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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Help us Celebrate Black History Month

With so many incredible Black History Month events over here in Madison, it’s important to dive into more information about this celebratory month.

Black History month has been recognized in the United States by every U.S. president since 1976. Other countries have followed in our footsteps and also designated a month to celebrating black history. Black History Month focuses on the achievements by African Americans and their crucial roles in our own history.

Every year, the current U.S. president endorses a theme to accompany that current Black History Month. The theme for this year is “African Americans in Times of War,” and marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, honoring the pivotal roles of African Americans in wars beginning with the American Revolution up until the present day.

Come help us celebrate Black History Month by attending some of UW’s exciting events! (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a busy calendar of events celebrating Black History Month. Some of the events to come include:

  • An open house at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where powerful events will be told through historical objects, artifacts, and documents alongside contemporary performances and presentation
  • A screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther”
  • A student luncheon with Dr. Cerise Elliot
  • The African Students Association annual dating for charity

…and that’s just this week! Our calendar is jam-packed with exciting events to honor Black History Month.

If you have some time to spare, be sure to check out some of the events!

 

“Bizarre” World: The Impact of Higher Education on First-Generation Students

Every environment has its niche. Whether that be understanding how you (and your face) should respond to Mac Dre in the Bay Area, the importance of the question What part? whenever someone claims they are from Chicago but actually mean the Chicagoland Area (I’m looking at you, Evanston), or even the way that UW-Madison has changed the way that you, a student, experience the words bag, bagel, or vague as they fall from the mouths of your Upper-Midwestern peers.

“I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me.” — J.D. Vance

Institutions of higher education can provide an opportunity to interact and learn with folks through individualized, unique perspectives. However, when a campus or institution is grounded within homogeneous cultures and people, any person whose identities counter this homogeneity finds that their experience in the realm of higher education becomes a starkly different experience than that of their peers. First-generation college students, much like J.D. Vance, are well aware of the “bizarre social rituals” (Vance 202) that are embedded into the fabric of higher education deeper than the patchwork of a college apparel crew-neck. In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance explains, “I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me” (Vance 234).

According to a Quartz article from 2015, first-generation students also tend to experience significant psychological ramifications within the world of higher education. Despite roughly 20% of all undergraduate students attending a four year public or private college or university being considered first-generation students, the disconnect between the student, the family, and the institution still remains. First-gen students often experience a sense of guilt in their ability to pursue the education and opportunities that others in their family were unable to follow, a phenomena called “breakaway guilt.” These factors of psychological stress are further heightened through the reality that first-generation students are more likely, about 50%, to be low-income students, and are also more likely to be “a member of a racial or ethnic minority group.”

(Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Understandably, first-generation students have varying experiences. However, there are “four distinct domains” of difficulty for folks who fall into this category: professional, financial, psychological, and academic. First-generation students are important in the world of higher education, and the acknowledgement of this sector of students within these institutions is also vital. As Vance mentions in Hillbilly Elegy, the experience of a first-generation student is often rooted in the hyper-self-awareness of social factors and expectations that are carried along with them from the first day of class straight through to graduation.

“Sometimes it’s easier knowing that the statistics suggest I should be in jail or fathering my fourth illegitimate child. And sometimes it’s harder — conflict and family breakdowns seems like the destiny I can’t possibly escape.”
—J.D. Vance

Tackling Childhood Trauma

“‘This is not a poverty problem. This is not a race problem. This is a function of human biology.'”

In an NPR interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who gave a TED Talk on Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2014, Burke Harris dove deeper into what childhood trauma does to a young child’s body and how she recommends healing its negative effects.

In her new bookThe Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Burke Harris describes the ways in which childhood trauma can change one’s physical health for the remainder of their life.

“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”

In the NPR interview, Burke Harris compared toxic stress created from childhood trauma to an interaction with a deadly bear. First, an individual feels a sense of adrenaline, and then his/her brain regulates executive functioning on how to logically handle the situation. One’s immune system is also affected because it is preparing for a potentially dangerous situation where harm to one’s body may occur.

She notes that if this reaction happens once in awhile, maybe if you ran into a bear, then it is okay. However, what is happening with adverse childhood experiences is that this happens way too frequently and is permanently affecting their health.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

In relation to children who grew up in poverty, toxic stress can be seen more frequently.

“‘What we see is that poverty itself may have a very significant impact on, first, kids being exposed to adversity, and second, the probability that the kids who are exposed will go on to develop toxic stress, because of the impact of the stress of poverty on their caregiver,'” Burke Harris explained.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance reflected on the stresses he faced as a child growing up in a poor household and how his family has been affected by these same toxic patterns as well.

“For many kids, the first impulse is escape, but people who lurch toward the exit rarely choose the right door. This is how my aunt found herself married at sixteen to an abusive husband. It’s how my mom, the salutatorian of her high school class, had both a baby and divorce, but not a single college credit under her belt before her teenage years were over… For me, understanding my past and knowing that I wasn’t doomed gave me the hope and fortitude to deal with the emotions of my youth” (229).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Burke Harris also stressed the importance of health clinics diagnosing adverse childhood experiences and effectively treating them. She created the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. Her goal is that pediatricians are doing routine screenings for these adverse experiences since early intervention makes a drastic difference.

In a school environment, some of the clearest signs of children experiencing toxic stress are difficulties with impulse control and with self-regulation, and trouble with attention. The symptoms are very similar to those of ADHD. However, it is difficult for educators to tackle the problem without enough resources to use for students in need.

She concluded the interview with suggestions on how to tackle such a monstrous and complex problem.

“‘…Schools you need help! Doctors offices, you’re part of the solution! You know, if you’re in early childhood, you’re part of the solution. If you’re in juvenile justice, you’re part of the solution. We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take off our little piece, it’s nuts how far we’ll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.'”

A Helpful Guide for Hillbilly Elegy

Welcome back Badgers! While we are easing our minds back into “school mode,” it’s also the perfect time to integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring course!

Welcome back Badgers! Now it’s time to think about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Hillbilly Elegy contains many themes that are relevant to various kinds of courses here at UW-Madison, and these complex and relevant themes hold the potential for great discussion within each course. A list of themes with page references has been posted on the Go Big Read resources page to assist course understanding and discussion of the book.

To help out instructors, the Go Big Read team has created a Book Discussion Toolkit. Within the Book Discussion Toolkit are Hillbilly Elegy discussion questions, book discussion guidelines for facilitators and participants, planning a book discussion, a program goals handout, and general book information. This toolkit will help spark conversation and how to go about covering some potentially sensitive or difficult topics.

HarperCollins has generously also provided a teacher’s guide for Hillbilly Elegy. The guide contains guided reading questions for each chapter and potential writing prompts.

A list of reviews, interviews, and related books has been created by Madison Public Library and is also listed under our Resources page for potential discussions and other sources to use within conversations surrounding Hillbilly Elegy. 

Go Big Read has created a Resource page to help with Hillbilly Elegy understanding and discussions.

If you are thinking about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course or are looking for further resources while reading the book, this resource page is here to help you!

 

 

Integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring Course!

I know what you’re thinking… Winter break is just about to begin, so why are we mentioning Spring semester already?

Believe it or not, Spring semester is approaching fast! If you’ve been busy thinking about the holidays or planning your winter vacation, take a quick second and sign up to integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course!

Integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course today! CC Image Courtesy of Jeff Miller.

With themes like gender roles, poverty, childhood trauma, stress and health, globalization, and many more, “Hillbilly Elegy” tackles a lot of relevant topics that are discussed in various courses here at UW-Madison.

Critical reading and engagement are necessary to explore the author’s themes, explore points/research discussed, and reflect. We expect lively discussion, debate, and further research to be possibilities within courses. It is a book to help ground a discussion on many difficult contemporary issues.

It’s never to early to get the ball rolling! Sign up on the Go Big Read site today.

We wish you the happiest of holidays!

Two UW-Madison Professors Investigate Childhood Trauma Effects

“‘It’s not that people are overtly deciding to take these negative risks, or do things that might get them in trouble… It may very well be that their brains are not really processing the information that should tell them they are headed to a bad place, that this is not the right step to take.'”

Seth Pollak, a UW-Madison psychology professor has spent years studying the effects of stress on children.

Adults who endured high levels of stress within their childhood have difficulty reading signs of potential punishment or loss, which makes them vulnerable to certain avoidable health, legal, and financial problems.

According to a study conducted by researchers at UW-Madison, this problem may in fact be biological, stemming from certain inactivity in the brain where a situation should be triggering awareness.

This discovery may help educate at-risk youth to avoid risky situations.

Pollak and an additional UW-Madison psychiatry Professor Rasmus Birn conducted an experiment with 50 people aged 19 to 23. These participants participated in a previous study with Pollak when they were 8 years old. The participants were those who endured high stress levels as children, such as parents killed by gunfire or substance abuse, maltreatment, and foster home placements.

The study was conducted by two UW-Madison professors. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The participants were put through several tasks while their brain functionality was measured for activity areas of loss, risk, and reward in the brain.

Results showed that high childhood stress participants were less attentive to a potential loss situation than the low childhood stress group, and were more stimulated by losses. The high-stress childhood group also reported more risky behaviors- smoking, not wearing a seatbelt in a car, or texting while driving- compared to low stress participants.

To the researchers’ surprise, it was solely the participants’ childhood stress level, and not the stress in their current lives, that was a predictor of their abilities to identify potential losses or avoiding risky behaviors.

“’So many of our behavioral interventions are predicated on the idea that people will understand there’s a sign they’re about to be punished,’” Pollak said. “’Maybe we need to rethink some of those things.’”

The researchers plan to further investigate their findings and continue researching this topic.

“’Now that we have this finding, we can use it to guide us to look at specific networks in the brain that are active and functionally connected,’” Birn said. “’We may find that childhood stress reshapes the way communication happens across the brain.’”

 

The Opioid Epidemic Hits Close to Home

We’ve discussed the opioid epidemic several times- whether it be on a national level, looking more closely at Hillbilly Elegy, or hearing more about it at the Keynote Event last month.

The opioid epidemic has also caught the attention of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, but there has been another group in the Madison area that has been focusing on this problem for years.

The opioid epidemic has been affecting the Madison community. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In a recent article following the progress of this group, it revealed that Safe Communities recognized this detrimental problem in Wisconsin as early as five years ago. They have increased the number of MedDrop boxes in the past several years, which has shown to be a huge help in recovering old medication.

Safe Communities also helped launch the recovery coach program and are hoping to expand it outside of SSM Health’s St. Mary’s.

Safe Communities is located right in the Madison area. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

“They know about the pain and they know sort of how low people can feel and then, how hopeful they can be,” Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director, noted. “Having that message has made a big difference and we’ve seen 90 percent of folks who are going through that process sign up for treatment.”

While a lot has been accomplished to recognize there is a problem, Wittke believes there is a lot that still needs to be done.

“There’s a lot more to be done and things are not good. We’re not seeing a reduction in overdose deaths currently. I guess maybe the good news is we’ve seen a slowing in the rate of increase,” Wittke said.

There was a Stop the Overdose Summit on November 6th that created a to-do list and new goals for the upcoming months.

To learn more about how to combat the opioid epidemic in Madison, feel free to check out the Safe Communities website.

A Potential Solution for Multi-generational Poverty

Multi-generational poverty has proven to be a tough cycle to break. In a recent Washington Post article, it follows a Maryland County and their effort to end this multi-generational poverty. Maryland lawmakers proposed a new approach: integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming.

This new approach looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately. Legislators are calling this a two-generational approach.

“This is a process for working toward benefiting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, said Tuesday.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

The issue of multi-generational poverty was a significant theme in this year’s Go Big Read selection, Hillbilly Elegy. Vance chronicles the struggles of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Appalachia, and how it is difficult to move out of this cycle.

“And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem to be dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery” (4).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Like Vance’s neighborhood, many of the families in Maryland grow up in poverty. “Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school buses,” explained Nicholette Smith-Bligen, an executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Allegany County, in a rural area of Western Maryland, is where 20 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty. The county has begun to view their local system with this new two-generation approach. Many departments in the county have collaborated with each other to create a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

This opportunity allows families to have a plan with services to use as an outlet.

Multi-generational poverty is a monstrous problem in the United States, and it has proven to be difficult to diminish. However, if this new two-generation approach proves to be continuously successful, other states may follow in Maryland’s footsteps.

Go Big Read Program now Accepting Book Suggestions

It’s that time of the year again… the Go Big Read Program will now be taking suggestions for the 2018-2019 Go Big Read book!

Starting in 2009, The Go Big Read Program has grown immensely and allows for both UW-Madison students and the Madison community to spark discussions around the selected book.

An array of past Go Big Read book selections. We have come a long way!

Title suggestions for the book will be accepted through Dec. 15, when a review committee will take all suggestions into consideration before handing recommendations off to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who makes the final decision.

The ideal selection should have the following qualities:

  • Be readable, relevant, engaging and well written.
  • Appeal to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
  • Encompass sufficient depth and scope to generate discussions from different points of view.
  • Be conducive to teaching and learning, and offer opportunities for integration into academic programs.
  • Lend itself to a variety of activities and programming.

The selection could be both fiction or non-fiction, preferably published within the past five years. Although some book selections, such as “Evicted” two years ago, have been Wisconsin-focused, that is not a requirement.

You can submit a book suggestion through the Go Big Read website.

Book suggestions can be made through the Go Big Read website.

The Go Big Read program looks forward to seeing what suggestions you can come up with!

 

Childhood Trauma and its Potentially Detrimental Effects

“‘Chaotic — there is no other way to describe my childhood. I always felt alone.’”

Rob Sullivan, now an adult, still remembers the traumatic events from his childhood that impact him every day. In an interview with the New York Times, Sullivan discusses how the trauma in his life as a child has led him to hardships in his adulthood.

Running into trouble with the law as an adult, Sullivan believes that he is responsible for making bad decisions in his own life, although experts claim that this troubling path may begin long before the individual recognizes it.

What happens to a child in their youth can affect their decisions as an adult- whether that be ending up in prison or even their overall cognitive functioning.

“’Childhood trauma is a huge factor within the criminal justice system,’” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University and co-director of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. “’It is among the most important things that shapes addictive and criminal behavior in adulthood.’”

As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance describes traumatic events of his own childhood that still affect him and his relationships today.

“In my worst moments, I convince myself that there is no exit, and no matter how much I fight old demons, they are as much an inheritance as my blue eyes or brown hair” (230).

Author J.D. Vance pictured with his grandmother. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Childhood trauma affects everyone differently, but for both Sullivan and Vance, the troubling memories from their childhood do not fade away with age.

Both Sullivan and Vance completed questionnaires that measured the degree of childhood trauma, criteria including physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, and several others, and the two of them scored relatively high.

In Sullivan’s case, there have been many connections to those in prison and their experiences with childhood trauma.

New York Times study followed 10 newly released prisoners in Connecticut for a year, Sullivan being one of them. A look at their histories demonstrated that before they were prisoners, many of them were victims of abuse.

Seven of those 10 completed a questionnaire to quantify the level of childhood trauma they experienced, and all but one scored four or more, indicating a high degree of trauma and an elevated risk for chronic diseases, depression, substance abuse, and violence.

Although traumatic childhood experiences affect individuals differently throughout their lifetime, most adults remember many of the traumatic events they experienced. For Sullivan, he has run into trouble following some patterns of previous family members, such as substance abuse and prison. Although it is a grueling process, he hopes to turn his life around for the better.

Child trauma affects the lives of many adults today. CC Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

“’I have never followed through on anything in my life,’” he said, tears in his eyes. “’It’s hard. I know if I end up back in the streets I will end up drinking and using again.’”

Undoubtedly, childhood trauma has been scientifically proven to affect individuals in their adult years. It will be interesting to see what kind of continued discoveries we will read about childhood trauma moving forward and possible solutions for this serious issue.