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School of Arts and Sciences

The World at Tufts

Friday, December 9, 2016

New Faculty from around the Globe: Melinda Latour, Alecia McGregor, Zarin Machanda

Faculty Focus: The World at Tufts


Going global isn't a new concept on the Hill. With vibrant study abroad programs, global research projects, and courses that thrive on the convergence of cultures, the opportunities to take your ideas around the world are limitless. Just ask three of our newest professors, who have brought their talents and international research experience to Tufts.


Assistant Professor Zarin Machanda

In the Jungle

 

Brothers Lanjo and Eslom are facing off in the forest as their father, Johnny, half-heartedly looks on. Only one can win the role of alpha male. Zarin Machanda, assistant professor of anthropology, has her hopes pinned on handsome Lanjo.

"But, of course, he lost and we were all disappointed," she says. "He's a favorite at the Kibale 'soap opera'." Machanda is the co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda, a field site that has followed the same community of chimpanzees for the past 30 years. A primatologist, Machanda received her Ph.D. from Harvard; she understands the perils of anthropomorphizing her subjects.

"They are so like and unlike humans," Machanda says. But never mistake a grin for a smile. "Some days you may see yourself in their behavior. Other days, they'll fight to the death." The chimps never cease to surprise and inspire her. "Every day you go into the forest you see something new. You could be there on day 500 and be amazed."

That's why data collection and projection of our endangered relatives is so important. It took more than 9,000 photos to capture the stages of chimp baby teeth; these and millions of other photographs and data from the project will now be archived at Tufts. And Machanda is excited to bring students on to the project. "We're always looking for new ways to analyze the data, and also plan so we can answer questions we don't even know we'll have ten years from now," she says.

Kibali is more than a research effort; the project takes a holistic approach to conservation, educating and providing scholarships to Ugandan students. "We have a big field site that needs interns and innovators," Machanda says, "to find new ways to collect data, to think about international relations and global education, and so much more."


Assistant Professor Melinda Latour

Lyrically Bound

 

For three years, Melinda Latour delved into the books and manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, searching for spaces of tolerance. An early music scholar who received her Ph.D. from UCLA, Latour was collecting 16th- and 17th-century musical compositions and moral poetry that were born in times of war.

"The religious wars of those times were horrifying in terms of fighting and bloodshed," she says. "But art was created and shared as part of a new ethical system by people who disagreed in almost every other way." The parallels between these French composers and, say, modern-day artists seeking to promote greater understanding in the midst of fear and violence are compelling. "What do we have in common? What can we learn from each other?"

This spring Latour, the Rumsey Family Assistant Professor of Musicology, will be sharing and exploring her research in a graduate seminar on music and ethics. "We're beginning with Plato and the republic, how music creates and forms the character of its citizens," she says. "Tracing music's ethical effects or responsibilities around the world." Latour will also be teaching Women in Music, a study of women as composers, musicians, listeners, consumers, producers, and more—all from a global perspective.


Assistant Professor Alecia J. McGregor

Mortality at the Margins

 

Thirty years ago in the U.S., the "War on Drugs" institutionalized racial profiling in urban communities and legitimized punitive drug policies, says Alecia McGregor, assistant professor of community health. "It inaugurated an era of debilitating, racially biased policies that we are still working to reverse." Large swaths of minority populations were incarcerated for crimes that white counterparts were absolved of, she adds. For example, at the height of the War on Drugs, a 100-to-one disparity existed between sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses. As the jails filled, the country's conviction in its systemic racism was only strengthened. "African American and Latino communities were characterized as breeding grounds for crack addicts and violent criminals," McGregor says. "The more people of color were persecuted, the more people felt justified in persecuting them."

As a graduate student at Harvard and a postdoctoral research associate in the Global and Health Policy Program at Princeton, McGregor examined the parallels between our domestic War on Drugs and Brazil's approach to its own "crack crisis" in the 2010s. A major difference, she concludes, is that Brazil has hoped to take a distinctly public health approach to resolve the issue.

The research is both fascinating and tragic, says McGregor, who has interviewed dozens of Brazilian psychiatrists, psychologists, politicians, and activists involved in human rights, health policy, and drug treatment. "Who's most likely to be in poverty? Who's most likely to suffer from preventable health issues and premature death? People of color, and that's true in both the U.S. and Brazil," she says. "Why do we feel the need to aggressively punish minorities for being poor, or being sick, or just being minorities?" Her course, Mortality at the Margins: Race, Inequality and Health Policy in the United States, examines the patterns of domestic disease and illness across race, class and place in the U.S. McGregor encourages her students to get actively involved in the research. "Dissecting these problems and uncovering their root causes is an absorbing intellectual challenge for any motivated student," she says, "but it's not just a puzzle. Good research in this area can fundamentally change people's lives for generations to come."