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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 24, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 25
Researcher seeks hate speech victims
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Researcher seeks hate speech victims

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Have you been a victim of hate speech in the last two years? Still upset about it? Over 18? Want to help others to deal with the emotional stress caused by hate speech?

If so, John Crowley wants to talk to you.

Crowley is a graduate student at the University of Washington conducting an experiment 'to see if a writing exercise can help victims reduce stress associated with hate speech.'

'I was struck by how often LGBT people experience hate speech,' Crowley told SGN. 'Here, we're studying how to help them recover.

'This is based on a large body of literature that links hate speech and discrimination to elevated stress levels and therefore increased illness, disease, and proportionately higher mortality rates among minorities who experience them.

'And for some people, minority stress is amplified because they fit into multiple minority categories - they're Gay and Asian, for example.

'And stress has a physical side, related to the emotional side. It's not surprising that minorities have higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies.

'Accumulated stress over time can cause an overload of the HPA axis - which can result in health disparities such as an increase in heart disease, heart attack, ulcers, suppression of the immune system&.'

The HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis describes a complex series of physiological feedback interactions that control the body's reaction to stress - the stress suffered by an LGBT target of hate speech, for example.

Crowley's experiment will measure physical indicators of stress before and after an expressive writing intervention.

'We test for two chemicals related to stress in the saliva,' Crowley told SGN. 'We take baseline saliva samples, we take samples after they recall their experience with hate speech, and then they're assigned to do a writing exercise.

'We want to see if the writing exercise can reduce stress associated with hate speech.'

Crowley currently has five men and seven women signed up for the experiment. He wants to recruit 50 more.

He will pay all his subjects $25 to participate, if they meet the experiment's guidelines.

'They should be LGBTQ,' Crowley explained. 'They can be any ethnicity.

'They should have experienced hate speech in the last two years, and not be in a close relationship with the perpetrator - because if it's a close relationship, if it's your father, for example, it's easier to negotiate a resolution through face-to-face discussion.

'If you're not in a close relationship, you have less opportunity to resolve the issue.

'And it must be a painful experience. In other words, you haven't forgiven the perpetrator - or you don't just say, 'Forget it, I don't care.'

Crowley hopes his experiment will indicate that expressive writing exercises have a therapeutic effect on stress and stress-related disease.

'What I hope to do - this is my dissertation - so I hope to publish it in a major journal - and then I hope to apply the findings to other minorities as well,' he said.

'It's important to me as a researcher to do work that has a practical application. I'm all for developing theory - and I do theoretical work - but I really want to do work to help people cope with the effects of hate speech.

'This study focuses on people over 18, but I'd like to work with a younger population on issues related to cyber-bullying.'

Crowley hopes to be finished collecting data by November, then write up the results this winter.

Asked what will happen if the experiment fails to show any reduction in stress markers, Crowley smiles.

'If it doesn't work - that's a cool result. Then we know we have to try something else.'

Individuals interested in participating in this experiment should email Crowley at crowlj3@uw.edu.

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