Arizona State University: Regents Professor Bruce Rittmann receives WEF Research Award

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Arizona State University professor Bruce Rittmann has been named the 2021 recipient of the WEF Camp Applied Research Award from the Water Environment Federation.

“Dr. Rittmann is recognized for his work, from membrane biofilm reactors to membrane capture of CO2,” according to a WEF Award statement.

Bruce Rittmann is the Director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and Regents Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.
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Rittmann is the Director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, a Regents Professor of Environmental Engineering at ASU, and one of the world leaders in the field.

The award was created in honor of Thomas R. Camp, “an outstanding educator, consultant and writer whose contributions to applied research guided design criteria in many aspects of water pollution control.” .

The WEF honor will add to a long list of awards and accolades Rittmann has received for his pioneering work, including the Stockholm Water Prize 2018, which has been described as the Nobel Prize for water research. .

Rittmann’s broad research interests involve the management of microbial communities to provide services to society. These efforts include cleaning up environmental pollution, treating water and wastewater, harnessing renewable energies and technologies for improving human health.

Research highlighting the vital role of microbial communities in converting pollutants into usable products was described by Rittmann in a 2018 podcast.

In May 2017, James Wermers led a presentation on microaggressions and structural racism in a room of over 100 people.

He started the discussion with a brief exercise:

Portrait inspired by Ophelia from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.
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First, he asked the group to identify Shakespeare plays, to which they responded enthusiastically, naming 26 different works.

Then he asked a second question: Can you name works by Indigenous authors, female authors, or authors of color?

Suddenly, the initial excitement turned into an uncomfortable silence. After a few hesitant answers, the question was asked:

“Are you calling us racists?” “

It was in the silence between this question and its admittedly insufficient answer that something changed for Wermers.

From that point on, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to explore Shakespeare’s relationship with white supremacy.

Wermers is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Humanities in the Languages ​​and Cultures Unit at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University and a faculty member at the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. During the 2020-21 academic year, he was a member of the ASU Institute for Humanities Research Fellows program, where he continued his research for his book project “Teaching Shakespeare: White Supremacy and Dehumanization in US American Education”.

The project examines the ways in which Shakespeare’s teaching in American schools is often rooted in a logic of white supremacy and therefore has been used, even accidentally, as a tool of structural racism and oppression. Specifically, Wermers’ research tracks why and how Shakespeare was taught during the tumultuous periods of American history in the United States.

Wermers argues that educators and academics need to take a more active role in questioning educational practices and ensuring fair treatment of students.

“It is tempting, for example, to criticize the horrors unleashed on the BIPOCBlacks, Aboriginals and people of color. people through coercive and often abusive educational policies and practices throughout U.S. history – something that recently made headlines as the bodies of Indigenous children were exhumed from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, whose relationship I am examining with Shakespeare in the project – without acknowledging that many of our own educational practices are based on the same logics that have supported what has happened in the past, ”he said.

Wermers’ research encompasses several topics, including the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the Jim Crow era, the civil rights movement, and the desegregation of schools following the Brown v. Board of Education.

His work has led him to reflect on the paradox between well-meaning and benevolent educators and the oppressive systems they inadvertently perpetuate.

“My work on Shakespeare in this project forced me to rethink how and why we do education work in the United States,” Wermers said.

“This, in turn, led me to two important achievements: First, educators are generally extraordinary individuals who care passionately about their students and the content they teach. Second, educators, myself included, are deeply dependent on narratives and logics that we have not been fully questioned. “

He identifies several reasons for teaching Shakespeare that have been around for over a century:

“Some argue that Shakespeare engages universal concerns – that his poetry and drama are uniquely able to reveal and touch something at the very heart of our human nature. Others have argued that Shakespeare’s use of language is so creative and original that reading and discussing his works inevitably prompts us to expand our own use of language and, with it, our understanding of the world around us. Still others have argued that studying Shakespeare is studying our linguistic and cultural heritage – forging a link between the present and the past. “

While these reasons are common and may seem sincere, Wermers advises educators to exercise caution.

“The idea that Shakespeare is engaging something ‘universal’ or something that has to do with ‘human nature’ dangerously contracts the worlds we live in into worlds that encounter a singular, white, colonial history.… L “Education adopted with such logic does not serve as a path to increased potential but rather a driver of inequity,” he said.

Wermers hopes his book, when completed, will help others critically examine educational practices, recognize their role in perpetuating white supremacy, and actively engage in creating more equitable learning environments. .

“My goals here are small but, I think, important. It has taken a long time to build a nation so deeply and uncritically steeped in iniquity, and it will take a long time to undo what has been done,” he said. he declared.

“I just want to be a part of this process.”


This press release was produced by Arizona State University. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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