Headlines @ U.Va.
HOLDING LOVED ONE’S HAND CAN CALM JITTERY NEURONS
Married women under extreme stress who reach out and hold their husbands’ hands feel immediate relief, neuroscientists have found in what they say is the first study of how human touch affects the neural response to threatening situations. The soothing effect of the touch could be seen in scans of areas deep in the brain that are involved in registering emotional and physical alarm. The women received significantly more relief from their husbands’ touch than from a stranger’s, and those in particularly close marriages were most deeply comforted by their husbands’ hands, the study found. The findings help explain one of the longest-standing puzzles in social science: why married men and women are healthier on average than their peers. Husbands and wives who are close tend to limit each other’s excesses like drinking and smoking but not enough to account for their better health compared with singles, researchers say. “The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at U.Va. and the study’s lead author. (New York Times, Jan. 31)
UNIVERSITIES NAMING CHIEF DIVERSITY OFFICERS TO HELP CREATE LASTING CHANGE
The new vice president for diversity and equity was working behind
the scenes at U.Va. before his position even kicked in. A number of racial incidences had disturbed the Charlottesville campus in the early weeks of fall 2005, including epithets yelled out by pedestrians and people in cars, a slur scrawled on a student’s message board, and the mistreatment of a black student at a fraternity party (beer was poured down the student’s back, for one).With a potential crisis in play, the administration’s response needed to come from on high.
President John Casteen III made a rare speech from the historic Rotunda and participated in a video shown at the start of the Homecoming game against Duke University (N.C.). One gesture became particularly visible: Black ribbons were distributed all over campus, including 50,000 before the Homecoming game at Scott Stadium. The ribbons created a sea of support for those who had been targeted by the incidences, a message of unity against intolerance. Bill Harvey was behind the ribbon move, and it will not be the last time he casts broad strokes on U.Va.’s canvas — or other leaders do so elsewhere. As the university’s first vice president for diversity and equity, Harvey is among a growing group of chief diversity officers taking on new positions in higher education. (University Business, February 2006)
CAPITAL WASN’T SO PARTISAN IN REAGAN ERA
The stench of partisanship is so strong in Washington these days that it is difficult to remember that it was not always the case that Republicans and Democrats were at each other’s throats. But, in truth, there was a time when friendship and simple human compassion were far more powerful than any political differences. A wonderful reminder of that fact can be found among the oral histories compiled by two dozen of Ronald Reagan’s main associates that have been released by U.Va.’s Miller Center of Public Affairs at U.Va. The transcripts are available at http://www.millercenter.org. (Washington Post, Jan. 29)