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Darlene Bhavnani of Dell Medical School and Bill Kohl of the College of Education join Talking Eds to discuss the importance of contact tracing for containing infectious disease, and how uneven policies and ongoing protests can complicate efforts to flatten the curve.



Yvonne: Hi, and welcome to Talking Eds, the podcast for all things education, produced by the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Since mid-March, Dr. Darlene Bhavnani, epidemiologist in the Department of Population Health at Dell Medical School, and Dr. Bill Kohl, professor of Kinesiology and Health Education of the College of Education, both at UT Austin, have been part of a team of medical personnel and academics responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, both of them working on contact tracing. Today, we’re going to talk a bit about contact tracing, what it is, why it’s important, and also about how the reopening of states and the current social unrest may be further complicating the efforts to flatten the curve.

First of all, thank you both for being here with us today. Dr. Bhavnani, you’re still relatively new to Dell Med and UT Austin, can you give us a little bit about your background and how you came to be here?

Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: Yes, so I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist. I’ve worked in global health for over 10 years, and I spent the last five years working in Central America helping to eliminate malaria. So, I was working to eliminate an old disease that has been around for over 100 years. And now I find myself at UT working at Dell Med, and it’s the opposite. I’m working very hard on COVID-19 to control a very new disease.

Yvonne: Thank you. Dr. Kohl, can you share your focus of your work?

Dr. Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III: Certainly, Yvonne. While Dr. Bhavnani is new and has a lot of new ideas, I’ve been around a long time. You might wonder why a professor of kinesiology is interested in infectious disease. I’m also a professor of epidemiology in the UT Houston School of Public Health in the Austin campus. And I also worked for CDC for some years in Atlanta, which gave me the background and interest in infectious disease that we’re able to bring to this current crisis right now.

Yvonne: And how large is your team right now? How many folks are you working with?

Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: Yeah, so right now most of our contact tracers, I would say, are volunteers. We do have some reassigned Dell Med staff and we’re working with the University Health Services, with some of their stuff as well, but I would say the majority of them are volunteers. We just recently scaled up from a size of 100 contact tracers on our team. Now we’ve opened that up to 150 to 200. So, we’re looking to train more and more people each week to keep up with the growing number of cases in Austin.

Yvonne: Wow. So, let’s go back a little bit to earlier this year. It’s my understanding that the dean of Dell Medical School, Clay Johnson, kind of had his eye on the issue a little bit early, and was being in front of contact tracing from around January/February. Is that right?

Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: Yeah, I think we were inspired, and him in particular was very inspired with what some of these other countries in east Asia were doing. So, South Korea, China, and others, in the way they were doing the contact tracing. So, inspired by the success that we saw in other countries, Singapore included, I think he recognized the need very early on, and was very supportive of us developing a small contact tracing team that started off very small on campus, just around the cases that were coming to us in the UT community. And we grew, we grew to fulfill a need that existed and we’re happy to be doing that today.

Yvonne: So, let’s talk about contact tracing itself. Can you walk us through the process involved?
Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: Sure, absolutely. So, contact tracing starts when you have a lab confirmed positive case of COVID-19. It’s a technique that’s been used by public health officials and practitioners for many many years with other infectious diseases such as HIV, TB, and others. So, it’s not new but it does start when you have that lab confirmed positive. So, it’s dependent on having very good testing. Once we have a notification of a case, we get on the phone and call that person, and we talk to them about when their symptoms began.

We try to understand when their symptoms started because with this particular infection, we understand the infectious period to have started a few days before symptom onset, so that’s two days before and then 10 days out. That time period really represents their most infectious period, when they might have actually transmitted the infection to others. So, we try to talk to them about what they did during this time frame, where they went, who they may have been in contact with. We try to get information about those contacts, including the names and the phone numbers of those individuals, and then we follow up with those specific contacts by calling them and talking to them about exposures, when that exposure happened, how long we expect them to quarantine or isolate should they be feeling sick, and try to link them up to resources to either get tested or set them up for success as they quarantine.

Dr. Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III: And Yvonne, one of the best examples of the system that Dr. Bhavnani put in place was just published this week in the publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, there is — I’m sure she will talk about it — but there was a cluster of UT Austin students, an outbreak, a cluster of cases among a group of students who went to Cabo San Lucas for spring break, and came back and started to have contacts with roommates, with community contacts and others, family. And with this aggressive contact tracing, they were able to minimize the, I guess leakage, if you will, to others — the infectious period to others — and contained the outbreak fairly rapidly. That, I think, is a model for, as they pointed out in the paper, is a model for opening schools in the fall, what to do, ramp them up and be ready with contact tracing as soon as it happens because you never know when the next outbreak is going to be, and it’s a very potent tool in the epidemiologist’s toolbox to help contain disease outbreaks.

Yvonne: I’m glad you mentioned the opening up of schools because that’s obviously on so many people’s minds. I’ve got a 14-year-old as well who’s eager to start 9th grade and to start high school, and to actually play sports. And so, we don’t know what that’s going to look like. I know that when you started your work, most of the states were on a pretty tight lockdown, and I would imagine that that makes the contact tracing easier to do because people aren’t milling about in lots of different scenarios and places. Can you talk a bit about the environment now that states have opened up as much as they have, as well as like, the protests and things and the unrest that has happened in the country, does that complicate the contact tracing?

Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: So, I would just say that contact tracing is really focused on those close contacts, and for public health practice purposes, we follow very closely the CDC definition of a close contact, so that’s 15 minutes within 6 feet. But you know, physical contact such as a kiss or a hug I mean, that would qualify to our contact tracers as being close as well. So, any kind of activity or movement that increases the number of close contacts and potential for transmission just really complicates our tracing as well, makes everything a little bit more difficult.

So, as we think about reopening communities and reopening schools, I think we just have to keep that in focus and make sure that we’re doing as much as we can to limit the potential for transmission. You know, things like sanitization, hand washing, masks, are important, but really it’s that distance that’s really going to make a huge difference as well. So, just making sure that we’re opening as safely as possible is going to be really important.

Saying that, those are individual level things that can be done, but I think at a higher-level, making sure that we’re very supportive of our cases, we’re making sure that we’re doing good, active case detection on campuses and in schools. That includes screening but also testing and making sure that we have the infrastructure and the resources in place to be able to act upon that data that’s coming in from those cases being tested and either contact trace, like we’re doing here right now, or investigate. Identifying and investigate clusters is going to be extremely important as well as just looking at the data, making sure we’re following the data and using the data to the best of our ability to make the best decisions possible.

Dr. Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III: One of the really confounding things about COVID-19, or the coronavirus that results in COVID-19, is the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of the virus. Many times when you’re sick you know it. With this particular virus, the best data we have are that there may be up to 40% — certainly close, maybe somewhere between 20% and 40%, of people — of cases who don’t know they’re sick, and therefore don’t see a need to isolate or self-isolate or even quarantine themselves during that time period, and that’s one of the more frustrating parts of policies that allow for gradual re-openings and so forth is that even people with the best of intentions. “I feel fine, I’m going to go out,” may not know that they’re carrying or shedding the virus. And so, policies, whether they’re institutional policies, city or municipal policies, or state policies, they have to take that into account, and testing, tracing, and isolation is the mantra, I think, that until we have a vaccine, which is not likely going to be for the next year or so at least, maybe half a year from now, we’ve got to continue to invest in those resources to try to get that done.

Yvonne: Thank you for that, you just said “testing, tracing, and isolation,” I think I heard you describe that before as like the “three-legged stool” that’s needed in order to flatten the curve, is that correct?

Dr. Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III: Yes, and it’s absolutely critical, and early on we were low on testing. Testing kits and so forth are now a little bit more available; there’s saliva tests instead of nasal swabs that are starting to appear, but it’s still — the recommendations have evolved now. Usually it was if you’re sick you might be eligible to be tested a few months ago, now with more testing available, there’s a lot of asymptomatic people who are going to get tested as well, and that’s probably a good thing, particularly if 20% to 40% of people don’t know they are carrying the virus.

Yvonne: Right, my final question for you both is, what advice would you give to those who either must go out and be in the public, or feel compelled to in order to participate in demonstrations that they believe are vital to social change?
Dr. Darlene Bhavnani: So, I would say to think very carefully about that because as soon as you’re stepping out of your house, you’re not just putting yourself at risk but you’re putting others in the community as risk. So, I would just weigh those risks very carefully, but I would also say that there may be alternative ways to protest from your home. I know that just released in the media was a list of locally-owned businesses by African Americans or Hispanic community members.

You know, finding other ways to protest can be just as powerful without having to put yourself and others in your family or in your community at risk. So, I would say that’s something to keep in mind. At the same time, as much as we can physically distance, I would say, if we’re out there wearing masks, just trying to protect yourself and others from that transmission can really also help if you must go out.

Dr. Harold W. (Bill) Kohl, III: Yeah, assuming that most protesters are younger individuals who might not be as risk for the disease compared to older individuals is a false assumption. Young people, meaning 20 to 35 or so, are not as at-risk for as serious or a hospitalization due to the infection as other but there’s no evidence that they’re in any lower-risk of actually getting it so, isolating — you know, this is as old as infectious diseases (laughing), quarantine, isolation if you get symptoms or get sick, and limiting your interactions is the only tool — are the only tools we have right now, hand washing, masks, those kinds of things. And I agree with Dr. Bhavnani, think twice about protesting in a large group of people, certainly the social issues we’re facing these days are absolutely critical to bring attention to and to change, but there are likely other ways that the systems can change without exposing you or your family to a disease that is terrible. It doesn’t discriminate among young vs. old, Black vs. white, others.

Yvonne: Thank you for that, thank you. Dr. Bhavnani and Dr. Kohl, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I know you’re both extraordinarily busy, and thank you to our audience for listening to our podcast, Zoom cast. If you’d like to hear more Talking Eds, please visit us at
www. https://incontext.education.utexas.edu/ Take care to all of you, and stay safe.

As a Black woman in America, I avoid the many videos that show Black people being murdered. I accidentally saw George Floyd plead for his life and ultimately die in the street, as the video was difficult to avoid online. I will never forget the horror of what I saw, and I immediately thought  of my 14-year-old son and have no doubt he had seen the images before I had.

Today, raw and graphic footage of 15-year-old Dajerria Becton being dragged by police at a pool party or video of George Floyd’s airway being crushed under the knee of a nonchalant white officer pops up on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok repeatedly and unexpectedly. After going viral, it is then displayed across reputable news sites, like CNN and MSNBC, with a few words marking it as “disturbing” so as to continue the illusion of fairness.

To be sure, in this latest case, the video of Mr. Floyd’s death has sparked a global uprising to police brutality and racism not seen in generations, but questions remain about why video of such violence is needed when, as Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley explains, there is real psychological harm done to Black people in sharing these violent images.

The reasoning for this visual display of murder is often that people have to see the truth to believe it. Yet, as noted in several interviews, the police brutality within the Minneapolis neighborhood in which George Floyd was murdered had been well-known for decades. Black people did not need video evidence. In fact, for Black people, these videos perpetuate trauma—and intimidation—so visceral that many of us must take complete and total social media breaks to care for our mental health.

Video evidence of police brutality is not new. Rodney King’s beating was in 1992, for example. If videos of Black suffering and death do not change hearts and minds of white Americans, what purpose do they serve? News outlets share in their distribution because these videos get clicks, and clicks create revenue. To abstain from showing these videos would be to decline money for their organizations. In short, Black death and its symbolism are profitable.

As shocking as that may seem, it is important to remember that the profitability of Black death and suffering has a long history in America. One can see it in the death and disease wrought by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in order to build the economy of not just the South, but America. One can see it in the postcards of lynchings white families kept as souvenirs. One can see it in the carnage of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacres 99 years ago that destroyed Black Wall Street, a threat to the white economy. And today, it can be seen in the fervent insistence on “freedom” to open up the economy, forcing Black, brown, and indigenous bodies to work in meat processing while knowing we are dying at disproportionate rates due to the coronavirus.

Recently, a reporter interviewed a white man in Georgia who felt perfectly comfortable stating, “When you look at the demographics,” referring to the coronavirus deaths, “well, I’m not worried.” This same sentiment is apparently in play when white people literally view the brutal deaths of Black Americans on their screens, large or small.

It’s past time for people to understand that the voyeuristic experience of Black pain and death is not justice. White people are already well aware of the reality of police brutality, extrajudicial murder, and racism. It’s why the Amy Coopers of the country choose to invoke the threat of police “intervention” on Black people time and time again. Black people are psychologically harmed by the airing and consumption of Black death and police brutality. Those moments of death and indignity do not need to be aired and shared ad nauseam in order to understand the inhumanity of police brutality and extrajudicial murder.

Instead, we need to better listen and provide accurate and ongoing representation of Black people’s accounts, so that video evidence is never needed. Journalists, as stretched as they are, must stop letting private citizens with phones do their jobs for them. Newsrooms must allow their reporters to deeply investigate and uncover the ubiquitous, long-standing stories of injustice and systemic racism in Black and brown communities every day. And people who care must stop requiring and sharing videos of our suffering and start contacting their representatives and police unions instead.

Over 50 years ago, James Baldwin said, “I am terrified at the moral apathy–the death of the heart – which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human.” Media and the public must understand the incredible power, harm, as well as the history of the images they choose to display. They must decide that Black lives are human lives, and human lives are more important than voyeurism and profit.

Though the collective outrage, sparked in large part by the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, has brought many to their feet as they march together to fight this seemingly intractable societal ill, it is vital that we ask not only why video was needed (when Breonna Taylor’s, Ahmaud Arbery’s and Tony McDade’s murders did not spark civil unrest) but also how change can be created and sustained without the demand for what some refer to as “trauma porn.”

–Photo by Obi Onyeador via Unsplash



Educational Psychology Professor Aaron B. Rochlen shares how the Joker movie connects to the Joker archetype and the shadow. Rochlen is licensed psychologist and a professor of counseling psychology and counselor education in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

Joker continues to crush box office records.  Reasons for the success and Oscar buzz have been frequently discussed. As a psychology professor I believe that the Joker provides a creative opportunity to take look within our own psychology and challenges our rigid views of good and evil.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist who split from his mentor Sigmund Freud, would have loved this movie. Jung wrote about the collective unconscious, a practical part of our genetic makeup we share with others across cultures and continents. At the core of the collective unconscious, are archetypes, with the “Joker” being one of the more interesting examples.

For Arthur Fleck, the main character, Joker is not only his name, but represents to the viewers a psychological significance worthy of reflection.

“The Joker” archetype lives in all of us, but may lie dormant in our minds. When activated, the “Joker” uses humor as a defense, covering up pain, and perceived injustices. Jokers resolve conflicts by bringing joy or a smile to others – momentarily deflecting their own pain.  Seeing others entertained brings relief to feelings of profound sadness or unresolved wounds.

As viewers, we may relate to Fleck. Questions to ask yourself may include: Where do you use humor to deflect pain or sadness?  When has comedy been a part of covering up tragedy or pain? And where can this style be healthy or unhealthy in your life and relationships?

The Joker also challenges our tendency to categorize others into “good” or “bad” – “hero” or “villain.” We don’t want to acknowledge how people who commit atrocious crimes can have positive traits.  Conversely, it’s hard to acknowledge that “good” people have destructive impulses.

Interestingly, this part of the movie is also the most controversial.  Some have frowned on how the movie creates an empathic audience response for the lead character. It can be disturbing to feel empathy toward those who commit heinous acts. And the Joker definitely does just that, evolving into one of the most legendary antagonists in motion picture history.

However, he is not all bad. None of us are. Bad people have good traits just as good people have dark edges. Fleck cared for his mother, entertained kids in a cancer ward, tried to make an honest living, and longed to love.

It’s natural to feel compassion or sympathy for Fleck for the abuse, bullying and humiliation he endured. This doesn’t mean we endorse his behaviors or murderous coping tragedies.

Having these feelings for the “bad guy” doesn’t cause anyone to head down a disturbing path. Doing so may even allow us to acknowledge our own “bad guy,” avoiding trouble, protecting us from harm to others and ourselves.  For Jung, this inner bad guy was part of our Shadow, the parts of ourselves that are harder to recognize or acknowledge.

This movie is a psychological primer for that lesson and others. And that’s a lesson for all of us.



Recently, 16 graduate students in Professor Anthony L. Brown’s Teaching and Learning in Urban Context course co-wrote an op-ed about urban education. The following is an edited version of their group essay.  

Students collaborating on the op-ed

Students in Anthony Brown’s class collaborating on the op-ed

Urban farming. Urban outfitters. Urban music. What does “urban” look like, sound like, feel like? What is “urban” code for? Depends on who you ask, and what you’re talking about. Within certain contexts the utterance of “urban” connotes a degree of cache and currency, but it just as easily can be deployed to denote decay and decline.

As an adjective, “urban education” signals a particular set of value-laden and layered assumptions. Historically, and across a range of media, urban schools have been represented as troubled and dangerous spaces. Repeated portrayals effectively spin images of deindustrializing cities into legends of chaos and violence, which then narrowly cast students and whole communities as products of declining schools, while simultaneously standing in as the cause of school decline itself. As with all legends and myths however, the truths believed to be contained within are just as contingent as the word “urban” proves to be.

The Troubling Deficit-Lens Narrative of Urban Education

Urban education is socially constructed and often taken up as a static narrative that serves the private goals of those seeking to exploit “urban” black and brown communities. We [as educators] must recognize this, and we must reject it. This is not the only lens, nor the clearest one.

Racism, oppression and social reproduction [the transmission of inequality from generation to generation] have been embedded within the systemic and daily happenings in schools. But by seeing these oppressions, and fighting them fiercely as communities, we can see and uplift the already existing examples of agency, opportunity, resistance and hope for an “urban” that is less legend, and more life.

The term urban and the frameworks associated with it need be redefined. Rather than being viewed through a deficit lens (seeing ‘less than’ instead of ‘more than’), “urban” must express, value, and sustain previously devalued multi-faceted cultural and linguistic strengths. Deficit thinking places the blame of student failure on deficiencies within students themselves, their families, or generalized beliefs about cultural differences. By tapping the roots of cultural wealth and breaking down the constraints of deficit-based thinking, we can acknowledge how urban education has been framed in theory and reality. We then face a choice in how to move forward. Moving forward, we must turn deficit thinking on its head and focus on assets to highlight, empower, and catalyze change.

Why Should We Fix What Isn’t Broken?

The history of urban education is disproportionately laden with folks attempting to “fix” students for normative success instead of actively dismantling systems that oppress them. Researchers attempt to implement interventions that eradicate [supposed] deficiencies of character. They also attempt to provide psychological uplift to help students overcome the damage inflicted on them as a result of their ability to adapt to the neoliberal economy, rather than make students conscious of deep structural changes that are needed to significantly change their life, chances, and future.

Urban education is steeped in a distorted, trial-and-error method of experimentation, often at the cost of students of color. Over the past half century, educational reforms have cycled through repeated efforts to apply policies that fail to fully attend to the needs of marginalized citizens. For the most part, this is not done by accident.

The history of public education in the United States has been built upon a foundation of fear, ignorance, greed, and a lack of faith in the abilities and knowledge of students of color and their parents. Attempts to resolve these issues and work against technical, impersonal, and alienating curriculum and instruction have been repeatedly buried under racially coded political arguments concerning personal responsibility, color blindness, and meritocracy. As a result, communities of color continue to suffer because of the lack of and incomprehensive educational resources.

They become a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who argue they will never succeed.

However, while some may view this as a case of racist policies pushed through by privileged stakeholders, this is not always the case. Schools often mirror the perceptions of superintendents or other policy makers as opposed to serving the needs of the true stakeholders in the communities: the families, community leaders, teachers, and students who are the most impacted. Several instances of policy decisions have led to negative changes in the school environment, including continued segregation of public schooling and governmental housing policies that accelerate gentrification in cities across America.

Rather than help educational systems, these reforms have expedited the deterioration of these institutions.

Let’s Redefine Urban Education

Teachers and schools are always in a state of process, or becoming. Society is ever-changing, and it is our collective responsibility to reimagine what is possible in schools. Moving forward we must empower educators to adopt a culturally sustaining framework of teaching which seeks to promote students’ cultural and linguistic identities.

We have to fight for anti-oppressive education within the ideological and structural systems that reproduce inequities that free public schools from myopic and deficit perspectives promoted by neoliberal education reforms, and we need to decolonize the process in which we exchange, share and value information. This means centering students and their lived realities in the classroom context and beyond.

Our collective conception of the term urban is steeped in the kinds of values we hope to undo. By redefining the term and its associated assumptions, we hope to resolve our concept of those it affects most. The spaces associated with urban contain more cultural wealth and untapped potential beyond what we could currently imagine.

In illuminating the shadowy origins of urban legends, we hope to redress our past and begin imagining and enacting asset-based, student-centered, and anti-oppressive urban education designed to reverse processes that have dehumanized those educated in urban spaces for too long.

Anthony Brown giving a lecture to a group of graduate students

Anthony Brown and his class working on the op-ed


Course Instructor: Professor Anthony L. Brown’s work pursues a theoretical argument, which suggests that the examination of the historical and racial constructions of African Americans within the social sciences, educational literature, popular discourse and curriculum is vital to making sense of how questions are raised and how educational and curricular reforms are pursued for African American students in the present.

Students:  Joanna Batt, Rebecca Casteel, Gina E. Tillis, Emma Ensign-Church, William Gross, Emiliano Guajardo, Michael Joseph, William Kiley, Heath Robinson, Tatiana Russo-Tait, Lauren Samuel, Grant Selman, Erica Steinitz, Mariah Swift, James Welty, Alexa Zin.


That’s what San Antonio Independent School District is betting on. And the bet is backed by research from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

A team of faculty and doctoral students is redesigning early childhood education through the San Antonio district-initiated collaboration with the College of Education and the Agency and Young Children Research Collaborative, called Dynamic Innovation for Young Children. Team members are restructuring learning so that it’s project-based and fosters children’s agency—or choice—in their activities.

Child-centered learning is a departure from classrooms in which children are compelled to sit at desks and receive information rather than be active participants, and it can challenge the way some educators have been taught to instruct young students. That’s why the district, which completed its first year of collaboration in May, began with professional development of educators.

Says Associate Professor Jennifer Adair, whose work on fostering children’s agency is a foundation of the project, “Teachers have to learn that when kids are noisy and moving around—in pre-k, kinder or a first-grade classroom, that’s where a lot of learning is taking place. And the teachers have to know that their principals and superintendent understand that they need to be hearing noise and seeing movement in the classroom, that it’s OK and supported.”

The initiative is not about a curriculum change, but culture change, says Adair. Engaging principals and teachers is key in transforming campuses. That’s why the first year of the five-year-long project was about working “intently with six schools through professional development that included select teachers, their principals, district leaders, the children and their families,” says Adair.

Alejandra Barraza, Ph.D. ’17, was the catalyst for change in the district. She’s the principal of Henry Carroll Early Childhood Education Center in San Antonio’s East Side neighborhood. She implemented the learning principles in her school during her doctoral studies with Adair. Barraza’s work increased engagement by students and their families, and caught the attention of district leaders, Associate Superintendent Pauline Dow and Superintendent Pedro Martinez. Dow and Adair co-lead the districtwide project, under the supervision of Martinez.

These San Antonio school district leaders, says Adair, “were willing to transform campuses and give them the same dynamic, sophisticated learning you’d find at a private school. They were willing to let their teachers and principals co-construct the experiences without a cookie cutter curriculum. That’s a lot a of trust.”

Eight UT Austin undergraduates and their instructor are sitting in a circle in a classroom. Taryn, the day’s facilitator, introduces the guidelines: “Respect the talking piece, speak from the heart, listen from the heart, what happens in the circle stays in the circle, trust you will know what to say, say just enough.”

Students sitting in a circle with the woman in focus holding an objectShe placed each students’ values, like ‘courage,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘open-mindedness’ around the circle’s center-piece. She explains to the group that the talking piece, a stuffed animal, will signal who has the floor to speak. She chooses one of the values and explains why she honors it. She passes the talking piece to Sofia, who chooses the value of compassion, and on it goes before they start their next round.

The circle is an everyday part of the Restorative Practices in Education class that Assistant Professor of Practice Molly Trinh Wiebe teaches. It’s an education course within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, cross-listed with Steve Hicks School of Social Work, and open to any undergraduate and graduate on campus. The majority of students are education majors, but some, like Nicole and Norman, are majoring in subjects such as government and sociology.

According to Wiebe, the course highlights restorative practices’ roots and principles as they can be applied to schools and the larger community. The principles learned emphasize responsibility, accountability, respect, and restoration, and students learn how to facilitate restorative circles to build relationship and trust with youths, parents, peers, and the community.

Though Sofia had never heard of restorative practices or restorative circles before, she said she was encouraged to take the class by her aunt, who is a teacher in Austin. “I’d never really thought of something like this as an option in education,” she says.

D’Jon says the practices are similar to the circles he experienced as huddles on wrestling and basketball teams in high school, though they weren’t named as such. He later recognized similar practices when he was doing prison ministry. “We had 42 residents and six tables and we’d form a circle and get to know each other at the table and check in on each other. The practices teach us to value the whole person.”

The circle plays a comparable community-building role in this classroom. Says Wiebe, “When a student is absent, we all care to know that they are alright. We all know each other’s names and a bit of history about each other. We have built a relationship and trust among us. This is our community and we look out for each other.”

Restorative practices’ indigenous roots

According to Wiebe, restorative practices are rooted in indigenous traditions. Modern communities have used them in the criminal justice system to support individuals who have made the offense repair the harm that was done.A group of students sitting in a circle around a pile of school supplies

The practices also have been used to support those who were incarcerated reintegrate into society. Typically, those practices are called restorative justice. Within school systems they are called restorative practice so that students don’t feel penalized. “Restorative practice can play a role in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon, which zero-tolerance policies can serve to actively perpetuate,” says Wiebe. “Restorative practice is a humanizing approach toward education.”

Beyond classroom circles toward educational policy and practice

Joshua Childs, an assistant professor in Educational Leadership and Policy, adds that all spaces have the potential to be restorative spaces. “Beyond the classroom, the spaces students find as they walk to school and are out in the community can be restorative,” says Childs. He adds that such practices are a two-fold process. “Though it’s often focused on what’s happening with students, the adults or educators also have to be part of the restorative practice element. They should be considering how their practice as educators may be contributing to the school community and to trust.”

“Adults have to shift their practice so that they aren’t always leading with something punitive,” says Childs. “Schools can take into account what’s happening in students’ lives—such as their home life, their walk or commute to school, their physical and mental wellness—and look at how school policy adapts to that. When they institute nonpunitive dress codes and decriminalize attendance, they are using restorative practices rather than punitive, deficit practices,” says Childs. (For more on how school policy can interrupt cycles of chronic absenteeism, see Childs’ Discovery Minute.)

Students concentrating on something to the right of the imageNorman, a student in Wiebe’s restorative circle, agrees. “Whenever a student is doing something that is against school rules, it usually means something is preventing them from doing so. It’s possible that something happened in their family or they got into an accident. There’s always a reason why.”

He adds that restorative practices don’t have to be complex. There are simple things educators can do. “A teacher can allow two to three absences because they understand that life happens. They can give out tokens to use for deadline extensions or revise essays,” says Norman. “Restorative practices build flexibility.”

-Photos by Christina S. Murrey

Kinesiology and Health Education junior Vida Nwadiei and Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley will travel to Ghana this summer as part of a new research project, The Color Complex. The project, which received the President’s Award for Global Learning, is a cross-disciplinary look at colorism, both in Ghana and here at the University of Texas at Austin, in order to mitigate its harmful effects.

Colorism is discrimination based on skin color or skin shade. Dominate groups can prefer people with lighter skin shades, and the preference can also occur within communities of color. In some cultures, the preference for lighter skin causes people to use harmful skin bleaching creams in order to lighten their own tone.

Nwadiei, Cokley, and a team of students and faculty across campus, will investigate how businesses can stop the promotion of conventional “fair and lovely” beauty standards to young women of color. The team will conduct a qualitative study about the perceptions of skin bleaching and use their findings to create a campaign that educates people on the dangers of the practice.

–Videos by Christina S. Murrey

By Aaron B. Rochlen

Coronavirus is not just a game changer, it’s a game ender.  From the kids to the pros, all leagues in every sport have come to a halt.

Basketball fans, already having suffered a tremendous loss with the death of Kobe Bryant, have been hit particularly hard.  The NBA season has been postponed with players being diagnosed with COVID-19 daily. The most recent is superstar Kevin Durant.

The men’s and women’s NCAA tournament, which would have been starting this week, has been cancelled. Our March vocabulary has changed: bracket busters, Cinderellas, and Sweet Sixteens have been replaced with social distancing, quarantines, and flattening the curve.  This is the real March Madness.

The madness has not escaped this basketball fan either. Each morning, I check two .coms: CNN and ESPN.  If the news is bad in one, the other may save the day. And if both are lousy I’m still entertained by a buzzer beater, poster dunk, or other jaw-dropping highlight.

Doing so serves a small, meaningful moment in my day. It’s my sports fix.

And there is value in the fix. Loving sports and admiring our heroes allows us to disconnect from life’s chaos. It allows us to focus on something with clear rules and time frames, when there may be neither in our lives.

Sports distances us from our less-than-good-news moments. Watching the games we love allows us to connect to our need to be victorious, when nobody is winning in our everyday grind.

Some have observed similarities between the current crisis and life post 9-11. The parallels exist: travel restrictions, fear, safety concerns, and more.

But the role sports played in each crisis differs.

After 9-11, sports were halted from a few days to a few weeks. When the games restarted, they had a clear beyond-the-lines purpose. In the 2001 World Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks won in dramatic Game 7 fashion over the New York Yankees. While Arizona was the World Series champion, we all reaped the benefits. We pulled for our country, momentarily distracted from our own fear, anger, and anxiety. The games were therapeutic.

In a Chicago Tribune article written after 9-11, Bonnie DeSimone wrote, “Sports, at their core, are life-affirming… The basic act of play, the pleasure we take in watching talented young men and women at play, are not things to feel guilty about even while the casualty list grows and the investigation continues.”

Sports serve to unite, connect, and distract. And we could all use some of that right now. Yet there are no games, nor people to watch them with. Even exchanging a high five in a bar with a friend over a great match-up literally can’t happen anywhere. How surreal is that?

So what is the sports fan to do in this health crisis?

First, recognize that the ball is in your hands. The coronavirus is putting on a full-court press.  Your game plan needs to change.  In this moment, own the ball and your own psychology.

Take this as an opportunity to channel your competitiveness into non-sports related activities with your family: play your favorite family game or make some arts and crafts like LeBron James or Zion Williamson. Meet some of your own fitness goals, in your own home gym.

Do something to thank or help those working on the new front lines of this crisis: health care providers working with high-risk populations, or police or military keeping our communities safe. Write thank you cards or make a donation to a charity relevant to the health crisis.

Confront what sports may be distracting you from in a direct way. For some of us, sports moves us away from deeper discussions with our loved ones. Typically, there is always another game to watch. During these unprecedented times, listen to your family, talk with them about their plans and fears. Connect in non-sports watching ways.

Finally, do your part to keep your family and community safe. Stay home, avoid crowds, avoid contact, wash your hands. Offer to go grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. These may seem like small responsibilities, but each of us has a role in flattening the curve.

If you ever believed in teamwork this is the time to step up. You and I–we are in this together.

And for you basketball fans, there will be more brackets.

For now, let’s pull for this virus to get busted.

Aaron B. Rochlen is a licensed psychologist and professor of educational psychology in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

–Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

And how can music be used to help counselors in training? According to Educational Psychology Professor Aaron Rochlen, more than you might think.

In his Counseling Theories class, Rochlen frequently connects complex psychological theories to media, movie clips, and song lyrics. In a recent visit to his graduate level course, several examples unfolded. He played a clip of LeBron James discussing why people enjoy when he loses as examples of “splitting” and “projection.” A clip from the classic movie Scarface, where Tony Montana tells others why they needed him to see him as the “bad guy” illustrated the concept of projective identification.

In another lesson, Rochlen shared a clip of the new Jim Carrey series Kidding, in which Carrey plays Mr. Pickles, a happy go-lucky TV character whose personality contrasts his depressed, grief-ridden, off-screen character. The scene was used to show the Jungian concepts of persona, shadow, and incongruence.

The class also talked about Tiger Woods, who made a recent comeback after a devastating personal scandal to win his first major tour in five years. Woods’ rise, fall, and return provide a case study for competing archetypes. Specifically, the class discussed the destructive power of what one could argue as Woods’ “hidden shadow,” which competes with his earlier good-guy public persona.

These in-class discussions gave the students the opportunity to apply what they learn about psychological theory and counseling. Says Rochlen, “Popular culture connects to and entertains us. But it’s often much deeper, more personal. In class, I try to make these connections and use these examples to facilitate an understanding of human distress and common life-challenges in a fun way.

It’s within this context that Rochlen introduced lyrics of one of his favorite bands, Dawes. Says Rochlen, “When I first discovered Dawes, I loved the music. After a while, I realized the lyrics offered ideal connections to concepts articulated by Freud, Jung, and existential authors. In class it became clear that my students were learning in different, creative, personal ways, and who doesn’t like jamming out in class?”

Some Dawes examples used for teaching stand out.  He played “Just Beneath the Surface” to illustrate Freud’s concepts of the unconscious, defense mechanisms, and Freudian slips.  He asked students to listen to “Something in Common” while prompting them  to reflect on the concept of “persona” and the unconscious message of dreams.

Professor Aaron Rochlen with the band Dawes

Professor Aaron Rochlen, center, with the band Dawes

After the listen, Rochlen typically asks students to describe what they’ve heard, including their emotional responses, with a particular connection to the lyrics. One student said that the Dawes line “All the best kept secrets are the ones I didn’t know I had” had a connection to the unconscious. Explained Nina Clinton, a student studying counseling education, “Freud saw the unconscious as having all of the deep hidden secrets or true selves hidden away, that in therapy he tried to recover.”

The lines, “The way that she remembers me is not the way I really am. But I’m hoping they’ve got something in common” reminded another student of “working with the shadow.” They explained “the persona and shadow should share some of the same qualities, so that a person does not become too conflicted … which leads to anxiety.” When a person’s outward persona and shadow have nothing in common, there can be hell to pay.

Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer and songwriter for the band, learned that Rochlen was using the band’s lyrics for class.  He said that it was “easily the highest honor of my career as a songwriter. It goes way beyond what dreams a songwriter like me could possibly have for his or her songs. When I met Aaron, he explained to me the ideas he used my songs to help illustrate. I wasn’t familiar with any of the terms or thinkers he was referring to, so that was definitely an added thrill … especially for someone who never got to finish college, which is something I hope I get to go back and do someday.

Says Rochlen, “A songwriter doesn’t need to be aware of the concepts to be impacted by them or communicate them.  It was clear Taylor has done plenty of introspection in his own life.”

Rochlen adds, “That’s part of why using popular culture is so powerful. It shows these concepts are an intrinsic part of the human mind and psyche. Each of us has the capacity to demonstrate the core concepts in our life, in healthy or unhealthy ways. Of course, although Freud, Jung and others wrote about all of this in different times, the prescience of their work remainsjust turn on the radio or television.”

Young Latinas infuse culture, tradition, and family into their writing

“My students and their families have important stories to share,” says Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy Tracey Flores, “and writing has the power to build community and solidarity.”

That’s why Flores began an afterschool bilingual family writing workshop while she was a second-grade teacher in Arizona. In the workshops, students met in her classroom for 12 weeks to draw, write, and tell stories from their lives.

Tracey Flores works on writing with the students

“At the workshops, I modeled my own writing, we read mentor texts for inspiration, and used writing, drawing, and oral storytelling as tools to share ourselves and connect with one another,” says Flores. “Each week parents sat alongside their children at Con Mi Madre—each penning their own personal stories and working together throughout the entire writing process. In the classroom, students wrote more, began to integrate some of the strategies we practiced at workshops and, for the first time, many infused Spanish into their personal writing.”

Flores continues this work at the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, this summer, young Latinas and their families from across the Austin area participated in a Somos Escritoras writing camp on campus.

The work of infusing the students’ and their families’ culture, traditions, and language into their writing is important, says Flores, because many of the Mexican and Mexican American students in her Arizona classrooms were viewed as deficient and placed in English Language Development classrooms in which they received a different curriculum, a restrictive language and literacy curriculum, than that of their English-speaking peers.

Photo of Fabiola


“As I worked within and against these oppressive and racist structures, I saw how these mandates were silencing and controlling the voices of my students,” says Flores.

Flores says that she’s learned from the girls in this summer’s Somos Escritoras performative space “more about the concerns that are most important in the girls’ lives and the ways that they are defining themselves and naming themselves, through writing, theater, art and other performative acts. This work will inform future workshops for girls and will inform the ways that I plan and facilitate my Language Arts and Community Literacies courses for pre-service teachers.”

Photo of Genevieve


Says Fabiola, a 12-year-old girl who participated in the camp, “I wanted to find a place to fit in. I write a lot of poems in my free time, but I was afraid to share them. I feel more confident in myself as a Chicana and was able to share my stories with everyone. I have been sharing what I do in camp with my family, and they are really proud of me and that makes me proud of myself.”

Genevieve, a 7th grader, appreciated the sense of community the camp provided. “It’s been really nice to have a group that’s so open. I didn’t really get to have that in other places. This place makes me feel comfortable. We are each unique, but we have a lot in common. We were able to talk about both the discrimination we face and our triumph as Latinas. I really like hearing about others’ experiences and relating them to mine.”

Nathaly S. Batista-Morales is a doctoral student who works with Flores. She says that participating in Somos Escritoras fit into her education in the field of Bilingual and Bicultural Education because it offered her a model to see research in a new light. She says, “It showed me how to build relationships in the community, how to conduct research with the girls, and how to design opportunities that benefit my community now rather than later. Additionally, it fit well with my research focus on critical literacy, since the core of the program was reading and writing to speak back to issues of injustice, language, ethnic identity, and sexual orientation as we decentered notions of what young Latina women should look and be like.”

Says Flores, “The end goal is to engage my pre-service teachers in considering the practices of Latina girls and the work of spaces like Somos Escritoras, to privilege marginalized voices specifically, and Latina girls particularly, in their own future classrooms.”

Tracey Flores is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction within the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Tracey Flores with workshop participants and graduate students