen. At this point, the NFL stated that the investigation had been launched under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Goodell had then received a summary of the inquiry earlier in the week the story was published. The NFL also stated that it was sharing emails related to Gruden to the Las Vegas Raiders, who then employed him as their Head Coach.

The WSJ story broke headlines and sent a shockwave throughout the league. Many instantly began calling for Gruden’s resignation and action from the NFL. However, the NFL simply stated at the time that it was reviewing Gruden’s status for potential discipline. Gruden went on to coach his team’s game that Sunday, and it seemed as if a suspension, at best, was looming in the near future for Gruden. But then Monday came around.

On October 11th, The New York Times reported that Gruden was cited using anti-transgender, antigay, and much more offensive language in additional email correspondence with Bruce Allen for several years. Once again, the story shook up the league, and it seemed inevitable that Gruden would not escape this one. By the end of the day, Gruden met with the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and would shortly thereafter announce his resignation as Head Coach.

A Word on Gruden

Before we look at this issue in a broader scope, we must be clear on Jon Gruden and his fate. Without question, his fall-from-grace was well-deserved, and he certainly doesn’t belong on an NFL sideline, now or ever again, for that matter. Gruden was a beloved coach and personality for many years, but no resume or persona outweigh actions. If we’re serious about shifting societal norms and scales of what’s accepted and not, then individuals who engage in such behavior must be dealt with in such a fashion. But with that being said, there’s a bigger issue at play here that hasn’t gotten enough press, and that’s the continued incompetency and lack of authenticity from the NFL to take social justice issues and questions of morality seriously in favor of the bottom line.

The NFL’s Culpability

Let’s start with the case in question. For starters, it’s a bit questionable that an investigation of emails, especially once the initial one was found, took nearly five months. According to the NFL, it took from June to the second week of October for a summary of the investigation’s findings to be presented to the Commissioner, the same one who supposedly launched the investigation in the first place. Even if this is true, it shows a severe lack of legitimate and effective protocols in place at the NFL to take matters like this as seriously as possible. Five months is far too long for a multi-billion-dollar organization that claims these issues are among their top priorities.

Then there’s the inaction after the initial story. Gruden faced no discipline, not even an indefinite leave of absence when the initial racist email was made public. For a league that has recently launched a massive social justice campaign that allows players to wear decals such as “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” and more, it’s highly problematic that they let Gruden go on to coach a game just a few days later. Plus, they hadn’t even met with and briefed the team that employed Gruden as their Head Coach: the Las Vegas Raiders.

The way this whole case played out and the lack of action from the NFL is concerning, to say the least. It begs the question, what happens if the second story never came out? Better yet, what about the first? It makes one seriously wonder if this issue would’ve ever seen the light of day. When it comes to racism or any form of hate for that matter, we all know by now that it takes more than just being opposed to the actions; you have to be anti-racist, anti-hate, and do more than just launch a multi-million-dollar PR campaign. I said before, and I’ll say it again, nothing outweighs actions here. And once again, the actions, or lack thereof, show that the NFL is still miles behind in taking social justice issues seriously.

Closing Remarks

It may seem as if the criticism of the NFL is perhaps too harsh for just this one incident, but the point is, it’s not just one incident. The way the NFL handled the Colin Kaepernick situation and players kneeling during the national anthem is a perfect example of a league that has failed to evolve and support its players above all. This is the same league that has banned multiple players for over a year for Marijuana usage, yet they hesitated with Jon Gruden. This is also the same league that has repeatedly shown that they don’t take domestic violence or sexual misconduct actions seriously either. The NFL has a bad track record when it comes to how they handle social justice issues, and if this case proves anything, it’s that they haven’t seemed to learn much of a lesson. A PR campaign might inspire some change, and we can all support that, but when your actions don’t reflect your words, then words mean nothing.

How Health & Fitness Businesses Are Flexing Their Muscles For Customers Right Now

We’re all public health nerds now, and many of us have stepped up our games when it comes to washing our hands and sanitizing surfaces at home. With all the added stressors that come along with global pandemics, it can be easy to let health and fitness goals slip.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has even issued guidance encouraging people to stay on top of their physical wellness during the crisis.

Whether you’re running and walking your favorite local trails or jumping into virtual fitness classes and yoga sessions, there’s a lot you can do to take advantage of that extra time you like to have at home these days.

How Health & Fitness Companies Have Stepped Up During The Crisis

The good news about those health and fitness goals: You’re not alone.

Many health and fitness companies have pivoted and are now offering free or low-cost digital services to customers. It’s now easier than ever before to get your virtual workout on.

Here are a few of the health and fitness providers dishing out new offerings during the pandemic:

Down Dog

This very well-rounded digital fitness company has made all of its apps completely free for new users until June 1st. You don’t even need a credit card to sign-up.

If yoga is your scene, check out Down Dog and Yoga for Beginners.

If you’re in the market for a more intense workout, check out free offerings from Barre and HIIT to 7 Minute Workout.

The folks at Down Dog are even going a step further to give students and teachers (K-12 and college) free access until July 1st. Just register your school’s domain here.

Last but certainly not least, Down Dog has given free access to all healthcare professionals until July 1st as well. Healthcare workers just need to go here to register using their work domain.

Peloton

If hitting the local bike trails isn’t an option, Peloton offers a virtual option. The very popular app is now offering free 90-day subscriptions to its at-home workout app.  

Unfortunately, a fancy new bike is not included.

Balance

There’s never been a better time to find your zen. If meditation is your thing, check out the Balance app. They’re offering a 1-year free subscription right now. Sometimes finding a quiet spot and stepping away from the news is just what the doctor ordered.

The Big Brands: Under Armour, Nike, Lululemon, and REI

The bigger athletic brands are arguably a bit more resilient. They’ve got the capital to weather this storm.

How they choose to manage through the crisis speaks volumes, though. Protecting the health of customers and workers becomes paramount. Here’s how they’ve responded:

  • Under Armour has temporarily closed stores while continuing to pay employees.
  • Nike has closed stores and continues to pay workers’ full wages during closure. The company is also offering remote work for non-store employees.
  • Lululemon has closed all of its North American and European stores and their employees will continue to be paid.
  • REI has closed its stores and will continue to pay all of its employees. The REI blog also offers a wide array of DIY and #stayathome tips for families and outdoor enthusiasts to make the most of isolation.

10 Gyms And Fitness Studios With Free Offerings

While many studios and gyms that deliver on-site fitness classes and personal training have been particularly hard hit, they’re also working to keep people engaged and connected to their physical health goals.

From free classes and workouts to streaming sessions on major social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, these brands are tossing out free digital fitness deals:

  1. YMCA: 95 free virtual workouts
  2. Planet Fitness: Free, streamed Facebook classes
  3. Blink Fitness: Facebook Live sessions weekdays at 8 a.m. ET
  4. Orangetheory: New 30-minute workout video each day
  5. 305 Fitness: Cardio dance live streams twice daily on YouTube
  6. Gold’s Gym: Variety of free digital workouts
  7. Retro Fitness: Free daily Facebook Live stream classes weekdays at 6 p.m.
  8. Life Time: Free workout classes to stream for free with more added daily
  9. Barry’s Bootcamp: 20-minute bodyweight workouts live on Instagram for free
  10. CorePower Yoga: Free access to yoga and meditation classes

That’s certainly enough to keep even the fittest among us busy for a while.

Why Health & Fitness Companies Are Changing How They Operate

Along with the WHO, the American College of Sports Medicine knows a thing or two about public health.

They recommend keeping up and even bolstering physical fitness regimens to ensure that one’s immune system is performing at peak strength. Of course, a virus is a virus and this doesn’t make one immune to it. 

But at the very least staying fit and active will keep your spirits up and help you fight off the impact of stress during the crisis. The health and fitness companies listed above can help with that in many ways.

Take advantage of those offers out there and stay healthy!

How Being Kind to Others Make You Feel Better

You know that being kind to others is good for the recipient (obviously), but did you know that it’s also good for the giver, too? Yep, that’s right. Being kind to others will improve your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Here are six reasons that being kind to others makes you feel better, plus ideas for acts of kindness:

It boosts your positive emotions.

Being kind to others releases feel-good hormones like dopamine. Part of the brain’s reward system, these hormones make us feel happy and satisfied and are associated with pleasurable activities such as sex and eating good food. It also makes you more alert, focused and motivated, so being nice to a coworker could be the boost that you need to make it through a tough day at work.

It lowers your stress levels.

Helping others can create an emotional buffer that protects you from stressful events. One study of 77 adults found that those who reported higher-than-normal helping behaviors showed no dips in positive emotion or mental health, and they had lower increases in negative emotion in response to high daily stress. This is probably tied to the release of dopamine as well as the social connections that being kind creates.

It helps you build relationships.

Humans follow a behavior pattern called the norm of reciprocity, whereby we tend to reciprocate similar actions. If someone is kind to us, we’re inclined to be kind back—but if they’re mean, we’ll act in a similarly snippy way. Of course, no one follows the norm of reciprocity in all interactions, but being kind to others does increase the chances that they’ll be kind to you in return. Since it’s pretty hard to build a relationship on trading insults, this helps you shore up your friendships and acquaintances.

It reduces anxiety and depression.

Both the release of dopamine and building social connections have been shown to reduce or prevent signs of mental illness like depression and anxiety. Stress can be another trigger for these conditions, especially anxiety, so being kind helps to address them from another angle, too. While being kind to others is no substitute for going to therapy or taking necessary medications, it can be another tool in your toolbox to manage depression and anxiety.

It can improve your physical health.

Being kind isn’t just good for you physically and mentally. It’s also good for your body. In one study, writing small notes of affection to loved ones was found to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol in college students. Other research has indicated that people who devote more time to meaningfully helping others have less inflammation. Not only that, their immune system is also better able to fight off infections. Who knows? Maybe being kind to your coworkers will help you ward off that office cold!

It creates a positive feedback loop.

Being kind to others doesn’t just make both them and you feel good. Thanks to the norm of reciprocity, it also makes them more likely to be kind to you back, which makes you more likely to be kind to them again–and on and on in a cycle of positivity. Your act of kindness may have positive ripple effects that you can’t even conceive of.

At this point, you’re probably wondering about different ways to be kind to others. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Volunteering. Find a charitable organization that champions a cause that means a lot to you and offer to donate your time to them. Even if you’ve never volunteered before, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to hand out meals at a soup kitchen or clear trash from the local river. If you do have more professional talents you’d like to put to use, you can offer to provide them pro bono. Many nonprofits often need help in business areas such as finance and marketing.
  • Give gifts. A small gift such as a scented candle or a potted plant can really make someone’s day. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. For example, give someone who loves books a candle that smells like a library. You can also make them something by hand, or simply drop a card in the mail with a heartfelt note. 
  • Do extra chores. Almost nobody likes doing chores, so your family, friends and coworkers are sure to appreciate it when you take care of their tasks for them. Even if it’s not your turn, offer to do the dishes, take out the trash and recycling, vacuum the floors, clean out the fridge, mow the lawn or whatever needs to be done. Or better yet, don’t tell them you’re going to do it so they get a nice surprise.
  • Offer emotional support. Sometimes what your loved one needs the most is a listening ear as they vent or cry. Do your best to listen attentively to them without interrupting. Offer validation when appropriate, but otherwise just let them talk instead of butting in with advice or a relevant anecdote from your life. Your loved one probably needs to emotionally process things before they can receive that kind of information.
  • Express yourself. On the flipside, sometimes we don’t communicate our love and appreciation for people enough. You know in your head that you’re thankful for your friends helping you move. But did you actually tell them? It’s very easy to say “thank you” or compliment someone, and it will mean a lot to them–so do it!
  • Donate money. Of course, donating to a charitable cause or nonprofit organization is a great way to be kind. However, you don’t have to be so formal about it. For instance, you can send money via Patreon to an artist whose work you admire, or Venmo a friend who needs a little cash to tide them over until their first paycheck arrives.

Helping others will make you and others feel better–a win-win situation. If you’re feeling down, try being kind to your coworkers or helping out a friend, and odds are that it will help cheer you up as well.

Depressed Kids Do Not Have A Look – Identifying Children in Crisis

As the lead social worker in charge of the behavioral health screening protocol at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, Jessica Williams, MSS, LCSW is responsible for educating clinicians, staff, and families about the one thing they can do to identify kids in crisis: ask them the right questions. “Kids that appear to be depressed, whatever you think that might look like, they might not actually be depressed,” she explains. “And sometimes the kid with a suicide plan has tons of friends and makes straight A’s. We can’t make assumptions based on how a child appears.” As “champion” of the behavioral health screening protocol, Williams manages and evaluates the program, working concurrently with stakeholders at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families.

The program, which went live in November of 2017, aims to screen all patients 12 years of age and older who are admitted to the emergency room. The protocol is first triggered when a nurse receives a best practice alert (BPA) for an eligible patient in the EMR. The nurse then asks the patients to complete a behavioral health assessment on an iPad using a software program called BH-Works. The web-based survey asks patients questions to identify risk level for things like depression, trauma, substance use disorder, bullying, abuse, and suicidal ideation. Responses are automatically scored, summarized, and ready for review in the EMR, helping providers determine when a patient requires additional support. As a licensed clinical social worker, Williams is one of the team members who provides in-person clinical mental health assessments for patients who screen positive for risk.

Williams trains all staff and providers who interact with the BH-Works tool in some way. This roster includes about 150 nurses, social workers, attending physicians, fellows, residents, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. Additionally, Williams educates ancillary staff who may not interact directly with the tool, but who need to understand the screening process. This includes child life specialists, unit clerks, flow supervisors, and nursing leadership. When Williams joined the ED team in early 2019, she was tasked with reaching out individually to each associate, confirming they knew about the protocol and understood their part in the process.

In addition to reaching out to individual staff members, Williams attends huddle meetings to answer questions, listen to feedback, and share case examples. One of the cases she talks about regularly involves a patient who was put into the fast track section of the ER for a sports injury. When the teen was screened before discharge, he was flagged for critical risk. The teen was severely depressed, experiencing current suicidal ideation, and had made a suicide plan. Hearing these types of stories helped the ER team understand the importance of the protocol. “Initially, the nurses and providers were surprised by those patient stories,” she recalls. “Surprised at first that the protocol was working, and then surprised there were so many kids at risk.”

Williams wanted to help her associates through the inevitable growing pains of a new workflow, so she began troubleshooting issues with the help of an interdisciplinary team, working through a process she coined “collaborative implementation.” Her team actively involved providers and fellow associates as they worked to address kinks in the technology, workflows, and communication plan. “Sure, they know that they have to do this for their job,” she states. “But we’re asking them to do something that isn’t always the easiest or most comfortable thing, so it helps to bring them into the process.”

Based on those suggestions, the team created algorithms to guide nurses and providers through common scenarios, posting them in high-traffic areas. Williams is careful to point out that these algorithms are not hard and fast rules. She explains, “With behavioral health, we can’t always say, ‘Do a,b, and c’ every time a patient screens positive for severe depression. Sometimes that patient is on medication and working with a therapist, and the doctor doesn’t necessarily need to call down a social worker immediately.”

Although the protocol aims to screen all eligible patients, many variables can stop or slow the process. To provide an appropriate course of action in all situations, the team worked with the hospital’s Epic analyst to add buttons to categorize a nurse’s response to the BPA. Armed with that information, Williams was able to audit individual patient charts to understand issues on a case-by-case basis. She identified six common problems and worked with emergency department management to address them. For example, in order to remind providers to review the results, the team’s Epic analyst incorporated the screening report into the discharge process, a time that fit better into some of their workflows.

These collaborative efforts helped to quickly increase the number of patients being screened in the emergency room. The month before the team started their collaborative implementation plan, only 20 patients had been screened using BH-Works. After their first month of strategic efforts, that monthly screening number increased to 180. By the third month, the numbers had jumped to 507. Currently, the team consistently screens between 32-49% of clinically appropriate cases monthly, which is an above average number compared to other emergency departments with similar protocols. The department plans to improve the screening process through 2020, with a goal of screening 100% of clinically appropriate patients.

By the end of 2019, over 3,000 patients had been screened in the emergency room. Out of those patients, twenty-three percent (715 kids) reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression, twenty percent (609 kids) reported significant trauma, fifteen percent (479 kids) reported a history of suicide ideation, and 117 kids were actually contemplating suicide at the time of screening.

Williams is now educating other departments about the program, seeing potential for behavioral health screening throughout the Nemours Health System. She also urges providers across the country to consider implementing similar protocols. “Kids are literal beings,” she explains. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a kid why they hadn’t shared their feelings with someone before taking this screen, and they tell me it’s because no one had ever asked them. That’s why we have to do things like this. Because there’s no other way to know other than to ask.”

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures

State-wide school closures for an extended amount of time due to a worldwide pandemic is truly unprecedented. Families, school systems, and entire communities are now in a position like we have never known before. Aside from the logistics involving everything from last-minute childcare to methods for providing meals to local FARMS (free and reduced-price meals system) populations, many folks are left wondering about the academic ramifications of these indefinite school closures.

Similar to “summer slide,” when students are known to experience academic regression while out of school for the summer months, these sudden weeks without instruction could undoubtedly pose academic issues for students. Some districts are utilizing online platforms to deliver content digitally to students at home, while others are rushing to provide supplemental course packets that students can complete at their own pace during the extended closure. Whatever the case, families will want to ensure that certain steps are taken so that learning continues, even when school is not in session.

Set up a routine

Many students (and teachers) view this sudden shutdown as an excuse to go into vacation mode. Tempting as that is, stopping everything to “hibernate” at home is ill-advised, even during this time when we have been instructed to practice “social distancing.” Being stuck at home should not necessarily mean that children and teens grow accustomed to day-long Netflix binging in pajamas on the couch. Parents should set the expectation early on that some of this time out of school is still going to be used for learning. Some suggestions include the following:

  • Maintain the expectation that certain times of the day should be “screen-free,” meaning no smartphones, video games, television, iPads, or computer use.
  • As an alternative to technology, encourage kids to try a different hobby, like reading, journaling, coloring, yoga, knitting, baking, gardening, etc. Teen and adult coloring books, Legos, paint-by-number and toy model kits are all solid options for quiet, screen-free entertainment. In addition to revving one’s creativity, these activities help to develop fine motor skills, dexterity, patience, focus, and attention to detail.
  • Suggest that children help out with meal time and/or the cleanup after dinner. Seeing as everyone’s schedule has likely opened up, with regard to school, sports, and extracurricular activities, now is a great time to set up a routine for family meal times.
  • Imbed some physical activity into everyone’s daily routines as well. Obviously, the gym and fitness classes are ill-advised due to suggestions to practice “social distancing.” However, families can take evening strolls around the neighborhood, walk the dog each morning, jump on the trampoline, mow the lawn, etc.
  • To stave off the eventual boredom, families will want to think about organizing evening routines and activities as well. Maybe try Monday movie nights, take-out Tuesday, speed walking Wednesday, etc. The key is to have something to look forward to each day, especially since many fun events for kids, like field trips, weekend excursions, birthday gatherings, sleepovers, and team sports have been cancelled.

Foreign language study

Just because schools are closed, that doesn’t mean that students’ language acquisition should hault indefinitely. Apps like Duolingo allow students to brush up on their foreign language skills, or begin to learn a new language altogether. The app is free and easy to use due to intuitive, game-like format.

Parents can also help bolster foreign language acquisition by selecting age-appropriate foreign films or movies with subtitles for the family to watch together.

Want to ditch the screens? Plan a bilingual scavenger hunt around the house using post-it notes. Label household items incorrectly and challenge your kids to correctly place the post-its using their language skills. For instance, if el baño is posted on the basement door, kids would need to move it to the bathroom door before moving onto the next sticky note.

Social studies 

For obvious reasons, many spring field trips have had to be cancelled, leaving students disappointed. One possible solution to these cancellations is to try virtual tours of the museums, galleries, landmarks, etc. Of course, the experience will not be entirely the same, but the sense of learning through exploration is still there. In addition, many locations utilize interactive platforms for students to truly immerse themselves in the information. Engaging options include Guggenheim Museum, The MoMA, The Louvre, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, The NASA Space Center in Houston, a moon tour via Google Earth, and any number of zoo cams around the world.

Now is also a great time for indulging in some documentaries for additional explorative learning. Beyond the content itself, which will undoubtedly provide information, older children and teens can identify and discuss persuasive techniques and other specific documentary film tactics. It may be beneficial to discuss the subjectivity that often emerges within the genre and how that impacts us, the viewers.

Science at home

Simple science experiments help to pass the time while introducing kids to the many engaging aspects of science.

  • Add heavy cream to a jar, tightly seal, and shake vigorously (for a span of 10-30 minutes) until butter begins to form. Kids will be amazed to watch as the cream solidifies. They can also flavor their homemade butter with sea salt or a drizzle of honey!
  • Create your own invisible ink using lemon juice and a q-tip. Kids will be amazed to see their secret messages when they hold a paper up to a lightbulb or other heat source.
  • Take a blind taste test, but with a tricky twist! Ask your child to hold his or her nose while tasting the everyday items, such as peanut butter, honey, salsa, chocolate chips, yogurt, etc. They will be amazed at how difficult it is to identify some of their favorite foods when their sense of smell is impaired!

The COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing today’s younger generation has ever experienced. Mass school closures may initially seem like a cause for celebration for many students. Yet the fact is that this pandemic will have lasting effects which is especially true for school-aged children and teens. Please, share with us your tips for schooling your children during this crisis.

Good Mental Health Equals a Happy Marriage

Happily married couples enjoy better mental health status, according to researchers.  They fall sick less often, have fewer instances of depression and anxiety, and suffer less from loneliness and feelings of solitude.  A recent study in Sweden shows that mentally healthy married couples are less likely to get pneumonia, undergo surgeries, develop cancer or have heart attacks. It makes sense that the joy that is part of being part of a happy couple translates to mental and physical well-being.

What are some of the benefits to a marriage in which affects partners in possessing good mental health?

Security.  Mentally healthy people provide each other with a sense of security.  They don’t have to wonder if the person they are coming home to will be “up” or “down” or worry about leaving the children in their care.  They are free from the worry that their partner is secretly unhappy or hiding some big secret.  They don’t have the situation where one person plays the role of the parent, and the other one of a child.  It is truly a marriage of healthy equals.

Mutual support.  With two mentally healthy people, there is a built-in support system.  Each is invested in helping the other reach their goals, whether they are personal or professional.  Need someone to listen to a business pitch you’ll be presenting tomorrow?  Your partner is there.  Looking for a running partner?  Your spouse, may be eager to join you. Happy, stable people do not mind when their partners seek to improve themselves and are happy to be part of their transformations.  There is no jealousy or sense of competition.

Witnessing life’s events together.  Mentally healthy people embrace their roles as witnesses to each other’s lives.  They are there for each other as they go through the inevitable life stages with all the joy and challenges these stages can bring.  They accompany each other to life celebrations as well as doctors’ appointments and hospital procedures.  What a gift it is to know that “in sickness and in health” is not an idle phrase.

Goal-setting and accomplishing.  Mentally-sound couples have a higher chance of accomplishing a goal together, as they are excellent at collaborating.  They enjoy shared activities because they know that doing things together promotes a stronger relationship.

Eating together.  Mentally-healthy couples love to come together at mealtimes, as they provide an opportunity to share both food and conversation.  Additionally, they enjoy grocery shopping together, and deciding what the meal plan will look like.  This generally leads to healthier home menus.

Physical health mindfulness.  These couples seek to maintain and sustain good physical health, integrating new knowledge about wellness and urging each other in health-related activities.

Encouragement and Praise vs. Criticism and Nagging. Happy couples use encouragement and praise as communication tools rather than criticism and nagging their partner to do something.

Respect and Fairness. Both partners share the workload at home and there are no gender roles.  Both partners respect the work each contributes to keep the home happy and balanced.  They remember to express thanks and gratitude to each other.

There’s an understanding of each other’s love language.  Mentally sound couples understand where the other person is coming from. They understand how each expresses love. They do not seek to teach the other the “best” way to love.  Rather, they learn and appreciate each other’s unique style.  Whether it is physical touch, verbal affirmations, gifts, notes, surprises or just doing the dishes when it isn’t “their turn”, there is an understanding of each other’s manner of demonstrating their feelings.

Better sex, even into the golden years.  Happy, mentally stable couples have better sex.  These couples use good communication skills which help them keep their intimate lives active and evolving.  They do not use sex as a weapon, withholding it to punish or hurt a partner.  (They talk things out so issues don’t carry over to the bedroom.)

The Woman Beside Me – Living in the Era of Trump

At the gym, MSNBC plays on my treadmill monitor. Coverage of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton have been nonstop, and I watch compulsively, trying to find a way to understand this horrific violence. My search for answers yields nothing but a mounting sense of helplessness.

Beside me, a woman younger than I am has on Fox News, which covers Trump’s response to the shootings. She glances over at me, sees what I’m watching, and a quick look of disdain passes over her face. My face may be doing the same thing.

I consider starting a conversation. “How is your channel spinning the news? Where are Fox newscasters directing their outrage? Who are they vilifying?” Yet I sense she wouldn’t be receptive.

During a commercial, I check my phone. The Facebook feed includes links to multiple statements by politicians and other leaders, voicing their outrage about the attacks. Several include links for me to make a donation. I used to take this bait, but I don’t anymore. I’ll donate where I want later; I won’t cave in to any manipulation of these tragedies for someone’s benefit. Neither will I sign any of the petitions to end gun violence that arrives in my email. I’ve come to believe signing on-line petitions convince people they’ve DONE SOMETHING when in fact, they haven’t.

I wonder if the woman beside me is getting petitions, too. Maybe hers have a different slant: “Sign this to tell the President you have his back!”

Does she click the link to sign them? I’d like to know, but I don’t ask her. I don’t bridge the eighteen inch- gap between our treadmills.

Have I already given up on her? Has she given up on me?

What happens if we don’t have these conversations? She stays on her treadmill and I on mine, safe in our political silos. She watches only the shows that agree with her point of view, just like me. Does she don self-righteous indignation the way I do?

I think about Facebook friends who have issued edicts on their pages: “If you still support this racist president then unfriend me right now!” I cringe when I read these statements, yet they appear more and more, borne of frustration and pain. We cast the President in the role of Racist-in-Chief, because it’s easier to see him as THE problem rather than a SYMPTOM of the problem. I’ve come to believe he is the latter, and that if we don’t acknowledge it, the problem will continue and grow. Trump isn’t just supported by his rally-attending, MAGA hat wearing base—he has vast numbers of people who may be quiet in their support, who are so frustrated by their own circumstances or the tone of today’s politics that they hold their nose and pull the lever for Trump because “he’s not like all the others.”

Is the woman beside me among those voters? Maybe she doesn’t see herself as a racist at all. Maybe she’d resent like hell any implication that she was, yet she will continue along her Trump-supporting path because, in her silo, we are the wrong ones. We are the liberal snowflakes who have been manipulated by the liberal media and “fake news.” Perhaps she knows she is right, just as I know she is wrong.

This kind of thinking from both of us only widens the gap between us and makes us easy prey to those wanting to exploit our divided loyalties. Alt Right or Alt Left: skew the truth and profit from it.

As I watch the news, I ache to do something about the shootings. I’m a social worker: DOING something is in my DNA. I could go to a special prayer service at my church or attend a protest at the statehouse. I could send another donation to groups working with immigrant kids at the border. Would that be DOING something, or just make me feel better? (I’m desperate to feel better.)

Does the woman beside me feel that same despair? Has she come up with an answer?  Here’s where I feel a thrust of anger at her. Her party is in power. Her candidate is in the White House. There IS something they can do, but they won’t, because, per her president, “there is no political appetite” for banning assault weapons.

This thinking makes me want to move to a treadmill farther away from her. What stops me is this: I’m assuming she agrees with him. Maybe she doesn’t, or maybe she is beginning to question these policies. Would this be an opening to start a conversation? Can she lift her head out of the Fox News bubble long enough to talk with me?  How does she feel, deep inside, about what has happened in El Paso? Would she tell me?

My phone dings. A friend has sent me an article about a huge increase in the sale of “bullet-proof backpacks.” The smallest version is for preschoolers. I picture a four-year-old trying to protect herself from a shooter wielding an assault weapon. It’s too much. It’s just too damn much.  I look at the woman beside me and my heart hardens.

I stop the treadmill, wipe it down, and step away, without saying a word to her.

The History of Stereotyping Homelessness in Australia

The history of homelessness in Australia stems back to our nation’s colonization by our British counterparts which moved Indigenous Australians out of their physical living structures. As Australia became more industrialized nearing the 1970’s, the contrast between homelessness and the rest of society become starker as the mainstream society had higher living expectations and standards which solidified what the disadvantage looked like.

Homelessness is an unspoken epidemic in Australia. It is not reported in the media and if you didn’t work in the welfare space, you would be blind to the number of people living in these conditions.

  • 116,427 people were counted as homeless in the most recent census (2016);
  • NSW has the highest representation of homelessness than any other state;
  • The 25-34yrs age bracket is the highest portion of homelessness and
  • These people sleep in a combination of improvised dwellings, supported accommodation, couch surfing, boarding houses, and severely overcrowded dwellings.

Homelessness was initially justified by ‘men being down and out of luck,’ however, as our societies ideas developed and matured, it became connected to more tangible and measurable practices. They were now associated with alcoholism, the plight of the individual, transience, and criminality. The common theme was that homelessness was a result of a failure which was only the birth of the stigma related to disadvantage in Australia which has influenced generations and engrained stereotyping of these groups as an acceptable practice.

These preconceived ideas can be understood with a sociological perspective, specifically examining the notions of status in society and what indicators determine that. Historically, status was inherited and determined prior to an individual’s birth (if we are observing the ancient civilisations, ie., the Caste system). Every ancient civilisation had a system to determine hierarchy, generally determined by education, political ideology, capital ownership, occupation, and material possessions.

However, it is always contextual in that the status is determined by how the individual is respected in the group/community they are a part of, ie., discriminating the status of a government minister amongst other government officials in comparison to commoners would result in a different level of respect. Determining status can be perceived as an adverse aspect of society, especially with a leftist view, however, it does maintain chaos and provide a vision which the lower classes can aspire too – it can be viewed as an indirect way to ‘tame’ societies and provide inspiration for growth – when used (and viewed) with this approach.

However, if we are looking at hierarchy in the context of homelessness, it only exacerbates the stigma. Modern society has far more progressed ideas then the ancient worlds and more recent historical periods mentioned above, yet, stigmatizing still exists and only hinders the level of equality which social workers advocate for.

Stigmatization links to capitalisation greatly, in that, society focusses on the individual as the curator of their fate, leaving the social structures which they exist in, blameless. What is left unaccounted for in the way homeless people are depicted in the media is the maldistribution of resources (such as employment, housing, nutrition, and health) in our resource dense nations with the premium lifestyle and experiences exhausted by the top tier classes of societies. It is also important to note that some people view homelessness as acceptable, we have become accustomed to accept that every society has an underclass and we ignore those groups which we find difficult and threatening.

The term ‘homeless’ carries a less-then-human quality; their conventional caricature embodies foreign qualities such as isolation and rootless of family and friends and human nature tends to reject those who disrupt the status quo.

A study undertaken by Chris Chamberlain outlines the traditional pathways which leads to homelessness. He theorises that either a housing crises, family breakdown, substance abuse, mental health or a difficult transition from youth to adult, are common circumstances for a state of homelessness to arise. Within these widely varying contexts, Australia has a multitude of service providers to support these people, so why are left un-accessed?

The answer to this comes down to the stigma which we associate with homeless people, which results in a complete separation from knowledge and access to these resources leading to a drop in self-worth/motivation. In western nations, the cultural priority and importance (and status) which comes with home ownership.

Academic research often appears to be neo-liberal in nature and commonly equates homeless to some sort of deviance or mental illness by disqualifying the societal issues which cause these situations. It’s almost as if we have justified homelessness – we do not see it as a short fall of society but more as the individual not fitting into the society we have built.

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