July 14, 2024

Subramanian Pens Article About Extreme Heat in Inner Cities

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Journalism Sushma Subramanian penned an article in The Guardian entitled, “U.S. cities are suffocating in the heat. Now they want retribution.”

For years, an elderly man stood as a regular fixture around his East Baltimore neighborhood for the way he would wander the streets in the summer, trying to stay outside his sweltering home until nightfall.

This man, who suffers from dementia, lived in a row house that shared side walls with its neighboring homes. With windows only in the front and back, there was little air flow, which trapped the heat inside. It’s not unusual for the upper floors in such homes to be several degrees hotter than the temperature outdoors.

During a nearly two-week heat wave that swept through the city in July 2019, Cynthia Brooks, executive director of the Bea Gaddy Family Center, a local non-profit that provides food and other services for the poor and homeless, noticed she hadn’t seen the man for a while. Finally, on one of the “code red” days – when the forecasted heat index is expected to be at 105F (40.56C) or higher – he stumbled out of his house, looking disoriented. No one knows how long he had been sitting inside, alone, without a fan or air conditioning.

This man had no one to call – no family was around, and alerting emergency responders could have led to a hefty medical bill. Brooks dropped everything and took him to nearby Johns Hopkins hospital, where he was diagnosed with heatstroke and given treatment. After that incident, Brooks became his legal custodian. He currently lives in a senior home nearby, and she makes his treatment decisions.

This man represents the population in Baltimore most likely to face the personal impacts of the climate crisis. Around the country, global heating is increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of summer heat waves. The recent triple-digit temperatures across the Pacific north-west, where air conditioning in homes isn’t common, highlight the real-world hardships caused by extreme heat exposure and how the elderly and homeless suffer disproportionately from physical discomfort and worse health outcomes. Read more. 

Rao Interviewed About Gandhi’s Influence on James Farmer

Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication and Digital Studies Anand Rao

Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication and Digital Studies Anand Rao

The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi goes well beyond the Indian Freedom Struggle. He has influenced countless movements and struggles for freedom and democracy around the world, decolonization struggles, including the civil rights movement within the United States.

The Metta Center for Nonviolence interviewed P. Anand Rao (Professor of Communication, Chair of the Department of Communication and Digital Studies) to discuss Gandhi’s influence on Dr. James Farmer and the American Civil Rights Movement. The interview is part of the Metta Center’s podcast, “Nonviolence Radio,” and the interview was conducted by UMW alum Stephanie Van Hook. The interview can be found at: https://mettacenter.org/ppr/gandhis-influence-on-dr-james-farmer/

Sushma Subramanian: In Touch

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

How are you feeling? That question often elicits a one- or two-word response.

For Sushma Subramanian, it took 272 pages. In the midst of a global pandemic, quarantines and social distancing, she just published How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch.

Touch may be our most important sense, said Subramanian, a science journalist and University of Mary Washington assistant professor of communication. Her current work explores the scientific, physical, emotional and cultural aspects of feeling.

She had finished the manuscript last March when news of COVID-19 broke, prompting several additions and revisions. “My editor and I quickly realized that society’s relationship with touch was going to change in some pretty extreme and long-lasting ways.”

After more than a year without physical contact, people are suffering from touch-deprivation, but it’s not all bad, she said. Her post-pandemic prediction? “I don’t think we’ll go back to shaking hands,” said Subramanian, admitting she isn’t a fan of the practice. “But hugs, as more people are getting vaccinated, could be coming back pretty fast. People really miss it!”

Book Cover: "How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch"

Photo credit: Columbia University Press.

Her family pod expanded by one near the beginning of quarantine. Subramanian gave birth to a daughter. “Thanks to her, I have faced no touch-deprivation at all!”

Subramanian, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California and a master’s at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, currently teaches news reporting and writing, and serves as faculty advisor to The Blue & Gray Press. Her own writing focuses on how science can explain daily phenomena, from iPad technology to why our skin tingles when we listen to beautiful music.

“Journalism is a field that is quickly changing,” Subramanian said, “so it’s always helpful to have one foot inside it to teach students what they can expect when they graduate.”


Q: What attracted you to Mary Washington?
A: I had been part-time teaching for many years and wanted to make it a bigger part of my career. Writing can be lonely, so I like having regular interaction, and teaching students about something I love so much helps keep me excited about it.

Q: What’s your favorite course to teach?
A: Magazine journalism, which allows journalists to delve deeply into their subjects and write creatively about the material they collect.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: If something sparks my interest, I can just call up the world’s expert in that topic. And then I get to share what I learn. I think of my writing as a form of teaching, too.

Sushma Subramanian giving her 6-month-old daughter a massage.

Sushma Subramanian giving her 6-month-old daughter a massage.

Q: Most challenging?
A: Coming up with new ideas that no one else has tackled … I get anxious when my bucket is dry.

Q: What’s the most tactile item in your office?
A: A couple years ago, I entered a Peeps diorama contest. I made a scene of Neanderthals gathering around a fire with those Easter marshmallow treats – and I was a prize winner. I sprayed it with shellac, but I worry how long those Peeps will last.

Q: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I make dog houses out of used Amazon boxes. I’ve done a castle and mid-century modern.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: I used to be a serious procrastinator; now I’m the opposite. I always say, “If you don’t put in the work now, you’ll pay for it later.”

Subramanian Discusses New Book on Podcast

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian recently appeared on “Rising Up with Sonali,” discussing her new book How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch with the podcast host. Listen here.



Subramanian’s New Book Reviewed in Discover Magazine

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian recently released a new book, How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch, and was interviewed in Discover Magazine.

As Subramanian explains in her book, How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch, it was a moment when she began to consider how little she knew about this multifaceted sense — “a capacity,” she writes, “that never shuts off.” The questions kept forming, eventually leading Subramanian, a professor of journalism at the University of Mary Washington, to write an article for Discover in 2015 about the development of tactile touch screens — which use haptic technology, such as vibrations in handheld devices.

In her latest work, she dives deeper into that world, but also explores the limits of our sense of touch and what makes it so versatile. Discover caught up with Subramanian to talk about touch in the age of COVID-19, the future of tactile research and how we experience the sense differently across personal and cultural barriers. Read more.

Subramanian on With Good Reason

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Sushma Subramanian, assistant professor of journalism, appeared on a special Valentine’s Day episode of With Good Reason to talk about her new book on the sense of touch, which was released this week  https://withgoodreasonradio.org/episode/my-pandemic-valentine/

Subramanian Published in Elle Magazine – “Your Husband Cheated. Should You Be Able to Sue His Mistress?”

Elle Magazine – Feb 4, 2021

Sushma Subramanian, assistant professor of journalism, published a story in Elle Magazine’s February issue covering a North Carolina case involving “alienation of affection,” a legal term used to describe the breakup of a marriage by a third party. It asks questions such as: Is marriage a contract just like any other, or is it mostly an emotional affair? Read more here:

Subramanian to Release Book on ‘The Science and Meaning of Touch’

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Communication Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Journalism Sushma Subramanian’s book “How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch” will be released by Columbia University Press in February 2021.

We are out of touch. Many people fear that we are trapped inside our screens, becoming less in tune with our bodies and losing our connection to the physical world. But the sense of touch has been undervalued since long before the days of digital isolation. Because of deeply rooted beliefs that favor the cerebral over the corporeal, touch is maligned as dirty or sentimental, in contrast with supposedly more elevated modes of perceiving the world.

How to Feel explores the scientific, physical, emotional, and cultural aspects of touch, reconnecting us to what is arguably our most important sense. Sushma Subramanian introduces readers to the scientists whose groundbreaking research is underscoring the role of touch in our lives. Through vivid individual stories—a man who lost his sense of touch in his late teens, a woman who experiences touch-emotion synesthesia, her own efforts to become less touch averse—Subramanian explains the science of the somatosensory system and our philosophical beliefs about it. She visits labs that are shaping the textures of objects we use every day, from cereal to synthetic fabrics. The book highlights the growing field of haptics, which is trying to incorporate tactile interactions into devices such as phones that touch us back and prosthetic limbs that can feel. How to Feeloffers a new appreciation for a vital but misunderstood sense and how we can use it to live more fully. Learn more.

Communication Faculty Present Research on the CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ at National Conference

NCA 2020 Presentation Panel

Adria Goldman, Emily Crosby, and Elizabeth Johnson-Young presented a panel at the National Communication Association’s virtual conference. The paper session, “You Can’t Call Them Crazy”: Framing and Considerations of Gender, Sexuality, and Mental Health in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” shared the panelists’ research from a variety of lenses and methodologies regarding the messaging and impact of the CW musical-comedy television series that ran from 2015-2019. 

Johnson-Young’s presentation, “The Situation is a Lot More Nuanced Than That:” A Qualitative Analysis of Women’s Mental Health in the Humor and Music of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” investigated the ways in which the show’s music and humor, particularly feminist humor, was used throughout the series to communicate and challenge traditional media messaging of mental health and gender biases in health. Goldman’s presentation, The Awkward Revolution: A Framing Analysis of Awkwardness, Humor, and Sexuality in Rachel Bloom’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” explored how humor and music were used as rhetorical devices to present new representations of women’s sexuality, while also challenging existing, problematic narratives. Crosby’s presentation, “Type A Ambition”: Postfeminist Tropes in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” explored the postfeminist themes in contemporary media that often unfavorably frame ambitious women as personally unfulfilled and unlikable. Deeper rhetorical analysis reveals that the series pushes back against postfeminist tropes, providing a more nuanced depiction of complicated characters who subvert postfeminist pitfalls that oversimplify “having it all.”

Subramanian Published in The Atlantic

Assistant Professor of Journalism Sushma Subramanian

Assistant Professor of Journalism Sushma Subramanian

Sushma Subramanian, assistant professor of journalism in the Communication and Digital Studies Department has written a piece for The Atlantic about endangered pink river dolphins in Brazil. The story explores what the myths surrounding these dolphins can teach us about ourselves and is based on her travels in the Amazon. Read more.