Spotlight Lydia Rose

Q&A with Lydia Rose, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Kent State University East Liverpool
Office of Sustainability Newsletter May 2021

Dr. Lydia Rose

  • Director, Social Science Research Lab

  • Honors Coordinator, East Liverpool Campus

  • Interdisciplinary Research Leader, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow

  • Co-author of Pink Hats and Ballots: Ecofeminist Perspectives of Women’s Activism in the Age of Trump, Coronavirus, and Black Lives Matter (Lexington Books, Forthcoming)

What sparked your interest in sociology?

As an undergraduate student, I was first a psychology major because I had hoped to be a counselor or psychologists to help individuals, but as I took sociology classes, I realized that the interactions we have with others and the social institutions at school, work, and places of worship have a great impact on individuals. I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts degree in both psychology and sociology. After an internship at a mental health care facility for juveniles, I was heartbroken that the kids in my hometown who had very similar issues as the kids in the affluent facility where I was interning, were constructed as troubled kids who made bad choices.  I decided to focus my studies on sociology and inequality and what then became studies of intersectionality focusing on class, race, gender.

What is your favorite part of your position?

I fell in love with an academic life when I was in grad school. Seeking, developing, and sharing knowledge is my favorite part of being a professor and scholar. I love being in the classroom and witnessing students’ growth in knowledge as much as I enjoy traveling to conferences to meet with fellow colleagues to learn about their research and share my own scholarship. Traveling to conferences provides an opportunity to expand my own experiences outside of the typical communities that I live, work, and play. Conferences tend to be held in large metropolitan areas around the world, so each time I visit a city, I do two things: I seek out different enclaves and neighborhoods to document the differences and changes that are observable; and second, I seek out the local natural environments (parks, green spaces, etc.) to understand the local landscape. I use these observations in the classroom to provide concrete examples to core sociological concepts.

What has been a favorite course that you teach? What do you enjoy about it?

As I thought about this, I find I’m having a difficult time choosing one. I really like all the classes I teach. While the core concepts change little, the emerging change in society provides new ways to teach those concepts. If pressed, I have to say my courses with the experiential components are my favorite. My students do research topics each semester in every class, but the theme is always different based on current events and on student choices and opportunities; we either do a community service project or travel to a research conference. I also really enjoy teaching the upper division courses like “Wealth, Poverty, and Power,” “Family: A Global Perspective,” and “Sociology of Food.” Those classes are the most fun and intellectually stimulating because there is so much more room in the curriculum to focus on emerging issues in society such as the most current issues related to COVID-19, blatant police brutality, and a nation-wide activism and social movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement. In the spring I will be teaching a new course on Environmental Sociology, so I’m really excited to have a course dedicated to the environment—as I am preparing for that course, I find it is my favorite course at the moment.

What are your favorite accomplishments or projects you have worked on so far?

My favorite projects are those that are exciting. As a Robert Wood Johnson Fellow, I am finishing up a project on citizen science and creating a Citizen Science soil testing. This project was exciting because it is an interdisciplinary project where I am working on a team with Ms. Amanda Kiger, a community organizer with River Valley Organizing, and Dr. Erin Haynes, University of Kentucky, Chair, Department of Epidemiology & Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health. Preliminary results of this study indicate that some households have extreme levels of lead in the soil around their homes. Having easy access to test one’s soil around their home and community is important, as is developing a kit and reporting mechanism that is accessible to the average citizen in a community. Knowledge of potential harms of metals in the soil allows residents and community leaders to organize and make informed decisions on mitigating lead exposure, especially for young children.
I have also just completed an ecofeminist study that examined the current surge of women’s political activism and election to political offices. That study is a collaborative work with Ms.  Teresa Bartoli, a community activist, and is published as a monograph titled Pink Hats and Ballots: Ecofeminist Perspectives of Women’s Activism in the Age of Trump, Coronavirus, and Black Lives Matter and is due to be available July 15th. I’m excited to see these two projects completed.

I am extremely excited about two new projects I am working on.  The first is a project to further the work on building a culture of health focusing on increasing physical activity for residents living and working in rural and small towns. This project is co-developed with Dr. Kele Ding, a professor and scholar in the Health Education and Promotion program, in the School of Health Sciences at the Kent Campus. We are using a socio-ecological model to develop a multi-level intervention for communities focusing on individual, social, and community assets to build/modify one’s community, living spaces, and workspaces to be more amenable participate in physical activity. We secured funding last summer to conduct a pilot study on wearable devices (that monitor physical activity) and social media; and this summer we secured funding to conduct a pilot study on creating a community coalition to promote physical activity. Our goal is to apply for a R21 NIH grant to further explore the mechanics and efficacy of the socio-ecological model of building a culture of health and increase physical activity in communities that experience high levels of sedentary practices.
The second project I am excited about is a collaborative work with Dr. Kele Ding and Dr. Curtis Williams. Dr. Williams is a culturally based psychotherapist and is working with the Akron Community Collaborative (ACC), a collaborative that evolved from a deliberative dialogue between grassroots community organizers and health professionals seeking to address the violence in the Akron Community. We have recently developed a proposal based on an African-centered notion of Ubuntu – I am because we are; we are because I am. This proposal is an exploration documenting how the AAC, an African-centered community collaborative is addressing structural racism and wellbeing using community assets for implementation in other communities.

How do the three pillars of sustainability (planet-environmental, people-social, prosperity-economy and wellbeing) get woven into what you do at Kent State?

From a young age, I was prepared as a steward of the natural environment, to respect and protect the gifts of nature (land, water, air, animals); as a sociologist, I was prepared by my teachers and mentors to focus on the socio-cultural aspects of power, control, and exploitation. Those teachings are embedded in my soul and inform my scholarship and my teaching practices in the classrooms. So in every class I teach, for every topic we cover, I ask students to think about it in terms of environmental justice. Environmental justice is being mindful of how power, control, and exploitation impacts the natural environment. All cultural practices have an impact at some level on the natural environment -- our ideological, our practices, our culture. When I was offered the faculty position at the East Liverpool campus, I didn’t hesitate to take this position because the campus was committed to Environmental Justice through their annual EJ conference and I wanted to be part of that work.

Can you give an overview and tell us more about the Environmental Justice Conference at East Liverpool?

The KSUEL Environmental Justice Conference came about by the late Dr. Roxanne Burns (biology professor) and (now retired) Dr. Patti Swartz (English professor) to enhance awareness and knowledge of climate change and environmental issues for the students at East Liverpool. When I interviewed with them separately, I learned of the conference and their commitment to teach environmental justice to students at the campus. Students select a project for the semester and prepare either a research paper or poster to present. The students in the campus Environmental Club take an active role in selecting the theme of the conference and help in selecting one keynote speaker and one guest speaker, and volunteer for the days activities. The conference is typically held on the Saturday closes to Earth Day (April 22). Last year, when the pandemic hit, we moved the conference to the online format. In the past, students would travel quite far to attend the conference at the East Liverpool Campus. With the online format, participation by students that are far from East Liverpool are now able to participate much more easily. It is likely we will keep the online format for now, so the conference is open to all KSU students.

What would people be surprised to learn or know?  

Lol. I’m not sure. I guess people are usually surprised to find out I love games like Pokemon Go and Animal Crossings. I spend a bit of my leisure time in each of those worlds. I also like to watch Korean/Asian dramas as I workout on the treadmill.

Thank you Dr. Lydia Rose!
KSUEL Environmental Justice Conference