Monday, May 29, 2017

Reading is my Elixir

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...
One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing
And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky...
So hush, little baby, don't you cry

Every summer I get to indulge in lots of reading.
There are usually a stack of books on my nightstand.
They aren't just an escape. They don't just teach me everything I know.
My mom used to say that my mother was my books (tu madre, los libros).
That sounds about accurate.
For most of us, the go-to mother/drug/soother in good times and in bad is alcohol (or sex, porn, shopping, food, work, social media, and so on) because it's there when you need it and the results are reliable and consistent, until you need more and more to get the same high.


My high from reading is pretty intense. I get vivid visions and make connections that solve problems big and small. I get transported and lose track of time. Summer reading is when I am likely to stay up all night to finish the novel I just can't put down. Summer is also when I tend to read novels, because normally I'm a non-fiction kinda gal. 

Right now, I am engrossed in a book called, "The World Until Yesterday." Here are some excerpts:
  • All human societies have been traditional for far longer than any society has been modern.
  • Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society. They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) modern societies...some of those solutions - for instance, some of the ways in which traditional societies raise their children, treat their elderly, remain healthy, talk, spend their leisure time, and settle disputes - may strike you, as they do me, as superior to normal practices in the First World. Perhaps we could benefit by selectively adopting some of those traditional practices. Some of us already do so, with demonstrated benefits to our health and happiness. In some respects we moderns are misfits; our bodies and our practices now face conditions different from those under which they evolved, and to which they became adapted. 
  • ...changes among societies can be reversed.
  • Within a generation or two, and within the individual lives of many people...New Guinea Highlanders learned to write, use computers, and fly airplanes...the New Guinea Highlands of 1931 lacked writing, metal, money, schools and centralized government. If we hadn't actually had recent history to tell us the result, we might have wondered: could a society without writing really master it within a single generation?...All of those differences between the 2006 and 1931 crowds can be summed up by saying that, in the last 75 years, the New Guinea Highland population has raced through changes that took thousands of years to unfold in much of the rest of the world...Thus, New Guinea is in some respects a window onto the human world as it was until a mere yesterday, measured against a time scale of the 6,000,000 years of human evolution...All those changes that came to the Highlands in the last 75 years have also come to other societies throughout the world, but in much of the rest of the world those changes appeared earlier and much more gradually than in New Guinea. 'Gradual,' however, is relative: even in those societies where the changes appeared first, their time depth of less than 11,000 years is still minuscule in comparison with 6,000,000 years. Basically, our human societies have undergone profound changes recently and rapidly.

What's cool about this blog is that I started it in 2009 and it contains most of the important lecture notes, article and book excerpts that have made an impact on my thinking. When I have to write something and think, "where is that article about this thing I'm trying to write about?" all I gotta do is search this blog. It's like a back up and extension of my brain. So handy. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Graduations in the Spring

These personalized graduation caps inspire me and make me smile. 


In the Spring, we reap what we sow. Enjoying the fruits of our years-long labor is a sweet reward.

The students that I met on their first day of school in my class nearly two years ago, are now my colleagues. Some of them were in my classes every semester for the last two years, others I guided through their capstone project all year.

Like any significant relationship, there were days I was in love. I made myself vulnerable, I told my most personal stories in an effort to connect, model, teach, inspire and assuage their fears.

Like any significant relationship, there were days they got on my nerves. Sometimes I told them collectively and other times I walked over and whispered to them in their faces about putting their phones away while in class. I even bought them play-do to occupy their hands while they were jonesing to text.

I cried as I drove in to work on their last day. The souls and cast of characters that I had hung out with for the last two years were now leaving and I was sad (and on my period). I learned a lot from them. Now they can friend me on Facebook and my unsolicited advice-giving can continue. It turns out that constantly reading is even more fun when you share widely what you learn. The student surpasses the teacher so I look forward to hearing about their milestones and achievements in the field. Watch out world, CSUN MSWs are going to make a dent in the Universe.

Daring to start my PhD journey has lead me to a new and beautiful life, full of little deaths and re-births daily. Grades are in and I am staring down the barrel of a long summer. You will find me reading a book, poolside. Feeling lucky and smiling about it. Thank you, Yesus.






Sunday, May 7, 2017

Minority Male Mentoring (M3)

In my first year as a tenure-track professor, I attended meetings with the Dean and Provost. I heard them talk about the "achievement gap" and "graduation rates." It was a deja-vu. I had heard all this before as a school social worker. What struck me the most was the discrepancy in graduation rates between women and men, particularly men of color. I thought about all the risk and protective factors involved and began to hatch a plan.

It turns out the disparities in graduation rates occur nationwide. For example, compare the differences in graduation rates between Asian females and Black males...


The University has a 2025 Graduation Initiative to increase graduation rates. As a social work scholar, I can't help but want to increase opportunities for the most vulnerable and oppressed. That's how we do. 


I wrote a small grant to start a Minority Male Mentoring (M3) program. It would confront the disparities using multiple levels of interventions:


I pulled together a dream team of professors and faculty members. Now we end our first year of program development with several upcoming national conference presentations and a manuscript in the works. We also got these cool polos with the M3 logo:


I feel like Wonder Woman in the Saturday morning cartoon TV show, Super Friends.
The (invisible) plane has been built and is flying. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Recent qualitative study on sex work and students in higher education

I was schooled by Andrea Dworkin on the impact of pornography on women: violence and exploitation.

When I talked about this in class, two students had a different take on things. We listened to each other and eventually these two students approached me about doing their master's graduate project about students in higher education involved in sex work.

It is an elegant qualitative study that explores many intersecting identities. My students presented in New York and have been interviewed for a couple of articles. This summer, I hope that we draft a manuscript for publication.

This is what I do now. I read, think and write for a living. Lucky lady.

Check out this interview in Psychology Today by clicking the link below...

Sex work and higher education mix disparate identities?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Notes on Heuristics

Notes from the brilliant book, Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences, by Andrew Abbot, "an introduction to the workings of imagination in social science" and "all struggling to imagine the social world anew."
What then does it take to have something to say?
It takes two things.
The first is a puzzle, something about the social world that is odd, unusual, unexpected, or novel.
The second is a clever idea that responds to or interprets or solves that puzzle.
Everything else - the methods, the literature, the description of data - is really just window dressing.
The heart of good work is a puzzle and an idea.

  • Steal the best ideas from another discipline and put them to better use.
  • Narration seems persuasive precisely because telling stories is how we explain most things in daily life.
  • Narration is the syntax of everyday understanding.


  • Social science aims to explain social life. There are three things that make a particular argument an explanation:
    • 1. when it allows us to intervene in whatever it is we are explaining (for example, managing the economy, eradicating poverty).
    • 2. when we stop looking for further accounts of that something - an explanation is an account that suffices. it frees us to go on to the next problem by bringing our current problem into a commonsense world where it becomes immediately comprehensible (what is self-evident needs no explanation).
    • 3. when we have made a certain kind of argument about it: an argument that is simple, exclusive, perhaps elegant or even counterintuitive. Thus, we may think that Freudian psychology is better than folk psychology because it is better worked out, more complex, and more surprising. An account is an explanation because it takes a certain pleasing form, because it somehow marries simplicity and complexity.
  • That people took so long to recognize the creativity of these works perhaps tells us something important about the nature of creativity. Much of it has to do with how one's ideas fit with others' current beliefs. Creativity is relational. Coase's work went unappreciated until the rest of the economics community came around to the broad conception of economic thinking that Coase took for granted. Fleck's book was completely ignored until Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions prepared people for it. Often a mainstream cannot see new ideas as creative. Often they cannot see them at all.


  • The aim of social science is to say something interesting - perhaps even true - about social reality.
  • The first and in many ways most important of the general heuristics is making an analogy: saying that an X is really a G...applying ecological models to humans...cities...organizations...applying economic models to family planning...they may seem like far-fetched analogies, but they were very productive...Becker's analogy must have seemed shattering at the time...but the analogy was powerful, and when Becker began to analyze more mainstream topics, like family-planning decisions, his work began to be regarded as truly revolutionary...Analogy is fundamentally different from addition. It means truly changing the terms of analysis, not simply adding something to them. It has a risk to it: there will be naysayers. At the same time, it can be very productive...One of the useful aspects of analogy is that most often the ideas you borrow will be quite well worked out. When you forage in other disciplines and sub disciplines, you will find the intellectual supplies plentiful and well kept, ripe for the taking.
  • Analogy is the queen of heuristics...Analogizers and borrowers must always be reading and learning