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Archive for January, 2011

The odd effect men’s ogling has on women

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Something for men to think about the next time they gawk at an attractive female co-worker: That longing stare may touch off a vicious cognitive cycle that could hurt her ability to do her job well.

In a new study, researchers found that women who were subjected to an “objectifying gaze” were more severely affected by the action than men. Most notably, women performed significantly worse on math problems after being ogled – a concern for advocates of improving women’s roles in male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

But at the same time, women were still surprisingly motivated to seek out and interact with the person who looked them over, the study showed.

“The objectifying gaze may lead to a vicious cycle in which women underperform in their work, giving people the impression that their looks are more important than what they do,” said Sarah Gervais, a UNL assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “Unfortunately, this cycle may persist if women continue to interact with the people who led them to underperform in the first place.”

The study involved 150 people – 67 women and 83 men – who were invited to take part in an interview-style exercise to examine how people work in teams. Each was assigned an interviewer of the opposite sex, who, when the participants entered the room, looked at them from head to waist and from waist to head in one sweeping motion and stared at their chests during the interview. Interviewers also gave participants written feedback at the end of the interview that said, among other things, that they were “looking good.”

Participants were then given a dozen math problems, and also answered several questions to establish their feelings about their own bodies as well as their interviewer.

Researchers assumed correctly that women would have more trouble with the math problems than men in the study. Women also predictably reported more shame and dissatisfaction with their bodies than men.

But why would women then say they wanted more contact with someone who objectified them? Among the possibilities, Gervais said, is that being stared at in an objectified way can suggest to women that their appearance is valued over their other qualities. This may lead them to feel their sense of belonging is threatened and can motivate them to do something about it. Or, she said, women may want more interaction to show the person who objectified her that she is not simply a sex object.

The research is an important first step toward documenting and explaining the immediate consequences of the objectifying gaze in actual interactions, and shows that it is particularly problematic for women.

Watch a video of Gervais explaining the findings.

“The results suggest that seemingly innocent overtures – checking women out or complimenting them on their appearance – have remarkably negative effects on women,” Gervais said. “Identifying the adverse consequences of the objectifying gaze is a first step toward creating interventions that can reduce its effects.”

The article appears in the February edition of Psychology of Women Quarterly and is authored by UNL’s Gervais and Jill Allen, along with Theresa Vescio of Pennsylvania State University. As of Friday, it’s been featured by Glamour, CBS News, The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC and the UK’s Daily Mail.

Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology, is at (402) 472-3793,

Flat tax friends, foes: Steve Forbes is coming to campus

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc., editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine and a two-time presidential candidate, will meet with University of Nebraska-Lincoln students at 9 a.m. Feb. 1 at the Nebraska Union, 14th and R streets.

The College of Business Administration will host Forbes’ campus visit. He is expected to address students and then answer questions from a panel made up of students from the business and journalism colleges.

“We are thrilled that Steve Forbes has agreed to share some of his time with our students here at UNL,” said Donde Plowman, dean of the College of Business Administration. “This visit provides a unique opportunity for students from both the College of Business Administration and the College of Journalism and Mass Communications to interact with a national leader in both business and journalism.”

Forbes sought the GOP nomination in 1996 and 2000. As head of Forbes Inc., he often makes appearances on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and is a widely respected economic prognosticator.

“Steve Forbes, like his idiosyncratic and ever-entertaining magazine, brings a fresh and challenging perspective to American business culture and politics,” said Gary Kebbel, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “Corporate leaders have long paid close attention to him and politicians would be wise to.”

Forbes will be introduced by Kara Lambrecht, CBA Student Advisory Board president. The four-student panel includes business administration students Eddie Hanline and Kaitlyn Bauer and journalism students Kiah Haslett and Rosemary Vestal.

The hour-long event is free and open to UNL students, faculty and staff. Media are welcome to cover the event.

For more information, contact Patti Schomaker in the College of Business Administration at (402) 472-9500.

Expert alert: Favorites to win at the Oscars

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Academy Award nominations were released Tuesday along with the usual fanfare. The King’s Speech led the way with 12 nominations. True Grit was next with 10 and The Social Network nabbed eight. Speculation immediately turned to the likely Oscar winners, who will be announced the evening of Feb. 27.

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the Ryan Professor of Film Studies, UNL professor of English and coordinator of the university’s Film Studies Program — and is often is tapped by the national media on all things cinematic. Since 1999, Dixon and UNL’s Gwendolyn Audrey Foster have served as Editors-in-Chief of the distinguished journal of film criticism, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video. His next book, forthcoming in late 2011, is 21st Century Hollywood  (Rutgers University Press), co-authored with Foster.

Here are Dixon’s picks, along with some comments:

Best Film: The King’s Speech has been gaining momentum as the kind of  thoughtful film the Academy loves to honor; The Social Network peaked rather early, and is losing some steam, and with the Oscars nearly upon us, I think that The King’s Speech has a chance for best picture. But since The King’s Speech was an upset winner at the Producer’s Guild Awards, I think it has a better shot.

“With the surprise Director’s Guild win by Tom Hooper for Best Director for The King’s Speech, shutting out David Fincher for The Social Network, I’d say Hooper is on track to snag the Oscar for Best Director at the Oscars, and the film itself will win Best Picture. It may well sweep the other categories, as well. As Gregg Kilday in the Hollywood Reporter noted on 1/29/11, ‘on only  six occasions since the DGA Awards began in 1948 has the DGA winner failed to go on to win the Oscar for Best Director.

“Hooper’s win is particularly surprising since he has only one  theatrical feature film under his belt, The Damned United, and other  than that has directed TV movies and serial dramas, such as 2008’s John Adams.”

Best Actor: “Colin Firth for The King’s Speech.”

Best Actress: “Natalie Portman for Black Swan, or Annette Bening for  The Kids Are All Right, a much better film than Black Swan.”

Best Director: “David Fincher for The Social Network, even if the film itself doesn’t win top honors.”

Best Supporting Actor: “Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech seems a lock to me.”

Best Supporting Actress: “Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom, if there’s any justice in the world.”

Best Documentary Feature:Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Best Animated Feature:Toy Story 3.”

Best Foreign Film:Biutiful (Mexico) by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.”

What’s missing?: “A raft of excellent films, from 102-year-old Manoel de Olivera’s superb The Strange Case of Angelica (which should be in the Foreign category), to Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (although the Academy gave him an Honorary Life Achievement Oscar this year, which Godard refused to accept in person); Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Alain Resnais’s mesmeric Wild Grass (actually a 2009 film); Jacques Audiard’s brutal crime drama A Prophet; Calire Denis’s White Material, one of her best films, about power struggles in colonial Africa; Gareth Edwards’s Monsters, a superb British sci-fi romance shot on a shoestring budget; the epic film Carlos; and Rabbit Hole, as well as Blue Valentine, all of which I think will be overlooked when the final awards are handed out.

The trend is towards comfortable, audience pleasing films, especially after the win of The Hurt Locker last year, which while a superb film, wasn’t a huge a big boxoffice winner. The King’s Speech is a small budget, surprise out-of-nowhere contender, especially given the film’s R rating; True Grit is also hot right now, and new in the mix, and a PG-13 rated film, which may give it more traction.

But I don’t see any ‘difficult’ films winning awards this year; I think audiences, and the Academy, want safety, solidity, and the reassurance of the past, and that’s what the nominees offer — except for The Social Network, which depicts the future as a bleak, forbidding place indeed, in Fincher’s trademark cold, clinical style.

“With momentum continuing to build behind The King’s Speech, coupled with all the ruckus about possibly re-editing the film for a PG-13 rating (which shouldn’t happen), I predict that The King’s Speech will pretty much sweep the field on Oscar night, and with 12  nominations, that’s a lot of territory.”

Wheeler Winston Dixon can be reached at or (402) 472-6064. And be sure to watch Dixon’s regular video feature, “Frame By Frame.”

Nebraska actually isn’t the ‘happiest’ state: Social media and the currency of trust

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

If you have even the remotest ties to the state of Nebraska, chances are that in the last week someone you know, are friends with on Facebook or who you follow on Twitter has touted a video of a Good Morning America segment about a website naming Nebraska as the “happiest state in the nation.”  The segment, which features co-hosts Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, discusses’s initial Happiness Index, a formula based on a state’s general financial health that, after all was said and done, put the Cornhusker State atop the site’s first list of states.

The buzz about Nebraska’s top ranking started, it appears, on Wednesday of last week. Since then, the video has gone viral around the state. A good number of Nebraskans — including a local TV personality and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson — joined in the celebration of the state’s lofty status:

Just judging from my own experience and a few social-media searches, the story chugged through the weekend and has kept up its steam early this week: In the last six days, no fewer than a dozen of my Facebook friends have posted links to the GMA video on Facebook. On Twitter, the #Nebraska, #UNL and #LNK (for Lincoln, Neb.) hashtags were graced with steady tweets, and then, naturally, Retweets, passing along the proclamation and containing links to the video. I even got a few e-mails at work about the happy news. It was breathtaking to watch such an affirming story spread across the state’s digital landscape … except for one small detail: We’re not No. 1.

We were, once. But that video that’s being passed around is nearly two years old. It appeared on the April 6, 2009, edition of Good Morning Americathe same day announced its initial Happiness Index — which did, at that point, have the Cornhusker State in the top spot. At the time, the local media did stories on it. I recall pitching it to national media and actually had one of our economists talk with the Wall Street Journal about this novel new economic index.

In the nearly two years since, has occasionally updated its Happiness Index rankings, and Nebraska has been at or near the top in all of them. But, as luck would have it,’s most recent Happiness Index has Nebraska at No. 2, behind our neighbor to the west, Wyoming. Which now not only makes the current wave of proclamations that Nebraska is the “happiest” state outdated, but also inaccurate.

It’s interesting that this story has had such social-media virility in the last week. The page everyone is linking to is clearly date-stamped “April 6, 2009,” right below the ABC video player:

Also, for anyone familiar with GMA, the second clear tipoff that this was not a new report is the presence of Diane Sawyer, who has been gone from Good Morning America for more than a year. Yet, the idea that this is somehow a new story, that Nebraska has just been named the “happiest state,” has enjoyed — and is still enjoying as I write this — exceptional viral movement in Nebraskans’ social-media circles.

So, what does this say? A couple of things, I figure. First, it shows how casual of a medium social media can be. It’s a fair bet that many people who eagerly hit “Share” on Facebook or “Retweet” on Twitter so they could pass it along to their followers weren’t paying very close attention — or probably didn’t even watch the video. Since it takes just a few seconds to click “Share” or “Retweet,”  many probably just took it at face value and forwarded it along. On the flip side, this also shows how limited social media’s tools are in trying to debunk false information: Attempting to put the genie back in the bottle or to try to counter the current wave of misinformation would be futile. Because it’s so easy to just click and send along, this story quickly multiplied to the point where it was everywhere.

This casual attitude about information is a byproduct of the most obvious, yet most powerful element of social media: Trust. Whether they realize it or not, people put an amazing amount of trust in the people who make up their social networks. They trust them on what movies to see, what books to read, what TV shows with which to waste their time. In some tightly-knit circles, they even trust them with their politics, matters of religion and other more complicated facets of life. And, as this recent event shows, they clearly trust their networks with the accuracy and currency of their news. Why should there even be a question about accuracy or currency if I got it from my favorite aunt, who I know is a pretty smart cookie, much less if a United States Senator is also saying it? And on it went.

This story, about a website’s arbitrary rankings, is really pretty harmless, so it’s nothing to get too worked up about. But not all news stories are as benign in nature. And that’s both intriguing and a little bit scary. Much has been made of the democratization of information and the decline of “traditional” media in the advent of the web and social media. By and large, that’s been a good thing — it’s opened up new outlets and perspectives and forced “traditional” media to modernize and adapt to the fast-moving digital landscape. But (and I’m not trying to sound too much like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben here) with that power does come some responsibility to think more critically about the information flowing across your screen or your smartphone.

Hey, signing up for Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean you have to suddenly wear a fedora with a “PRESS” card in the hatband, but we’d all do well to not simply take information at face value, to scrutinize the sources of our information and to conduct a modest amount of due diligence before perpetuating the information. At some point, doing so will have deeper consequences. Or prevent deeper consequences, which is just as important.

In a world where everyone has their own digital printing press and can crank it into action with a click of a mouse, a little extra scrutiny can make a lot of difference. You’ll truly earn your followers’ trust, and that will make everyone happy.

Expert alert: Immigration

Friday, January 21st, 2011

State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont has introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature reminiscent of one passed last year in Arizona, requiring police officers to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. It would also require non-U.S. citizens to carry documents showing their legal status, or face a misdemeanor charge.

Debate on the bill is expected to be animated, both at the statehouse and throughout Nebraska. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a number of faculty members whose work and expertise relevant to the ongoing public discussion on immigration. For our colleagues in the media who may be looking for perspective on the issues surrounding this topic, what follows is a roundup of UNL faculty, their specific expertise and interests, and their contact information:

Miguel A. Carranza, professor of sociology and ethnic studies and director of the Latino Research Initiative. His research interests include the integration of Mexicano/Latino immigrants into communities in the northern Great Plains region and understanding quality of life issues, including educational experiences. He helped establish the Midwest Consortium for Latino Research, a partnership of ten Midwestern universities focused on Latino research issues, and the Latino Research Initiative, a university-community collaborative effort at UNL that’s focused on addressing the needs of Nebraska’s Latino population. (402) 472-3080 or

Anna Shavers, Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship Law. Shavers’ expertise is in immigration law, administrative law, gender issues and civil procedure. She is faculty co-adviser to the Multi-Cultural Legal Society and the Black Allied Law Students Association. She is a board member of the Midwestern People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference Inc.; liaison for the American Bar Association Administrative Law Section to the ABA Commission on Immigration; and publication chair of the ABA Administrative Law Section. (402) 472-2194 or

Miguel Ceballos, assistant professor of sociology and ethnic studies. Ceballos’ research investigates the relationship of the immigration process to the health and well-being of Latino/as in the United States and explores the changing attitudes toward Latino/a immigration and immigrants. Currently he is working on two research projects: one that studies the effects of the acculturative process on Latino maternal and infant health in the Midwest and the other examines the attitudes toward immigration in Nebraska. (402) 472-3421 or

Kevin Ruser, M.S. Hevelone Professor of Law; director of clinical programs at the College of Law. Ruser teaches in UNL’s Civil Clinic and Immigration Clinic.  Since 1989, he and his students have represented low-income clients in immigration matters.  He also is a frequent presenter on immigration issues and has published several immigration practice manuals, the most recent of which is “The Nebraska Criminal Law Practitioner’s Guide to Representing Non-Citizens in State Court Proceedings” (2010). (402) 472-3271 or

Hendrik (Hank) van den Berg, professor of economics. Van den Berg’s expertise is in international trade, finance and development, with a focus on Central and South America. He is the author of “The Economics of Immigration: Theory and Policy,” which covers the economic theory of immigration, explaining why people move across borders and details the consequences of such movements for the source and destination economies. (402) 202-6997 or

Sergio Wals, assistant professor of political science and ethnic studies. His expertise is in the politics of immigration. He has extensively researched how immigrants’ prior political experiences affect their political assimilation, attitudes and behaviors once in the United States. Wals originally is from Mexico City. He first arrived in the United States as an international graduate student in August 2004. He was granted permanent resident status in August 2010. (402) 472-5704 or

James Garza, associate professor of history and ethnic studies. Garza is a specialist on 19th century Mexico and the historical impact of Mexican immigration to the rural Midwest. He has taught several courses on Latin American, Mexican, and Mexican-American history. Garza earned his Ph.D. from Texas Christian University and joined the Department of History and the Institute for Ethnic Studies in fall 2001. He is a native of Laredo, Texas. (402) 472-3256 or

Amelia Montes, associate professor of English and ethnic studies; Director of UNL’s Institute for Ethnic Studies. Amelia María de la Luz Montes is in her third year as director of UNL’s Institute for Ethnic Studies, an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary unit with three programs: African American and African Studies, Latino and Latin American Studies and Native American Studies. She also teaches 19th century and contemporary American literatures and is a scholar of feminist, Chicana and Latina theory and cultural studies. (402) 472-8291 or

Ariana Vigil, assistant professor of English and ethnic studies. Vigil’s areas of expertise include U.S. Latina/o literature, Latina/o studies, and women’s and gender studies. She is particularly interested in the intersection of art and activism as they relate to transamerican and transnational identities and expressions. Her work is firmly interdisciplinary, moving between literary, ethnic, and feminist studies and encompassing narrative, film and visual art. (402) 472-1836 or

If you have any questions about this list, contact Steve Smith, University Communications, or 402.472.4226.

A little local media love for UComm

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Hey, this was swell. The Daily Nebraskan wrote a story about the Office of University Communications’ national media efforts, noting that UNL faculty, staff and students combined for more than 150 appearances in the national media in 2010. Beyond talking to yours truly, the DN tapped economics professor Sam Allgood and educational psychology professor Ken Kiewra to discuss their appearances and dealings with national reporters.

We’re grateful for the recognition and the coverage from UNL’s student newspaper, but want to be sure to note that sometimes, the work that our amazing faculty and staff do every day isn’t always pitched from our office. We’d love to say that 100 percent of the work that ends up in the national media is because of our tireless pitching efforts. But that’s just not possible. In Prof. Allgood’s case, the national media found him. In Prof. Kiewra’s case, we worked closely with him to promote his work that was mentioned in the story.

Just worth mentioning, I gather. On average, we’re (directly or indirectly) involved in upwards of 65 percent of the placements that comprise the year-end national media list. Not a bad shooting percentage (more on how the national media strategy works in this post), given the broad amount of expertise on campus and the wide array of media outlets seeking them out. We’re looking forward to keeping that national momentum going in 2011.

An anniversary from 2,000 miles away

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

One year ago, a massive earthquake west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killed 300,000 people, left nearly 810,000 Haitians homeless and shook the lives of countless others. Today, as Haiti’s 10 million survivors take time to remember that fateful day, so too do a small group of people in an office on 21st and Vine Street in Lincoln.

They are employees of the Independent Study High School – for the uninitiated, that’s UNL’s online high school, which offers more than 80 core, elective and Advanced Placement courses for students around the world. Certified teachers and university professors develop curricula that meets state, national and international standards, making it a popular destination for students around the globe seeking to earn their high-school diploma. In the past, celebs like Britney Spears and Bow Wow have gone through the program. But ISHS’s work goes beyond educating celebrities — in fact, over the years they built up quite a relationship with a small school for English-speaking students near Port-au-Prince.

Caroline Villard-Pellisier, the owner and operator of the school, Caroline Villard Tutoring, along with her husband Patrick began working with ISHS several years ago, when they taught only a small handful of students. At the time, the two taught almost all of the school’s courses, but gradually as the school grew they brought on new tutors and began to expand their relationship with UNL’s high-school program. Importantly, ISHS helped provide a structural and instructional backbone from which Caroline could work and find time and space to continue building the school.

Caroline often picked up the phone and dialed her lifeline in Lincoln — ISHS recruiter Charlotte Seewald, who helped get students registered into UNL’s high-school program and walked Caroline and her students through the world of  course materials and logistics.

The two were fast friends. Their phone conferences became at times occasions to catch up on students past and present. The two women began to refer to one another as “cousin.” It was clear that Caroline and Patrick also considered their school an extension of the UNL family — they’d often send photos of smiling students, diplomas in hand, with a large red-and-white “Nebraska” banner behind them. In 2007, they came to Lincoln for a visit, in part to be able to put faces with the voices they’d heard over the phone. By January 2010, the school boasted 35 students, 27 of whom were working their way through the ISHS system on the way toward graduation.

On Jan. 12, while Lincoln was struggling to deal with mountains of snow and bitter cold temperatures, Haiti shook hard. Seewald, upon seeing the devastation on TV, scrambled to try to make e-mail contact with Caroline. Several hours later, she got a brief note back saying everyone was all right — but the future of the school, like much of Haiti, was uncertain.

“We often build up these relationships with our clients, which is why it can be difficult to watch the news and see violence, war, terrorism — and in this case, a natural disaster almost beyond comprehension,” Seewald said. “Caroline asked us only to continue to pray for her, her family and her students — and if possible, to help her students continue their educations.”

Easier said than done. Students were scattering: Many fled to relatives’ homes in safer parts of Haiti, away from the capital. Others landed in the United States, Canada or the nearby Dominican Republic.

Within days, however, each got help from ISHS, Seewald said. In some cases, that meant working with a student’s new school to provide transcripts so they could matriculate into the educational systems of their new homes. In others, it meant speeding along new books and school supplies to replace those lost in the quake. Still others needed extensions on their coursework deadlines – something the ISHS quickly granted.

“Perhaps in some small way we were able to restore a slice of normal life to them,” Seewald said. “Even if we couldn’t put their lives back together, we could give them something familiar, and in at least some ways, that helps.”

This fall, Caroline and Patrick’s school re-opened with fewer than ten students, a few of whom are using UNL’s ISHS program. Caroline told me at the time that it felt like those early days when the school first began, when she taught and tutored in nearly every subject — English, math, science — but she and Patrick hope to build the school back to where it once was.

She said she knew that ISHS would do what it could to help in that goal – and that through such a devastating natural disaster, bonds and friendships with her Nebraska “cousins” endure and give promise to her work.

“Nebraska has been wonderful to us,” she said. “No matter where our story leads us, we know that we’ll always have a partner in Lincoln.”

More on UNL’s Independent Study High School can be found here.

Patrick (left) and Caroline Villard-Pellisier