In Case You Missed It – March 13, 2015
Welcome to In Case You Missed It, a weekly roundup of news articles related to issues of psychology, health and mental health, social justice and the public interest that you may be interested in.
This week, we have stories including what the Oklahoma University SAE fraternity scandal tells us about Americans’ understanding of racism, new research on teen brain development and how it impacts impulsiveness and risk-taking, the persistent wage gap between women and men and more. Read on.
The shocking video of racist chants sung by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity at Oklahoma University is an example of bigotry that almost no one tries to excuse. However, beyond individual acts of racism, Americans have a harder time understanding the profound impact of systemic and structural racism on our society. Many people believe that racism has to be egregious or explicit to be taken seriously. This does not take into account phenomena like implicit bias (or unconscious racism) which may contribute to the economic, educational and judicial inequities that pervade our system. Individual racist acts are easy to single out, but addressing broader systemic violations of the rights of entire social groups is a far more complicated challenge.
The release of the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report documenting explicit racism and abusive policing has shone a harsh spotlight on the Ferguson PD and its municipal court system. However as this story shows, Ferguson’s policing practices are not unique – in fact a number of neighboring municipalities use similar tactics. This article is a glaring illustration that the roots of racism, prejudice and institutional inequities are deep and strongly entrenched in the fabric of this country. However, what is not highlighted by this article are the deleterious effects that chronic exposure to racism and discrimination has on people of color. The emotional and physical toll of daily encounters with racial oppression is manifested in significant health disparities.
For more information concerning the physiological and psychological impact of the pervasive exposure to racism and discrimination, please see:
Immigrant parents face significant barriers to getting and staying involved in their children’s education. They are often low income, with limited English proficiency, and they may feel schools are a hostile environment. What is not addressed in the recent Migration Policy Institute report on this issue – what the reporter calls the “elephant in the room” is that it is even harder for unauthorized immigrant parents to get involved. Contact with a government employee risks exposure, especially if parents are required to be fingerprinted or show legal ID when they arrive at the school, and especially if immigration agents use school drop offs to arrest parents. For more on the challenges that immigrant children and families face, read APA’s Psychology of Immigration 101 resource.
When our kids hit puberty, what’s going on in their brains? The stereotype of the impulsive risk-taking teenager continually making bad decisions clouds what is really going on, according to new fMRI research by Temple University psychology professor, Laurence Steinberg and colleagues. When playing a driving game by themselves, teens didn’t take any more chances than adults did. However, when asked to perform in front of a group of peers, they took double the chances – the mere presence of peers making them less cautious. To borrow the author’s analogy, the average teenager’s limbic system – the emotional center of the brain looking out for threats and rewards – is Captain Kirk. The prefrontal cortex – our internal voice of reason making cost-benefit analyses – is Spock. However, in teens, the prefrontal cortex is still developing and can’t always rein in Kirk when they are in reward-seeking mode, which may explains the impulsiveness and risk-taking we see at this age.
Millions of Americans with mental health problems are heeding the call to get help for their conditions. However, this raises the question – “who is going to treat them?” New federal requirements that guarantee mental health coverage in health insurance plans has only contributed to a shortage of providers. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that 96.5 million Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health providers. Meeting the needs of these Americans may require going beyond the psychiatrist workforce to involve other types of health care professionals in the provision of mental health care services.
According to a new report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a girl born today would have to wait until almost retirement age before earning the same as her male counterpart. IWPR measured data like median annual earnings, the ratio of earnings between men and women, women’s participation in the labor force, and the percentage of women who have managerial or professional jobs. Women overall still earn $0.78 to the $1.00 that men earn and if things continue at this pace, the wage gap won’t close until 2058. Conditions vary by the state in which you live, for instance, Wyoming won’t close its wage gap until 2159. For more, read our blog post on why women can’t wait another 50 years for equal pay.
In this opinion piece, former APA president, Diane Halpern, comments on the uphill battle that many women’s colleges face (Sweet Briar College being just one example). The number of women’s colleges has declined from 230 to just over 40 in the last 50 years. Could this decline be linked to the apparent thriving of women throughout higher education? Women are enrolled in higher education at higher rates than men and achieve better grades. Dr. Halpern posits that “there is no data to support the myth that single-sex colleges prepare women better to become leaders in our co-ed world.“
On March 11, Utah lawmakers and Mormon Church leaders celebrated passage of a landmark bill banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The so-called “Utah compromise,” includes protections from employment and housing discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, yet still shields religious institutions and affiliates such as charities, schools, hospitals and family-owned businesses that stand against homosexuality. The bill does not address whether businesses can deny services based on religious convictions, e.g., a wedding photographer objecting to shooting a same-sex wedding. While not wholly satisfactory to LGBT advocacy groups, most figured the legislation went about as far as a conservative state like Utah could go. For more info, read up on APA’s advocacy on LGBT policy issues.
Netflix TV show, Orange is the New Black, and pop culture figures like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox have brought greater attention and understanding of transgender issues to the public in recent years. However, Amazon’s award-winning show, Transparent, which focuses on a septuagenarian family man transitioning to his true female identity, is the first show of its kind to address the experiences of transgender older adults. This article tackles the thorny issues these individuals face when they transition in their 60s, 70s and beyond – they are trying to reconfigure a central tenet of their identity decades after building an adult life with family, career and other social obligations. For more on the challenges transgender older adults face, read our most recent blog post: Invisibility Squared.
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