Category: social

Love Notes…

In these days of world suffering, a touch of love notes to cheer the heart.
Published by Hoffmann & Hoffmann with the contribution of Blurb, a new edition of “In vino Veritart” The art book by Roberto Sironi and Mariagrazia Pia.

The novelty lies not only in the usual beauty of Sironi’s painting and in Mariagrazia Pia’s verses but also in the brilliance of the colors highlighted by Blurb‘s print. The visionary strategies of the two artists find the relief of a careful graphic geometry made of colors, poems and anecdotes linked to the artistic union of the two authors.


A series of poetic reflections around wine, wine in all its states, love for wine, submission to wine, moods and amorous stunts next to a glass of wine, the magic of wine, his numbness, falling in love and disappointment.
The life that turns with surprises and its magic, linked to a glass of wine like the reader to its pages and lovers to its fumes.


Roberto Sironi is a multifaceted artist, his interests range from music, theater, painting, up to cinema and writing.
Mariagrazia Pia, writer and poetess with numerous books and literary works.

The limited edition book is sold exclusively on Amazon and Blurb channels as well as at Hoffmann & Hoffmann Publisher.

https://www.amazon.com/vino-veritart-R-Sironi-Pia/dp/1714572684/b2b/info/amazon-business?layout=landing?ref_=b2b_reg_US_BOOKS_ILM_EN_200318

What does self-quarantine mean?

As people wrestle with spring travel, many may choose – or be asked – to self-quarantine for a period of time to help deter the spread of COVID-19.

Isolation requires sick people to be separated from those who are not sick, while quarantine restricts the movement of people who are exposed to a contagious disease to monitor if they become sick, according to Luis Ostrosky, MD, professor of infectious diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

So, what does self-quarantine look like? Susan Wootton, MD, an infectious disease pediatrician at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, explains.

Wash your hands
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Stay home except to get medical care
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
  • Wear a face mask if you are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces daily
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Receive a green light from health care providers before discontinuing quarantine

Household members, intimate partners, and caregivers who may have close contact with a person exposed to or symptomatic with COVID-19 should monitor their health closely. Call your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 including fever, cough, and trouble breathing.

For those who have been to an affected area or exposed to someone who is sick with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, you may have some limitations on your movement or activity. If you develop symptoms during that period, seek medical advice immediately. Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your recent travel history and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness.

“Infection control and prevention efforts by patients with COVID-19, their household members, and their health care providers, in combination with contact tracing activities, are key to limiting the community spread of disease,” Wootton said.

Stay informed by following updates on Harris County Public HealthTexas Department of State Health ServicesCDC, and World Health Organization.

‘How I Fell for My Field’

Credit: San Diego State University
Alicia Kinoshita, Ph.D., San Diego State, Associate Professor, Water Resources Engineering

For Valentine’s Day, we asked faculty and staff at nine CSU campuses to tell us how their lifelong love affair with their discipline began.

As the adage goes, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The CSU is lucky to be replete with faculty and staff across its 23 campuses who’ve found their true calling. And for those who work with them—whether students or colleagues—that dedication to education is infectious.

Read on to hear how faculty and staff at nine CSU campuses fell head over heels for their discipline.

ALICIA KINOSHITA | Ph.D., San Diego State, Associate Professor, Water Resources Engineering

When did your love of post-fire recovery take hold? “I started working in this field as an undergraduate research assistant taking samples and measurements of water and soil. The research also took me to amazing locations such as the Sierra Nevada and Colorado. I loved being outside rather than in an office, and when I realized I could do this for a living, I was sold.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really loved hiking and being outside. Glimpses of wildlife still fill me with awe and remind me that sometimes systems need to be reset. I also find great satisfaction in investigating the landscape after it has been disturbed and watching the changes over time. For example, after wildfire, it is amazing to watch a charred landscape evolve, from ash to green sprouts to dense vegetation.”

BRIAN SELF | Ph.D., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of engineering take hold? “During my first year I took a survey course in biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech and really enjoyed it. As a result, I majored in a little-known department called engineering science and mechanics because it gave me the most flexibility to pursue biomedical types of courses. From there, I was able to get a job as a research engineer with the Air Force, where I investigated things like pilots pulling g’s [g-forces], ejections from aircraft and spatial disorientation.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The human body is probably the most complex engineering system there is. As a civilian researcher, I got to use a human centrifuge to investigate human tolerances to sustained acceleration and to look at how high-altitude flight affects pilot performance. When I moved to Cal Poly, friends and I mentored senior design students as they developed devices to help people with disabilities participate in sports. I most love the amazing variety of interesting projects that I get to do, the wonderful colleagues I work with and the amazing students I get to mentor and teach.”

TED STANKOWICH | Ph.D., Cal State Long Beach, Director, The Mammal Lab

When did your love of animals take hold? “I began studying ecology and evolution early in college and then spent a summer vacation assisting with research on sharks. My junior year, I took a course in animal behavior and loved it. I then had the opportunity to work in one of the professor’s labs studying behavior in naked mole rats for my honors thesis.”

What is it about skunks? “They have this powerful noxious weapon everyone knows about, but…nobody studies their behavior. They are abundant and everyone seems to have a great skunk story to share. They are a misunderstood creature: They don’t stink themselves, aren’t aggressive, don’t ‘want’ to spray you and none of the large mammalian predators want anything to do with them!”

JOANNA PEREZ | Ph.D., CSU Dominguez Hills, Assistant Professor, Sociology

When did your love of sociology take hold? “As an undergraduate, learning about the sociological imagination—which is the connection between self and society—ignited my interest in the field. For the first time, I was able to critically analyze and contextualize my lived experiences as a first-generation student and daughter of immigrants. Today, I get to advocate for social justice through research, teaching and service.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Sociology has allowed me to engage in efforts that alter the social conditions of marginalized communities. This includes conducting research on Latino undocumented immigrant activists, facilitating a student-centered learning environment and addressing the needs of underserved communities.”

COLIN DEWEY | Ph.D., Cal Maritime, Associate Professor, English

When did your love of English take hold? “After high school, I had no interest in higher education. Instead, I went on a road trip and visited the lighthouse at Point Arena in Northern California. The idea of becoming a lighthouse keeper led to a hitch in the U.S. Coast Guard; after my enlistment, I began sailing on commercial ships. I found an old volume of John Ruskin’s Victorian social commentary ‘Queen of the Air’ on board a freighter. In a later job, I had the opportunity to be a peer-tutor. When I went from solitary reading at sea to engaging others through tutoring, and then teaching, I recognized that sharing knowledge and helping others to reach the kinds of ‘Eureka!’ moments that I’d experienced with that Ruskin book was what I wanted to do.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I belatedly accepted the challenge and opportunity higher education held, I’d already spent close to 20 years working at sea. Education unlocked vast stores of knowledge unimaginable to my previous autodidact self. The recognition that I could help guide others along a path similar to the one I’d taken—regardless of their social or economic background—has become a vocation.”

BRIAN LEVIN | J.D., Cal State San Bernardino, Professor, Criminal Justice, Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, ​2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of the study of civic cohesion and extremism take hold? “When Judge A. Leon Higginbotham taught me that a key component of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was its partial reliance on social science data. From then on, I felt there was a place for informed research with respect to policymaking.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I first started in 1986, no one was collecting national data about hate crimes and there were no new anti-hate crime laws at the federal levels. Even the constitutionality of state laws was still in doubt. This created opportunities to influence public policy through participation in landmark cases, police training and legislative fact-finding. Through this, I represented civil rights groups before Congress and in various Supreme Court amici briefs. Getting involved so early gave me an up-close chance to learn from key mentors, to whom I am still indebted, while also advancing the discourse that illuminates public policy reform.”

ERIC BARTELINK | Ph.D., Chico State, Professor, Physical Anthropology​​

When did your love of anthropology take hold? “I realized this was my calling in 1995 when I was an undergraduate student in anthropology. I decided to shift my focus specifically to bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology after listening to some guest speakers.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The idea that you can reconstruct several aspects of a person’s life from their skeleton always fascinated me, whether it was someone who died recently or hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”

LAURA LUPEI | Sonoma State, Senior Director, University Budget and Planning, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of budgeting take hold? “As soon as I started working at Somoma State 19 years ago, I knew it was a great fit. I spent every day solving problems and looking at both the details and the big picture of the university, something I hadn’t yet realized that came so naturally to me.” 

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really fell in love with budgeting when we started our strategic budgeting initiative. Budgeting is a lot more fun when an organization uses it as a tool for planning and moving forward a set of priorities rather than reacting. It has been extremely satisfying to watch our campus culture shift, and I never thought so many people would be interested in listening to my budget presentations!”

RAJEE AMARASINGHE | Ph.D., Fresno State, Professor & Chair of Mathematics, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of math take hold? “After being injured as an officer in the Sri Lankan Navy, I was forced to rethink my future. Having this time to contemplate my next move, I remembered the love I had for mathematics as a child. This realization led me to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, where I would eventually begin conducting research in mathematics education. When I realized I could transform the lives of others through mathematics, I truly began to appreciate the work I was doing as a mathematics educator.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Oftentimes, there are students and teachers who’ve never had that opportunity to see, feel and enjoy the beauty of mathematics. It’s such a joy when someone gets that ‘A-ha’ moment where they realize mathematics is beautiful and that they had fun engaging in it. I truly fell in love with the work I am doing when I realized that I could bring this joy to people every day.”

‘Financial infidelity’

What defines it, who is at risk, and what are the consequences?

Romantic partners aren’t always honest about money in their relationships, but when does hiding purchases, debt and savings constitute “financial infidelity”? Research by professors at four universities, including Indiana University, defines the concept and provides a means for predicting its occurrence within relationships.

Love, Lies and Money: Financial Infidelity in Romantic Relationships,” in the Journal of Consumer Research, is the first systematic investigation of financial infidelity in committed romantic relationships.

The professors define financial infidelity as “engaging in any financial behavior that is expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them.” It involves both the financial “act” and the subsequent concealment.

It differs from secret consumption and merely hiding spending because it involves a broader set of financial behaviors, including seemingly “positive” actions such as saving extra income in a personal bank account.

“Financial infidelity has the potential to be as harmful for relationship health and longevity as sexual infidelity, as conflicts over money are also a primary reason for divorce,” said co-author Jenny Olson, assistant professor of marketing at the IU Kelley School of Business. “Given the role that finances play in the health of relationships, consumers benefit from being aware of financial infidelity and its consequences.”

Growing in popularity is financial therapy, which combines finance with emotional support to help individuals and couples think, feel and behave with money to improve their overall well-being, make logical spending decisions and face financial challenges.

“An understanding of financial infidelity can benefit financial services companies and advisors, clinical therapists and relationship counselors, all of whom play a role in promoting consumer well-being,” Olson said. “If couples seek professional financial advice, they must be willing to openly discuss their spending and savings habits, debts and financial goals. It is clear that financial infidelity is a barrier to effective planning, as well as to a healthy relationship.”

The researchers developed a “financial infidelity scale (FI-Scale)” using a dozen lab and field tests. Key findings included:

  • Whether the financial act is expected to elicit any level of disapproval was more important than the degree of disapproval.
  • Consumers more prone to financial infidelity exhibited a stronger preference for secretive purchase options, such as using a personal credit card versus a jointly held card, and cash over credit.
  • A preference for ambiguous packaging and shopping at inconspicuous stores.
  • A greater likelihood of concealing financial information from their partner in a mobile banking app.

Each choice is relevant to marketers. The prevalence of financial infidelity among consumers and variations along the FI-Scale affect purchasing decisions. It is important that companies be aware of certain consumer segments that may be prone to financial infidelity and thus affect their bottom lines.

For example, the trend of businesses going “cash-free” may affect retailers such as beauty salons and gift shops because of the use of cash to disguise purchases. Consumers strategically using cash may be less willing to make purchases only for their pleasure or personal wants.

Other authors on the study are Emily Garbinsky, assistant professor of marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame; Joe J. Gladstone, assistant professor of consumer behavior at the School of Management at University College London; and Hristina Nikolova, the Diane Harkins Coughlin and Christopher J. Coughlin Sesquicentennial assistant professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

IU Research

Indiana University’s world-class researchers have driven innovation and creative initiatives that matter for nearly 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to collaborating with NASA to search for life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Supported by $680 million last year from our partners, IU researchers are building collaborations and uncovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the globe.

Minute Movements of Autistic Children and Their Parents Provide Clue to Severity of Disorder

Researchers measured minute movements as participants repetitively touched a spot on a touch screen.

Imperceptible variations in movement patterns among individuals with autism spectrum disorder are important indicators of the severity of the disorder in children and adults, according to a report presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in November.

For the first time, researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University report developing a quantitative way to assess these otherwise ignored variations in movement and link those variations to a diagnosis.

“This is the first time we have been able to explicitly characterize subtypes of severity in autism spectrum disorder,” said Jorge V. José, Ph.D., vice president of research at Indiana University and the James H. Rudy Professor of Physics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “We also have determined that a pattern exists in the movement variations in some cases between children with autism and their parents, leading us to surmise that genetics plays a role in movement patterns.”

Positional trajectories show the variations in speed and random movement of (from top) low functioning, non-verbal ASD, age 22; high functioning, verbal ASD, age 25; and adult control, age 22.

In a blinded study, José, who also is a professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the IU School of Medicine, and co-principal investigator Elizabeth B. Torres, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, attached high-sensitivity movement sensors to the arms of study participants to track their micro-movements as they extended and retracted their hand to touch a specific spot on a touch screen.

Using analytics they developed, Drs. José and Torres, together with Di Wu, a Ph.D. graduate student in José’s lab in the physics department at IU Bloomington, evaluated the local spikes in speed — traditionally considered as noise in the data. The sensors recorded 240 movements per second for the 30 people with autism, eight healthy adults and 21 parents of children with autism tested. The participants were asked to touch a spot on a screen moving continuously about 100 consecutive times.

“These variations in the hand’s movement speed produced a pattern that clustered in specific regions of a graph that produced metrics we could use — not only in children with autism but in their parents,” Dr. Torres said. “People with autism are known to have problems with sensing their body motions and sensing their body in general. Our earlier research proved that the random patterns of their speed were significant. What we did not expect was to find random, minute speed fluctuations during the intentional action itself, much less identify this form of intentional tremor in some of their parents.”

That finding was part of the report presented by Wu at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience meeting in November attended by more than 32,000 scientists.

“In healthy adults, the minute fluctuations in the speed of their movements, which we call peripheral spikes or p-spikes, normally occur at the onset or at the end of the arm extension exercise,” Wu said. “They show very few p-spikes during the actual action, as the hand speeds up or slows down en route to the target. However, healthy children in the 3-to-5-year-old range have random patterns of p-spikes, as do adults and children with autism spectrum disorder.”

What this suggests, the researchers said, is that p-spikes normally become more organized with age in typically developing individuals. But, in children and adults with autism, the p-spikes remained random. The researchers tested people with autism between the ages of 3 and 30 and identified an absence of transition that typically developing children undergo after 4 or 5 years of age.

The researchers also tested 14 mothers and seven fathers who have a child with autism. When evaluating the noise from the data produced from the parents, the researchers were surprised to find that some of the parents had random p-spikes clustering in the graph similar to that of their children.

“This finding suggests that genetics may play a role in p-spike patterns,” Wu said. “We will need to further explore this result in other populations with neurodevelopmental disorders of known genetic origins and their family to better understand the surprising findings.”

Drs. José and Torres said the p-spike patterns are useful in determining severity of the disorder.

“Normally, children get more coordinated as they age, but we found that the young children with autism and the adults with autism all produced random p-spikes showing that they do not transition as they develop,” Dr. José said. “We also found a correlation between the randomness of the p-spikes and the severity of the autism disorder. Among those with autism, the more random their p-spikes, the lower spoken language ability they had overall.”

This research was funded by National Science Foundation Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation Type I (Idea), grant number 0941587 — “A novel quantitative framework to study lack of social interactions in Autism Spectrum Disorders” — and by the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism, grant number CAUT14APL018 — “New objective autism inventory to quantify peripheral plasticity during standard ADOS-2 social exchange.”

Bravest woman that ever lived

Erica Armstrong Dunbar enlists students’ help to tell untold stories of the “bravest woman that ever lived”

Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features
Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

In an iconic image, Harriet Tubman stands calmly wrapped in a shawl. But the picture that most people associate with Tubman doesn’t scratch the surface of the strength and determination it took leading 60 to 70 slaves to safety through the Underground Railroad.

With the release of the film Harriet, Rutgers scholar Erica Armstrong Dunbar said it’s a good time to shed light on Tubman’s life not only as the famed Underground Railroad conductor, but as a sister, a daughter, a wife, a mother and a woman. 

“What we know about Tubman’s life from history books really only consists of 10 years of her life, and I wanted to present her in a way that is fresh,’ said Dunbar, a Rutgers University–New Brunswick Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History and the author of She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman. “The point was to be accessible and have it be modern and contemporary, so it connects to readers across generations to make a story that is over 100 years old feel relevant today.”

Credit: Glen Wilson/Focus Features
Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman

Dunbar began with Tubman’s grandmother, a woman named Modesty, who endured the Middle Passage and arrived in colonial Maryland in the late eighteenth century. Tubman’s parents, Harriet “Rit” Green and Ben Ross were enslaved by different families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tubman was born with the name Araminta Ross, and her family was separated as many others were during the slave trade, with her three sisters sold to different plantation owners.

“I wanted to start at the very beginning and talk about the things we don’t often hear,” Dunbar said. “I explore her teenage years and her marriage to John Tubman, who actually left her for another woman once she escaped to Philadelphia. I discuss her adopted child Gertie through her second marriage to Nelson Davis, a man 20 years her junior. A decade later, Tubman led a military expedition during the Civil War and rescued close to 750 enslaved people. After the war ended, she continued to fight for 53 years as an activist for the elderly and women’s rights. It’s important that we see all these different sides, so we can begin to look at her as a whole person.” 

To offer this perspective, Dunbar enlisted research associates from various universities, including Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Ashley Council, a second-year graduate student focused on African-American history. Council spent months digging through the Freedmen’s Bureau Archives, 19th century newspapers, census data, civil war letters, black abolitionist papers, speeches and many other historical sources. She faced the complex task of uncovering slave history, much of it told through the lens of white supremacy. 

Credit: Erica Armstrong Dunba
Erica Armstrong Dunbar

“I researched portions of Tubman’s history like the Combahee River Raid, and I started constructing narratives that challenged me to write in a more accessible way, to touch on the humanity of the reader,” said Council, who plans to become a professor of African-American history. “There is not a lot of archival material about Tubman and the history of the enslaved . Archives weren’t made to make the enslaved visible. So, I had to take history based in white supremacy and find the narratives that were hidden beneath. It isn’t something our discipline always allows and this was an amazing opportunity to be a part of a new way of telling her story.”

Dunbar was invited to attend pre-screenings of the film Harriet, which she invited her graduate student associates to join. Students also discussed Tubman’s life in conjunction with the film release during live podcasts and Twitter chats. While there are some differences between her book and the film, there were moments that shed light on the militant side of Tubman, which Dunbar was happy to see on screen. 

“She was a fierce black woman — and certainly one of the bravest women that ever lived,” Dunbar said. “She made 13 trips along the Underground Railroad, traveling more than 100 miles and never lost one single person. She reminds us of the importance of the strength of leadership in the darkest of times and to stand up for social injustice. Her story offers hope and encouragement in battling the issues happening today.”

Dunbar said it was important to involve students in her research. 

“I want students to have the opportunity to work in the archives and uncover the fragments of history that are untold. It helps them see possibilities in the field of history and the prominence of the Department of History at Rutgers. We are the number one program in African American history in the nation for a reason.”

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Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information, contact Cynthia Medina c.medina@rutgers.edu

ABOUT RUTGERS—NEW BRUNSWICK

Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship university is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is home to internationally acclaimed faculty and has 12 degree-granting schools and a Division I Athletics program. It is the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse university. Through its community of teachers, scholars, artists, scientists, and healers, Rutgers is equipped as never before to transform lives.

Unattainable Standards of Beauty for Today’s Woman

Victoria Secret models shrink while average US women’s dress size increases

Photo by Tamara Bellis

While the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman.

Quantifying female body attractiveness is complex. Perceived attractiveness is influenced by physical and nonphysical traits and is further guided by media exposure and sociocultural standards of the time. One of the more established parameters to evaluate female body attractiveness is the WHR, which measures body fat distribution. Interestingly, WHR has continued to be an ideal beauty trait that has stayed constant over time and cross-culterally.

In order to evaluate trends of physical body attributes, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) measured and compared Victoria’s Secret models from 1995 to 2018. The first Victoria’s Secret runway show debuted 23 years ago and since then has been viewed by millions annually, making it the most watched fashion show worldwide.

The data showed that over time, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become thinner, with smaller busts, waist, hips and dress size, whereas their WHR remained constant. “Conversely, the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased and varies between a misses size 16 and 18,” explained corresponding author Neelam Vashi, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at BUSM.

According to the researchers, in parallel with this trend, the percentage of women seeking cosmetic surgical procedures has dramatically increased and may be due to the desire to achieve the ideal WHR, which is a narrow waist set against fuller hips. Buttock and lower body lift has increased by 4,295 percent and 256 percent, respectively since 2000.

“Our results represent a potentially changing weight ideal of beauty that is moving farther away from the characteristics of the average American woman; however, a constant idealized WHR remains intact,” added Vashi, who also is director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center.

The Surprising History of Christmas Traditions

Wassail, one of the oldest holiday drinks, is named after the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael” or “good health.” Wassail was originally made with mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar

New Brunswick, N.J. (Dec. 19, 2019) – Did you know yuletide caroling began 1,000 years before Christmas existed? Or how about the fact that mistletoe was used to represent immortality long before the holiday reached Europe? And before there was eggnog, the medieval English drank wassail made from mulled ale. 

Maria Kennedy, an instructor of folklore at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of American Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, has researched the European holiday traditions that predate – and became an inseparable part of – Christmas.

She shared her insights with Rutgers Today.

What is the origin of Christmas caroling?

The act of going from house to house during the darkest time of the year to spread hope through song has its origins​ throughout Europe and takes many forms including the British tradition of Wassail and Mumming, and the Slavic tradition of Koliada, which began before 998 B.C. In many traditions, people would go door to door and ask for permission to perform. They would recite poetry, sing and sometimes perform a skit. The idea was that these acts would bring about good fortune to influence a future harvest. Many of these visiting rituals were incorporated in the celebration of Christmas and are still performed in modern Ukraine as well as throughout Europe and across the United States.  

Why do we associate Christmas with eggnog?

Holiday beverages like eggnog, mulled wine and hot cider often include cinnamon, cloves and/or other spices. In medieval England, these spices were of high value and would have been traded for other goods. They were a sign of wealth, so bringing them out for celebration was equivalent to bringing out the best wine for guests. Drinks with eggs and cream may seem strange to palates today, but these were also common in Medieval England. 

The ancestor of these drinks is wassail, named after the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael” or “good health.” Wassail was originally made with mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. It was served in huge bowls made of wood, pewter, porcelain, and silver. The act of wassailing would begin on the 12th day of Christmas – Jan. 5 or Jan. 6 – and included bonfires in the orchards, shooting guns to scare away bad spirits, caroling and pouring hot cider into the roots of trees for a good harvest the following year.

Where did mistletoe and evergreen trees become part of the holiday?  

Mistletoe, an evergreen shrub, was used in celebrations dating back to the ancient Druids – Celtic religious leaders – some 2,000 years ago. Mistletoe represented immortality because it continued to grow in the darkest time of the year and bore white berries when everything else had died. Hanging its sprigs over doorways and windows was supposed to keep the evil spirits of disease from entering a house. Farmers found it easiest to remove parasitic mistletoe from apple trees in winter when the branches were barren.

The decorating of evergreen trees is a German custom that began in the 16th century and was popularized in England and America during the reign of Queen Victoria after she married Prince Albert in 1840. Albert would decorate the trees at Windsor Castle with wax candles and sweets. By the 1860s, hundreds of Christmas trees were sold in Covent Garden and eventually the trend made its way into American tradition. Originally, trees would be decorated with oranges stuck with cloves, cinnamon sticks and pine cones. Sometimes, the nut would be removed from a walnut shell and replaced by a small gift or candy before being hung on a tree. 

Art Museum Offers New Tools for Visitors with Sensory-Related Disorders

Credit: Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University
Items inside sensory inclusive bags from KultureCity

Museum staff are trained to help visitors have a rewarding experience

New Brunswick, N.J. (Dec. 16, 2019) – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University-New Brunswick is the first art museum in New Jersey to offer specialized tools to help visitors in the autism spectrum enjoy their visit without stressful sensory overload.

The museum is collaborating with KultureCity, a nonprofit that has also worked with MetLife Stadium, to offer the training and materials needed to provide a more positive experience for those with autism, PTSD or other conditions that may cause sensory overload.

Free sensory inclusive bags include fidget tools (handheld objects that can be squeezed and manipulated to help focus the user’s sense of touch), cue cards that people with verbal impairments can use to communicate their needs and moods, noise-cancelling headphones and weighted lap pads to help direct the user’s feeling of their center of gravity.

“A common misperception is that autism is just a behavioral disorder, but it affects processes in our nervous system, which can create a feeling of vertigo or the sense of a lack of gravity,” said Elizabeth Torres, a Rutgers professor of psychology and director of The New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “Astronauts who return from a long space mission are given weighted suits to bring back their center of gravity until they readjust. In a similar fashion, people with autism can’t always feel their own body weight. For some, the feeling is constant and very disorienting.”

Through the partnership with Kulture City, Zimmerli staff received training on how to recognize when a visitor may have sensory needs, such as covering their ears or flapping their hands, and how to step in and offer them sensory support.

“We’re now better prepared to assist guests with autism and other sensory sensitivities in having the most comfortable and accommodating experience possible when attending any exhibition or program at the museum,” said Thomas Sokolowski, Zimmerli Art Museum Director.

Before adopting the new sensory tools, the Zimmerli offered customized group tours to visitors with autism and related conditions.  A KultureCity app is also available for download that displays available sensory devices at Zimmerli and how they can be accessed, as well as a customized social story, that helps visitors prepare for their visit

 “People with sensory disorders and their families now have the freedom to visit at any time and have confidence they will be assisted properly if they experience sensory overload or otherwise need support,” said Amanda Potter, curator of education at the Zimmerli.

Potter said the sensory tools can help people of all ages. “There is also a necklace that visitors can wear that alerts staff to keep a close eye on a person so they don’t get separated from their group, which can happen not only to children but to people with dementia.”

While the sensory tools are a big first step to helping combat sensory sensitivity, Torres said museums can do more, such as partnering with autism centers and offering information cards to improve public understanding of autism-related disorders.

“We are having exploratory conversations with Rutgers’ Center for Adult Autism Services to find more ways to help the autism community in New Jersey, including by providing job services and creating designated quiet spaces during crowded events, such as Rutgers Day,” Potter said. “Autism services are an area for growth, so we will work to expand our services. This is just the start.” 

Rutgers-New Brunswick, is a leader in autism research and services, recently appointing its inaugural director of the Rutgers Center for Autism Research, Education and Services (RUCARES) and CHS-RUCARES, a clinical entity created through Rutgers’ partnership with Children’s Specialized Hospital. The university’s Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center includes an on-campus K-12 day school for children with autism. In addition, the university broke ground on a new state-of-the-art facility for the Rutger Center for Adult Autism Services, which provides employment, vocational training and other services and partners with Children’s Specialized Hospital to operate the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.

Combating Human Trafficking

Photo by Jordan Whitt

Each year, more than 40 million men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. It manifests in numerous forms and has grown into a multi-billion-dollar illegal enterprise that is difficult to detect, prosecute and examine. Risk analysis is a critical tool for combating human trafficking and is central to informing global policy recommendations and assisting with targeted local and organizational efforts. Several studies will be presented during the Addressing Human Trafficking Risk symposium at the 2019 SRA Annual Meeting at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work to reduce human trafficking but often fail to understand the context and environment before taking action, resulting in ineffective and sometimes detrimental policies. JD Caddell, U.S. Military Academy, studied how girls were lured and trafficked by reframing the situation as a supply chain and looking at both supply and demand.

Caddell’s study, “Using system dynamics to set strategic priorities to address human trafficking,” revealed that NGO’s actions aimed solely at removing girls from the system yields few long-term benefits and creates more victims in the long run while raid and rescue operations only yields short-term gains.

“Many organizations use raid and rescue models because they provide “results,” in terms of girls saved, which provides validation and a mechanism for future NGO fundraising,” states Caddell. “However, our study showed that focusing on the demand side of the problem is more likely to generate large scale and sustainable progress.”

Because human trafficking is hidden, illegal and dangerous, it is difficult to gather the data needed to develop effective quantitative models and their response to interventions. Kayse Lee Maass, Ph.D., Northeastern University, has been working with survivors, law enforcement personnel and social scientists to better understand the structure and operations of trafficking networks, how they adapt and the dependencies between their cyber and social networks.

Maass’s study, “Modeling operations of human trafficking networks for effective interdiction,” provides non-profits, service providers, policy makers and other anti-trafficking stakeholders with decision support tools to effectively allocate resources to disrupt networks and ensure survivors have access to support services.

Similarly, Julia Coxen, University of Michigan, has approached the problem by decomposing the risks of human trafficking into the risks to public health, to security and to the community. Coxen’s study, “Risk analysis as a critical tool for human trafficking,” helps decision-makers better understand the complexities of human trafficking. The study also highlights the need for more evidence-based and quantitative risk analysis research to combat this global issue that impacts all levels of society.

** Coxen, Caddell, and Maass are available for media interviews at the 2019 SRA Annual Meeting. Please contact Natalie Judd at natalie@bigvoicecomm.com for all interview requests.