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Golden Globes dressed to kill workplace inequality

January 7, 2018

ASU film instructor says award show can 'generate conversation to spur action' in Hollywood

The 2018 Golden Globes went dark Sunday night, dressing to match the pall of sexual misconduct that has hung over Hollywood and beyond this past year.

More than 300 actresses, actors, directors, artists and attendees at the 75th annual award show dressed in black as part of the #TimesUp Movement, an organization of women in entertainment combating sexual harassment and inequality. 

Was the glitzy but politically charged event the start of a tectonic shift in Hollywood? Was the awards show the appropriate medium to try to affect social change? And can Tinseltown clean house in this post-Harvey Weinstein era? To find out the answers to these questions, ASU Now spoke with Cat Hartmann, an instructor in Film and Media StudiesA unit within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University and a professional actress and performer.

Woman in white shirt smiling
Cat Hartmann

Question: The Golden Globes are the first major red-carpet awards show of the year and the first to fall after the Weinstein scandal. How important is it for Hollywood to address this issue right away?

Answer: All of Hollywood, the media and the public will be watching this award show to see how Hollywood is going to address the scandal that has rocked its industry this past year. The Golden Globes is the official start of the awards season, and it sets the tone for the rest of the shows — on the red carpet, on the stage and in the media. How the Golden Globes addresses sexual misconduct will establish a foundation for how it will be treated for the rest of the season. Whatever choices they make, a roast, a punchline or an earnest plea for change, it will be picked up and echoed going forward.

Q: Most everyone in attendance wore black to this year’s Globes in a show of solidarity in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Do symbolic gestures like this have power?

A: I feel symbolic gestures can have power; they generate conversation that can spur action. They are the handclap that can trigger an avalanche. While asking women to dress in black on the red carpet may seem trivial, it hits women in the industry in a meaningful way. Many partnerships and brand endorsements are made because of red-carpet appearances. … These partnerships with fashion houses and brands can result in lucrative contracts, as well as raise global cachet and visibility. These partnerships can help raise public recognition, which results in a greater option of roles, as well as a stronger position at the bargaining table concerning salary negotiations. It is an opportunity for actresses to level the unequal financial playing field off the screen. If she can raise her off-screen demand, she can raise her on-screen worth. To ask women to forgo color — the easiest tool to help set themselves apart on the carpet and secure these partnerships — is not trivial.

Q: Seth Meyers’ opening monologue certainly addressed the elephant in the room. But did he hit the intended mark?

A: I think he went pretty soft. He went for two targets (Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey) that no one is defending. He then proceeded to make it all about how men are feeling.

I am finding more interesting the very strong push by Hollywood women to carefully frame and elevate the ideas that this is not just a Hollywood issue, it affects people of color harder and they are not the first women fighting for equality — that they are standing on generations of women before them.

Q: Were there any speeches, moments or gestures this year that stood out to you?

A: Oprah Winfrey's speech was very moving and will be heavily discussed. It was personally beautiful and universally true. Her impassioned speech is a powerful reminder of why representation, justice and equality for everyone is so utterly vital.    

Debra Messing’s callout of E! on the red carpet during E!’s live interview of her was bold. It pointed to hypocrisy on the part of the network and reinforced the idea that just talking about it isn’t enough.

Q: How do you think Hollywood will address the issue of sexual misconduct and the appropriation of power moving forward?

A: I think that wholesale change often happens slowly, particularly when (the problem) is widespread and has been the modus operandi for so long. I think Hollywood is not only poised for a change, it is thirsting for one. However, I am concerned that it can also face a possible backlash by people who are threatened by it and still hold power. The #MeToo movement and the Time's Up campaign run the risk of becoming empty catchphrases if people don’t continue to push for action beyond the hashtags and memes.   

The choice by many actresses to bring social activists as their plus-one and give them camera and interview time was an excellent place to start. It sets a strong example of how to convert privilege and access into a platform of opportunity for these issues to be presented by people who are working to improve them.  

Top photo by jdeeringdavis (Flickr: Golden Globes red carpet) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 
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An ocean of possibility

January 8, 2018

ASU researcher Rolf Halden gives Charlie Rolsky a chance to make a difference — and he pays it forward, helps others find their way

Charlie Rolsky seems to be everywhere you look on campus. Tossing carne asada on a fire on a desert camping trip with biology students. Participating in an interpretive dance performance in the Biodesign Institute. Selling biology-inspired T-shirts for charity.

With tattooed sleeves, the beard of a Sumerian general and a passion for the now, he tends to stand out. The impression comes across that he is savoring every moment and making the most of everything life offers.

Rolsky was born in Southern California and raised in Washington and Montana. “We lived in the most beautiful places,” he said. He grew up outside; camping, fishing, hiking. His mother fought the development of wetlands in Montana. His grandmother lived in the redwoods. “My family was really environmentally conscious,” he said.

He’s working on a doctorate in biology with a focus on microplastics, and assessing environmental stressors as an indicator of species, human and ecosystem health.

What the latter means can be summed up in two words: whale poop.

“I have a fascination with the ocean the way some people do with space,” Rolsky said. “When you’re sitting on a boat, you don’t know what’s underneath you. It’s so hard to study things in the ocean. You can’t just take them out and put them in a lab and replicate the same setting.”

Killer whales are his favorite animal

“Marine mammals — they surface and then they go under,” he said. “You have (just a moment) to study and then what are you going to do?”

He did an internship studying killer whales. Usually to take a sample from a whale, you take a biopsy sample. That involves getting close to the whale and taking a chunk out of its hide.

Needless to say, that stresses the whale. Rolsky and his colleagues used a noninvasive way of taking a biopsy: a trained rescue dog that alerts them when it smells killer-whale poop. The dog stood on the bow of the boat, the boat followed the whale, the dog alerted team members when the whale did its business, team members scooped up the sample with a net.

Dog on a boat watching a whale
Charlie Rolsky’s research team used a dog trained to smell whale poop, which they’d collect and analyze in the lab. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology

Out on the ocean on that internship, getting his hands dirty, Rolsky found his calling. Collecting samples, taking them into the lab and analyzing the data, he saw the whole flow of how the process worked.

“That one internship just blew the roof off for me,” he said.

He knew he wanted to be a scientist.

There was a problem, though. When he was an undergrad, he struggled with grades and a health condition. 

“It hindered me in the sense it was overwhelming and I took it on on my own,” he said. “I needed to ask for help, and I didn’t. It was a battle for me to balance everything. I thought I could balance too many things, and I definitely couldn’t.”

His grades took a hit.      

Flash-forward to getting into a research lab as a graduate student. He needed an adviser. 

“There’s not a lot of easy options to get into a research lab,” Rolsky said. “My grades weren’t the best when I was an undergrad, so I had to rely on my resume to get me places. I shopped myself around to a lot of different professors, but their ruler for measuring success is usually your GPA. I got shot down left and right.”

He connected with a student of Rolf Halden’s who worked in aquaculture. All three of them went to lunch, where Rolsky showed his ideas to Halden.

Halden is an expert in determining where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment, how they affect health and how to remove them from contaminated water and soil. The Food and Drug Administration recently banned the sale of personal-care products containing antimicrobials that contaminate the environment — a direct result of Halden’s research. He is the director of the ASU Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering. A lanky German with a winning smile, he stands out for also being sharply dressed on campus.

“Once I learned who he was, I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of working with him,” Rolsky said. “I sat down and I said, ‘Here’s my resume. I’m really sorry. Back when I was an undergrad –’ And he said, ‘I don’t care about that. What are you doing now?’ That’s when the conversation started. He looked at me as more than a GPA. Who are you? What are your passions? What’s your work ethic? Stuff like that.”

Rolsky walked away from lunch without a good feeling.

“He basically crapped all over (my ideas), in a really good way because I was new,” he recalls. “I left and called my mom and said, ‘Well, that was a massive failure. Now I feel like an idiot.’ Then he sent an email saying something like, ‘We’re excited to have you. Welcome to the team.’”

Rolsky had won Halden over with his enthusiasm. Grades don’t always convey a person’s capacity, HaldenHalden is also a professor in ASU's School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. said.

“Sometimes bad grades can be a reflection of an educational environment that is not ideally suited for an individual,” Halden said. “Being a very large university, ASU is a place where people with different learning styles have a better chance finding the right niche. A history of having not-so-great grades doesn’t mean he couldn’t do great work. Charlie is proving this more and more.”

Assembling a scientist

Halden said he looks for people who like what they’re doing. Passion makes a difference. He explains why he invited Rolsky into his lab.

Charlie Rolsky
Charlie Rolsky is working on a doctorate in biology with a focus on microplastics, and assessing environmental stressors as an indicator of species, human and ecosystem health. Photo by Josh Soskin

“(People) can be extremely smart, but absent of motivation, what should be an exciting journey of discovery becomes a chore only,” he said. “It’s much easier to work with people who are self-motivated and just direct them, to give them pointers on what they might be doing next. It was beneficial to us both. He already had the motivation, and all he needed was a little more instruction on how to apply his skills.

“I wouldn’t say I took a chance on him. Yes, based on his academic accomplishments, not everyone would have taken him on, but Charlie has become such an integral part of our team that we are just happy to have him around and work with him.”

Halden pushed Rolsky toward microplastics. He will finish his doctorate in about a year and a half. He wants to be back on the water, getting his hands dirty at a place like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Currently he is working on a survey of plastics in California waters.

“We’re encountering negative stuff,” Rolsky said. “Not a surprise.”

It’s an area where very little research has been done, making it a ripe career field.

“We don’t know much about it, and it’s one of those problems where it’s so expansive, that once we do learn bad things, it’s not good,” he said. “It’s not one little problem in one little area. Microplastics are all over the world. Every country can get worried.”

Halden said with some nudging Rolsky has come into his own.

“I think he’s really broadened his horizons and focused in on a major challenge that is the mass production of unsustainable materials that have become part of our way of life and we don’t want to do without,” Halden said.

Rolsky said he didn’t know where he’d be if Halden hadn’t encouraged him in that direction. A good scientist is assembled from different pieces.

“I had done the field work, I’d gotten decent at writing, but he taught me how to be a scientist,” Rolsky said. “He taught me how to ask the right questions and see things through the glasses of a scientist.

“You can think you’re good at things, but it takes someone like that to show you the proper way of executing stuff. He really opened my eyes to how to be the best scientist possible. You can see from your perspective all angles of a certain concept, but then you take it to him and he adds 10 more things to it.”

To Rolsky, Halden represents what’s needed in science.

“A lot of people don’t know how to communicate or to find creative ways of communicating science to non-science people,” he said. “He can communicate well, he brings creativity out of people, and he pushes you to be the best researcher possible.”

Now Rolsky is reaching out. He gets samples sent to him from all over the world by ordinary people interested in science.

“Everyone has a generic idea of what a scientist should be and how they should talk and what they should look like,” he said. “When you can be the opposite of that, it’s a positive thing to me. ‘Oh, he doesn’t talk like a scientist, and he’s funny and has tattoos and looks weird.’ If you can be an exception to that and get people to care about science in a funny way, then I think that’s pretty cool.”

Paying it forward

As a teaching assistant, Rolsky tries to get as many students into research labs as he can because it helped him so much. Over the past three years, he has helped 28 students get into lab positions.

“I had to figure out how to get into research labs on my own,” he said. “Now it’s like an equation I can pass off to anyone and it’s pretty successful. I haven’t had a student fail yet.”

Anna Guerrero was one of his first. A first-year grad student, she is pursuing her master’s in biology and society. Rolsky was her teaching assistant in her Introduction to Biology lab.

“The great thing about Charlie is that he was super-open, super-clear to his students that he wanted to help them find research opportunities from the get-go,” Guerrero said. “Undergraduate research is becoming more and more integral to the success of an undergraduate in the science field. He’s like, ‘Hey, if you want to get into a research lab, please come to me. I will help you brainstorm who you should contact and use my contacts to help you get in.’”

Guerrero is interested in how scientists transform their experiences into data, words and pictures. She is particularly interested in “invisible” scientific phenomena, things too small, large or abstract to see with the naked eye.

“We got her into a really amazing position,” Rolsky said. “She has a knack for art and science, so we paired her with a researcher who depicted anatomical structures in a really cool way.”

Anna Guerrero and Charlie Rolsky
ASU students Anna Guerrero and Charlie Rolsky help connect people to science. Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Guerrero said Rolsky was probably the only reason she got into a lab.

“I came to him with this interest in art, but I also like science,” she said. “I didn’t know who would need that or where should I go. He said, ‘Oh, there’s this woman, her name’s Rebecca Fisher. She’s really cool and her papers she publishes usually have these really wonderful illustrations, so she has a history of working with illustrators. I know her; I’ll vouch for you.’ I think that’s why she gave me an interview in the first place.”

Guerrero went to work in Rebecca Fisher’s anatomy and physiology lab.

“I can draw — I’m a scientific illustrator,” Guerrero said. “In anatomy and physiology it’s super helpful to have an illustrator to draw the phenomena you’re seeing. Sometimes when you’re taking pictures of 20 muscles, you don’t want every muscle in the picture; you just want to isolate one. So she took me on. I did some drawings and figure work for her early on. She kind of inducted me into the lab, into dissections, and then I helped her on a few projects.”

As a thank-you, she drew Rolsky a picture of Darwin with the caption “Darwinning.” Rolsky came up with the idea to put it on a T-shirt. Now they design and sell science-based T-shirts for charity. (Find their designs at teespring.com/stores/lab-casual.)

“I try to be like Charlie now that I’m a TA, and offer the same sorts of things to my students. Sometimes it gets overwhelming with the amount of things you have to do, but it’s totally worth it,” she said. “It’s important to be that person, especially with younger students who wouldn’t know how to do it.”

Rolsky is a natural teacher. He has received awards and recognition for his contributions to education at ASU.

“He is a sought-after instructor people go to repeatedly,” Halden said. “This is all very impressive. The students like him and can relate to him, which makes learning so much easier and fun.”

Rolsky said his journey has been about finding a niche and a place to make his mark.

“You find the right people,” he said. “I tell my students about finding your pod — you find the right people who are always going to lift you up and provide you with opportunities. As long as you’re nice to people and make an effort to reach out and talk to them, I think that should be the standard.”

 

Top photo: ASU researcher Rolf Halden (left) and graduate student Charlie Rolsky. Photo by Josh Soskin. This story appeared in the January 2018 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

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