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Students in the Urban Policy Management program learn the theories, techniques and practices necessary for improving the quality of life for urban communities. Click here to find out more.

Student Op Ed: Mind Over Trigger

Dorit Avgnanim

Dorit Avgnanim

By Dorit Avganim

It’s rush hour on the subway and the way a man is eyeing me has my stomach in knots. He doesn’t look ‘like me’, meaning his NYC tapestry segment (laptop and latte? trendsetter? metro renter?) is unclear – and I’m notably uncomfortable. I try to ignore him, but three stops in and I swear his mind’s eye is turning my figure into a pork chop like in an old-school cartoon about folks stuck and starving on a desert island. I feel fear – heart rate up, sweaty palms – everything leading me to believe I’m in danger. I push these thoughts to the back of my mind. After all, I’m at best making an educated guess that this man means me harm. How much of what I’m feeling is true, and how much is just anxiety based on prejudice?

Modern psychology is using mindfulness to reverse cognitive distortions that lead to unnecessary bouts of anxiety, fear and depression. Could similar teachings help reduce prejudice actions of police against people of color? With young black males 21 times more likely to be killed by police than whites, it stands to argue that training police away from prejudice distortions could shift this and other staggering statistics. The mind does not distinguish between false fears (monsters in the closet), and real ones (beasts in the woods); the physiological response is the same. These confusions, or distortions, keep us safe but also feed into prejudice. The influence of prejudice on split-second decisions like those made daily by officers carrying sanctioned weapons is worth scrutinous review.

In Chris Mooney’s The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men for Mother Jones, he reflects that “physiological research into bias has focused on how people ‘essentialize’ certain categories, which boils down to assuming the nature that is tied to inherent and immutable qualities”. Inundated with images through entertainment and news media of what ‘danger’ looks like (namely, otherwise harmless young black men in hooded sweatshirts), how can we trust anyone’s guesswork, even our own, in accessing the rationality of fear?

Research shows that humans are tribal creatures with inherent bias against those perceived to be different. Thereby, ‘strength training’ against essentialized prejudice should be core in preparing our police force for duty. But it’s not. While psychology incorporates mindfulness to lead people away from irrational behavior, mindfulness is considered too ‘self-helpy’ to be suited to our men in blue. We allow the unfounded fears of a few to endanger the lives of young black men and us all.

I’m a few stops from my destination, and the man’s persistent staring has got me on edge. I stand near the doors as we pull into the next stop. The man mirrors me, standing at the door further down. He’s staring hard now and my body is poised like I’m about to run an Olympic race. We enter the next station, and the ‘ping-pong’ sound of the opening doors is like a starter pistol – but I don’t move. The traffic of people blasts past me while I remain planted on the train. The doors close in front of me, and I see the man standing on the platform now safely out of reach. The train moves on, I’m safe. I had confronted my cognitive process and in this case my fear was right, I guess. But while this guesswork may have worked in my favor this time, shouldn’t we rely on more than guesswork when the solution isn’t a change in transportation, but the pulling of an armed weapon? Just asking.

 

Dorit is a student in Public Policy in Action: Advancing Social Equity in America. In conjunction with the class, Milano is holding the 2015 Henry Cohen Lecture Series, Public Policy in Action, devoted to advancing social equity in America.  The series examines how public policy serves as a vehicle to advance economic and social inclusion in the context of evolving demographic, economic, and political shifts in America. This series serves as a catalyst for the continuing dialog on the state of social justice in America. 

 

New Publications from Professor Joseph Heathcott

JosephBorderlands: Traveling the Brooklyn-Queens Divide
 
The Architectural League of New York’s magazine Urban Omnibus featured a recent photodocumentary project by Joseph Heathcott, Associate Professor of Urban Studies.
 
Heathcott’s article, titled “Borderlands: Traveling the Brooklyn-Queens Divide” appeared in the January 14th edition on line.  It reports on a two-year effort by Prof. Heathcott to study the 21-mile boundary between Brooklyn and Queens. In November 2013, the Queens Museum of Art showcased the project in an installation of photographs and maps titled “BQBorderlands.”

 

The Bold and the Bland: Art and Redevelopment
 
The journal CITY: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action recently published Joseph Heathcott’s article on the demolition of the 5 Pointz graffiti building.  The editors of CITY are featuring the article with free downloads until April.  The article is titled “The Bold and the Bland: Art, Redevelopment and the Creative Commons in Post-Industrial New York.” Heathcott is an Associate Professor of Urban Studies.
 
 
Coffee and Globalization
 
Professor Heathcott published a long-form essay titled “Coffee, From the Kitchen Table to the Global Stage” in the January 2015 issue of The Montreal Review.
 
 
Professor Heathcott studies the metropolis and its diverse cultures, institutions, and environments within a comparative and global perspective. His main interest is in the public role of scholarship and teaching, and the civic engagement of students and teachers in the world around them. He is also a compulsive peripatetic, amateur archivist, and collector of LPs, post cards, old radios, books, and found objects.
 
 
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Professor Darrick Hamilton’s Baby Bonds Proposal Referenced in The Nation

Darrick_HamiltonA recent article published in The Nation proposes three ideas for programs that will make #BlackLivesMatter. Professor Darrick Hamilton’s proposal for “Baby Bonds” (co-authored with William A. Darity Jr.) is proposed as option #3. The article reads:

The political challenges to implementing a reparations program—which we support—were daunting from the outset and are now possibly prohibitive. To address this dilemma, Duke University’s William A. Darity Jr. and the New School’s Darrick Hamilton have proposed another innovative program that they estimate would close the wealth gap within a few generations.

Hamilton and Darity have advocated for federal job guarantee and revision of tax code that privileges assets of wealthy.

 

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Professor Darrick Hamilton interviewed on NPR Marketplace

Darrick_HamiltonIn an interview on December 14, Associate Professor of Economics and Urban Policy Darrick Hamilton discussed the growing wealth gap that is widening along racial lines in the United States. Research indicates that a major driver of the divide is the disparity in asset wealth. 

In the Spring 2015 semester, Professor Hamilton will co-teach a new class, Public Policy in Action: Advancing Social Equity in America, with Dean Michelle DePass.  The course will examine how public policy can serve as a vehicle to reverse the trend towards inequality and advance economic and social inclusion in the context of evolving demographic, economic, and political shifts in America.

 

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Professor Jeff Smith Discusses Topics from his E-Book ‘Ferguson in Black and White’

Urban Policy Professor Jeff Smith has been a vocal expert in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown, the Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer involved in the shooting, and the tensions of racial and class inequality simmering and boiling over in St. Louis and other cities across the U.S.  On December 2nd, Jeff Smith discussed his new E-book “Ferguson in Black and White”, with a brief commentary from Justyn Richardson, Treasurer of New Black School and Milano Urban Policy student.  The discussion is an example of the importance of creating a space where members of The New School community and the larger New York City community can come together to speak about and better understand these issues.

 

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