Content - Main


Study Finds Violence Among Young, Black Men Associated With Sense of Powerlessness

Posted on October 7, 2015 7:14 am by Nash Dunn

Elan Hope.

Elan Hope

New research from NC State University and Palo Alto University finds that young black men who are most likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence are also those who feel that they have the least power to effect social change – highlighting the importance of ensuring that young black men do not feel alienated by society and social programs.

“We wanted to address stereotypes associating young black men with violence,” says Elan Hope, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “We wanted to explore both the extent to which black men are victims or perpetrators of violence and which factors are related to this behavior. For example, do patterns of exposure to violence exist for different groups of young black men?

“Ultimately, we want to identify points of intervention where we can make a positive difference in the lives of these young men. That has ramifications for both policy development and clinical treatment. How can we address the institutional biases that these young men are so keenly aware of? How can counselors or social workers intervene effectively?”

The researchers looked at nationally representative survey data on 287 black men between the ages of 15 and 25. The data was collected as part of the Black Youth Project’s 2005 Youth Culture Survey. The researchers found that survey participants tended to fall into one of four groups.

The largest group, including 54.7 percent of participants, consisted of “low victim-perpetrators.” Young men in this group were exposed to very little violence either as victims or perpetrators. “On average, this group consisted of people who may have seen or been in a fight once in the past year,” Hope says.

The second largest group, at 25.4 percent, was labeled “precautionary victim-perpetrators.” They were more likely than most survey participants to carry a weapon at least once a week or know someone who did – but were not more likely to get into fights.

Third, at 12.9 percent, were “high victim-perpetrators,” who reported carrying weapons and threatening people with weapons weekly, fighting almost weekly, and being injured several times in the last year.

The last group, “injurious victim-perpetrators,” made up only 7 percent of survey respondents and were distinguished as being injured almost monthly – but were no more likely to carry or threaten people with weapons.

The researchers found that young men who fell into the “high victim-perpetrator” group were also the young men who felt the most disenfranchised – they had experienced the most racial discrimination, were most aware of institutional discrimination, had the most experiences with the criminal justice system as both victims and suspects, and were the most cynical about politics. The “precautionary victim-perpetrator” group was also very aware of institutional discrimination and was very politically cynical.

“In short, these are people who feel they do not have an equal opportunity in everything from education to the justice system, and they don’t feel they have any power to change the status quo,” Hope says. “These are clearly issues that are strongly associated with high-risk behavior.

“This highlights the need to include young, black men in policy development in a very real way,” Hope says. “We need to find ways to bring these people into the process of governance, and give them meaningful opportunities to be heard and to make a difference.

“We’d like to get an opportunity to explore the effectiveness of programs that work with young, black men to help them navigate issues related to institutional discrimination and give them the tools they need to feel empowered to effect change,” Hope says.

The paper, “Walking Away Hurt, Walking Around Scared: A Cluster Analysis of Violence Exposure Among Young Black Males,” is published online in the Journal of Black Psychology. Lead author of the paper is Alvin Thomas of Palo Alto University.

Note: This is a guest post by Matt Shipman at NC State News. 

Undergraduate research highlights student’s interest in linguistic diversity

Posted on October 5, 2015 7:26 am by Nash Dunn

Jessica Hatcher.

Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Jessica Hatcher’s ear became attuned to a range of dialects.

She could hear, for example, that residents of Goldsboro, her hometown, spoke differently than natives of Eden, a town about 150 miles away near the North Carolina-Virginia border.

It wasn’t until Hatcher arrived at NC State that she realized she could study how people talk.

Her epiphany came during a meeting of the English Club her freshman year, when she heard linguistics professor Jeff Reaser speak about the North Carolina Language and Life Project. Established by the university in 1993, the Language and Life Project focuses on research, education and outreach programs related to language in the American South.

“I didn’t know linguistics was a field,” Hatcher recalled recently. “So when I learned about that, I kind of freaked out a little.”

Hatcher, now a senior, has made the most of her opportunity to study linguistics at NC State. In addition to being an Honors Program student, a Fulbright Summer Institute scholar, and a recipient of the William and Lesa Edwards College Merit Scholarship, Hatcher has received two undergraduate research grants through the College of Humanities and Social Sciences for her work in linguistic diversity.

She got started not long after learning about the linguistics program during her freshman year. While meeting with Reaser, her faculty adviser, she told him she was interested in his work and asked how she could help.  

Since coming to NC State in 2005, Reaser’s research has revolved around issues of linguistic diversity in public education settings. When Hatcher came to him in 2012, he was working on a project along those lines.

Students Jessica Hatcher (right) and Brianna Teague (left) stand with NC State linguistics professor Jeff Reaser at the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics.

Students Jessica Hatcher (right) and Brianna Teague (left) stand with NC State linguistics professor Jeff Reaser at the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics.

Through a Spencer Foundation grant, Reaser and University of Pittsburgh professor Amanda Godley developed a course designed to educate pre-service teachers about language variation. To assess the course’s effectiveness, they recorded each time it was given in an in-person, classroom setting.

Reaser’s first task for Hatcher was to transcribe the recordings.

“It was a task that tends to scare a lot of people off,” Reaser said. “Not Jessica, though.”

Using the transcriptions, Reaser and Godley put together new materials that would be used in an online course. Hatcher’s second project was to analyze the online discussions and compare them to the in-person versions.

Data from the online courses would serve as the framework for multiple studies Hatcher has helped the faculty researchers conduct. Reaser said he trained Hatcher in broad data analysis, and soon she was one of the top coders amongst her peers, including Ph.D. students.

“Most recently, she’s been the one who has developed and created nuances in the coding system,” Reaser said. “She’s actually coming up with insights and creating systems for what we analyze.”

‘Dialect is a pattern’

Hatcher has helped present findings at several conferences and symposiums, including the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics, the New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference and the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting.

Student Jessica Hatcher stands beside her research poster.

Student Jessica Hatcher stands beside one of her research posters.

She’s also presented at the NC State Undergraduate Research Symposium, where in 2015 she discussed her study of pre-service teachers’ attitudes and knowledge about language. She said the data she analyzed, which stems from the online courses Reaser and Godley developed, suggest that Southern teachers are more comfortable discussing non-standard dialects than their non-Southern peers.

The participants in the online courses came from more socially diverse states and universities and likely had more exposure to stigmatized dialects of English, she said. It’s possible that the difference in exposure can lead to more awareness of language variation and nuanced and positively-framed discussions of authentic dialect.

That’s important to consider, Hatcher said, when designing teacher programs and improving literacy among non-standard speaking students.

“One of the goals is to show teachers that dialects are patterned and grammatical,” Hatcher said. “If teachers have unfair assumptions about dialect-speakers’ potential, it can negatively affect student performance right off the bat. Teachers shouldn’t judge students’ abilities based on their speech. Dialects and abilities are just not correlated.”

Hatcher said in addition to fulfilling her general interest in linguistics, her undergraduate research has helped her develop public speaking, time management and networking skills. Reaser agreed.

“You learn methodology, critical reading, how to think about assumptions; it makes you bring a critical lens to everything else,” Reaser said. “In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, we want our students to be real critical thinkers, and we think research helps do that.

“It changes how you approach everything in the world.”

Opening the door for underrepresented students to study abroad

Posted on October 2, 2015 12:59 pm by Nash Dunn

Sabriya Dobbins

Sabriya Dobbins, a junior studying social work and animal science, studied abroad in India.

Nia Doaks says studying abroad was the best decision she’s made in college.

Sure, the NC State communication major was nervous before traveling to Peru for six weeks; she had never been overseas. However, by stepping out of her comfort zone and living with host families for most of the trip, Doaks said she made great strides in learning about language and cultural traditions that are far different from her own.

“I learned, for instance, that when you greet someone, you kiss them on the cheek,” Doaks said. “I would never have known little things like that if I had not gone abroad.

"Cultural competency is very important in the job market, so if you have something like study abroad on your resume, I think it really helps.”

Doaks, a junior studying public and interpersonal communication, talked about her experience during “#TravelingWhileBlack,” the first in a series of information sessions aimed at encouraging underrepresented student groups to study abroad. The sessions, which will also seek out Native American, Hispanic, multicultural and first-generation students, are part of a larger College of Humanities and Social Sciences pilot program that will award grants to help some students pay for learning overseas.

Through the program, which is being funded by a $25,000 NC State University Foundation grant, the college hopes to show students how study abroad can augment their education and careers. Organizers also want to expose any misconceptions that may be holding them back.

How to pay for study abroad programs, for instance, is one of the top concerns echoed by students who are leery about going overseas, said Blair Kelley, assistant dean for interdisciplinary studies and international programs at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Kelley, who wrote the grant for the program, said the pilot program will help offset the cost of trips for some students and inform others about alternative funding opportunities that exist.

The pilot program’s grants of up to $2,500 will be awarded to eight Travel Scholars from underrepresented groups, including first-generation students of any background, Kelley said. Eligible applicants must also be Humanities and Social Sciences majors who have completed at least 12 letter-graded credit hours.

Blair Kelley

Blair Kelley, assistant dean for interdisciplinary studies and international programs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, addresses students during "#TravelingWhileBlack: A conversation about study abroad."

“We want to show students that study abroad is an investment in their future that’s really going to pay off,” Kelley said. “It expands what students know and can do.”

Six student panelists talked about how study abroad enriched their education during the #TravelingWhileBlack information session, an event that drew more than 50 students. In addition, NC State Study Abroad adviser Kevin Feeney spoke about eligibility requirements, what programs are offered and how financial aid and scholarships can help pay for trips.

“In 98 percent of cases, the financial aid you have here travels with you,” Feeney said. “What that means is any aid you are receiving, whether it’s a loan or grant, by and large that’s going to transfer and you can use that to study abroad.”

By targeting the pilot program at underrepresented groups, organizers add to a growing effort across the nation to create a more diverse student profile abroad.

In the United States, 76 percent of the nearly 290,000 college students who study abroad each year are white. And while the National Center for Education Statistics shows that African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and multiracial students make up nearly 40 percent of total college-student enrollment, less than 24 percent study abroad, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2014 Open Doors report.

Kelley said first-generation students of any background are also less likely to travel while in school. Family obligations and a general cultural hesitancy to travel are reasons those students sometimes have concerns, she said.

“They don’t have family-based experiences that let them know early on that study abroad is interesting and rewarding,” Kelley said. “I don’t want them to miss it because they didn’t know it was important.

“Just knowing that the world has a lot more in common with you than it doesn’t is a powerful thing.”

Lisa Redfearn

Lisa Redfearn, a senior business administration major, talks to a group of her peers during "#TravelingWhileBlack: A conversation about study abroad."

As part of the pilot program, Kelley is tracking the reasons why students have apprehensions and charting how study abroad affects their learning. She is asking students to fill out pre- and post-assessments at each information session and will follow up with those who receive grants.

Kelley said that data can help show why some student groups need more encouragement and how important study abroad is in their education.

“It changes your perception about lifestyle, politics and culture,” Kelley said. “And when students return, they have a broader outlook on the degree they are completing.”

A committee will begin reviewing applications to the Travel Scholar program on Nov. 15. For more information or to obtain an application form, contact Kelley at

Using social media

To recruit students to the program and get anecdotal evidence for the information sessions, Kelley is taking to social media. Prior to the #TravelingWhileBlack event, for instance, she asked some of her 23,000 followers on Twitter to comment on their studies overseas.

Her question sparked an ongoing conversation, with dozens of users commenting on their experiences.  

By Nash Dunn

Grad student, Boren Fellow seeks answers to youth unemployment in Morocco

Posted on October 1, 2015 7:05 am by Nash Dunn

Mary Sloan

Graduate student Mary Sloan sits on a boat near El Jedida, Morocco, where she visited a youth employment project in the area. Photo courtesy of Mary Sloan.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, youth unemployment rates are some of the highest in the world.

Upward of 30 percent of the region’s population younger than age 25 don’t have jobs. That’s more than double the global average, according to the International Labor Organization.

In Morocco, the story is no different. NC State graduate student Mary Sloan wants to know why.

As a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Boren Fellowship, Sloan is spending 10 months studying in Morocco, researching what’s keeping young people from finding employment in the region. In addition to studying Arabic during her stay, Sloan plans to survey Moroccans ages 18-30 and also area employers.

“This will allow me to capture both the demand and supply-side constraints,” Sloan said.

Her research will also include interviewing donors and program officials from current youth employment programs.

“Combined, I am hoping to use this data to evaluate the reach of these programs and their effectiveness,” Sloan said.

After studying Arabic and economics at the University of Illinois, Sloan enrolled in NC State’s Master of International Studies program in 2013 to further explore her interests in development issues in the Middle East and North Africa.


The Old Medinah in Tangier, Morocco. Photo courtesy Mary Sloan.

The summer before she began her graduate studies in NC State’s School of Public and International Affairs, Sloan spent two months in Fez, Morocco, studying Arabic. She fell in love with the country, she said, returning the next summer through a College of Humanities and Social Sciences Paula G. Cothren Global Scholarship to intern with the High Atlas Foundation, a nonprofit that creates sustainable development projects in Morocco.

“As an intern, I was able to see firsthand how these projects were developed, implemented and evaluated,” Sloan said.

The internship was also the first time she learned about the Boren Fellowship. One of her peers had received the international study award to research Moroccan language.

“It was exactly what I wanted to do after finishing my coursework, and so I decided to apply,” Sloan said.

The application process was straightforward but rigorous, she said, requiring three different essays for her proposed project. Luckily, Sloan said, NC State Scholarship and Fellowship Coordinator Tiffany Kershner was there to help.

“She read over my essays numerous times and is very knowledgeable about the whole process,” Sloan said.

School of Public and International Affairs professor Mark Nance helped her iron out the details of her research project and SPIA professor Jeffrey Diebold and NC State’s Arabic Section Coordinator Jodi Khater wrote her letters of support.

“I can’t over-emphasize how helpful and supportive these individuals were,” Sloan said.

Mary Sloan

Graduate student Mary Sloan stands in front of her winning poster at the 2015 NC State Graduate Student Research Symposium.

While her latest research will focus on youth unemployment, Sloan has also studied the impact of humanitarian aid. At the NC State Graduate Student Research Symposium in March 2015, she won first place in the social sciences and management category for her poster, “Measuring Need: The Spatial Placement of Aid in Morocco.”  

Among other findings, results from the study suggested that donors have typically aligned aid with impoverished areas rather than human security hot spots, or areas where environmental, economic, food and health insecurities overlap.

After studying in Morocco, Sloan will fulfill a one-year commitment to the U.S. government, a requirement of the Boren Fellowship. She wants to continue monitoring and evaluating development projects and will apply for positions with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other agencies working in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Hopefully I will find myself back in the region sometime in the future,” she said.

By Nash Dunn

Study Highlights How Former Drinkers Navigate Social Drinking Situations

Posted on September 29, 2015 7:58 am by Nash Dunn

Photo credit: Edson Hong. Photo retrieved via Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: Edson Hong. Photo retrieved via Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license. 

A small, qualitative study published in the journal Health Communication highlights a wide variety of approaches that former problem drinkers take to determine how and whether to tell people in social situations that they don’t drink.

“The findings tell us that former problem drinkers can find it tricky to navigate social situations where alcohol is involved, and makes clear it’s important to support those who aren’t drinking and not push non-drinkers to disclose their reasons for not having a drink,” says Lynsey Romo, lead author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University.

For the study, researchers interviewed 11 former problem drinkers, who had been sober for between one and 19 years. The work was part of a larger study on how all non-drinkers – not just recovering problem drinkers – navigate social events where alcohol is being served.

“We found that former problem drinkers still want to be social, of course, but that they had to find ways to determine whether to disclose their non-drinking status to others,” Romo says. “Study participants said they felt the need to weigh how much they should tell other people. Essentially, they assessed the risk of being socially stigmatized if they were open about not drinking or about being in recovery.”

Many study participants reported trying to avoid the issue altogether, either by “passing” as a drinker (holding a cup but not drinking) or by simply turning down offers a drink without saying why.

If asked directly, some would make excuses for not drinking – citing health problems or being on medication that didn’t allow them to drink alcohol. Some would try to use humor to change the subject.

However, most participants noted that they make a point to stress that it was okay for others to drink around them.

A few study participants – particularly those who had been sober for a longer period of time – reported being open about their history of problem drinking, particularly if they thought it would defuse a situation that threatened their sobriety or if they thought it would help others that may be struggling with problem drinking.

The paper, “‘Coming out’ as an alcoholic: how former problem drinkers negotiate disclosure of their nondrinking identity,” was published in Health Communication Sept. 11. Co-authors of the paper were Dana Dinsmore at the University of Arizona and Tara Watterson, a former NC State graduate student who is now at the University of Kentucky.

Note: This is a guest post by Matt Shipman at NC State News.