Research Recap for Sept. 24

Research Recap Sept. 24

Western’s faculty and students are engaged in exciting research and scholarship across a variety of fields. Each week, Western Today will share short summaries of the latest developments in scholarly work at the University. Interested in reading in-depth stories about science and research at Western? Go to Gaia, the university's online journal of research, discovery and scholarship, and subscribe (it's free) to that site by clicking the "Follow" button. Want more research news? Follow @WWUResearch on Twitter.

Kathy Van Alstyne and Ruth Sofield

Kathy Van Alstyne, marine scientist with Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center, and Environmental Sciences Professor Ruth Sofield are project coordinators for a $139,488 grant with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to examine the transfer of metals between seaweeds and shellfish in multitrophic aquaculture systems. The grant runs from Aug. 31, 2021 through June 30, 2023.

Western researchers, including Van Alstyne, Sofield and a graduate student, will measure the concentrations of metals seasonally for a year in shellfish from existing Washington State shellfish farms and in kelps growing at or in close proximity to the farms. Researchers will use passive seawater samplers to assess metal concentrations in the seawater at each site and will conduct mesocosm studies to look at the rates of transfer of metals of concern from contaminated kelps to shellfish. The results of the study will provide information about potential transfers of contaminants from kelps to shellfish in multitrophic aquaculture systems. By understanding how metal contaminants are moving through trophic levels in and around aquaculture facilities, Western will be able to inform aquaculturists, resource managers, regulators and community members of risks associated with kelp and shellfish consumption and safest times to harvest, and data can help with siting and design for new integrated multitrophic aquaculture facilities.


Rhiannon Joker

Rhiannon Joker is a second-year graduate student of anthropology who specializes in Latinx idioms of distress — that is, the common expressions used to describe psychiatric experiences and symptoms in Latinx communities. She focuses on these idioms in an effort to decolonialize biomedicine and build better patient care.  

Joker is a recipient of the WWU Graduate Research Award for her work. Research shows that mental illness is culturally constructed, which means there's more than one way to show mental illness and distress. Joker wants her research to push biomedical clinicians to better understand how their Latinx patients use particular idioms so that clinicians can develop more effective care rooted in a place of stronger cultural relevance. The first step is for the clinicians to recognize and accept patients’ experiences told in their own words.

Joker works in WWU Associate Professor of Anthropology Sean Bruna’s anthropology lab at WWU, where she says mentorship is highly prioritized and where the research culture is collaborative rather than competitive.

“Bruna’s approach as an advisor is to say, ‘Ok! Let’s figure out how to study exactly what you want to study!’ and then I direct it from there,” said Joker.

In addition to the lab, Joker is conducting her research at a field site in Friday Harbor under Bruna’s direction.  


Brooklynn Smith

Brooklynn Smith is a second-year graduate student of experimental psychology who investigates factors that influence public perceptions of police violence against women. More specifically, Smith wants to address the gap in the literature addressing how specific characteristics and behaviors, on both the part of the victim and the perpetrator, influence police violence against Black women. Smith is a recipient of the WWU Graduate Research Award for her thesis titled, “‘Say Her Name’: An Examination of Support for Police Violence Towards a Black Woman.” 

Smith’s research is driven by her passion for illuminating social justice issues through empirical research. She’s interested in the countable and articulable pieces at play in understanding why police are not subjected to the same level scrutiny when the victims are women, especially Black women. 

Brooklynn Smith says that her time as a graduate student at WWU has been an amazing experience and that she’s learned so much about collaboration in research during her time here. In Smith’s experience, Western faculty, such as her graduate research advisor, Psychology Professor David Sattler, are deeply invested in mentorship and take their students’ success seriously.  

Portrait of Brooklynn Smith outdoors