Adolescent Peer Relationships and Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Sophia Garbarino, Clare Beatty & Brady Nelson, May 25, 2021

See Sophia’s poster for the URECA 2021 Symposium here.

Abstract

In adolescence, females are more likely than males to experience an episode of depression (Hyde et al., 2008). Having a strong social network has been shown to protect against the development of depression and anxiety symptoms (Santini et al., 2015). In the U.S., adolescent social circles were largely disrupted during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it has been suggested that higher perceived social support protects against poorer mental health (Magson et al., 2021), few studies have examined the potential association between relationship quality and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a sample of 104 12 to 18 year-old girls, the present study examined peer relationship quality prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in depression and anxiety symptoms during March to April 2020. Relationship quality was measured with the self-report Network of Relationships Inventory – Relationship Qualities Version (NRI-RQV). Depression was measured with the Child’s Depression Inventory (CDI), and anxiety was measured with the Screener for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED). Across the entire sample, there was an increase in both depression (t = -4.88, p < 0.001) and anxiety (t = -3.07, p = 0.003) symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, pre-COVID-19 perceived closeness of friendships predicted changes in depression and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, greater same-sex (r = -0.29, p = 0.003) and opposite-sex (r = -0.21, p = 0.04) friendship closeness were inversely correlated with generalized anxiety symptoms. Opposite-sex friendship closeness was inversely correlated with depression symptoms (r = -0.26, p = 0.008). Parent-child relationships were also examined but were not associated with changes in mental health. Findings suggest that healthier peer friendships may serve as protective factors against depression and anxiety in adolescents. As vaccine distribution increases and social distancing policies become more relaxed, adolescents may be able to strengthen relationships that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to improved mental health.

Keywords: COVID-19, adolescents, relationships, friendships, depression, anxiety


Introduction

Background

Adolescence is a critical developmental period for the emergence of sex differences in depression. By ages 13 to 15 girls are approximately twice as likely as boys to experience an episode of depression (Hyde et al., 2008). Prior research has taken a particular interest in the psychological mechanisms responsible for this shift, focusing specifically on girls.

For both sexes, strong social support networks have been shown to protect against the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms (Santini et al., 2015). In early 2020, when the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic began, these social networks were largely disrupted, especially for children and teenagers. The daily routine of interacting with classmates and peers at school was abruptly interrupted due to the shift to remote learning. During this time, research suggests that females in particular experienced a notable increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms (Hawes et al., 2021).

While some studies suggest that higher perceived social support protects against poorer mental health (Magson et al., 2021), few studies have examined the potential association between relationship quality and mental health during COVID-19. The present study examined pre-pandemic peer relationship quality and its potential for predicting depressive and anxiety symptoms during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

Hypotheses

The present study tested two hypotheses: 1) Individuals would display an increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to pre-pandemic symptoms, and 2) Both parent and peer relationships would inversely correlate with depressive and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, healthier and closer relationships would be associated with fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms during COVID-19.

Methods

Participants

The sample consisted of 104 girls from an ongoing longitudinal study at Stony Brook University, the Impact of Puberty on Affect and Neural Development across Adolescence (iPANDA) project. This project is currently investigating the relationship between neural reward sensitivity and the development of depression. Eligibility included being assigned female at birth, aged 8 to 14, being literate in English, having no known medical or developmental disabilities, and living within 30 miles of Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. One of the child’s biological parents also had to be willing to participate. The baseline sample consisted of 317 girls along with one of their biological parents. Baseline data collection was followed by two additional waves, each spaced approximately two years apart. The third wave was still in progress when the COVID-19 pandemic began in late March 2020, therefore not all of the participants had completed the data collection.

Measures

The iPANDA participants (N = 104) were included in the present study if they completed the included measures within the appropriate timeframes. One measure was completed prior to the pandemic (before March 18, 2020), and two measures were completed before and during (March 18, 2020 and after) the pandemic. The average time between the pre-COVID and during-COVID assessments was 55 weeks.

Network of Relationships Inventory – Relationship Quality Version (NRI-RQV)

The NRI-RQV questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ relationships with their 1) mother or mother figure, 2) father or father figure, 3) boyfriend or girlfriend, 4) sibling, 5) best same-sex friend, and 6) best opposite-sex friend. The questions had Likert-style responses (1 to 6: 1 = low occurrence, 5 = high occurrence, 6 = not applicable) and were presented in matrix format with each relationship type. Questions were classified into one of ten scales; the five positive scales measured companionship, intimate disclosure, emotional support, approval, and satisfaction, while the five negative scales measured conflict, criticism, pressure, dominance, and exclusion. Each scale contained three items and was scored by averaging the item responses (Furman & Buhrmester, 2010). The present study focused on the Closeness score, which is the mean of the five positive scale scores, for the mother, father, best same-sex friend, and best opposite-sex friend relationships. Participants completed the NRI-RQV assessment pre-COVID.

Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)

The CDI questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ depressive symptoms (Kovacs, 1992). Scores were calculated by summing the item responses, which were Likert style (not often/doesn’t apply to me, sometimes/somewhat applies to me, very often/strongly applies to me). Participants completed the CDI assessment pre-COVID and during COVID.

Screen for Child Related Anxiety Disorders (SCARED)

The SCARED questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ anxiety symptoms. Each item had Likert-style responses (0 to 2: 0 = not true, 2 = very true) and was categorized into one of five subscales: panic disorder or significant somatic symptoms, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and significant school avoidance. A total sum score of 25 or above (out of 82) indicated the possible presence of an anxiety disorder (Birmaher et al., 1997). The present study focused only on the GAD subscale, where a sum score over 9 indicated the possible presence of GAD. Participants completed the SCARED assessment pre-COVID and during COVID.

Data Analysis

Using IBM®️ SPSS®️ Statistics (v.27) software, we conducted two paired samples t-tests to examine whether depressive and anxiety symptoms increased during the pandemic as compared to pre-pandemic. Further, we conducted follow-up partial correlations (controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms) to investigate the relationship between relationship quality and depressive/anxiety symptoms during the pandemic.

Results & Discussion

Figure 1. Pre-COVID-19 vs. COVID-19 SCARED GAD Subscale t-test

t = -4.88, p < .001

Figure 2. Pre-COVID-19 vs. COVID-19 CDI Total t-test

t = -3.07, p < .01

Table 1. Correlations between SCARED GAD (COVID-19), CDI (COVID-19), and peer relationships

COVID-19 SCARED GAD SubscaleCOVID-19 CDI Total
NRI-RQV Best Same-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)-0.287**-0.080
NRI-RQV Best Opposite-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)-0.205*-0.259**
Controls: pre-COVID SCARED or pre-COVID CDI
p < .05*   p < .01**  p < .001***

Table 2. Friendship closeness vs. COVID-19 symptoms regressions

COVID-19 SCARED GAD Subscale (β)COVID-19 CDI Total (β)
NRI-RQV Best Same-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)-.168**.074
NRI-RQV Best Opposite-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)-.018-.124****
Controls: pre-COVID-19 SCARED and CDI; COVID-19 SCARED or CDI
p < .05*   p < .01**  p < .001*** trending****

Results indicated support for the first hypothesis. Across the sample, participants had greater depressive (t = -4.88, p <.001) and anxiety (t = -3.07, p < .01)symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared to pre-pandemic. However, results indicated only partial support for the second hypothesis. Pre-pandemic friendship closeness was associated with changes in anxiety and depressive symptoms; specifically, stronger pre-COVID same-sex friendship closeness uniquely correlated with smaller increases in anxiety symptoms during COVID (r = -.29, p < .01), while stronger pre-COVID opposite-sex friendship closeness uniquely correlated with smaller increases in depressive symptoms during COVID (r = -.26, p < .01). When controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms, pre-COVID same-sex friendship closeness still predicted changes in COVID anxiety symptoms (r = -.17, p < .01). Mother and father relationships were not found to be significantly predictive of changes in mental health during COVID.

Conclusion

Interpretations

It is possible that participants were more comfortable expressing worry to same-sex friends (girls), buffering against increased anxiety symptoms. Perhaps they shared feelings about missing friends or romantic interests at school. Findings also suggest that opposite-sex friends (boys) may have helped improve participants’ moods, buffering against increased depressive symptoms. The girls may have had a crush or two and were happier interacting with them, even if only virtually, while following stay-at-home orders.

Limitations

The sample was predominantly Caucasian and middle class, and from the Long Island, New York area. As such, the sample is certainly not representative of the entire United States, as the U.S. is much more racially and socioeconomically diverse. It is unclear whether or not these results would be similar for individuals of different backgrounds, since a variety of factors, including race, ethnicity, sex, and economic class, impact the degree to which people have been affected, either positively or negatively, by the pandemic (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). For example, Black and Indigenous Americans had the highest COVID-related death rates, while Asians and Whites had much lower rates (APM Research Lab Staff). According to the Pew Research Center, lower-income individuals were also more likely to report lost income and jobs due to the pandemic (Parker et al., 2020). As such, the present study’s sample may not have been affected by COVID-19 as much as other groups.

Further, all measures were self-reported, so participants may have been reluctant to share the full extent of their relationships and COVID-19 experiences. Another important consideration is that there was over a year, on average, between the pre-COVID and during-COVID assessments, meaning we could not account for potential significant life changes, such the death of a parent, losing touch with a friend, moving to a new place, and changes in relationship nature itself. Therefore, the present study’s results regarding pre-pandemic relationship quality may not be fully applicable to pandemic-era relationship health.

Future Directions

Overall, the results were largely what we hypothesized. Increased anxiety and depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic were evident across the sample and peer relationships predicted changes in mental health. Future studies should investigate these findings further and consider potential gender, race, and socioeconomic class differences that were not found in the present sample. Social factors like gender norms, double sex standards, race/ethnicity, and wealth may further influence the nature of adolescents’ social support networks and how they experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.


References

APM Research Lab Staff. (2021, March 5). The color of coronavirus: COVID-19 deaths by race and ethnicity in the U.S. APM Research Lab. https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race

Birmaher, B., Khetarpal, S., Brent, D., Cully, M., Balach, L., & Kaufman, J. (1997, April). The screen for child anxiety related emotional disorders (SCARED): Scale construction and psychometric characteristics. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 36: 545–553. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199704000-00018

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 19). Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html

Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (2010). Network of relationships questionnaire manual. Unpublished manuscript, University of Denver, Denver, CO, and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Hawes, M.T., Szenczy, A.K., Klein, D.N., Hajcak, G., & Nelson, B.D. (2021, January 13). Increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Medicine, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291720005358

Hyde, J.H., Mezuklis, A.H., & Abramson, L.Y. (2008). The ABCs of depression: Integrating affective, biological and cognitive models to explain the emergence of the gender difference in depression. Psychological Review, 115, 291-313. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.115.2.291

Magson, N.R., Freeman, J.Y., Rapee, R.M, Richardson, C.E., Oar, E.L., & Fardouly, J. (2021). Risk and protective factors for prospective changes in adolescent mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50, 44-57. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01332-9

Kovacs, M. (1992). Children’s depression inventory. Multi-Health Systems, Inc.

Parker, K., Horowitz, J.M., & Brown, A. (2020, April 21). About half of lower-income Americans report household job or wage loss due to COVID-19. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/04/21/about-half-of-lower-income-americans-report-household-job-or-wage-loss-due-to-covid-19/

Santini, Z.I., Koyanagi, A., Tyrovolas, S., Mason, C., & Haro, J.M. (2015, April 1). The association between social relationships and depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 53–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.049

Colleges Pressure Students Away from the Humanities

by Cassandra Skolnick, March 7, 2021

The emphasis on STEM-related majors at colleges and universities has been aggressively fueled by the growing influence of educational systems and political propaganda (Wright). Job seeking websites—including Monster.com—stated that when it came to the highest-paid industries, “…No surprise, STEM majors—science, technology, engineering, and math—came out on top” (Monster.com). Based on salary figures from 2020, STEM-related careers earned on average 26.45% more than humanities-related careers (Monster.com). It makes sense that young people would be persuaded towards pursuing STEM related careers. But are there external factors pressuring college students away from the humanities?

In June 2020, the Australian government announced an economic reform package that was directed to lower the course fees associated for “job-relevant” courses, while at the same time, doubling the cost of programs in the humanities (Duffy). This raise puts the cost of humanities programs at the same level as medical schools; med school programs saw a 46 percent decrease, while humanities programs saw a 113 percent increase (Duffy). The Australian government stated that this economic reform package is aimed at increasing the employment rate for graduates, with employment growth in STEM-related fields expected to be significantly higher post-pandemic (Sears and Clark).

Australia is not the only country influencing the career track of college students. George Washington University’s (GW) president, Dr. Thomas LeBlanc, announced in 2019 that he planned to increase enrollment in STEM-related majors from 19 to 30 percent (Rich and Schwartz). As the undergraduate population shifts to STEM related programs, the number of STEM programs and courses will also have to increase in order to accommodate the increasing number of students. Katrin Schultheiss, chair of GW’s history department, worries that “…the changes will necessitate reductions in funding for non-STEM departments and result in a ‘radical shifting of resources away from non-STEM fields’” (Rich and Schwartz).

This push for STEM programs and graduates comes from a fear of losing the race for high-tech supremacy to China (Herman). Where does this fear originate from? In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said, “…Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs” (Archives.com). We can theorize that this fear derives from the American perception of the “Chinese Threat,” a fear that China will conduct “…brazen cyber intrusions” (FBI.gov) or continue to saturate our economy with global exports (Mack). Fear of the “Chinese Threat” did result in a significant increase in the number of STEM degrees; however, according to a 2016 Census Report, only 74 percent of those college graduates pursued STEM-related careers following graduation (Mand Labs).

Now, elementary schools are introducing STEM curriculums, including hands-on learning to promote STEM skills, hiring and retaining well-trained experts as teachers for STEM curriculums, and working to eliminate the gender pay disparity (Mand Labs); hoping to further increase enrollment in higher education STEM degree programs to meet the growing demand of STEM related careers. Whether or not these new strategies will be effective remains to be seen. What does the continued push for STEM degree programs mean for the humanities, in a world where humanities are needed more than ever? Increasing costs of attending humanities programs, coupled with budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis, “…have resulted in some schools eliminating courses and degrees in subjects, such as foreign languages, art, and history” (Mullin). Deborah Fitzgerald, a professor of the history of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says state schools are the first to eliminate humanities curricula: “…Their boards just don’t think they are important anymore” (Mullin).

References

“The China Threat.” FBI.gov, FBI.gov, 10 July 2020, http://www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/the-china-threat.

 “Current State of STEM Education in the US: What Needs to Be Done?” Mand Labs, Mand Labs, 6 May 2020, http://www.mandlabs.com/current-state-of-stem-education-in-us-what-needs-to-be-done/.

Duffy, Conor. “Humanities Degrees to Double in Cost as Government Funnels Students into ‘Job-Relevant’ Uni Courses.” ABC News, ABC News, 19 June 2020, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-19/university-fees-tertiary-education-overhaul-course-costs/12367742.

Herman, Arthur. “America’s High-Tech STEM Crisis.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Sept. 2018, http://www.forbes.com/sites/arthurherman/2018/09/10/americas-high-tech-stem-crisis/?sh=32a6c48bf0a2.

Lawler, Moira. “College Majors with the Highest Starting Salaries.” Monster Career Advice, Monster.com, http://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/best-paid-jobs-by-major.

Mack, Graeme. “Perspective | Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear China’s Growing Economy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Apr. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/04/24/why-americans-shouldnt-fear-chinas-growing-economy/.

Mullin, Rick. “Behind the Scenes at the STEM-Humanities Culture War.” C&EN, C&EN, 16 July 2019, http://cen.acs.org/education/undergraduate-education/Behind-the-scenes-STEM-humanities-culture-war/97/i29.

Rich, Alec, and Ethan Schwartz. “Push to Grow STEM Majors May Mean Cuts Elsewhere, Faculty Say.” The GW Hatchet, The GW Hatchet, 30 Sept. 2019, http://www.gwhatchet.com/2019/09/30/push-to-increase-stem-majors-could-prompt-cuts-in-non-stem-departments-faculty-say/.

Sears, Alan, and Penney Clark. “Stop Telling Students to Study STEM Instead of Humanities for the Post-Coronavirus World.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Jan. 2021, http://theconversation.com/stop-telling-students-to-study-stem-instead-of-humanities-for-the-post-coronavirus-world-145813.

“State of the Union Photo Gallery.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/realitycheck/node/196546.

Wright, Joshua. “Stem Majors on the Rise as Humanities Decline Across the Country.” Emsi, Emsi, 20 Mar. 2016, http://www.economicmodeling.com/2016/03/20/stem-programs-humanities-in-each-state/.

Mapplethorpe’s Riveting “Rosie”: Exposing America’s Naked Truths and Prejudices

by Sophia Garbarino, February 9, 2021

The following article is a revised version of the original piece and does not include all photos. The full original article with all accompanying photographs can be viewed by downloading the PDF below (recommended, but viewer discretion advised).


Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, gelatin silver print, 1980, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe shocked the international art community in 1988 with The Perfect Moment exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Against politicians’ desires, the CAC decided to display Mapplethorpe’s work even though the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. cancelled the same exhibit only a few months earlier (Tannenbaum). The majority of Mapplethorpe’s photos were labeled obscene and pornographic, leading to criminal charges pressed against the CAC and its director at the time, Dennis Barrie. One of the most shocking was Rosie (1976), a photograph featuring a friend’s three year-old daughter sitting with her legs open, revealing her nude body beneath her dress. The trial took over a year, ending in acquittal and the public display of Mapplethorpe’s work at the CAC in 1990, just over one year after his death in 1989 (Mezibov).

Nude photography was one of Mapplethorpe’s specialties. Several of his portfolios featured the S&M and LGBTQ* communities in New York City, particularly in nude portraits (“Biography”). Many believe his intense focus on the nude body was an expression of his homosexuality. Rosie however, was one of only two photographs of nude children—the other, Jesse McBride (1976), featured a fully nude five year-old boy sitting on a chair. Both photos were taken with the children’s mothers’ permission but still received heavy backlash and criticism for being “pornographic” (Mezibov).

Ultimately, Mapplethorpe’s Rosie (1976) was not meant to be pedophilic, but rather a response to increasing radical American conservatism during the 1970s and 1980s. Its showcasing in The Perfect Moment exhibition (1988) challenged the limits of censorship and artistic freedom, reflecting the growing social phenomenon of hypersexualization that continues to define American media today.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Embrace, gelatin silver print, 1982, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Senator Jesse Helms and Homosexuality

Mapplethorpe lived in the heart of LGBTQ* activism in New New York in the 1970s. It was during this decade that the gay community began seeing representation in mainstream media, including movies that featured gay characters and the establishment of Gay Pride week. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association stopped recognizing homosexuality as a mental illness, and the corporate world started prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination (Rosen). The LGBTQ* community saw tremendous strides in equality and justice advocacy.

Diana Davies, Men holding Christopher Street Liberation Day banner, 1970, © New York Public Library Digital Collections.

It was during this time that Mapplethorpe became an icon for LGBTQ* folks. According to his friend and writer Ingrid Sischy, Mapplethorpe’s works purposefully focused on homosexuality in order to draw attention. His unapologetically direct photographs helped turn homosexuality from a shameful secret into a proud identity (Sischy).

Senator Jesse Helms, n.d., © United States Senate Historical Office. 

However, the AIDS epidemic soon heightened homophobia in the 1980s. Mapplethorpe heavily focused on black male nudes, a clear expression of his homosexuality, making him a prime target for censorship. Republican Senator Jesse Helms was especially offended by Rosie and hyperfocused on Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality, AIDS-related death, and interracial photographic subjects (Adler, Meyer). In 1989, Helms convinced the deciding congressional committee to pass a bill prohibiting the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) from funding the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), which organized the original Perfect Moment exhibit, for five years (Adler, Tannenbaum). He did so by lying about the photographs he saw firsthand at The Perfect Moment and distributing copies of four of them to the other committee members (Meyer).

Robert Mapplethorpe, Derrick Cross, gelatin silver print, 1982, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

At the time, Senator Helms’ arguments reflected those of a growing conservative movement. His outrage about Rosie was less about the photograph itself and more about the artist. Furthermore, his push for censorship was less about Rosie’s exposed body and more about silencing the LGBTQ* community, including proudly gay folks such as Mapplethorpe. In his attempts to “cordon off the visual and symbolic force of homosexuality, to keep it as far as possible from [himself] and the morally upstanding citizens he claim[ed] to represent,” Helms ironically brought even more attention to it (Meyer 134).

Some supported censoring Mapplethorpe’s work by claiming he was a pedophile and child abuser, but neither Jesse nor Rosie recall him as such. As adults, both reflected on their portraits proudly (Adler). As censorship lawyer Edward de Grazia wrote regarding the Mapplethorpe case, “art and child pornography are mutually exclusive… no challenged picture of children having artistic value can constitutionally be branded ‘child pornography’ or ‘obscene’” (de Grazia 50). Though it was ultimately deemed non-pornographic after the Mapplethorpe trial, Rosie was only the beginning of a political push to seize funding from the arts, particularly the radical works such as Mapplethorpe’s, following several rising liberal and conservative movements in the previous decades.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter, gelatin silver print, 1979, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Historical Context: Radical Conservatism and the Sexual Revolution

During the 1970s, the LGBTQ* community became more vocal, allowing gay men such as Mapplethorpe to be more openly accepted in the art world. In response, movements such as the New Right and the Christian Right emerged, led largely by American evangelicals claiming that homosexuality was morally sinful (“The New Right”). Mapplethorpe’s very existence contradicted traditional conservative values, and he could never align with socially-accepted heteronormative culture.

In fact, the Rosie controversy emerged during a new wave of conservative outrage that began a few years earlier in 1987, when Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ was awarded $15,000 by the partially NEA-funded Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (Meyer). Along with many other Republican Christians, Senator Helms was deeply offended and embraced the opportunity to denounce another artist who defied traditional conservative values when The Perfect Moment debuted in 1988. At that point, Helms’ focus shifted from Serrano’s critique of religion to Mapplethorpe’s expressions of homosexuality, repeatedly calling his photographs “sick” (Meyer 137). In doing so, Helms used the art as a larger metaphor for homosexuality and AIDS, which he believed were plaguing and contaminating Christian-American society.

Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, Cibachrome print, 1987.

As a gay man, Mapplethorpe was not sexually attracted to females at all, so it would have been much easier for Helms to use Jesse McBride rather than Rosie in his rhetoric. It was the ongoing sexual revolution, which also contributed to the rise of far-right conservatism, that put Rosie in the spotlight instead. Rosie, then, can be interpreted as Mapplethorpe’s way of challenging traditional ideologies and aligning with the sexual liberation movement. Where he saw an innocent child, many conservatives such as Senator Helms saw the bare sexuality of a young girl. Movements such as the New Right could not view her as anything other than sexual with her genitalia exposed. Therefore, it was not Mapplethorpe who sexualized the child but the audience who saw her, revealing a culture deeply rooted in traditional domestic roles and gender spheres.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a rapid increase in women’s and sexual liberation. Nonheterosexual sex was brought to national attention as well, especially after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 (Kohn). Much of Mapplethorpe’s work reflected this new spotlight. Rosie, though, was unlike his trademark photographs of an interracial S&M community, yet it still gained significantly more attention. Despite the portrait subject being a White child, Rosie was one of the four photographs that Senator Helms distributed to his fellow Congressmen and Senators. The others were Mark Stevens (Mr. 10½) (1976), Man in Polyester Suit (1980), and Jesse McBride (Meyer). There were several other photos of naked men in The Perfect Moment, many considered far more pornographic than Rosie and Jesse McBride could ever be, but Rosie was not chosen by mistake. She reflected a different, but not unrelated, threat to Christian-American tradition: women’s liberation.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Ken Moody and Robert Sherman, platinum-palladium print, 1984, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

After the birth control pill hit the market in 1960, sexuality and sexual expression were no longer taboo subjects. Rates of premarital sex increased significantly while books such as Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex normalized conversation about sex (Kohn). For many, Rosie represented a new generation of sexually-liberated women. For conservatives like Senator Helms, this was an intolerable break from traditional gender roles, where men and women had defined, separate roles in society. The New Right movement believed the sexual revolution was destroying the American family structure, leading little girls like Rosie from domesticity to radicalism (“The New Right”). Rosie, then, was the epitome of everything wrong with women’s liberation for Helms. In distributing her photograph, he attempted to defy the new wave of feminism.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, gelatin silver print, 1980, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Censorship and Artistic Freedom

However, despite its many controversies, the Mapplethorpe censorship case was most defiant of artistic freedom. Following the case, American art critic Robert Storr wrote that “there are no ‘laws of decency’; certainly none that have any juridical standing with respect to art” (Storr 13). He further argued that censorship itself is the manifestation of widespread mistrust of the public’s ability to draw their own conclusions. In a nation founded on freedom of speech and expression, art essayists like Hilton Kramer, who deeply criticized Mapplethorpe’s work, and politicians like Helms ironically believed that common people should not and could not discern what was acceptable, particularly regarding art (Storr). Helms and Kramer used censorship to impose their own beliefs onto the general public, serving as a microcosm of strong conservative attempts to minimize the voices of non-traditional values.

Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, 2018, Gladstone Gallery, 515 West 424th Street, New York, NY 10011

 When such defiances of conservatism emerged, they were immortalized in the form of art through Mapplethorpe and other “radical” artists like Serrano. In the heat of America’s changing society, Rosie became a monumental representation of true freedom: freedom of artistic expression, freedom of sexual expression, and the freedom of perspective. Politicians, however, disagreed over what freedoms should receive public funding. Helms and his fellow White Christian American conservatives believed that the NEA should not fund art that offended them based on “their assault on social constructions of sexuality, race, and spirituality” (Atkins 33). Once again, the majority group was attempting to impose their beliefs on the rest of society, a perfect example of censorship at its core.

Diego Rivera, Proletarian Unity from Portraits of America, mural panel, 1933, © Nagoya City Art Museum.

Mapplethorpe’s case was significant but not the first. Works by LGBTQ* folks, people of color, and those with “dangerous” political views have been consistently marginalized. For example, Diego Rivera’s Portrait of America mural at Rockefeller Center was destroyed in 1933 because its center featured Vladimir “Lenin” Ulyanov, former leader of the communist Soviet Union (Atkins). In 1934, Paul Cadmus’ The Fleet’s In was removed from the Corcoran Gallery of Art—the same gallery that cancelled The Perfect Moment in 1988—because the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration requested it (Atkins). This was only a small part of FDR’s anti-gay legacy: during his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR helped run a sting operation in Newport, Rhode Island in 1919, resulting in the arrest of over 20 Navy sailors for homosexual activity (Loughery). In 1981, after strong advocacy from Hilton Kramer and other conservative critics, the NEA stopped funding individual art critics because many of them were leftist (Atkins). Clearly, the Mapplethorpe case followed decades of conservative attacks on art.

Paul Cadmus, The Fleet’s In!, tempera on canvas, 1934, © United States Navy.

Hypersexualization

Some believe the most pressing issues surrounding Rosie were Rosie’s age and exposed body. There were certainly multiple other artists photographing naked women at the time, like Don Herron and his Tub Shots series, who received little criticism for the nudity. In fact, nudity itself has never been an issue in art; some of the most famous and public classical works portray naked Romans, Greek gods, and biblical figures, like Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel ceiling. In fact, nude boys were not an issue either, as seen in works like Thomas Eakins’s Boy nude at edge of river (c. 1882) and John Singer Sargent’s A Nude Boy on a Beach (1925).

John Singer Sargent, A Nude Boy on a Beach, oil paint on wood, 1925, © Tate.

The fact that Rosie was a girl was not the most significant factor either. During the 1970s, when the Rosie photograph was taken, the United States saw a rapid increase in explicit advertisements, particularly those with women only partially dressed or in full nude. One 1993 study revealed that the number of purely decorative female roles in ads increased from 54 percent to 73 percent from 1959 to 1989 (Busby and Leichty). A 1997 study found that over a 40-year period, 1.5 percent of popular magazine ads portrayed children in a sexual way, and of those ads, 85 percent depicted sexualized girls, with the number increasing over time (O’Donohue et. al). Even in the 1970s and 1980s, the sexualization of young girls was certainly nothing new. Advertising industries had been doing this for decades before the Rosie controversy started in 1988. In fact, they still do.

“Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think,” magazine advertisement, 1974–1975.

The hypersexualization of both women and children in the media is quite common now. As National Women’s Hall of Fame activist Dr. Jean Kilbourne reveals in So Sexy So Soon, corporations use sex and sexiness to advertise to children at increasingly younger ages—and they are alarmingly successful. Dangerously unhealthy standards of beauty define sexiness as the most important aspect of a woman’s identity and value. The sexual liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s has turned into a hypersexualized culture, where children as young as Rosie are exposed to sex in songs, TV shows, advertisements, and social media (Kilbourne and Levin). Like the conservatives’ reaction to Rosie in 1988, young girls are now seen in a sexual way before they are seen as simply children.

Original Cuties film poster, 2020, © Netflix, Inc.

Therefore, like the basis of Helms’ original arguments, the outrage and controversy surrounding Rosie was less about the photograph itself and more about the artist and what the artist represented. Mapplethorpe’s identity and lifestyle contradicted many traditional conservative values: he was homosexual, engaged in S&M, photographed interracial couples, and eventually died of AIDS. Rosie herself said she did not view her portrait as pornographic and could not understand why others thought it was. In fact, in a 1996 interview with The Independent, Rosie recalled her mother making her put on a dress just before the photo was taken, and immediately after, she took the dress off. Ironically, she noted that “if it had been a small [nude] boy, maybe this furore would be justified; Robert [Mapplethorpe] wasn’t interested in girls anyway” (Rickey). Jesse McBride, which is exactly that, received even less backlash than Rosie.

Helms, then, used Rosie against Mapplethorpe not because he thought it was pornographic, but because of all Mapplethorpe’s works, Rosie garnered the most conservative support for censorship. He could easily use the classic damsel in distress situation by painting Rosie as a helpless little White girl in need of protection from a dangerous gay man, with emphasis on Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality. It wasn’t Rosie’s age, nor her exposed body, that angered Helms: it was Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, platinum-palladium print, 1988, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Final Notes

The Rosie controversy was just as relevant in 1988 as it is now. It continues to pose crucial questions, challenging the boundaries of art and the limits of censorship while highlighting the marginalization of LGBTQ* art, societal resistance to change, and hypersexualization of women and children. Ultimately, Rosie was not the creator of such outrage and conservative criticism, but the vessel exploited by powerful politicians to further their own agendas against Mapplethorpe and other LGBTQ* folks. The Mapplethorpe trial surrounding Rosie was the culmination of decades of liberal movements—including women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, and increasing attention to LGBTQ* voices—and the conservative responses to them. Despite the continuous controversy, critics consider Mapplethorpe, rightfully so, as one of the most influential American artists in the twentieth century. Rosie was last on public display in 2017 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.


Works Cited

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Busby, Linda, and Greg Leichty. “Feminism and Advertising in Traditional and Nontraditional Women’s Magazines 1950s-1980s.” Journalism Quarterly, vol. 70, no. 2, 1993, pp. 247–264. SAGE Journals, doi.org/10.1177/107769909307000202. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Cadmus, Paul. The Fleet’s In!. 1934. United States Navy, Washington, D.C. Naval History and Heritage Command, www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/art/travelling-exhibits/paul-cadmus.html. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Capps, Kriston. “Jesse Helms: The Intimidation of Art and the Art of Intimidation.” Huffington Post, 15 July 2008, www.huffpost.com/entry/jesse-helms-the-intimidat_b_112874. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.

“Cuties.” Wikipedia, 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuties. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Davies, Diana. “Men holding Christopher Street Liberation Day banner.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections, 1970, digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/91433901-5e24-aece-e040-e00a18066e82. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

de Grazia, Deward. “The Big Chill: Censorship and the Law.” Aperture, 5 May 1990, pp. 50–51. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24472936. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Eakins, Thomas. Boy nude at edge of river. c. 1882. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. PAFA, www.pafa.org/museum/collection/item/boy-nude-edge-river. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Herron, Don. “Paula Sequeira.” Swann Galleries, 1978, catalogue.swanngalleries.com/Lots/auction-lot/DON-HERRON-(1941-2012)–Suite-of-11-photographs-from-Tub-Sho?saleno=2514&lotNo=184&refNo=756720. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

“Jesse Helms.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/H000463. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Kilbourne, Jean, and Diane Levin. So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood, and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. Ballantine, 2008.

Kohn, Sally. “The sex freak-out of the 1970s.” CNN, 21 July 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/07/21/opinions/kohn-seventies-sexual-revolution/index.html. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Ajitto. 1981. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City. Guggenheim, www.guggenheim.org/artwork/2701. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter. 1979. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. LACMA Collections, collections.lacma.org/node/2155762. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Dan. S. 1980. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/255901/robert-mapplethorpe-dan-s-american-negative-1980-print-2011/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Derrick Cross. 1982. Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, www.mapplethorpe.org/portfolios/male-nudes/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Embrace. 1982. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/256224/robert-mapplethorpe-embrace-american-negative-1982-print-1996/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Honey. 1976. Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Tate, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/robert-honey-ar00157. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Honey and Rosie. 1976. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. LACMA Collections, collections.lacma.org/node/2233535. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Jesse McBride. 1976. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. LACMA Collections, collections.lacma.org/node/2233522. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Ken Moody and Robert Sherman. 1984. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.guggenheim.org/artwork/2740. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Man in Polyester Suit. 1980. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/254454/robert-mapplethorpe-man-in-polyester-suit-american-negative-1980-print-1981/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Mark Stevens (Mr. 10½). 1976. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/254447/robert-mapplethorpe-mark-stevens-mr-10-12-american-1976/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Patti Smith. 1976. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Met Museum, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/266975. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Phillip. 1979. Modern Museum of Art, New York City. MoMA, www.moma.org/collection/works/199945. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Phillip Prioleau. 1979. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/255738/robert-mapplethorpe-phillip-prioleau-american-1979/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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Mapplethorpe, Robert. Self Portrait. 1980. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/255800/robert-mapplethorpe-self-portrait-american-negative-1980-print-1999/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Self Portrait. 1980. Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Tate, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/robert-self-portrait-al00388. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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Mapplethorpe, Robert. Tennant Twins. 1975. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/255477/robert-mapplethorpe-tennant-twins-american-1975/. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Thomas. 1987. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Getty, www.guggenheim.org/artwork/5353. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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Mezibov, Marc. “The Mapplethorpe Obscenity Trial.” Litigation, vol. 18, no. 4, 1992, pp. 12–15, 71. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29759554. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

“The New Right.” ushistory.org, www.ushistory.org/us/58e.asp. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.

O’Donohue, William, et al. “Children as Sexual Objects: Historial and Gender Trends in Magazines.” Sexual Abuse, vol. 9, no. 4, 1997, pp. 291–301. SAGE Journals, doi.org/10.1177%2F107906329700900403. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Rickey, Melanie. “Revealed (again): Mapplethorpe’s model.” The Independent, 14 Sept. 1996, www.independent.co.uk/news/revealed-again-mapplethorpe-s-model-1363318.html. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Rivera, Diego. Proletarian Unity from Portrait of America. 1933. Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya. Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/asset/proletarian-unity-diego-rivera/1QGr_VcJ142Tpw?hl=en. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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Sargent, John Singer. A Nude Boy on a Beach. 1925. Tate. Tate, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sargent-a-nude-boy-on-a-beach-t03927. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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The Micronesian Suicide Epidemic

by Brandon Chavez, January 25, 2021

Brandon Chavez is a freshman majoring in History. He enjoys learning about social and political issues in other countries & places around the world. He also enjoys learning about the challenges faced by indigenous populations.

***FALL 2020 CONTEST SUBMISSION***

”Suicide rates since 1960 in Micronesia (the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) have undergone an epidemic-like increase. This phenomenon is focussed narrowly within the 15-24-year male age-group”

(Rubinstein, 1983).

Family plays a quite significant role in Micronesian society. An individual’s self-esteem is very dependent on the acceptance and support of the family, more so than any other contributing factor. A firm place and role in the family is a source of self-esteem for an individual. The significance of familial relations and approvals are shown with one of Hezel’s statistics in his data: “Over 70 percent of all the suicides since 1960 were precipitated by conflicts within the consanguineal family” (Hezel, 55).

This phenomenon of high suicide rates among the male youth in Micronesia was first noticed by Reverend Francis Hezel, a Jesuit who was the director of Xavier High School in the Chuuk islands for nearly 18 years. Reverend Hezel wrote a magazine article about this phenomenon in 1977. Dr. Rubinstein, a researcher at Honolulu’s East-West Center, and Reverend Hazel later decided to research the issue further in the following years where they collected many facts about the situation but unfortunately did not come up with any solutions at the time. A later publication by Hezel in 1989 described the magnitude of the situation in Micronesia in comparison with the suicide rates of the United States: “The general suicide rate for Truk is 40 per 100,000. The rate for Trukese males between 15 and 25 is a startling 250 per 100,000. This is 20 times the youth rate in the United States” (Hezel, 1989).

Hezel observed that these suicides can be linked to small disputes between a young man and an older family member, like an older sibling or parent. Two examples were cited by Hezel to show his observation of the trend: one 13 year old boy hung himself after being scolded by his mother and a 16 year old boy also hung himself after his father refused to give him $1.

Another trend Hezel recognized was that the suicides would be clustered in groups; the death of one young man would often lead to suicides of others in the area. 

When thinking about possible causes for these trends, Hezel initially thought that the process of modernization and its pressures clashing with traditional island societies was responsible for this phenomenon. Hezel and Rubinstein looked further into the issue and found that poor family relations were a common pattern with their research. 

Hezel also described another insight into the issue that he gathered from his research: 

“Rather than an impulsive act, we found the suicides were often the result of a longterm intolerable situation”

(Hezel, 1983).

Reverend Hezel’s insight reveals that these suicides in Micronesia are not impulsive, but that there is a cultural aspect to the situation, regarding a traditional island defense mechanism taken to an extreme. The word “amwunumwun” is used by the Chuukese to describe the behavior of young men using withdrawal to express shame or anger. Refusing to eat or being silent are examples of actions that these young men engage in when showing this behavior. 

Reverend Hezel and Dr. Rubinstein believed that the strategy of amwunumwun became violent in the 1960s and 1970s where suicide might be considered the most extreme form of this behavior of bringing harm to oneself to save a relationship. A Chuukese suicide victim thought that being dead would repair more to a damaged relationship than if they were alive.In a later publication Reverend Hezel shed new insight on the suicide epidemic in the Chuuk islands (Hezel, 1989).

Figure 1

Note. Hezel found that anger was the leading cause of suicide in several islands in Micronesia (Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap), the Marshall Islands and Palau (Hezel, 1989, p. 49).

Hezel also sought to find out the significance of the types of interpersonal and familial relationships that lead to suicide in Micronesia. Below is the table of his recorded data:

Figure 2

(Hezel, 1989, p. 51)

The table revealed that a relational disruption or conflict between a young man and his parents was often the most common cause of relational disruption that led to suicide. Hezel notes that in suicide cases that were led by disruptions in nonfamily relationships, the victim might break off familial ties because of the shame that might be bringing to their family and fear of what their family members’ reactions woud be. The victim was ashamed of actions that could offend their family and feared a consequential disruption in familial relations.

In 2007,  Dr. Mao-Sheng Ran, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, reviewed pre-existing data on the characteristics of suicide in Micronesia. 

Dr. Ran’s research found another phenomena that highlights the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia compared with another country such as the United States.

Figure 3

(Ran, 2007, p. 83).

The bar graph above reveals an interesting and peculiar observation about the correlation between mental illness and suicide victims in Micronesia. Only 10% of suicide victims in Micronesia had psychiatric disorders, while 90% of suicide victims in the United States had mental illness. Dr. Ran states that:“Mental illness did not appear to be

an important factor in Micronesian suicides. Most of the victims have had no serious delinquency problems, psychological abnormality, or psychosis.”(Ran, 83) 

Dr. Ran noted that intergenerational conflict was the most common cause that led to suicide and most suicides occured because of a conflict, misunderstanding or argument between a young victim and their parents or older relative. 

The definition of anger in Hezel’s research is further explored in Dr. Ran’s review. Hezel’s publication in 1989 cited three distinct patterns of suicides which included anger suicides, shame suicides and psychotic suicides. It was previously mentioned in Hezel’s publication that anger suicides were the most prominent in Micronesian suicide cases, but this definition of anger adds a new understanding to the situation. Ran established that:”The definition of ‘anger’ was similar to the way Americans describe depression”(Ran, 2007, pg. 84). This definition of anger shows a cultural difference in how anger is defined in Micronesian society and American society. 

The review also included several aspects and social changes that may be responsible for the high suicide rate in Micronesia. The first change is the expansion of a cash economy in Micronesia and the decreasing reliance on subsistence production. The production may be responsible for weakening the significance of clan and lineage activities. The decline in clan and lineage activities narrows social support for teenagers, increases reliance and dependence on parents, and increases  parental-adolescent conflicts.The second change is the acceptance of suicide which can be attributed to this increase in suicide rates. As suicide becomes common among the youth, it became more acceptable and even expected.

According to Hezel, western solutions such as suicide prevention hotlines and counseling would not fully solve the suicide epidemic witnessed in Micronesia as the issue is not only psychological but also cultural. Dr. Ran offered several suggestions for future research to combat the issue. Ran suggests that there should be more surveillance on suicidal behavior in Micronesia, independent research on preventive and risk factors, and a longitudinal study on social and economic shifts affecting the male youth. Since there is not many mental health professionals available, Ran suggests that more individuals should be trained to counter the issue of suicide. 

The Micronesian suicide epidemic is quite unique as the root of the issue is concerned more with the inter-generational conflict and socio-cultural elements found within Micronesian society rather than mental illness. Solutions to the issue and research on the topic cannot be treated in a western approach, as the act of suicide has shown to be woven into the youth culture of Micronesian society. Future studies, research, and clinical approaches must consider the socio-cultural elements of Micronesian society & family to make progress in combating the Micronesian suicide epidemic.


References

Hezel, F. (1989). Suicide and the Micronesian family. The Contemporary Pacific, 1(1/2), 43–74. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23701892 

Micronesia’s male suicide rate defies solution. (1983, March 06). The New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/06/us/micronesia-s-male-suicide-rate-defies-solution. html 

Ran, Mao-Sheng. (2007). Suicide in Micronesia: A systematic review. Primary Psychiatry, 14(11), 80–87. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262882325_Suicide_in_Micronesia_A_Systematic_Review

Rubinstein, D. H. (1983). Epidemic suicide among Micronesian adolescents. Social Science & Medicine, 17(10), 657–665. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(83)90372-6

Now and Then: An Analysis of Forced Sterilizations in the U.S.

by Sanjana Sankaran, October 18, 2020

In early September, news broke out about a whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, who alleged ‘medical neglect’ of ICE detainees and shined a light on the occurrence of unwanted mass hysterectomies. Wooten was a nurse who worked at one of the detention centers in Georgia.  She claimed that the care received was improper and unsafe which likely caused the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the news reports and her statements, approximately seventeen to twenty women have confirmed that they were forcibly sterilized—that is, either their uterus or fallopian tubes were removed.  Wooten called this doctor, who was later identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, a “uterus collector” (Miroff). Dr. Amin is a member of the Irwin County Hospital and has a private clinic close to the detention center.  Since the allegations have come out, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote a letter that was signed by one hundred and seventy-three other representatives to launch an investigation into the medical practitioners employed by ICE, with a focus on Dr. Amin specifically (Miroff).

While the investigation is still ongoing, we know one thing for certain: we’ve been here before.  The U.S. has a historical precedence of conducting mass unwarranted and unwanted hysterectomies, causing many to worry that these allegations are true.

The development of the gynecological sciences itself is rooted in a history of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse toward Black, Latinx, and indigenous women.  In the 19th century, Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is now considered the father of modern gynecology, forcefully performed a number of experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia.  Despite his strategically inhumane testing, Dr. Sims has been lauded for his discoveries and has statues erected in his honor across the country (Lennard). 

We don’t have to look that far in the past to see neglect and abuse in our healthcare system.  In the last century alone, thousands of women were forcibly sterilized across the nation.  At the turn of the 20th century, the eugenics movement started gaining more traction.  Perverting Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” many eugenicists believed it was natural and justified to facilitate the death of those with “unfavorable” genes.  This became shorthand for BIPOC lives, specifically the poor and the disabled.  This widespread scientific belief had shocking sociological implications. In the late 20th century, thirty-two states in the U.S. had federally funded eugenics programs involving sterilizing women who possessed “undesirable” genes (Lennard).   In the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal healthcare service provider for indigenous peoples, conducted hysterectomies at such a wide scale that the impact is still being felt now even generations later.  Around one in four women, and in some communities, as many as one in two women, were forcibly sterilized (Blakemore).

Figure 1 below provides a timeline of reproductive rights (Chuen).

Figure 1. A History of Racism, Sterilization Abuse, and Reproductive Rights (1919 – 1977).

To better understand the role ICE plays in perpetuating medical neglect and abuse, we must acknowledge the history of malicious activities within this organization.  The immigrant detention centers have been linked with racism and medical malpractice. In 1914, the United States Public Health Service partnered with the eugenics movement and worked together to prevent further immigration. They specifically targeted BIPOC’s, poor people, and the disabled implying they were the ones most likely to be criminals. This false view that BIPOC, especially those who are low income and living with disabilities, are more likely to commit crime than well-off able-bodied white people, still shapes our society today, most notably reforming our criminal justice policy (Ordaz).  Prior to President Trump’s election to office in 2016, ICE had an imperative to detain immigrants with criminal records.  Given the negative stereotyping and implicit bias that police officers have against BIPOC, this was already an unfair policy.  The current administration has since expanded this policy to apply to all immigrants who enter the country without documentation, removing the requirement of criminality.  Many federal investigations conducted over the past four years that have raised serious concerns about the state of ICE detention centers.  Specifically, the centers provide inhumane, unsanitary, and unhygienic conditions for detainees. When Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower, spoke out on the conditions of the ICE camps she stated, “I began to ask questions about why the detainees not be tested — symptomatic or non-symptomatic” (Alvarez).  Operationally, the centers already violate standard protocol and indicate clear negligence and devolution of human life (United States, Dept of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General).

During the Trump era beliefs of white supremacy, xenophobia and misogyny have only increased. His beliefs that all Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” emboldened the racist’s in the U.S. further dividing an already divided world. It is astounding that the administration that is so clearly pro-life, allows sterilization to take place, it is an oxymoron. This lack of action is because this administration is not pro-life. If the administration were actually pro-life, they would have had a national mask mandate, done shelter in place in February, stop denying the virus’s fatality rate, and keep the Affordable Care Act, especially for those with pre-existing conditions. 

The allegations of mass hysterectomies in ICE right now must be met with the utmost seriousness.  The doctors who have participated in these events or were bystanders should be met with some kind of consequence. The mass hysterectomies are a direct attack against women and are the result of a long upheld belief that not only do BIPOC women not have value but that women should not be in control of their own bodies. Whether it was one or twenty or a thousand, forced hysterectomies are acts of absolute moral malfeasance. 

Below are other resources to learn more about the history of forced sterilization. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/trump-ice/565772/

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/mass-hysterectomies-ice-happened-trump-s-watch-they-re-america-ncna1240238

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/16/us/ice-hysterectomy-forced-sterilization-history/index.html


Works Cited

Alvarez, Priscilla. “Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2020, http://www.cnn.com/2020/09/15/politics/immigration-customs-enforcement-medical-care-detainees/index.html.&nbsp;

Blakemore, Erin. “The Little-Known History of the Forced Sterilization of Native American Women.” Daily JSTOR, JSTOR, 25 Aug. 2016, daily.jstor.org/the-little-known-history-of-the-forced-sterilization-of-native-american-women/. 

Chuen, Lorraine. “A Visualized History of Racism and Reproductive Rights in America.” Intersectional Analyst, Intersectional Analyst, 5 Feb. 2016, http://www.intersectionalanalyst.com/intersectional-analyst/2016/2/4/racismreproductiverights.

Lennard, Natasha. “The Long, Disgraceful History of American Attacks on Brown and Black Women’s Reproductive Systems.” The Intercept, 17 Sept. 2020, theintercept.com/2020/09/17/forced-sterilization-ice-us-history/.

Miroff, Nick. “Hospital Where Activists Say ICE Detainees Were Subjected to Hysterectomies Says Just Two Were Performed There.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/ice-detainee-hysterectomies-hospital/2020/09/22/aaf2ca7e-fcfd-11ea-830c-a160b331ca62_story.html.

Minna, Alexandra. “Forced Sterilization Policies in the US Targeted Minorities and Those with Disabilities – and Lasted into the 21st Century.” The Conversation, 5 Oct. 2020, theconversation.com/forced-sterilization-policies-in-the-us-targeted-minorities-and-those-with-disabilities-and-lasted-into-the-21st-century-143144. 

Ordaz, Jessica. “Perspective | Migrant Detention Centers Have a Long History of Medical Neglect and Abuse.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/18/migrant-detention-centers-have-long-history-medical-neglect-abuse/.

United States, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Four Detention Facilities.” Washington: DHS, 2019. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.


COVID-19 Does Discriminate

by Patricia Kozikowski, September 28, 2020

Throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have heard the phrase “the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate” multiple times. But if the virus doesn’t discriminate, why are certain groups of people suffering more than others?

A perfect example of this social issue is the differences in fatality rates in New York City and its surrounding areas. On May 8, 2020, Dr. Sandro Galea reported that the fatality rate from COVID-19 in Brooklyn is 7.8%, in the Bronx is 6.5%, in Queens is 6.8%, in Nassau County is 3.8%, in Suffolk County is 2.6%. Brooklyn has had a COVID-19 fatality rate that is two times higher than in Nassau County. Both of these communities are only 50 minutes away from each other. So why are twice as many people dying from the pandemic in Brooklyn than in a neighboring community that is less than an hour away?

A number of risk factors have been identified as contributing to these differences. Most of these risk factors correlate with income and race (Brown & Ravallion, 2020). While anyone can be infected by COVID-19, people with low-income are suffering more cases and deaths than people with high-incomes. Researchers W. Holmes Finch and Maria E Hernández Finch (2020) at Ball State University examined incidence and death rates during the first ten weeks of the pandemic. They discovered that counties with higher overall poverty had higher numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases than in other counties. Additionally, they discovered that a larger number of deaths were associated with higher incidence of low birth weights and urban areas.

People with low-incomes are not only at a higher risk for infection and other physical health conditions, but they are also at a higher risk for developing mental health issues (Khullar & Chokshi, 2018). Prior to the pandemic, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 9.8 million adults in the United States had a serious mental illness and 25% of those individuals were below the poverty line. Some of the factors that contribute to this relationship are community violence, food insecurity, unstable housing, low-income, and low access to healthcare (Jordan, 2015). Living in this uncertainty can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, eventually leading to larger mental health issues.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health symptoms have risen dramatically in the general population. In a KFF Tracking Poll, 53% of adults in the United States reported that the coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health (Panchal et al., 2020). This was significantly higher than the mental health rates reported in the beginning of March. The pandemic has resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety about infection, social isolation, months of quarantine, the loss of jobs and businesses, and economic uncertainty. Additionally, Torales et al. (2020) reported that lower socioeconomic status (SES), interpersonal conflict, lower resilience, and lower social support are some risk factors that can increase mental health issues during the pandemic. The mental well-being of the general population has decreased, but what does this mean for individuals who were living with low-income before the start of the pandemic?

Residents of low-income communities suffered the mental health effects of poverty long before the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has only added stress to the daily lives of people in these communities. In general, people living with low-incomes report higher levels of negative mental health related to the coronavirus than those with high-incomes. In a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in July, 35% of individuals making less than $40,000 a year, 22% of individuals making between $40,000 to $89,999, and 20% of individuals making over $90,000 reported that they experienced negative mental health related to worry and stress from the coronavirus (Panchal et al., 2020). Additionally, Pew Research Center American Trends Panel conducted a survey measuring the proportion of respondents experiencing psychological distress (Keeter, 2020). They observed that psychological distress was substantially larger in participants in the lower income tertile (33%) than the upper income tertile (17%). Both of these findings suggest that people living with low-incomes are disproportionately affected by the pandemic than their advantaged counterparts.

The coronavirus calls attention to many social issues that are going on in the United States. These physical and mental health issues are not novel but are rooted in decades of systematic inequality. Residents of these low-income communities have always suffered the most. The pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that they deal with on a daily basis. The next time you hear someone say that the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, please remember that some of us are at a higher risk for experiencing the negative effects of the virus. 


Resources

Brown, C., & Ravallion, M. (2020).  Poverty, inequality, and COVID-19 in the US. https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us.

Finch, W. H., & Finch, M. E. H. (2020). Poverty and Covid-19: Rates of Incidence and Deaths in the United States During the First 10 Weeks of the Pandemic. Frontiers in Sociology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsoc.2020.00047

Galea, S. (2020, May 8). COVID-19 Is Bad for All but Devastating for the Poor. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-health/202005/covid-19-is-bad-all-devastating-the-poor.

Jordan, R. (2015, May 13). Poverty’s toll on mental health. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/povertys-toll-mental-health

Keeter, S. (2020, July 27). People financially affected by coronavirus outbreak are experiencing more psychological distress than others. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/30/people-financially-affected-by-covid-19-outbreak-are-experiencing-more-psychological-distress-than-others/

Khullar, D., & Chokshi, D. A. (2018, October 4). Health, Income, & Poverty: Where We Are & What Could Help. Health, Income, & Poverty: Where We Are & What Could Help | Health Affairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hpb20180817.901935/full/ 

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). https://nsduhweb.rti.org/respweb/homepage.cfm

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Chidabaram, P., Cailey, Hamel, L., Garfield, R., … Orgera, K. (2020, August 21). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

Torales, J., O’Higgins, M., Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., & Ventriglio, A. (2020). The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 66(4), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020915212


COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Blacks and Indigenous Americans

by Sophia Garbarino, August 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected every American in some way. We’ve had to quarantine, socially distance, and make the difficult decision to avoid seeing those we care about, all to stop the spread of the virus. We’ve seen restaurants close, schools go completely online, and unemployment skyrocket. Most importantly, we’ve seen sickness and death at an insurmountable rate. Both the sick and healthy have died, and as of August 20th this year, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States is 172,416 (CDC).

Beyond the six-figure number, we’ve also witnessed weeks of unrest across the country, with people rallying in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, MN, triggered waves of protest both in the streets and online. While being arrested for paying with a counterfeit bill, Mr. Floyd “was killed by police” after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept “his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck… for a total of nine minutes and 30 seconds” (Willis et al.). Police brutality has long plagued our country, and it is only now being recognized, thanks to body camera technology.

While these deaths may appear mutually exclusive at first, we cannot ignore the alarming extent to which systemic racism affects our people. Not only are Black folx subject to over-policing and constant fear, but they are also more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. According to a recent COVID-19 study by the APM (American Public Media) Research Lab, “the heaviest losses [are] among Black and Indigenous Americans” (APM Research Lab Staff). In the last five months, Blacks and Indigenous Americans have seen the highest death rates (see fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Cumulative actual COVID-19 mortality rates per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, April 13-Aug. 18, 2020 from APM Research Lab,  http://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

The study found that “Black Americans continue to experience the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—more than twice as high as the rate for Whites and Asians, who have the lowest actual rates” (APM). Though COVID-19 arrived in the United States from China, Asian-Americans ironically have the second-lowest rate of contracting the virus. Yet as another reflection of racism, President Donald Trump previously referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus” and defended himself on multiple occasions (Chiu). Furthermore, Washington Post photojournalist Jabin Botsford posted proof of the president’s stance on Twitter, as shown below:

While the American president fuels racist agendas, Blacks and Indigenous Americans are being, perhaps avoidably, killed by the novel coronavirus. Individually, “Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander and Latino Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of triple or more White Americans (age-adjusted)” (APM). It’s important to note that while adjusting for age “remove[s] the role of age differences,” it also “increases the COVID-19 mortality rate for all racial and ethnic groups except for Whites” (APM). However, even without age adjustments, the death rates are still higher than those of Whites (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Actual versus Age-adjusted mortality rates by race/ethnicity through Aug. 18, 2020 (Blacks are on the far left in green, and Whites are on the far right in dark blue) from APM Research Lab, http://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

The biggest question to answer is, why? Why are so many more Blacks dying from COVID-19 than other ethnicities? The answer is not as complex as you may think, and it has almost nothing to do with genetics.

According to Our World in Data, risk factors for contracting the coronavirus include:

  • Age,
  • Smoking and other lung compromises,
  • Obesity, and
  • Access to handwashing facilities and healthy hygiene practices (Roser et al.).

Black communities are more at risk for high COVID-19 rates thanks to systemic racism. Its influence on our policies and structures is deeply rooted in American history, dating back to colonization, slavery, and the White Man’s Burden. These practices and beliefs are still affecting us today, much more than most of us may realize.

Dr. Leonard Egede and Dr. Rebekah Walker of the Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Advancing Population Science (CAPS) recently published an article about the way systemic racism affects COVID-19 death rates in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” Here, they provide a detailed explanation of how racial structures in the United States

“affect health through a variety of pathways, including social deprivation from reduced access to employment, housing, and education; increased environmental exposures and targeted marketing of unhealthy substances; inadequate access to health care; physical injury and psychological trauma resulting from state-sanctioned violence such as police brutality and chronic exposure to discrimination; and diminished participation in healthy behaviors or increased participation in unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms.”

Egede and Walker

After generations of being oppressed by the systems that are supposed to protect their rights and liberties, Black Americans are still facing racism and the powerful White agenda to keep them controlled and confined to lower economic classes (keep in mind that many Whites do not support this agenda; it derives from centuries of international racial divides, especially between Whites and Blacks). The coronavirus was just an unpredicted catalyst for exposing this agenda to the mass media and general population. Blacks continue to face death and discrimination from every side, from job opportunities to police brutality to medical care, and it now seems only more inescapable.

We must also be aware of the effects of COVID-19 on the Indigenous American population. We all know that frequently washing your hands with soap and water helps prevent contracting the coronavirus, but many indigenous populations do not have running water. This is nothing new, either; about 90% of the Navajo Nation (located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) lives without running water. They also have “one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the U.S.” (Baek). This is no coincidence, and we must be aware of these issues in order to make progress towards a solution.

The Navajo Water Project, a non-profit organization focused on providing clean, running water to Navajo folx, reports that 1 in 3 Navajo families have to haul water home every day (Navajo Water Project). As the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stated earlier this year,

“We are United States citizens but we’re not treated like that… we once again have been forgotten by our own government.”

Navajo Water Project

The astonishingly low access to basic hygiene resources like running water can be sourced back to the colonization period, when Indigenous Americans were massacred and terrorized by the White colonizers. Only a few tribes were able to secure their rightful territory. When the government signed the Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868, the tribe was finally able to return home after being “forcefully and permanently removed from their ancestral territory” (Ault).

Even though they live on their own land, the Navajo nation is still unable to access the same basic resources as all other U.S. citizens. The majority live below the poverty line, have no running water, toilets, or sinks, and lack adequate funds for education. This is why there are such high rates of coronavirus in these reservations; even before the pandemic hit, they had no defenses. After age-adjustment, “Indigenous people are 3.4 times more likely to have died than Whites,” and in Mississippi, over 1000 indigenous people have died from coronavirus compared to the 44 Whites as of August 18, 2020 (APM). This astounding disparity is undoubtedly race-related.

“The racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality—due to these compounding, elevated risks from our systems of housing, labor force, health care, and policy responses—are what is termed systemic racism

APM Research Lab

Our nation is not only experiencing a public health crisis, but also a crisis in justice. Our Constitution states that all men (and women) are created equal, but we are not, at least in the eyes of our racially-influenced institution. Our own citizens are being mistreated, discriminated against, abused, and ultimately killed. COVID-19 isn’t just a health concern—it’s a race concern. An ethnic concern. A justice concern. It’s your concern.

So what can you do to help? First and foremost, you can help spread awareness. Post on your social media accounts, talk about these issues with your friends and family, and of course, practice preventative measures against COVID-19, like frequently washing your hands with soap and water and social distancing. Listed below are resources to help you learn more about what was discussed in this article.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Navajo Water Project


Works Cited

APM Research Lab Staff. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” APM Research Lab, 18 Aug. 2020, www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.

Baek, Grace. “Navajo Nation residents face coronavirus without running water.” CBS News, 8 May 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-navajo-nation-running-water-cbsn-originals/.

“Cases in the U.S.” CDC, 20 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html.

Chiu, Allyson. “Trump has no qualms about calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus.’ That’s a dangerous attitude, experts say.” Washington Post, 20 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trump-chinese-virus/.

Egede, Leonard, and Walker, Rebekah. “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 383, 2020, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2023616.

@jabinbotsford. “Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes.” Twitter, 19 Mar. 2020, 2:06 p.m., twitter.com/jabinbotsford/status/1240701140141879298.

The Navajo Water Project. The DigDeep Right to Water Project, 2014, www.navajowaterproject.org.

Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). Our World in Data, 21 Aug. 2020, ourworldindata.org/coronavirus#risk-factors-for-the-coronavirus-disease.Willis, Haley, et al. “New Footage Shows Delayed Medical Response to George Floyd.” New York Times, 11 Aug. 2020, /www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/us/george-floyd-body-cam-full-video.html?searchResultPosition=1