Photography As Memoir: Questions for Meryl Meisler, Art Education Field Supervisor and Author

Meryl Meisler, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Art and Art Professions, supervises NYU’s student teachers in the New York City public and private schools.  Meisler has worked as visual and digital art teacher for New York City’s Department of Education, a photographer for the American Jewish Congress, and a faculty member at the International Center of Photography.  Her work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, Dia Center NYC, MASS MoCA, The Whitney, and in public spaces such as Grand Central Terminal and the New York City subway system.

Self Portrait Sky Studio Adventurer (Meryl Meisler)

Your book, A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick, juxtaposes images of Brooklyn with the disco scene of the 1970s and 80s — can you talk a little about your life at that time?

Although my bachelor’s degree was in art education, I was scared to teach, so I returned to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and earned a master’s degree in photography and illustrative drawing.  In 1979, in need of steady paycheck, I became a part time New York City public school art and photography teacher. Then in 1981, in need of a full time job with benefits, I became the art and photography teacher at I.S. 291 in Bushwick.

Handshake (Meryl Meisler)

Walking to my new teaching job, I was shocked. Bushwick resembled a war zone, scorched and seeming forgotten since the widespread arson that occurred during the 1977 blackout.  But to me, Bushwick’s natural light was beautiful; kids were kids and vacant buildings whispered: ‘Here I am, take my picture before I collapse.’

In 1977, I met stand-up comic, Judi Jupiter, at Mardi Gras, and we became friends and started going to the punk clubs and discos together. So I photographed New York City street life by day and my adventures in the city’s hottest discos by night; developed the film, cut them up, then placed them in negative sleeves to file away. I showed a few of the street photos, but never showed any of the disco images until now.

Grace Jones La Farfalle (Meryl Meisler)

How did your students react to your photos?

The students were more impressed by my drawings than my photography. They had a huge respect for artists and appreciated the drawing tips I could give them. They loved having access to cameras and a darkroom, using art and photography to learn about their neighborhood, express their points of view, and make work to show to the public.  Former students who connect with me through social media or in person, recall fondly the projects they worked on decades later.

Meryl Meisler and her students at I.S. 291, Bushwick, Brooklyn.

As Steinhardt’s art education field supervisor, do you get to shoot much?

Working as the art education field supervisor at NYU part time gives me time to dive into my archives, organize exhibitions, and focus on my book. A prequel and sequel are in the works. I consider the work I am doing now a visual memoir.  I still follow my personal passion by photographing student teachers during observation sessions. Students can use these images for their teaching portfolios.  These days, I am adding to what is probably my largest ever growing body of work — a pedagogue’s view of  New York City’s public and private schools from 1979 to now.

Pink Twins (Meryl Meisler)

What did creating A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick, teach you?

You are what you see and do.

Everyone you meet is important.

Perspective takes time and editing.

Each of us is a witness to and part of history.

To me, photography is memoir.

Beauty Salon (Meryl Meisler)

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Never give up on yourself and your personal artwork. Keep doing it; that is your gift to yourself and the universe. It will help keep you grounded and sane. If, like me, you need to be employed, make your job an extension of your creativity.


On October 7th, Meryl Meisler will be discussing A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick, at NYU’s Bookstore.  Visit the bookstore’s website, to learn more about the event.

NYU’s Urban Farm Lab Celebrates Its Second Harvest on Thursday, October 2nd

NYU Urban Farm Lab is celebrating its second annual harvest on Thurs., Oct. 2. Image courtesy of NYU Urban Farm Lab (

New York University’s Urban Farm Lab is celebrating its second annual harvest on Thursday, Oct. 2 from 3-5 p.m. Located on the corner of Wooster and West Houston Streets behind the Silver Towers residences, the farm is a collaboration between the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt, Silver Towers tenants, and the University Plaza Nursery School.

The NYU Urban Farm Lab is an outdoor classroom that promotes hands-on activities related to urban agriculture and food systems. Under the leadership of Jennifer Berg, director of the graduate food studies program at NYU Steinhardt, and Amy Bentley, associate professor of food studies at NYU Steinhardt, the farm brings together faculty, students, and community members who plant, water, weed, and more to grow crops in the heart of New York City.

After several years of planning, the NYU Urban Farm Lab grew its first crops in 2013, thanks to a Green Grant from NYU’s Office of Sustainability. Now in its second year, the farm is seeing growth – and not just in its plants.

“Our ‘Introduction to Urban Agriculture’ course went from one section of students to three full sections,” says Bentley. Faculty and students also built working compost bins, and improved the farm’s soil through compost application and rotating crops with cash and cover crops.

Carrots, turnips, radishes, lettuce, beets, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, kale, herbs, and flowers were among the crops grown since last September’s inaugural harvest. Attendees on Oct. 2 will be able to pick the final crops of the season.

“Even though we had a late start getting our plants outside thanks to last winter’s weather, we still had a great season,” says Laurel Greyson, manager of the NYU Urban Farm and adjunct instructor of food studies.


Art Department Fall Public Lecture Series Presents Nikki S. Lee, Chris Kraus, and Sarah Lewis, and More

Korean photographer and videographer Nikki S. Lee will be among the guests hosted by the NYU Steinhardt Department of Arts and Arts Professions Fall Events Program.

Dancer/filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, cultural critics Chris Kraus and Eileen Myles, cultural historian Sarah Lewis, and photographer Nikki S. Lee are among the guest artists scheduled to take part in this fall’s public events series hosted by the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Arts Professions.

The Department will reprise its series of visiting lecturers, which takes place weekly on Thursdays at 5 p.m. The popular series enables students and the public to hear a wide variety of artists discuss their work in an interactive setting. The full list of speakers and dates for fall are as follows:

10/2: Peter Nadin
10/9: Cynthia Daignault
10/16: Josh Kline
10/23: Mika Rottenberg
11/6: Bruce Hainley
11/13: Rebecca Morris
11/20: Carissa Rodriguez
12/4: Kerstin Brätsch
12/11: Moyra Davey
12/18: Yvonne Rainer

This fall’s series will also feature three special events. The first, “Nikki S. Lee: New Art,” will be a screening and three-way conversation with the Korean photographer and NYU alumna Nikki S. Lee, Christopher Phillips, curator at the International Center of Photography in New York City and Jung Lee Sanders, gallerist at Arts Projects International. The event takes place on Friday, October 17 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at the Cantor Media Center, located at 36 East 8th Street between University Place and Greene Street.

The second special event, to be held Thursday, October 30 at 6 p.m., is “Chris Kraus and Eileen Myles in Conversation,” the first public conversation between two notable writers and art critics who have maintained a lively private dialogue about art and culture, life, politics and ideas.

Chris Kraus is the author of four novels, most recently “Summer of Hate,” and two books of art and cultural criticism. She writes frequently for art and cultural magazines, including Artforum, Spex, n+1 and Tank. Eileen Myles is a poet and the author of eighteen collections of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, as well as libretti, performance pieces and plays. The intro to Kraus’s “I Love Dick,” and her essay, “Street Retreat,” for the Whitney Biennial will be part of a longer collection of travel writings about Russia, India, Ireland, and living homeless in New York City. Her new and selected poems “I Must Be Living Twice,” will be published in 2015. The dialogue will be hosted by Lyle Ashton Harris, associate professor of Art at NYU Steinhardt.

On Friday, December 5, the department will host an interactive discussion with noted cultural historian Sarah Lewis. Lewis is the author of “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery,” which discusses how innovation, discovery, and the creative progress are all spurred on by advantages gleaned from improbable and unlikely events, including failure. Her essays on race, contemporary art and culture have been published in many journals as well as The New Yorker, Artforum, Art in America and in publications for the Smithsonian, The Museum of Modern Art, and Rizzoli.

All events are free and open to the public, and (with the exception of Nikki S. Lee) will be held at the Einstein Auditorium, located at the Barney Building, 34 Stuyvesant Street, just off 9th Street, accessible by the 6 subway line (Astor Place).

Visit here for more information.


On Racism and Diversity in Higher Education: An Interview With Faculty Member Michael Sean Funk

Michael Sean Funk, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Administration, Leadership, and Technology, studies the relationship between racism and higher education.  He has served as the associate director of the Academic Achievement Program at NYU and as an adjunct associate professor at Smith College Graduate School of Social Work.

Your research has explored the experiences of black men in institutions of higher education.  What have you learned?

I have learned an immense amount from my participants and from the literature I surveyed about the Black male experience from the Civil Rights Movement until today.  What resonated most was how the narratives about Black men in higher education literature, particularly at predominately white institutions, were often inconsistent with what I learned from the students I interviewed. For instance, although often written about and researched in the aggregate, Black men are not a monolith; they have a range of values, goals, and experiences and that became clearer in my research.  Another example is the common discourse about Black men and how they enact maladaptive behaviors and attitudes, such as the “cool pose,” the cult of anti-intellectualism, oppositional identity, or they avoid “acting white” in attempt to preserve some sense of self-dignity in society where they have been historically marginalized.

A diverse campus represents a true democracy where individuals and social groups are represented regardless of social identity.

Notwithstanding these deficient frameworks, the Black males in my study were committed to their own academic achievement.  They valued learning for the sake of learning, saw it as a means to strengthen their community, and also as a way to achieve personal and professional gain. They weren’t afraid of  being ridiculed for their academic endeavors, but were able to lean on their peers and community as pillars of support.  Perhaps most striking, they were hyper-aware of stereotypes about Black men in education and utilized these negative perceptions to fuel their strivings for academic success.

You have taught social workers how to address issues of race and racism in their work.  Tell us a little about that work.

Over the last six years I have taught aspiring clinical social workers how to develop a reflective-practice around issues of race and racism. The foundation begins and ends with “knowing yourself and knowing your client.” It is imperative that clinicians become aware of their own filters or personal biases brought into the room and what possible factors are in the background of their clients’ presenting problem.  I stress the importance of examining these issue beyond an interpersonal analysis and encourage them to embrace a person-environment approach by framing their clinical encounters within an institutional and historical context.  I encourage them to look at other variables, as well.  Racism does not happen in a vacuum:  their clients are equally affected by their class, gender, sexual orientation, ethno-religious ability, and age identity(ies) as well.

What else can colleges and universities do to encourage tolerance and diversity?

I would argue if a college or university promotes tolerance toward diversity as a benchmark then they are in serious jeopardy of being an antiquated institution of learning. Diversity should be an imperative for all institutions of higher education. The benefits of diversity are well-documented by leaders in our most prominent institutions including: government, education, business, and the military. In 2003, former supreme court justice Sandra Day O’ Connor cast a vote to support affirmative-action based on her understanding of the value of a diverse student body. Additionally, a diverse campus represents a true democracy where individuals and social groups are represented regardless of social identity.

Colleges and Universities can embrace identity by not only diversifying its student body, but also its faculty, senior- administration, and staff. This can be done through departmental posse hiring, pipeline programs, grants and scholarships that promote affordability, and by reexamining the scope of targeted high schools. Students become disillusioned if they feel mislead by the cover of brochures or lip-service paid to diversity initiatives. As my mother wisely said, “don’t listen to what people— or in the case, institutions say— watch what they do!”

(Photo:  Chris Nichols)



Study by Steinhardt Faculty Finds that INSIGHTS, A Classroom Intervention, Can Help Shy Children Learn

INSIGHTS, a program that helps teachers understand temperament, can improve math and critical thinking by helping shy children become more engaged in their class work, finds a study published in School Psychology Review.

In the classroom, shy children — who are often described as anxious, fearful, socially withdrawn, and isolated – are less likely to seek attention from teachers and engage with their peers. As a result, research shows that they may have difficulty in school, and teachers may perceive them as being lower in academic skills and intelligence than their more outgoing classmates.

“The needs of shy kids are important but often overlooked because they’re sitting quietly, while children with behavioral problems get more attention from teachers,” says Sandee McClowry, a professor in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology and the study’s senior author. “It is important to get shy children engaged without overwhelming them.”

Shyness is one of four temperaments identified in INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, an intervention designed to help teachers and parents match environmental demands with an individual’s personality. The program provides a framework for appreciating and supporting differences in the personalities of children, rather that trying to change them. Participants in the program learn to recognize four temperaments: shy, social and eager to try, industrious, and high maintenance.

In the current study, the researchers evaluated whether INSIGHTS supports the academic development – specifically critical thinking, math and language skills – of children in urban, low-income schools. Nearly 350 children and their parents across 22 elementary schools were followed during kindergarten and across the transition into first grade. Half of the schools participating were randomized to INSIGHTS, while the other half, which served as the control group, participated in a supplemental after-school reading program.

“Kindergarten and first grade are big shifts for children, regardless of temperament. For example, teacher-student ratios are higher and classes are more structured. For shy kids, this transition is a particular challenge,” McClowry says.

The researchers were especially interested in what happens after summer break, as studies have shown that high-risk children’s skills decline over the summer while they are out of school. By providing children with extra support in the last part of kindergarten, the researchers hoped to sustain the students’ skills over the summer.

Over 10 weeks, teachers and parents in the INSIGHTS program learned how to recognize differences in children and support them in ways that are specific to their individual temperaments. During the same time period, children participated in INSIGHTS classroom activities, using puppets, flashcards, workbooks, and videotapes to help them solve daily dilemmas – for instance, having a substitute teacher or a play date at an unfamiliar house – and understand how individuals differ.

While all children enrolled in INSIGHTS showed improvements in academic skills, the effects were substantially greater for shy children. Shy children who participated in INSIGHTS had significant growth in critical thinking skills and stability in math skills over the transition from kindergarten to first grade, compared to their shy peers in the control group who declined in both areas.

The researchers observed no gains in language arts skills among shy kids from the INSIGHTS intervention compared to the control group, perhaps due to the benefits the children in the control group gained from the supplemental reading program.

“Our study supports creating an environment that makes shy children feel safe and respected in order to support their development,” said Erin O’Connor, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author. “We need to reframe our understanding of these children, because for the most part, shy children are not just going to ‘come out of their shell.’”

In addition to O’Connor and McClowry, study authors include Elise Cappella and Meghan McCormick. The research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (R305B080019 and R305A080512).

(Photo:  ©thinkstock/Fuse)


Exposure to Aggression Between Parents Can Interfere with a Child’s Ability to Regulate Emotions, Finds NYU Steinhardt Study

Exposure to verbal and physical aggression between parents may hurt a child’s ability to identify and control emotions, according to a longitudinal study led by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The findings, which appear in the journal Development and Psychopathology, also suggest that household chaos and prolonged periods of poverty during early childhood may take a substantial toll on the emotional adjustment of young children.

“Our study points to ways in which aggression between parents may powerfully shape children’s emotional adjustment,” says C. Cybele Raver, professor of applied psychology and the study’s lead author.

“Arguing and fighting is psychologically stressful for the adults caught in conflict; this study demonstrates the costs of that conflict for children in the household as well.”

Research has demonstrated that exposure to conflict and violence in the home can shape children’s neurobiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses. Increased hypervigilance may support children’s safety in the short term, but can be detrimental for their long-term emotional adjustment. For instance, children who hear or witness their parents fighting may have trouble regulating their emotions in less risky situations, such as a classroom.

While earlier research established a link between parental conflict at a single point in time and children’s adjustment later in life, Raver and her colleagues saw a need to explore how children may be adversely affected by prolonged exposure to this aggression.

“We also were interested in other forms of adversity in the children’s environment, including poverty and household chaos, that could affect their emotional adjustment, since few studies have considered multiple factors,” says study author Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology.

In the study, the researchers measured children’s exposure to several forms of adversity, and how they predicted their ability to recognize and regulate negative emotions, such as fear and sadness. The researchers followed 1,025 children and their families living in eastern North Carolina and central Pennsylvania, two geographical areas with high poverty rates.

The researchers evaluated the families in a series of home visits from the time a child was two months old through 58 months of age. They gathered data through parent questionnaires, administering tasks to the parents and children, and measuring the level of household chaos – including the number of times children moved, changes in caregiver, noise levels, cleanliness, and the number of people compared to the number of rooms – versus stability. At approximately 58 months of age, the researchers assessed the children’s ability to correctly recognize and identify emotions.

Verbal and physical aggression between parents from infancy through early childhood significantly predicted children’s ability to accurately identify emotions at 58 months of age. Higher exposure to physical aggression between parents was associated with children’s lower performance on a simple emotions labeling task. Surprisingly, higher exposure to verbal aggression was associated with greater emotion knowledge among the children.

Prolonged exposure to aggression between parents was also linked to children’s ability to regulate their own feelings of sadness, withdrawal, and fear, placing them at greater risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression later on.

Other forms of adversity also contributed to children’s emotional adjustment. The higher the number of years spent in poverty, the lower a child’s ability to accurately identify different emotions. Increased household chaos, especially disorganization, also lowered a child’s ability to recognize emotions.

“This study shines a bright light on the importance of supporting parents as they navigate the ups and downs of partnership or marriage,” says Raver. “Parents need help regulating their own feelings of anger, frustration, and worry when balancing the demands of work, family, and romantic partnership, especially when money is tight.”

In addition to Raver and Blair, study authors include Patricia Garrett-Peters of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Family Life Project Key Investigators. The research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD51502; P01 HD39667) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

(Photo:  Exposure to verbal and physical aggression between parents may hurt a child’s ability to identify and control emotions, according to a longitudinal study undertaken by researchers at NYU’s Steinhardt School.)

Foundations Commit $1.9 Million to Support Research Alliance for New York City Schools

A new consortium of New York City-based funders—including Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation—has joined forces to invest in the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University. The Chicago-based Spencer Foundation also announced a substantial new grant to the organization.  Together, the five foundations have pledged $1.9 million to support the Research Alliance’s core operations over the next three years.

“These resources are critical for helping us build stronger connections with educators, policymakers, and community groups,” said James J. Kemple, the Research Alliance’s executive director. “Our aim is to produce ‘better evidence for better schools’ by engaging a range of education stakeholders, and conducting research that is not only rigorous, but also relevant to  the problems that educators face in schools and classrooms.”

Wallace Foundation President Will Miller, who played a central role in organizing the fund-raising consortium, said: “The Wallace Foundation is pleased to join with other foundations in supporting the Alliance. It brings credible, independent evidence that’s shared publicly to bear on decisions made by the nation’s largest school system, with the ultimate goal of strengthening student success.”

Since its founding in 2008 at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, the Research Alliance has undertaken more than 20 major research projects, with a variety of partners, and has shared its findings through numerous conferences, presentations, and published reports.

Research Alliance work has shed light on important areas of progress for the NYC school system, as well as persistent and troubling gaps between different groups of students. The organization has advanced educational measures that move beyond test scores, produced tools to help keep students on track for success, and illuminated strategies to improve struggling schools.

The new funding will support work that is central to the Research Alliance’s mission, but not typically covered by grants for specific research projects. This includes:

  • Fast-response data analyses that answer important policy questions or lay the groundwork for future initiatives;
  • Efforts to increase the visibility of the Research Alliance’s work, via conferences and briefings, new publication formats, the Web, media, etc.;
  • Relationship-building, especially with individual schools and school networks; and
  • The development of new areas of research and related partnerships (e.g., the Research Alliance is currently developing projects on universal pre-K, students’ transitions to college and work, and educational inequality).

“The Research Alliance is well-positioned to continue providing evidence on what works in education,” said Dominic Brewer, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of NYU Steinhardt. “We are grateful for the foundations’ support, which enables the Research Alliance to function in this critical role.”

Kemple noted that leadership from both the University and Steinhardt have proved crucial to developing the new pool of resources.

“NYU’s commitment and support enrich our work in so many ways—and have been essential to convincing funders that we are a worthwhile investment,” Kemple said.

The Research Alliance is one of a growing number of research-practice partnerships being developed in cities around the country. According to Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation: “The Research Alliance is one of the leaders in a growing movement to forge mutually supportive relationships between research universities and school districts that build research knowledge to help schools achieve their goals. As a foundation committed to improving education through building new knowledge, we at Spencer are pleased to support the Alliance’s important work.”

About the Research Alliance

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools conducts studies on topics that matter to the city’s public schools. It strives to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ development and academic success. For more information, please visit


About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)

Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School’s mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit





In Special issue of ‘Behavioral Medicine,’ Halkitis Draws Attention to Smoking, Biopsychosocial Issues in HIV, and Aging

Thanks to improved treatments, people with HIV are living longer; soon more than half of all HIV cases in the United States will be in those 50 years of age and older. Research on long-term outcomes and aging with HIV is dramatically growing to better understand the challenges faced by older adults with HIV.

Perry N. Halkitis, a professor of applied psychology, public health and medicine and associate dean of academic affairs at NYU’s Global Institute of Public Health, serves as editor-in-chief of the journal Behavioral Medicine. A special issue of the journal – “Biopsychosocial Challenges of Older Adults Living with HIV” – was published in August 2014.

The special issue begins with an article authored by Halkitis and Timothy G. Heckman of the University of Georgia College of Public Health. They write that the demands of aging create stress in all lives, but these conditions are heightened among individuals living with HIV. Prior studies “underscore the complexities of living and aging with HIV and…point to the fact that HIV/AIDS is a disease, best understood and most effectively treated, using approaches informed by a biopsychosocial lens as opposed to a purely biomedical one.”

One of the six research articles in the special issue focuses on smoking and health issues among older HIV-positive men. The study was led by Danielle C. Ompad, a research associate professor of public health at NYU Steinhardt, and was coauthored by Halkitis and other members of NYU’s Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, & Prevention Studies.

The researchers studied nearly 200 HIV-positive gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men 50 years of age and older. Overall, 35.7% currently smoked, 35.7% formerly smoked, and 28.6% never smoked.

The study demonstrates a high prevalence of cigarette smoking among the men studied, and provides evidence for a relationship between smoking and HIV-related health issues, including opportunistic infections. The researchers stress that smoking cessation programs within the context of HIV care are warranted to help older men with HIV quit.

By Rachel Harrison


Caption: An NYU study shows a high prevalence of cigarette smoking among older men with HIV, and provides evidence for a relationship between smoking and HIV-related health issues. © iStock/Arne Trautmann



Inside Books: Richard Arum Explores The Tentative Transitions of College Graduates

Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates

By Richard Arum and Josipa Roska
(University of Chicago Press, 2014)

In their 2011 book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipa Roska documented the failure of universities to effectively educate undergraduates. Arum, a professor of sociology and education, and his collaborator used a state-of-the-art tool – the College Learning Assessment – to measure the higher order thinking skills of undergraduates, which rendered dismal results.

The authors’ new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, follows the same undergraduates through the remainder of their college years and into the working world. Built on interviews and detailed surveys of nearly one thousand recent college graduates from a range of four-year colleges and universities, Aspiring Adults Adrift reveals a generation facing a difficult transition into adulthood.

While some “aspiring” adults succeeded in landing jobs in their fields or pursued graduate degrees, many moved back home with their parents and struggled to find employment.  Despite these challenges, the 20-somethings remained hopeful about their prospects, and felt that their lives would ultimately be better than those of their parents.

“The students in our study… graduated into a particularly difficult and unforgiving economic climate, where often they had little more than their own optimism and a diploma to sustain them in a quest to realize their expectations,” Arum and Roska write.

They also suggest approaches to improve and measure learning outcomes in higher education.

Aspiring Adults Adrift again illustrates the challenges facing colleges – which the authors argue spend inadequate attention on academic rigor and critical thinking – to better educate undergraduates and prepare them for the real world.

-Rachel Harrison



Where’s the Noise Coming From? How Joscha Legewie Used Big Data to Learn More About the Everyday Tensions Faced by New Yorkers

What can big data teach us?  Assistant Professor Joscha Legewie discusses how he used statistical analysis to find out the times and neighborhoods where New Yorkers complained the most.

Assistant Professor Joscha Legewie is a sociologist whose research explores questions related to education, social inequality, and ethnic relations. Recently, to better understand the conditions under which conflict among New Yorkers emerges, Legewie studied data from 7.7 million time and geo-coded 311 service requests to determine the times and neighborhoods where people complain about their neighbors.
You use what you call ‘quasi-experimental research designs’ to understand sociological behavior.  Can you explain that method to us?

Quasi-experimental research designs try to imitate traditional experimental designs or randomized control trials usually when experimental data is not available. There are many situations in which it is invisible to conduct an experiments. Some of my work, for example, focuses on the effect of extreme violence against police officers on the subsequent police treatment of residents and particularly minority groups in pedestrian stops.

Designing an experiment to address this question is hard and faces clear ethical challenges. As an alternative, I use an quasi-experimental design or a natural experiment. This design compares police stops right after with similar stops right before certain events such as the shooting of a police officer. This design relies on the exogenous nature of many events and allows me to examine whether the pattern of stops changed after incidents of extreme violence against police officers and whether there is a race specific pattern to this response. Another advantage is that quasi or natural experiments often use data from real-world settings.

Your current research looks at New Yorker’s complaints.  How do you go about figuring out who complains the most and in what neighborhoods the complaints are files?

My work relies on data from 7.7 million time and geo-coded 311 service requests to examine when and where New Yorkers complain about their neighbors making noise, blocking the driveway, or drinking in public. The study tries to understand the conditions under which conflict between neighbors emerges. 311 is a centralized non-emergency telephone number, Internet platform, and smart phone application that allows city residents to file a request for or complain about issues as diverse as birth certificate services, fallen tree removal, or broken heating.

These service requests provide a unique opportunity to get fine-grained information about everyday life tensions between neighbors. It is an interesting example of how social scientist can use “big data” to address new questions or work with information on an entirely new scale. But these new data sources also have limitations and raise privacy concerns. They are generally not designed for social science research and lack important information. The 311 data, for example, does not include information on the identity of the caller so that my work can only study patterns across neighborhoods and over time.

So, tell us, who complains the most?

New Yorkers filed 42,896 noise complaints about neighbors in 2011, about 117 per day. Manhattan is clearly ahead of the other boroughs with 16,082 noise complaints in 2011 (37%) followed by Brooklyn with 12,162 complaints (28%). The difference is even more pronounced when you consider that Manhattan is substantially smaller: In Manhatten there are 10 complaints per 1,000 residents compared to 4.8 in Brooklyn.

The map gives a more detailed view showing the number of complaints per 1,000 residents across census tracts in NYC. Some areas around Midtown Manhattan stick out with a very high rate of complaints.  But it’s also interesting to see that the rate is higher in some of the gentrified parts of Brooklyn such as Williamsburg.

Some of these patterns reflect relations to neighborhood characteristics that have played an important role in research on urban communities. We find, for example, less complaints in neighborhoods with concentrated disadvantage—i.e. a higher poverty and unemployment rate, lower educational attainment, and more households that receive public assistance.

This pattern might reflect that citizens in disadvantaged communities are less likely to contact a city agency. But residential mobility also plays an important role. We observe more complaints in neighborhoods with fewer homeowners and many residents who recently moved into the neighborhood.

Presumably, this residential instability undermines friendly relations between neighbors so that residents are more likely to call 311 instead of knocking on someones door.

***  Note on references: The two working papers “Racial Profiling in Stop-and-Frisk Operations: How Local Events Trigger Periods of Increased Discrimination” and “Contested Boundaries: Explaining Where Ethno-Racial Diversity Provokes Neighborhood Conflict” (together with Merlin Schaeffer) are available from Joscha Legewie (