The Dean’s Lecture Series takes faculty expertise and knowledge from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences into the community in an ongoing effort to foster closer connections, share intriguing and timely information, and inspire conversation.

Our Pandemic Future: Human Behavior and the Environment

WESTERN HORIZONS: Our Pandemic Future: Human Behavior and the Environment

Dr. Paqui Paredes Méndez, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the WWU Alumni Association present Western Horizons, a public webinar series featuring Faculty and Alumni of the College. The inaugural event, held on June 3, 2020, featured Dr. Evelyn Ames, Professor Emeritus and founder of WWU’s Community Health Education program, and Dr. Steve Bennett, Professor of Health and Human Development and epidemiologist.

The webinar explores the following :

• Introduction to public health and its history at Western

• Impact of climate change on infectious disease

• Human behavior and our relationship to the environment

• How epidemiology informs public health policy

Western Horizons is brought to you in partnership with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dr. Michael Wolff, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science

Winter 2020

An estimated 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderon first launched his war on the country’s drug cartels 12 years ago. Tired of their government’s inability to contain the violence, in 2013, thousands of residents in the state of Michoacán took up arms and went to war with the drug cartels on their own. A year later, as many as 20,000 people had joined the so-called autodefensas (“self-defense” groups), which soon controlled nearly half of the state’s municipalities. Although they have since collapsed as a unified movement, the autodefensas succeeded in altering the dynamics of Mexico’s drug wars by introducing a new wild card actor and tactic into the malaise of political-criminal relations. Drawing from his recent fieldwork in Michoacán, Mexico, Wolff’s presentation explores the rise of civilian militias up close and personal, and in so doing, traces their origins to, among other things, a savory new gastronomical trend in the Global North.

Michael Wolff is a professor of political science at Western Washington University, where he teaches a variety of classes pertaining to political struggle and social order in the developing world. His research is focused on Latin America, where he explores the intersections between licit and illicit coercive power, examining the ways in which policymakers, state security agencies, and criminal groups shape one another’s behavior regarding the use of violence.

Dr. Edward Vajda, Professor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages

Fall 2019

Professor Edward Vajda provided audience members with a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at his original fieldwork with Ket elders during six different trips to Siberia over the past two decades. His presentation included stunning photos of traditional and modern Ket lifeways as a backdrop to historical, linguistic and anthropological discoveries. The Kets are proving to be the oldest inhabitants of northern Asia, and their language, with its unique word tones and complicated verb prefix system, appears related to languages spoken in North America by the Tlingit and Dene (Athabaskan) peoples.

Dr. Edward Vajda has been a professor in Western Washington University's Department of Modern and Classical Languages since 1987. He teaches courses in introductory linguistics, morphological theory, historical linguistics, Russian language, folklore and culture, and Eurasia's nomadic peoples. His research focuses on the languages of Northern Asia and includes original fieldwork with Ket, a severely endangered language spoken today only by a few dozen elders in the remote Yenisei River basin.

Dr. Josh Kaplan, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Spring 2019

In his talk, Dr. Kaplan discusses how the cannabis landscape is evolving, leading to more choices for consumers trying to meet their recreational and medicinal needs. He breaks down how cannabis’ different chemicals affect the nervous system and can be optimized for therapeutic purposes. The talk provides research-based insight into strategies for increasing the therapeutic efficacy and reducing adverse effects from cannabis-based treatment approaches.

Dr. Joshua Kaplan is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. His postdoctoral research at the University of Washington provided empirical and mechanistic support for the use of cannabis-based therapies in epilepsy and introduced its potential for treating severe forms of autism. He runs a laboratory studying developmental consequences and therapeutic benefits of cannabis. Dr. Kaplan is a prolific writer and was named to High Time’s 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis in 2018. The lecture was recorded by and shown on Bellingham TV Channel 10.

Dr. Douglas Sladen, Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders

Fall 2018

Dr. Sladen's talk reviews the underlying causes of age-related hearing loss. Dr. Sladen shares new findings from the United States and worldwide that demonstrate the devastating effects of hearing loss. He also shares exciting data that are important for managing cases of severe hearing loss.

Dr. Sladen has worked as a clinician, researcher, and professor in Audiology for the past 23 years. He finished an M.A. in Audiology from WWU in 1994, and then worked as a Pediatric Audiologist at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center in Nashville, TN. He spent the following three years working as a clinic specialist with Advanced Bionic Corporation before heading back to Vanderbilt University for his Ph.D. He completed his doctoral work at Vanderbilt University in 2006, where he stayed on as a Research Assistant Professor for two years. He then joined the faculty at UT Austin for three years. From 2011 to 2017, he was the Director of the Mayo Clinic Cochlear Implant Program. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. His research is centered on the speech perception abilities of children and adults with cochlear implants; an auditory prosthetic used to manage severe hearing loss. Specifically, Dr. Sladen’s work examines outcomes following cochlear implantation and methods that can be used to improve overall hearing performance.

Dr. Steve Bennett, Lecturer, Community Health Program, Health & Human Development Department

Spring 2018

An analysis of the impact of climate change on the emergence and spread of infectious disease. From vector borne disease to water borne disease, the climate can be a major driver of disease ecology. Will there be another new pandemic simply because of the impacts of climate change? Has the epidemiology and ecology of infectious diseases already changed?

Dr. Steve Bennett’s expertise is in the epidemiology and ecology of infectious disease. His interest in infectious disease began as a Peace Corps volunteer working on public health programs in Kenya. Dr. Bennett received his Master’s in Tropical Medicine and Parasitology from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Afterward, Dr. Bennett worked in South Sudan on President Carter’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program and then returned to the States to complete his PhD in Environmental Infectious Disease at the University of Minnesota. He has taught courses in Public and Environmental Health, Global Health, Disease Ecology and Environmental Sustainability. His previous research has focused on the spread of tick borne disease in Minnesota. Currently, he is a lecturer in the Community Health Program in the Department of Health & Human Development at Western Washington University.

Dr. Hugo Garcia, Associate Professor, Department of Modern & Classical Languages

Winter 2018

The Regla de Ocha-Ifá, better known as Santería, is a religious system that emerged in Cuba as a result of the survival of the religions and cultures brought with the African Yoruba groups as they intertwined with Spanish Catholicism. It is common nowadays to find the word ‘syncretism’ used to refer to the hybrid collection of this religious system. But how does one achieve a syncretic religion? How can religious beliefs of two dissimilar worlds be combined and merged? These are the questions Professor García will try to answer.

In the 18th century Cuba became an important producer and exporter of cane sugar. The large number of sugar cane plantations and mills that supported this new role for the small colonial island was an agro-industrial reality that demanded a great deal of slave labor. The slave trade that sugar generated brought to Cuba hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans who, against the odds, managed to negotiate the survival of their cultural and religious beliefs and practices. The contribution of these slaves to the Cuban culture is essential and impossible to understate even today. Professor García will propose a methodology to decode and understand the different ways in which religious elements of African origin, especially Yoruba, merge with the Catholic religion and the symbolic colonial world.

Dr. Johann Neem, Chair and Professor, Department of History

Fall 2017

At a time when state and national policy makers are debating the future of public education, Professor Neem draws on his new book, Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, to examine the contested visions that led Americans to develop public schools in the first place. By returning to our roots, perhaps we can seek guidance about how to reform our schools for the future.

Dr. Judith M.S. Pine, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Spring 2017

In the presentation, Professor Pine will explore the consequences of the widespread claim that children in poverty struggle in school because they are exposed to fewer words in their homes. Often falling under the heading of the “word gap” or “language gap”, these claims have been reported in the national press and have become the basis for programs aimed at reducing equity in K-12 education. Professor Pine will argue that the word gap claim is at best an oversimplification of a serious situation, misrecognizing crucial elements of the problem. However, this myth fits well into an existing structure of ideas shared by many of those with influence in education and in government. Solutions based on “language gap” theory may, by playing into a shared set of stereotypes, reinforce rather than reduce the inequity experienced by poor children in the K-12 school.

Dr. Bidisha Biswas, Professor, Department of Political Science

Winter 2017

Bidisha Biswas presents perspectives from her recent, co-authored book Indian Immigrant Women and Work: The American Experience. The book challenges dominant narratives about women immigrants to the United States, which portray women as being either dependent migrants following the path chosen by men, or victims of desperation, forced into the migrant path due to economic pressures. Biswas’s research looks at the experiences of Indian women who have chosen their own migratory pathways in the U.S. Based on historical research and interviews with about thirty women, the book widens our understanding of immigration, race, class, and gender by focusing on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of independent, high-skilled women immigrants.

Dr. Todd Donovan, Professor, Department of Political Science

Fall 2017

Donald Trump has been cast as an 'outsider,' populist, anti-establishment figure. His victory in the 2016 Republican primaries, his campaign style, and his rhetoric surprised many political observers. This discussion considers how, or if, Trump's campaigns and the 2016 elections represent a fundamental change in the Republican Party, the American electorate, and American politics.

Todd Donovan is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. He is co-author or co-editor of several books on elections and representation, and is past president of the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association. His research areas include public opinion, elections, electoral rules, representation, and direct democracy. He studies elections in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and has worked as an expert witness on election matters in state and federal courts in Alaska, California, Montana, Tennessee, and Washington.

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