Dr. Julie Mazzei

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Name: Dr. Julie Mazzei

Title: Associate Professor, Political Science

What is your expertise? What are your research interests?

Political violence, and non-state violent actors in particular

How long have you worked at Kent State?

15 years.

When do you first remember hearing about COVID-19 or the "coronavirus?" Did you have any sense at all that it would have as large an impact as it has on our day-to-day life? 

I believe I first heard about it in late January or February on NPR. I remember very distinctly hearing that China had completely closed off the city of Wuhan, including closing off the highways and transportation in and out of the city. It was remarkable to think of such an enormous and thorough shut-down. I did not imagine it would ever happen here.

Is there any experience you have had in your life up until now that compares with what we all are currently navigating? If so, what was it?

There really is nothing that compares to this. I have never been in a place or lived through a situation where it was literally dangerous to be around other people, and where there was a threat that was unpredictable, unseen, and where your immediate level of threat or vulnerability is unknowable.

How has your day-to-day life changed? What does your new "routine" look like now?

My mornings revolve around responding to my PhD students' queries via email, prepping my teaching materials, or working on my research, while also guiding my first-grader through her math, reading, and writing assignments, and encouraging my sixth grader through his. My dining room and office space run into each other now, with work spread across multiple surfaces, and my broadband is stretched to its limit. I also get to hear my son "in" his math class, which is pretty awesome. He's pretty smart! And I get to see my daughter work through her opinion writings. She's *very* opinionated!

COVID-19 and our collective response is one of the most interdisciplinary phenomena many of us have seen/experienced. How would you describe how your discipline/research interests/expertise contributes a valuable perspective to our better understanding and responding to COVID-19? 

Nearly every day, I watch press briefings led by teams of medical and political officials providing information, talking about decisions, asking others to make decisions, and providing advice to the public about the spread of this pandemic. And every day, I am reminded of the remarkable intersection between what we sometimes call the hard sciences and the social sciences.

The fact is, public health — OUR health, our individual safety and well-being — depends on experts in both cooperating in effective ways. What epidemiologists know and learn about diseases is facilitated by the funding and protection of political officials committed to the pursuit of science. What doctors and scientists and emergency care providers can do to protect us from and treat us for diseases, perhaps COVID in particular, relies almost entirely upon funding, resource distribution, regulation, and safety decisions made by political leaders. Political science is the study of power and decision-making: who has the power to make decisions? who doesn’t? Why are decisions made the way that they are? And what are the ramifications of those decisions?

Disease is probably one of the places where the ramifications of the decision-making tree are most obvious. Preventing and treating disease requires support from decision-makers. The impacts of disease reflect the choices of politicians and are likely to vary across communities, depending upon the relationship between the community and the folks with the power. These dynamics are seen locally, but in a pandemic are also clear at the global level. All of these decisions can feel very far away. But the reality is that in the United States, the political leaders standing at the podiums during the briefings are chosen by us. They are a reflection of us, and we give them the authority to empower and protect us (or not).

Studying political science, even for the student who has no interest in politics, makes us savvy consumers of information. Making good decisions for ourselves (and for our communities) requires the ability to process fact, to identify and evaluate opinions, and to use information to our own benefit. Being a smart consumer of information is power. We cannot choose our epidemiologists. But we can, and should be informed enough, to choose political leaders who will empower and embrace the science behind public health.

If you had to embark upon a scholarly project (e.g., research, a new course) right now related to COVID-19 and our collective response, what would that look like?

I would be interested in looking at the ways in which cooperative efforts and regulations at the global level could be designed to slow the spread of global pandemics.

What other discipline (even without any expertise or knowledge in that area) could you see helpfully complementing yours in pursuit of your new COVID-19 project?

Public health. Part of sound public health is public information, and an ability as an individual to sift through fact and rhetoric. Public health officials rely on individuals having access to good information, and knowing how to use it.

Do you have any last insights/thoughts regarding COVID-19 and what we are all experiencing?

I have been really impressed with the creative ways in which my students are using on-line platforms to stay connected with each other. I'm also really proud of the emphasis that our university has put on student health, well-being, and success. I know so many in our community are struggling. I hope they know there are resources out there, and folks who are willing to help out if they can. And I want to acknowledge all of our students who are working in nursing, in fashion, and in our grocery stores doing all of that front-line work. There are so many folks in and around Kent who are facilitating this stay-at-home policy.