The Baldy Center Blog Fall 2021


The Baldy Center Blog features interdisciplinary perspectives on research and current events from interdisciplinary UB scholars whose work intersects with law, legal institutions, and social policy. New blogs are generally released twice a month during each semester.

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Blog Host/Producer

Julia Merante is a second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She is the Vice President of the Jessup International Moot Court, a Human Rights Fellow at Legal Aid, a Student Ambassador, and an Associate of the Buffalo Environmental Law Review Journal.

Julia Merante, Host/Producer, Blog  2021-22

Julia Merante, a second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, is host/producer for the 2021-22 Edition of The Baldy Center Blog. Merante is the Vice President of the Jessup International Moot Court, a Human Rights Fellow at Legal Aid, a Student Ambassador, and an Associate of the Buffalo Environmental Law Review Journal. The award-winning poet and essayist graduated SUNY Geneseo summa cum laude with a Bachelors Degree in English, Biology, and Human Development. Merante plans to become a public interest advocate, and then become an educator to continue engaging in important, legal scholarship. 

Executive Producers

Samantha Barbas
Professor, UB School of Law; Director, The Baldy Center

Caroline Funk 
Associate Director, The Baldy Center

Post 23. Letitia Thomas: Integrating Social Justice Theory into Engineering Practice.

LSAMP Poster Symposium, 2019. Photograph by Holly M. Evert, courtesy of UB Engineering. See photo galleries, here.

Published December 8, 2021

Blog Author: Letitia Thomas, PhD,  Assistant Dean for Diversity, UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Keywords: Social Justice, Social Change, Modern Architecture, Inequality

Engineering education has historically been limited in developing students’ awareness of social justice issues, even though research tells us that students who are underrepresented (by class, race, gender, etc.) can be empowered and retained when participating in social justice projects related to engineering (Lucena & Leydens, 2015; Mejia, 2017). My goal is to integrate social justice theory into engineering practice, to empower UB students to make a lasting, collective impact in their community. I want students to study and learn social justice themes while becoming more socially and critically conscious about their own influence, as creators of technology. Students can analyze problems and ask questions such as:

  • Who gets to use our technology and who does it benefit?
  • Do engineers and scientists consider culture in what they do as engineers? 
  • Are the developed technologies equally suited for marginalized communities?
  • Do engineers and computer scientists consider cultural differences in what they do as technical experts?

Social justice perspectives can increase students’ sense of belonging in STEM and student success in technical courses (Hurtado et. al, 2010; Carpi et al, 2016; Peters et. al, 2019). The goal is to encourage students to use their skills to broaden and improve the impact of engineering and computer science technologies on humanity. A key component in achieving these goals is a commitment to engage students in undergraduate research. The literature identifies research as a key strategy for broadening participation in STEM and as a high impact educational practice (Kuh, 2008), increasing student engagement and retention. Undergraduate research is important in helping students pursue scientific discovery and begin to engage in critical thinking and inquiry. To that end, reinforcing undergraduates’ self-confidence and belonging in STEM and strengthening their academic skills through hands-on learning approaches is an important feature of my work.

In my position as Assistant Dean for Diversity in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (UB SEAS), I am responsible for ensuring our commitment to building a pathway for the next generation of engineers and scientists. My research interests include STEM education, socially responsible engineering, social media, and qualitative research methods. In a previous role, I taught a Social Justice course which allowed me to offer students a set of critical examinations about what is “just” for society and lead discussions on the problems, possible solutions, and action items for change. I wanted to prepare students to understand, examine and challenge the roots of oppression and injustice; and begin to think as citizens invested in collaborative action, not just college students here temporarily, and thus disconnected from local issues. My expanded areas of interest include graduate engineering education, addressing the shortage of underrepresented students in computer science, faculty/student mentoring relationships and, more recently, the social determinants of health (with respect to the intersection of engineering and medicine).

I believe that increasing the diversity of students pursuing research careers in engineering, computer science, biosciences, public health, etc. is an important step toward mitigating these issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed both a stunning lack of public health preparedness and pre-existing healthcare inequities, resulting in tragically fatal consequences for nearly 650,000 Americans. The pandemic has been especially difficult for people of color, who have historically experienced systemic health disparities. Students from communities that suffer disproportionately from inequities in medical care are more likely to become engaged in health disparities research (Vazquez, et. al, 2017). Our ultimate goal is to create a UB center for social justice in engineering, that will unite students, faculty, professionals, and community members, in solving social justice problems.



Screen Shot 2021-11-22 at 11.30.50 AM.

Toilets, In the World, Sorted by Income (search results) courtesy of DollarStreet/Gapminder. DK Screen Capture 2021-11-22.

Published November 24, 2021

Blog Author: Ed Steinfeld, ArchD, AIA, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Architecture, UB School of Architecture and Planning

Keywords: Disability, Health and Society, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Inequality, Modern Architecture, Public Policy, Social Justice and Social Change

Why is it so difficult to ensure equality of access to public toilets for all? To find pleasant facilities? To implement design practices that support safety, health, and function? Public toilets have been around for over 2000 years!

In recent years, restrooms have become the major spatial locus of conflict over trans* rights. But the trans* population is not the only one that has problems with restrooms. Human rights advocates recognize the importance of access to public toilets for dignity, health, and social participation. In low-income countries, providing safe and secure public toilets to reduce the spread of disease is a major public health initiative, especially important to support access to education and social participation by girls and women. Advocates have identified the “potty parity” problem as evidence that even high-income societies have not physically adapted to full equality for women. While many countries may have turned the corner on access for people with disabilities, it remains a major issue for people with disabilities in the developing world and, even in high income countries, regulations do not address all the disability issues.  

My colleagues, Adam Thibodeaux, Shira Gabriel Klaiman, and I recently started a research  initiative on inclusive restroom design. As part of this effort, we are looking for examples of inclusive bathroom designs that not only address the issue of trans* access but also benefit other groups by improving infection control, reducing inequality of access, and addressing unmet needs of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue and recommendations of good practice restrooms to document, in the WNY region or beyond! We are also interested in recruiting colleagues to join us in this initiative. Learn more.



Post 21. The Paradoxes of Precarity: Buffalo Refugees Reconsidered.

Buffalo, NY, photo by Shamir Hunley on Unsplash.

Blog Author: Arabella Lyon, PhD, Professor Emerita, Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
Some legal scholars have responded to the liberal, autonomous subject by theorizing a vulnerable subject. In doing so, they recognize vulnerability as a universal and constant characteristic of the human condition. Alternatively, many humanists use a different conceptual frame which follows Judith Butler’s distinction between precariousness as universal human vulnerability and the political state of precarity.Precarity is a useful critical tool because the rhetorical constructions of precarity demonstrate how activists and politicians create worldviews and assemble publics. Political cultures construct precarity, shifting the precarity of different people fluidly. On what days does the precarity of Afghan women exceed that of US soldiers? In an earlier study of the discourses surrounding Buffalo’s refugees, I suggest that precarity is often denied or ignored, not just because people wish to be competent, but because dominant discourses obscure our ability to recognize precarity and its causes. Over a decade ago, Buffalo media occasionally worried about the precarity of refugees and their economic cost to the county. Now, it reports that refugees have stabilized the city’s shrinking population, revitalized the city’s West Side, and provided an international economic network. 

Post 20.

Blog Author: G. James Lemoine, Associate Professor, UB School of Management, and Faculty Director of CLOE

Introduction: Republicans wonder how New Yorkers could have ever supported disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, amazed that his polling among state voters remained so high throughout almost the entirety of the scandals of 2020-21. Meanwhile, Democrats are flabbergasted at the strong levels of support former President Donald Trump continues to receive from conservative voters, despite his numerous moral miscues. The rise and fall of these politicians (as well as that of countless others) offers fascinating evidence on the ethics of our elected officials, and other things that don't exist.

Blog 18. Carole Emberton; A photograph captures the moment when the statue on top of The Confederate Monument to General Robert E. Lee was removed from its perch on May 17, 2017. Image courtesy of CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021. Photograph courtesy of Capt. Chris Herbert/U.S. Air Force via AP. 

Blog Author: Paul Linden-Retek, Lecturer in Law & Society; Research Fellow at The Baldy Center

Introduction: The devastating images of chaos and suffering in Afghanistan have left an indelible mark on citizens and policy-makers in the West. They have made the evacuation of those Afghans who served alongside U.S. and European militaries a moral obligation—and raised the question whether that obligation must extend, as well, to any and all Afghans who are imperiled by the return of Taliban rule.

Blog 18. Carole Emberton; A photograph captures the moment when the statue on top of The Confederate Monument to General Robert E. Lee was removed from its perch on May 17, 2017. Image courtesy of CC-BY-SA-4.0.

A photograph captures the moment when the statue on top of The Confederate Monument to General Robert E. Lee was removed from its perch on May 17, 2017. Image courtesy of CC-BY-SA-4.0

Blog Author: Carole Emberton, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of History

Introduction: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, a grassroots movement to remove, and in some cases reimagine, Confederate monuments has refocused national conversations about racial justice, memory, and public space. While some have lamented these removals as an effort to “erase history,” others point out that these edifices represented only a mythologized past that itself erased the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants.

Blog 17. R. Lorraine Collins: Medical and Recreational Cannabis Laws are being passed even though we do not know much about its effects.

Blog Author: R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior School of Public Health and Health Professions

Introduction: On March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. The new law is designed to establish a framework for regulating the cannabis industry in New York and to providing adult access to recreational cannabis. The retail market likely will be launched in 2023, following the establishment of the Office of Cannabis Management and other necessary entities. 

Blog 16.

Blog Author: Catherine Cook-Cottone, Professor, Director, Advanced Certificate in Mindful Counseling, UB Graduate School of Education

Introduction: The American Bar Association’s (ABA) National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being released the The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing Report in 2017. The report begins, “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.” The report cites studies that reveal the high rates of chronic stress, depression and substance abuse among lawyers and law students, what they describe as the toxicity of the profession, and the stigma associated with help seeking behaviors. The report held as its central guiding principle that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer's duty of competence.