Student Spotlight August 2018

Tasha Golden

Photo Courtesy: Michael Wilson

 

“Tasha is an extraordinary human being; she is compassionate, humble, extremely talented, and does not hesitate to say things that are important. Serving as her mentor has been a privilege, and I can confidently say that I’ve learned as much or more from her as she has from me.”

-Dr. Monica Wendel, Associate Dean (Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences), Dissertation Chair and Mentor


Tasha Golden, a PhD student in Public Health (Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences), began her higher education career with an undergraduate degree in music composition. After several years of touring, Tasha returned to school and completed an M.A. in Creative Writing at Miami University. Focusing on how the arts contribute to public health research and practice, Tasha plans to defend her dissertation this December. 

Interview:

1. What brought you to the University of Louisville?

Funny story: What *brought* me to UofL was actually its English department. I began my PhD in Rhetoric and Composition at UofL, because I was researching how the arts can improve public discourse about difficult life experiences, and how our improved communication could reduce stigma and (therefore) improve health.
I didn’t know at the time that the field of public health was an option for me, and it did make sense to research communication/health in the field of rhetoric—especially with my English MA.

Anyway, UofL has a great Rhet/Comp program, but I’ll be honest: the *people who were in it* are why I’m in Louisville. Other options had looked better on paper, but my fellow grad students in English at UofL had created a community I wanted to be part of. They made Louisville home. (They still do.)

2. Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):

Broadly, I research the role of the arts in public health. The field of public health needs more methods of research and practice that are trauma-informed and culturally-responsive… So my dissertation asks whether and how arts-based interventions and communications could help meet this need. (For example, my dissertation compares quantitative survey data about girls who are incarcerated to data generated by their creative writing.) I don’t believe we will truly improve health equity until we challenge the extent to which our research practices are themselves exclusionary and/or hierarchical.

I also research gender equity in the juvenile justice system, and critical pedagogies—particularly in spaces like community programs, justice settings, arts- or teaching-artist programs, etc.

I’m also into “futures literacy” in public health! What we believe about the future affects how we act now, whether we’re thinking consciously about it or not. Beliefs about the future (what we think is possible, expected, inevitable, ideal) has implications for our individual behaviors and health, but it also affects large-scale decisions like policy and funding priorities. I’m interested in how the arts could improve futures literacy, including our individual and shared capacity to imagine a better world.

3. How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to a friend or family member unfamiliar with your work?

I research the impact of the arts on public health, especially when it comes to stigma.
Like, how do the arts help make difficult experiences “talk-about-able”? and how do they help us truly listen to and understand populations or issues that we otherwise dismiss or ignore?

Most of us have felt at some point like a movie, song, poem, or character “got us”… Or that it helped us better understand ourselves or other people. And a lot of us have had the experience of needing to express ourselves in some creative way: dancing, singing, drawing, writing.
So as a researcher in public health, I’m always asking: What might someone NOT say on a survey or in an interview, that they maybe COULD have told us if they’d been able to write a poem about it, or create a playlist, or talk about a novel or film? What are we missing because the forms of communication we rely on are solimited?
Similarly, when are our leaders failing to make the best decisions because they’re hearing stats without STORY? How is limited communication affecting policy?

These questions are important all the time, but especially when we’re trying to respond to things like trauma, abuse, mental health concerns… experiences that require more space and nuance than we can get by checking a box or reading a graph.

4. What made you go into this field of study?

Over years as a touring songwriter, I noticed that songs about domestic violence or depression made these issues "talk-about-able." All over the world, listeners stayed after shows to share with me their own experiences with these issues, often telling their stories for the first time. The phenomenon was consistent, unmistakable, beautiful. After a while, given what I knew about the negative effects of stigma, shame, and isolation, I couldn't help wondering how public art like pop music affected public health. What could we learn from this process that could help us cultivate better health and more human connections? How does art help us disclose, communicate, connect, or persuade? Not just interpersonally, but as a community, society, culture?
These questions are where I live now as a scholar and artist.

5. Awards and Publications:

Peer-Reviewed Research:
Golden, T. (2017). Pop Heresy: Songwriting at the edge of the speakable. In Erickson & Schweizer (Eds.), Reading Heresy: Religion and Dissent in Literature and Art. De Gruyter Press.

Golden, T. (2017). Subalternity in juvenile justice: Gendered oppression and the rhetoric of reform, Reflections Journal of Public Rhetoric (17), 156-188.

Golden, T. (2013)."Hope” in “The People, Yes”: Carl Sandburg and the role of hope in contemporary America. Ethos Journal.

Book (Poetry):
Golden, T. (2015).Once You Had Hands Washington, D.C.: Humanist Press.
Finalist for 2016 Ohioana Book Award.

Other Publications:
Golden, T. and Hand, J. (forthcoming). Art, culture, and community mental health. Community Development Investment Review, 13:1.

Golden, T. (2018). Writing with incarcerated teen women: Trauma-informed pedagogy, health and gender equity. In Lockard & Rankins-Robertson (Eds.), Prison Pedagogy: Learning and Teaching with Imprisoned Writers. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Golden, T. (2014)."Her” raises big questions; why aren't we asking them? Ethos Review.

6. What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

This isn’t an “accomplishment;” just an experience I deeply value: I’m profoundly grateful to have worked for several years with young women who are incarcerated. They’re among my best teachers—ever deepening and revising how I understand justice, equity, pedagogy, resilience, health, my self. It’s a privilege to know young people, to witness their creativity and leadership, to learn with them, and to be in a position to amplify and elevate their voices. To the extent that I’m proud of anything in this context, I’m proud to have participated in moving youths’ voices beyond the walls of detention centers—of pushing their voices and truths into public awareness and onto the desks of politicians.

7. What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

It may be the experience of moving from one discipline and school to another! …My life and careers have always been wildly interdisciplinary, but my immersive experiences here in both English and Public Health affirms my belief that the boundaries around our work in academia are fluid, if not arbitrary. There’s so much creativity, innovation, and dynamic action that can happen when we focus on broad shared goals, and there are so many important ways of encountering the worlds we hope to know or build.

Anyway, I’m grateful my life experience removed any ability to think in terms of siloes. I love serving whenever I can as connector, translator, research matchmaker, hub.

8. Family life:

My partner is the best human I know… and the most creative & hilarious. We have two fabulous black cats. (We may or may not have written a song about them.)


Fun Facts
Favorite book(s): James Baldwin’s Collected Essays; Czeslaw Milosz’s New and Collected Poems 1931-2001; Rilke’s Book of Hours; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; Emily Dickinson’s complete collected, Zbigniew Herbert’s complete collected…
Favorite quote(s):

“The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” (James Baldwin)
“Your silence will not protect you.” (Audre Lorde)
“What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” (Frederick Buechner) 
“When something seems beautiful to you, let us have it -- take the chance. It is a throw, as of the dice; but that is all there is…” (Heinrich von Kleist)

If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? Probably more writing workshops. More live shows? But neither would feel as rich as they do now. Folding life into school into life has made a beautiful mess; I wouldn’t trade it.