Study Notes: Confederate flags, food traffic lights and privacy

study notes sandwiches
Nutritional choices are improved when diners play a game of red sandwich, green sandwich. / Courtesy of Mass. General Hospital

Here’s a look at news and studies that are making headlines on campuses at schools nationwide:

Drexel sociology professor explains Confederate flag sightings

Mary Ebeling, an associate professor of sociology at Drexel University, started noticing Confederate flags appearing in 2010. She recalls seeing a Confederate flag taped to a light pole in her West Philadelphia neighborhood. “It is no coincidence that the flag has been appearing more frequently in non-Southern states since Obama was first elected to office in 2008.”

Although she doesn’t spend a lot of time in Philadelphia suburbs, Ebeling has seen the rebel flag in the city and has been told of frequent sightings in the suburbs and even New Jersey, along with political protests in other cities.

“I believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate and menace, and when used in public settings it is meant to instill fear in others,” she said. “It is a symbol that is imbued with the threat of violence, of white supremacy, of racism.”

Mentioning how symbols and branding work, Ebeling warns of their power and potential danger. “If people who use the Confederate flag claim that they are only showing their regional pride, then they don’t fully understand the power of symbols and how symbols can actually do physical and psychological harm. This is why display of the Nazi swastika is banned in many countries in Europe to this day. Symbols can and do invoke violence.”

Fordham Law announces privacy education for middle schools

Fordham Law School’s Center for Law and Information Policy has released curriculum for the first time for privacy education. Its mission? Partnering with law school student volunteers around the country to enlighten middle schoolers.

Joel R. Reidenberg, Ph.D., Fordham Law professor and founding director of CLIP, explains the necessity: “Teenagers are widely sharing personal information online and need to know how to practice safe computing. We think it is essential for teens to learn how online activity affects their privacy and to know how to protect themselves.”

In a recent private program, seventh graders “actively discussed the issues, learned new things about their own use of technology and learned some ways to protect themselves online.”

Reidenberg says initially they designed materials so law student volunteers could help their local communities, but they decided to expand the reach by making the program accessible for free online.

“We hope that teachers and schools across the country will adopt the materials to help educate as many teens as is possible on these privacy issues. The more teens who can be reached by the program, the more we can achieve the ultimate goal of the curriculum: privacy education.”

NYU launches media and games facility

Got games? New York University sure does. And media, too. This semester its multischool facility in Brooklyn (all 40,000 feet of it) encompasses offices, studios and work spaces, teaching labs and common research areas for MAGNET, its media and games facility, bringing together faculty from engineering (Poly), computer science (FAS), game center (Tisch) and learning sciences (Steinhardt).

Frank Lantz, director of the NYU game center, points out, “The goal is to create a huge space where different departments doing related work can find opportunities to collaborate, share resources and create, where our students can learn and reach each other. We’re going to create amazing projects! For example, a game designer from my program is working with software engineers from NYU-Poly.”

The timing was right for its fall opening. “MAGNET was opened at a time when multiple initiatives came to fruition,” Jan L. Plass, professor of digital media and learning sciences  at Steinhardt. ”Steinhardt admitted its first group of students into the new MS in Games for Learning and doubled its enrollments in their MA program in Digital Media Design for Learning. Tisch is expanding its undergraduate offerings in Game Design and is adding an MFA in this area, and the Integrated Digital Media program is continuing to be highly successful.”

Lantz adds, “The whole idea is, ‘Let’s set aside the institutional differences and the boundaries of departments and see what happens when we use physical space to encourage overlap and collaboration.”

Plus, there’s always the cool equipment. “We get to share 3D printers!” Lantz quips. “We have a room full of laser cutters and 3D printers that we could maybe not afford as individual departments but when we pool our resources, our students have access to tools and resources that we couldn’t get individually.”

Traffic light food labels promote healthier eating

Red light, green light! Nutritional labels may seem confusing and take longer to decipher when making food-purchasing decisions on an empty stomach. Well, according to a new study conducted by the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital cafeteria, choices could become easier to make thanks to color-coded labels.

Foods were simply labeled with red (Cool Ranch Doritos, anyone?), yellow or green (think fruits, vegetables, lean meats) stickers to reflect their nutritional quality. Cash registers in the cafeteria were programmed to record the color-coded purchased items, and customer surveys taken before and after the experiment showed the stickers were associated with making healthier choices.

Dr. Lillian M. Sonnenberg of MGH Food and Nutrition Service and corresponding author of the report, explains, “The traffic light system is simpler and does not require any literacy or numeracy skills to understand.”

And it’s downright healthier, too. She adds, “Our findings suggest that the traffic light labels prompted more people to consider their health and nutrition at the time they were making a purchase, and this was associated with healthier purchases for customers who noticed the labels.”


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