Breaking out of the ‘academic bubble’

As a Public Voices fellow, Frost School of Music ethnomusicologist Melvin Butler hopes to play a bigger role in public conversations on the issues of the day. Photo by Evan Garcia/University of Miami

 

 

By Maya Bell

As a Public Voices fellow, Frost School of Music ethnomusicologist Melvin Butler hopes to play a bigger role in public conversations on the issues of the day. Photo by Evan Garcia/University of Miami

 

 

Breaking out of the ‘academic bubble’

By Maya Bell
Twenty-four University of Miami faculty will participate in a year-long fellowship aimed at increasing the impact of women and minorities in the public discourse

An ethnomusicologist who specializes in African-American and Caribbean music at the Frost School of Music, Melvin Butler has written extensively about music’s relevance to many personal, social, and political issues. Yet the associate professor is rarely called upon to publicly share his insights.

“In my case, ethnomusicology touches on race, religion, gender, class and all these areas that are in the news, that are concerns for everyday people,” the acclaimed saxophonist said. “Yet I don’t have a role in the public discourse that I’d like to have. As romantic as it sounds, I want what I publish to make the world a better place. But it gets trapped in this academic bubble.”

An archaeologist in the College of Arts and Sciences, associate professor Pamela Geller has similar feelings about sharing her expertise on what it means to be human in the midst of what she calls the “Plastics Age.”

“Unlike ceramics or stone or even metal, plastics don’t biodegrade and are shifting humans in a way that is hard to gauge because we are in the middle of it,” Geller said. “But it will have a dramatic, long-term impact on humanity and the planet, so it’s crucial to figure out a way to talk to the larger public about this really important topic.”

Both Butler and Geller are about to get some expert help sharing their own expertise. They are among the 24 thought leaders the University of Miami recently selected to participate in the Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship, a national initiative now rolling out at top universities to dramatically increase the public impact of women and/or underrepresented minorities who usually aren’t on the go-to list for commentary or influential forums.

In bringing the fellowship to the University, Vice Provost for Research John Bixby, who first heard about the initiative at an Atlantic Coast Conference research meeting, hopes to expand the range of voices and quality of ideas that shape important contemporary conversations. He said he and many others are guilty of “a kind of intellectual laziness” that has unintentionally kept many women and minority voices out of the public discourse.

“Women and minorities may lack influence not because they don’t know things, but because the culture doesn’t permit them access to the journalists and other opinion-makers who can make them known,” Bixby said. “I think that’s true everywhere, but certainly I see it here, where many of us don’t recommend people outside of our circle of colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. We all do it. I think it’s human, but if we believe that this is something that shouldn’t be, than we have an obligation to do something about it.”

Joining Butler and Geller on the year-long fellowship, which includes four interactive, day-long seminars, one-on-one coaching with top journalists, and monthly calls with media insiders, are 20 other female and two male faculty members whose specialties range from illiteracy and palliative care to kidney disease and criminal justice.

In all, the fellows come from eight schools or colleges across the University, and are sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, with additional support from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“We have so much impressive expertise at UM and this fellowship program will help make sure the rest of the world knows it,” said Associate Provost Susan Morgan, who put the fellowship together and notes that it aligns with the Roadmap to Our New Century by deepening the University’s dedication to diversity and inclusion. “This program also signals the University’s commitment to our own faculty, and we hope that this group will enhance our culture of belonging, which is a clear priority for UM.”

In addition to Butler and Geller, the University’s inaugural class of Public Voices fellows includes:

Mary Beth Calhoon, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the School of Education and Human Development, who is interested in high schoolers who are illiterate when they graduate

Caroline Corbin, professor in the School of Law, who explores the “inequalities of power, and how they play out’’

Alessia Fornoni, professor of medicine in the Katz Family Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at the Miller School of Medicine, who is interested in using community education and engagement to implement better intervention and treatment strategies for kidney disease

Marie Dasborough, associate professor of management at the Miami Herbert Business School, who researches emotional intelligence and empathy to promote sustainability initiatives

Emma Dean, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Miami Herbert Business School, who focuses on rising maternal mortality in the U.S.  

Javier del Campo, assistant professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecosystems at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, who is interested in the Hispanic perspective on science and technology

Mariana Khawand-Azoulai, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the Miller School, who sponsored by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is interested in improving society’s understanding of palliative care

Tamara Lave, professor at the School of Law, who specializes on why the criminal justice system is flawed, and how it can be improved

Sophia George, research assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Miller School, who sponsored by Sylvester, is interested in identifying women at highest risk for ovarian cancer

Hayley Gershengorn, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the Miller School, who is interested in the diagnosis and treatment of acute illness amid scarce health care resources

Osamudia James, professor at the School of Law, who focuses on identity, opportunity, and inequality in education and parenting

Debra Lieberman, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences, who explores several facets of human psychology that relate to public and social policy

Marina Magloire, assistant professor in the Department of English at the College of Arts and Sciences, who tells the stories of black women who have been forgotten or misremembered by history

Laura Martin, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Miller School, who is committed to educating women in the U.S. about their unique or common medical conditions

Erin Marcus, associate professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Miller School, who focuses on communicating relevant and legitimate health information in an understandable and responsible way

Roger McIntosh, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences, who is interested in how peripheral cardiovascular disease and HIV-related immunosuppression contributes to central nervous system diseases  

Teshamae Monteith, associate professor of clinical neurology in the Department of Neurology at the Miller School, who sponsored by the Clinical Translation Science Institute, is interested in underdiagnosed, undertreated, and mismanaged patients who, for example, are over-prescribed opiates

Karoline Mortensen, associate professor of health sector management and policy at the Miami Herbert Business School, who explores the real impact research has had on health care policy or delivery

Ana Palacio, professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Miller School, who is interested in how violence, food insecurity, and other scarcities contribute to obesity, substance abuse, maternal and infant mortality, and chronic disease in affected communities

Jill Sanko, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, who is interested in research that improves the lives of Americans

Candice Sternberg, assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Miller School, who is one of a few doctors of Haitian descent representing issues affecting the Haitian community

Denise Vidot, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, who is exploring the medicinal benefits of cannabis