January 7, 2011
Faculty members are an essential resource for achieving Emory’s vision of an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse intellectual community. The strategic plan has allowed the University to invest new levels of resources to strengthen faculty distinction through development and excellence, tenure and promotion, and recruitment and retention. The following faculty are representative of the many scholars and teachers who embody the University’s vision every day through their teaching, research, service and patient care.
National academies tap Emory faculty
Emory’s commitment to strengthening faculty distinction has led to an increase in the number of faculty elected to national academies. See the faculty who have been elected to national academies over the last five years.
on the rise
The outstanding scholarship of Emory faculty is internationally recognized. View a sampling of faculty honors in the past year.
Carol Anderson, associate professor of African American Studies, plunks down $250 million in fictitious funding and instructs her class to use it to transform the beleaguered New York City public school system.
The students go to town, erecting cultural centers and health care clinics. Representing a cross-section of majors, they relish the freedom to think creatively and holistically, explains Anderson. A member of the U.S. State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee, Anderson studies how international and domestic policies influence issues of human rights and racial equality.
Her first book, “Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African-American Struggle for Human Rights” (Cambridge University Press, 2003), won the Gustavus Myers and Bernath Book awards. Her forthcoming book examines the NAACP’s role in revitalizing global freedom movements from 1941 to 1960.
Anderson’s other research traces the international community’s response to apartheid. An initial endorsement from U.S. and British governments helped cement South Africa as a vital ally in the war against communism, she argues, but the system was eventually repudiated due to mounting public pressure.
“I’m fascinated with norm-changing,” she says. “What does it take to make something unacceptable, acceptable? How do you reframe the debate?”
Anderson was to speak about the role of minorities in economic life at the United Nations’ Third Session of the Forum on Minority Issues, in Geneva, Switzerland in December. In summer 2011, she will convene 15 top scholars on campus to discuss the intersection of globalization and human rights as part of an annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
Uriel Kitron is a disease chaser, tracking how and where they spread, trapping some of the responsible parties and devising intervention strategies to mitigate their impact the next time around.
As professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Studies, Kitron is now working with more than a dozen Emory undergraduate and graduate students on a large-scale, federally-funded project to help determine why cities like Chicago, Detroit and Denver have a much higher incidence of West Nile Virus than places like Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami.
A specialist in spatial epidemiology, Kitron suggests that competing viruses in Atlanta may offer humans partial protection, along with a developed tree canopy limiting their exposure.
His students rise at 6 a.m. to trap mosquitoes at Peavine Creek and net wrens in Grant Park, then hustle to the laboratory to process blood and water samples.
“There is no way you can sit in class, look at slides, listen to the professor and learn environmental studies. You have to go in the field and learn what a researcher actually does,” says Kitron, who can draw blood from an armadillo the size of a bowling ball without permanently scarring himself.
Kitron’s research focuses on the environmental risk factors of tropical and emerging diseases, including climate change, urbanization and agricultural practices. A Jerusalem native, he has studied Lyme disease in the U.S., malaria in Kenya, dengue fever in Peru and Chagas disease in Argentina, using geographic information systems to trace disease agents and their blood-sucking vectors.
English professor Laura Otis studies how words and images are used to construct knowledge in different fields. Moving beyond simple explanations of left-brain and right-brain modes of thinking, she observes how scientific and literary cognitive styles intersect to enrich each other’s growth.
“There are a lot of different fields that feel they own the relationship between language and thought, and they don’t always talk to each other,” says Otis, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for creativity.
This year, Otis is on a Fulbright Research Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where she is completing a book on visual and verbal thinking. In interviewing scientists and creative writers, she asks them to respond to a series of words.
No one approach is correct, Otis says, yet differences in word and image creation can lead to frustration and misunderstandings.
In college, Otis was a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major with a penchant for literature electives. Pursuing lab work after graduation, she found she missed the “musicality” of sentence construction and so went back to school for a PhD in comparative literature, fueling her passion for 19th-century realist novels.
At Emory, Otis’ students represent a variety of disciplines and viewpoints. In her “Literature and the Senses” course, she encourages students to define terms and expressions familiar to them, such as “neurons firing” and “Foucauldian,” for the benefit of their classmates.
“I don’t just let words slide by,” she says. “Even the people who use the words aren’t always sure of the meaning.”
Deboleena Roy bridges the divide between feminist theory and the natural sciences.
As associate professor of women’s studies and neuroscience and behavioral biology, Roy asks different questions to help guide scientific inquiry in the areas of neuroscience, genetics and reproductive health.
When yet another female contraceptive is introduced to market, Roy raises concerns about the long-term effects of hormonal regulation on the body.
When Americans go to India to hire less expensive surrogate mothers, she examines how class, race and the environment influence “the outsourcing of the womb.”
This spring, Roy will offer a seminar for graduate students across the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities to discuss alongside national experts the bioethical implications of synthetic biology, a rapidly evolving discipline that pushes the limits of genetic engineering.
“Emory is doing a great job to help prepare our students and future scientists to think in a broader way,” says Roy. “Students can’t silo themselves. They have to see how neuroscience is making its way into the humanities and how the humanities influence neuroscience.
“Scientific knowledge influences how we engage with the body, and, in turn, affects the way we come to understand and treat such issues as race, gender, class, sexuality, disability and more.”
Applying feminist philosophy to the natural sciences can transform the way in which knowledge gets produced, she says.
“While my work is not primarily geared to increasing the number of women in the sciences, if you don’t change the approach, you’re not going to be able to attract those people,” she explains. “I’m using feminism as a theoretical space to launch inquiries, giving a voice to the marginalized.”
Frank Wong, associate professor of behavioral sciences and health education, explores the interconnected web of alcohol, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.
The Rollins School of Public Health professor teaches courses at Emory on global health programming and syndemics, which explores how adverse social conditions, such as poverty and oppressive social relationships, can lead to clustering of disease in certain populations.
His research focuses on China, where HIV/AIDS prevention falls under the authority of one government agency, while other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are handled by a separate department. Free HIV testing and treatment is available in government-sponsored clinics, while comparable services for syphilis and other STDs incur a fee.
With China’s explosive economic growth, syphilis has emerged as one of the fastest-growing epidemics, contributing to increasing rates of HIV infection. Establishing a network of integrative services is crucial to improving the country’s overall health, says Wong.
Wong’s research focuses on men who have sex with men, a group accounting for an estimated 11 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in China. Under a five-year, NIH-funded study of 1,200 men in Shanghai—half of whom are prostitutes known as “money boys”—he is uncovering a pattern of behavior fueled by fear and stigma.
After completing a similar study in the U.S., Wong hopes to extend the Shanghai study by conducting a longitudinal analysis of men who have sex with men in southern China, tracking their health status and decision-making over 18 months.
“If we can get people to come forward, get tested and immediately enrolled in treatment, we are going to save a lot of lives and a lot of money,” he says.
More from the Strategic Plan Update issue