Visiting Artists Series Launches with Lectures by Leslie Hewitt, Luis Gispert, Wayne Koestenbaum

Conceptual artist Cheryl Donegan, contemporary visual artist Leslie Hewitt, sculptor and photographer Luis Gispert, and poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum are among the artists who will be participating in the fall NYU Steinhardt Visiting Artists Lecture series, sponsored by the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Arts Professions.

rtists + Models, Cheryl Donegan, 1998, 4:43 min, b&w, sound

Lectures are free and open to the public, and take place Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. (with the exception of Cheryl Donegan, 10/1, which takes place at 5 p.m.) at the Einstein Auditorium in the NYU Steinhardt Barney Building, located at 34 Stuyvesant Street (Subway: 6, Astor Place). Registration is not required and seating is conducted on a first come, first served basis.

The full schedule of events and speakers is as follows:

10/1: Cheryl Donegan, Painting/Video - 5 p.m. start time
10/8: Xavier Cha, New Media/Performance/Dance
10/15: Leslie Hewitt, Photography
10/22: Sam Messer, Painting
10/29: Neil Goldberg, Interdisciplinary
11/5: Luis Gispert – Interdisciplinary
11/12: Josh Faught – Textile / Installation
11/19: Avery Singer – Painting
12/3: Darren Bader – Interdisciplinary
12/10: Wayne Koestenbaum – Writer / Poet / Theorist


Martha Kanter Joins Honorary Chair and Vice Chair, Dr. Jill Biden and Gov. Jim Geringer, in Campaign for Tuition-Free Community College

Last week, President Obama announced new steps to build momentum nationwide to make two years of community college free. As part of this effort, he announced the creation of the College Promise Campaign and its advisory board, led by Dr. Jill Biden and former Wyoming governor Jim Geringer and directed by Martha Kanter, distinguished visiting professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt and former U.S. under secretary of education.

The College Promise Campaign – a national, nonpartisan higher education initiative  – will mobilize an influential and growing network to educate the public on the benefits of free, high-quality community college education. Its advisory board is led by honorary chair Jill Biden and honorary vice chair and former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer, with Kanter directing the board.

“We are working to build national support for extending the guarantee of education for all beyond a high school diploma. The College Promise Campaign will promote the urgency of making at least a two-year community college education available to every student who works hard to earn his or her degree or certificate,” Kanter said.

“This is critically important for America’s social and economic prosperity and democracy’s future.”

The board will bring together luminaries and leaders from the business, philanthropy, nonprofit, labor, and education sectors to highlight community college successes, share best practices and models, and recruit more of their peers to join the cause.

“In the 21st century a high school diploma is no longer enough to lead Americans to a good job and decent quality of life,” the College Promise Campaign said in a press release.

A goal of the College Promise Campaign is to help communities and states leverage the passion of students, families, cross-sector leaders, and other stakeholders to create College Promise programs that fit their specific student populations. The campaign’s success will measured by how many students enter and complete a quality community college education, and by tracking the adoption of College Promise programs across the country.

Creating a Snapshot of Youth Attitudes: A Q&A with Gregory Wolniak

What do today’s youth think about the economy, politics, and the quality and cost of their education?

Gregory Wolniak, clinical associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes (CRHEO) at NYU Steinhardt, has been tapped for a second time to answer these questions by serving as the principal investigator of the State of our Nation’s Youth project, a study of young people’s opinions and attitudes on a variety of issues leading up to each presidential election.

The project is funded by the Horatio Alger Association Scholarship Program, one of the longest running and largest need-based college aid programs in the United States. The Association awarded Wolniak more than $108,000 to lead the 2016 study.

You’re the principal investigator on the 2016 State of Our Nation’s Youth project. What is the project studying — and why is studying our youth so important?
The project is a public opinion study based on a quadrennial survey administered in the few months prior to the presidential election. The primary purpose of the study is to provide a glimpse – a snapshot – of young people’s attitudes on issues such as the quality and cost of education, career aspirations, the economy, how they access news and interface with technology, and, of course, political issues affecting the country. A share of the study participants are in the late stages of high school and not quite old enough to vote, so gathering nationally representative data on their attitudes towards important social issues adds an interesting layer to the national dialogue leading up to the presidential election.

An additional purpose of the State of Our Nation’s Youth study is to administer the same survey to currently enrolled college students who are scholarship recipients, to provide the Horatio Alger Association with information on the extent to which their scholars are similar to or distinct from the nationally representative sample of survey respondents.

What do you hope to learn from the results of the 2016 survey?
Opinion based research of this type is intended to provide descriptive information that informs the public about the issues and attitudes shaping the country, without political bias or partisanship. The State of Our Nation’s Youth study has been conducted for over a decade. I design the survey so that the forthcoming edition asks a set of core questions that are identical to those asked in previous years, so that we can identify trends over time in ways that few studies can deliver. For example, we will have another data point showing the level of optimism high school students have towards the future of the country, which had been steadily declining during the first decade of the 2000s, but which demonstrated a slight upward tick in 2012. The 2016 edition will substantiate if, in fact, young people are gaining a more optimistic outlook following years of marked decline.

We are just now in the survey development phase of the study, and it is exciting to be drafting questions to gather new information on high school and college students’ attitudes towards and experiences with on-line education, as well as views towards topics that have captured national attention in recent years, such as healthcare policy, race relations, income inequality, and same-sex marriage.

You also were very involved with the 2012 State of Our Nation’s Youth Survey while at the University of Chicago. What did you learn from the 2012 survey about young people’s attitudes toward higher education, including accessibility and affordability?
Yes, I was the principal investigator for the 2012 study and am pleased to have again been awarded this work and to be running the 2016 edition out of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes. The 2012 report was the first in the series to include college-aged individuals, allowing us to examine how attitudes differ between students in the final years of high school and those who have entered college or the workforce. An important finding from the 2012 report was that 28 percent of respondents who were enrolled in college at the time of the survey indicated they needed to take developmental or remedial courses at some point during their college experience. This statistic mirrored other reports published at that time. It will be particularly interesting to revisit this issue with the 2016 survey given the growing concern among researchers, educators, and policymakers over the high costs and questionable effectiveness of remediation programs.

Another important finding from 2012, and quite interesting in lieu of the remediation finding, was the dramatic increases over the past decade in high school students’ taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP courses, along with a variety of extracurricular activities, are some of the primary ways college-aspiring high school students strengthen their college application. National trends showing increases in AP course-taking reflect, in part, the increasingly competitive college admissions process in the United States. The 2016 State of Our Nation’s Youth study will provide an interesting update on these trends.

In general, what drew you to study the role of education in society?
What initially attracted me to the social sciences was the field of economics. As I ventured deeper into economics, I became increasingly intrigued by the important role that education and formal training occupy in models that explain labor markets. When I decided to pursue a PhD, my initial plan was to focus specifically on the economics of higher education, but I quickly arrived at the opinion that economics-driven studies were not sufficiently taking into account the critical role of contexts (particularly institutional contexts) or students’ ascribed background characteristics. So I ended spending a lot of time taking sociology courses and ultimately devoted my scholarship and professional pursuits to understanding education in relationship to socioeconomic outcomes.

For the past decade or so I’ve been focusing my research and writing on the career and economic impacts of college, as well as the factors that influence students’ pathways into college. I am particularly motivated to understand the extent to which college students’ career and socioeconomic trajectories are affected by their experiences in college, their educational choices, and their institutional environments. For all the attention and concern focused on the impacts of college on student learning and development, we have essentially no empirical evidence to demonstrate post-college effects of the learning and development gains students make during college. My work is beginning to fill that knowledge gap.

Study Examines Neighborhood Effects on Language of African-American Youth

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates the effect of neighborhood poverty on the use of African-American Vernacular English by low-income minority youth.

African-American Vernacular English, a systematic dialect spoken by some African-Americans and commonly known as Ebonics, is rooted in history and an important identity marker and expressive resource for its speakers. However, like other vernaculars including Appalachian English, African-American Vernacular English can trigger discrimination in the workplace, housing market, and schools.

“Understanding what shapes the use of African-American Vernacular English versus standard American English is important for policy and scientific reasons,” said applied economist Lisa Gennetian, a researcher with NYU’s Institute for Human  Development and Social Change.

Researchers studied data from 629 African-American youth in a randomized residential mobility experiment called Moving to Opportunity, which enrolled mostly minority families living in distressed public housing. Audio recordings of the youth were collected and transcribed for use of grammatical and phonological features of African-American Vernacular English.

The researchers found that youth who moved with their families from public housing into lower poverty neighborhoods had less frequent use of African-American Vernacular English.  The estimates suggest that such neighborhood effects on speech could increase lifetime earnings by up to $18,000.

“Rising residential economic segregation may be contributing to growing differences in African-American Vernacular English use, which has benefits to in-group solidarity and identity but is associated with discrimination in schools and workplaces, and therefore may further exacerbate the disadvantages of youth growing up in high-poverty areas,” Gennetian said.

In addition to Gennetian, the study was conducted by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, UC Irvine, University of Chicago, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Congressional Budget Office.

Photo credit: © cyano66/iStock

Steinhardt and Stanford Receive $3 Million NSF Grant to Develop STEM Curriculum

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3 million to researchers at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and Stanford University Graduate School of Education to create a language-focused science curriculum for fifth graders.

The four-year project, which began Sept. 1, will pay particular attention to developing science education that supports English language learners.

The curriculum will align with the Next Generation Science Standards, an effort to rethink and improve how science is taught and learned in U.S. classrooms. The new standards, which grew out of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, were released in 2013 and, to date, have been adopted by 14 states and the District of Columbia.

“The Next Generation Science Standards represent a major shift from previous generations of science standards, which might have been about learning specific concepts like biosphere and hydrosphere. The new science standards ask fifth graders to develop a model of how the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere interact,” said Okhee Lee, professor of childhood education at NYU Steinhardt and a principal investigator on the NSF grant. Lee was also a member of the Next Generation Science Standards writing team and the leader of the standards’ Diversity and Equity team.

“The new standards are less about facts and memorizing information, and more about figuring things out and coming up with evidence to support your argument,” said Lee. The standards expect students to explain phenomena and design solutions to problems by blending science and engineering practices, core ideas in science disciplines, and crosscutting concepts that apply across science disciplines.

The NSF-funded project will develop instructional materials for a yearlong curriculum for fifth grade students. The curriculum will be designed for all students, especially English language learners, responding to the nation’s diverse and rapidly changing student demographics. As of 2013, Census data show that 22 percent of students speak a language other than English at home.

Diversity and equity are embedded in the Next Generation Science Standards, but elementary schools have traditionally lacked educational materials to teach science, let alone science aligning with the new standards and needs of English language learners.

“The new standards are shifting how science is taught, but they’re also shifting how language can be taught and learned,” said Lorena Llosa, associate professor of education at NYU Steinhardt and another principal investigator on the NSF-funded project.

The language approach will emphasize analytical tasks aimed at making sense of and constructing scientific knowledge, using listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

“Rather than focusing on grammar and vocabulary, our project takes a functional and holistic approach to language,” said Llosa. “The curriculum will focus on the science, and language will be used in the service of learning science.”

After the curriculum is developed and field-tested during the first three years of the project, a pilot study will be conducted in schools in California and New Jersey during the final year. Using a randomized controlled trial design, the researchers will study the impact of the curriculum on science learning and language development for all students, including English language learners, and how the curriculum affects teachers’ instructional practices.

“The experiences and interactions that will take place in classrooms informed by the Next Generation Science Standards offer an ideal opportunity for English language learners to develop English,” said Guadalupe Valdés, professor of education at Stanford and another principal investigator. “By engaging in science practices, they will explore important concepts in science at the same time that they participate in meaningful sense-making interactions with their peers.”

Helen Quinn, professor emerita of physics at Stanford University and lead author of the Framework for K-12 Science Education, will also work closely with Valdés, Lee, and Llosa on the project.

The researchers hope that the curriculum and research results from the project will help reduce the science achievement gaps between English language learners and non-English language learners to enable all students to be college- and career-ready in STEM areas.

Photo credit: © Fuse/Thinkstock

“Why We Eat What We Eat” with Marion Nestle – Sept. 24

NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development will host “Making Waves: Why We Eat What We Eat,” featuring food policy expert and Steinhardt professor Marion Nestle, on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in Vanderbilt Hall’s Greenberg Lounge (40 Washington Square South).

The event brings Nestle together with a leading neuroscientist of food and flavor, a historian of taste, and a cultural sociologist for a lively conversation about food, our diets, and why we eat what we eat.

The panel is the first in the yearlong “Making Waves” series exploring the brain and human behavior, which is part of the Steinhardt School’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Speakers for “Why We Eat What We Eat” include:

  • Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt and author of numerous books, including Food Politics (University of California Press, 2007) and the upcoming Soda Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015);
  • Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University;
  • Gordon Shepherd, Professor of Neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine; and
  • Krishnendu Ray, Chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt, who will moderate the event.

Attendees must RSVP through the event’s website by Sept. 20. Space is limited. For more information on NYU Steinhardt’s 125th anniversary events, visit our website.


Steinhardt Celebrates Its 125th Year with a Special Concert by Eduardus Halim, Renowned Pianist

Eduardus Halim, renowned pianist and inaugural holder of the Sascha Gorodnitzki Faculty Chair in Piano Studies in the Steinhardt School’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, will appear in a special performance on a “Horowitz Steinway” as part of a two-day event celebrating of the 125th anniversary of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Halim’s performance, which also marks what would have been Horowitz’s 112th birthday, will to be held Thursday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. in Frederick Loewe Theatre (35 West 4th Street).

The event will continue on Friday, Oct. 2, when select Steinhardt Piano Studies students currently studying under Halim and his other distinguished colleagues, Eteri Andjaparidze, Alexander Kobrin, Jeffery Swann, Deirdre O’Donohue, will also perform on Horowitz’s Steinway. Students participating in this program include Nicholas Hrynyk, Jaeyoung Kim, Jiseul Kim, TianYi Li, Hanyi Meng, Hakyong Park, Leandro Rodriguez, Alexandra Scheer, Alex Tuchman, Nicole Wakabayashi, Justin Wong, and Levi Vutipadadorn.

“As NYU’s music school, Steinhardt has long been a training ground for talented artists across the musical spectrum, from classical to jazz to popular music, and Eduardus Halim embodies the level of excellence to which we encourage our students to aspire,” said Dominic Brewer, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the Steinhardt School. “This two-day celebration not only allows us to experience both his talent as a performer, but also enables us to witness and enjoy how he and the other excellent faculty in Piano Studies have inspired the next generation.”

A piano prodigy born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, Halim received a full scholarship to the Juilliard School, where he was the student of Rudolf Firkušný and Sascha Gorodnitzki. He later studied with Horowitz, and went on to win 4th prize at the 1985 Sydney International Piano Competition, and 3rd prize at the 1988 competition. Halim began his international concert career in 1989 after winning the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and has appeared with such orchestras as the Baltimore Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Russian National Orchestra among others. He has also given recitals in New York at Alice Tully Hall and the 92nd Street Y, and in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center. In 2011, the Steinhardt School recruited him for an endowed professorship, made possible by a gift from the estate of Virginia Gorodnitzki, the wife of his former teacher.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have had such tremendous teachers, including Gorodnitzki, Firkušný and Horowitz, the latter of whose piano I am delighted to be able to play in celebration of Steinhardt’s 125th anniversary,” said Halim. “It’s a very special instrument.”

“Having Eduardus Halim and Piano Studies students perform at the 125 Anniversary event is wonderful recognition of how Steinhardt has evolved from a school primarily for music teachers to one of the top music schools in the nation,” said Ron Sadoff, chair of NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions and director of the Film Scoring Program, who attended Juilliard with Halim in the 1980s.

“Like Horowitz and Gorodnitzki beform him, Eduardus offers an important link to a valuable tradition and a distinctive approach to pedagogy and performance,” he said.

The program for the Oct. 1 performance includes Toccata for Organ in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach, Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major, Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, and Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky and Horowitz. The student performance on Oct. 2 will feature works by Brahms, Kreisler-Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Schubert, Scriabin, Sibelius and Ravel.

(Photo by Justin Halim)


Helping Girls in NYC’s Juvenile Justice System: An Interview with Shabnam Javdani

Adolescent girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, there’s a lack of effective interventions to help them.

Steinhardt’s Shabnam Javdani, assistant professor of applied psychology, was awarded more than $645,000 by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate an intervention called ROSES – Resilience, Opportunity, Safety, Education, Strength – and measure its effectiveness with girls in the juvenile justice system. She is partnering with the Metro Center and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, Division of Youth and Family Justice.

In a randomized controlled trial, Javdani will follow 300 girls – half participating in ROSES, half not – and will collect data about their mental health, recidivism and offenses, including violent and drug offenses. Her goal to measure the effectiveness of ROSES and identify key strategies for reducing crime among the girls.

Despite that the number of crimes by girls is growing, little attention seems to be paid to adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system. Why is this?
There are a few reasons for this. First, girls have been historically underrepresented in research on juvenile justice because – decades ago – they did not make up a large proportion of arrested and incarcerated youth. For this reason, they were termed the “invisible few.” We simply did not know what caused them to become system involved, and what types of programming (if any) worked for girls. In the last several decades, girls’ arrest and incarceration rates have increased – by over 200% for certain offenses. We actually do not know what part of this spike is due to changes in policy or changes in girls’ behavior – it is likely a combination of both. However, our research has not caught up and, all too often, we apply models of delinquency programming developed for boys to girls’ lives. What we find is that we are not very good at curbing girls’ system involvement – once they are in the justice system, they remain there for years and “age in” to the adult criminal justice system. We think of crime and behaviors associated with it as a male enterprise, and this limits our understanding of why girls engage in these types of behaviors, and how we can prevent or intervene to reduce girls’ risky behaviors and system involvement.

What exactly does ROSES do to help girls in the juvenile justice system?
At its core, ROSES is a community-based advocacy program that aims to increase girls’ access to resources. Justice-involved girls are paired with a highly trained paraprofessional advocate who works with or on behalf of each girl for 10 hours per week for about 10 weeks. ROSES has an explicitly focus on girls’ strengths, is delivered exclusively in girls’ natural communities, and is directed by the girls’ themselves – in other words, girls get to decide what goals they want to work. This model of intervention is also in keeping with trauma-informed approaches that provide consistent opportunities for girls to engage in decision making about their own lives. Through the program, girls work on a multitude of different need areas that include goals as diverse as getting a job, completing their terms of juvenile probation, applying to college, obtaining independent housing, accessing healthcare, and cultivating creative goals. Thus, because my and others’ research on girls’ offending suggests that girls’ engage in risky behaviors when they experience limited opportunities in resource poor environments, ROSES targets girls’ opportunities directly to reduce their risky behavior.

What are you hoping to learn from this study?
In the pilot phase of this intervention, we learned that that ROSES indeed increases girls’ access to resources and reduces mental health risk (e.g., depression, anger), risky behavior (e.g., violence, substance use), and increases self efficacy and resilience. However, this study was conducted with a small cohort of 50 girls and we did not have a comparison control group.

One of the key goals of this larger study is to examine the extent to which participation in the ROSES program is linked, in a causal way, to reductions in risk and improvements in health and mental health. Thus, we will follow 150 girls randomly assigned to ROSES over a period of one year and compare them with 150 girls who are receiving services they typically receive in the justice system. One of the exciting aspects of this study is to examine the extent to which a program that is largely about changing girls’ contexts can influence their individual risk and health profiles, and reduce their justice system involvement.

Public Health Study Finds 15 Percent of Cigarettes Sold in NYC Have Illegal Tax Stamps

Licensed tobacco retailers throughout New York City are selling a substantial number of cigarette packs carrying either counterfeit or out-of-state tax stamps, finds an investigation by NYU public health researchers.

These illegal cigarette sales are more pervasive in independent stores, as opposed to chain stores, according to the study published in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control.

“Our research found that illegal cigarettes are regularly available over the counter in New York City,” said study author Diana Silver, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health. “Taxes on packs sold with counterfeit or out-of-state tax stamps are not being recouped by the city and the state.”

New York City has adopted several laws over the years aimed at reducing smoking. The city currently has the highest cigarette prices in the country, thanks to state and city taxes and minimum price laws. At the end of 2013, New York City established its minimum price for cigarettes at $10.50 – $1.67 higher than the rest of New York State – and added new provisions for enforcing cigarette laws.

In New York City, stamping agents pay cigarette taxes to the government in advance; they purchase and affix tax stamps to packs for wholesalers, who in turn sell the stamped packs to the more than 9,700 licensed retailers.

“Consumers may be unaware they are purchasing illegal cigarettes, since, at least in our study, clerks sold our investigators these cigarettes at full price,” noted Silver.

Prior studies have collected littered cigarette packs and examined their stamps to try and understand the extent to which cigarette taxes are dodged, but evidence about tax evasion, especially in over-the-counter cigarette sales, is still scarce.

Silver and her colleagues studied the sales of illegal cigarette packs at licensed New York City retailers in the spring and fall of 2014, after the minimum price law was established. Investigators purchased 830 packs of cigarettes from chain and independent cigarette retailers in 92 retail-dense neighborhoods throughout all five boroughs. To determine the legality of the tax stamps, the New York City Sheriff’s office used a laser detection device to inspect the packs and find counterfeit and out-of-state stamps.

The researchers found that 15 percent, or 125 of the 830 packs, had either counterfeit or out-of-state stamps. More than 10 percent of all stamps were counterfeit, while 4.5 percent carried stamps from Virginia. Virginia does not have a minimum legal price for cigarettes and imposes a cigarette excise tax of 30 cents per pack – the second-lowest in the country.

“While cigarettes that have been smuggled into New York City from other places may also be sold directly to consumers, our study demonstrates that retailers are selling these cigarettes throughout the city,” said Silver.

A significantly higher percentage of illegal packs were purchased from independent retailers, compared with chain stores. In addition, the number of illegal packs – which were found in all five boroughs – grew over the period studied, increasing from the spring to the fall of 2014.

The vast majority of cigarette packs were sold at prices in compliance with the minimum price law, suggesting that the lower prices paid by the retailers were not passed on to customers.

“Our findings underscore the need for intensive monitoring, oversight, and support to help retailers comply with existing and new cigarette laws. The use of digital tax stamps, coordination of taxes across areas, and systematic monitoring of enforcement efforts could help to address the issues we uncovered,” said Silver.

In addition to Silver, study authors include Margaret Giorgio, Jin Bae, Geronimo Jimenez, and James Macinko. The Institute for Human Development and Social Change at NYU funded the study.

Photo credit: charnsitr/iStock

Steinhardt Study Uses 311 Complaints to Track When and Where Neighborhood Conflict Emerges

Each year, 311 – New York City’s main hub for government information and non-emergency services  – receives millions of requests and complaints, including New Yorkers’ gripes about their neighbors.

In a new study using 311 complaint data, researchers tracked when and where New Yorkers complain about their neighbors making noise, blocking driveways, or drinking in public. They found that these complaints – a defining aspect of urban life – are more likely to occur in areas sandwiched between two homogenous communities, where the boundaries between different ethnic and racial groups aren’t clearly defined.

“Neighborhood conflict arises not from mere separation or mixing of diverse populations, but as a result of these ‘fuzzy’ boundaries between homogenous neighborhoods,” said Joscha Legewie, an assistant professor of education and sociology at NYU Steinhardt. “These area may be particularly prone to conflict because they may threaten surrounding homogenous community life and foster ambiguities about group turf.”

Legewie presented his research – coauthored by Merlin Schaeffer of the WZB – Berlin Social Science Center and University of Cologne – this past Saturday at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago.

“Previous research has focused on diversity as an explanation for neighborhood conflict. Our findings are much more specific, and move away from the idea that diversity has negative consequences,” Legewie said. “In fact, it’s not diversity in general that has this effect on neighborhood conflict; it’s only these particular areas between homogenous communities.”

To define neighborhood boundaries, the researchers adopted edge-detection algorithms used in science and engineering, including computer vision and image processing. For instance, engineers developing driverless cars rely on these algorithms to detect the boundaries of objects in order to navigate. They applied these edge-detection algorithms to census data on the makeup of New York City’s neighborhoods, which allowed them to identify boundaries between ethnically and racially homogeneous areas and determine how sharp the boundaries are.

Then, using data from 7.7 million time stamped and geocoded 311 service requests made between 2009 and 2013, the researchers tracked complaint calls to measure neighborhood conflict. Indicators of neighborhood conflict include complaints of a blocked driveway, drinking in public, illegal conversion of residential space (such as short-term renting of living space), and certain noise complaints, including loud music or parties. They did not include complaints targeted at businesses, such as noise from construction sites, bars, and helicopters.

“The 311 service requests give us a unique perspective on everyday forms of conflict, and indicate that tensions are not being resolved in a neighborly way, such as knocking on someone’s door,” Legewie continued.

The researchers found that conflict was most likely to occur in areas where the boundaries between different homogenous communities are not clear. Less conflict was found in areas without boundaries (those surrounded by neighborhoods of similar ethnic and racial composition) and areas where boundaries between homogenous communities are clearly defined. The number of complaints jumped 26 percent from areas without boundaries to those with “fuzzy” boundaries.

Aside from the research contributing to our understanding of intergroup relations, the findings also introduce edge detection algorithms as a tool for defining neighborhood boundaries, and illustrate how using data from 311 and other sources enables us to work with information on an entirely new scale.

“Scholars have recently become more and more enthusiastic about the potentials of ‘big data,’” Legewie said. “With millions of analyzed 311 calls, our research is an example of how sociologists can study socially relevant, real-life actions of citizens using such data.”

This map illustrates how edge-detection algorithms were used to determine the intensity of boundaries between areas in Crown Heights South, Brooklyn, where white residents occupy an area of 24 city blocks, surrounded largely by African-American residents. The boundaries are well defined on the west side of the primarily white area, but the edges are “fuzzy” on the northeast side, where boundaries between the white and African-American communities are not well defined.