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Click here for the Summer 2012 Blog!

Hi, all–

Some of you were given the link to the 2011 blog.

For the summer 2012 blog, click here:

We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts, comments, and creative insights!

-Dr. M


We have a winner!

The results of the /Blink/ essay contest:

First Place: Grace Underwood (128 votes)
Second Place: Kelsey Buggelli (66 votes)
Third Place: Robert Kedski (44 votes)

Total Votes: 386
Thank you for voting!
While the deadline to vote is now passed, you can still read the essays contending for first, second and third place here:
-Dr. LaFrance

Voting for Your Favorite /Blink/ Essay!


Our intrepid readers have been busy pouring through all the essays submitted to our Blink Essay Contest. They’ve identified the best of the best–now you get to help us decide the winners!

These essays were written by first year students entering UMD in fall of 2011 (before they began their writing classes). The prompt asked students to write a 250 word essay that drew on a personal experience to help explain one of the core concepts in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

After you have read each of the nine essays, vote once for your favorite essay!

We’ll announce the winners on December 1st.

Click here to read and vote:

(Scroll down to see our contest judges!)


1st Place: $250 Bookstore Gift Certificate

2nd Place: $150 Bookstore Gift Certificate

3rd Place: $100 Bookstore Gift Certificate

/Blink/ Essay Contest Judges

Our awesome judges for the /Blink/ essay contest include:

Mary Beckwith has been working with college students for almost 30 years and has been at UMass Dartmouth for 6 years.  She is currently Coordinator of Student Conduct and Dispute Resolution, working with students who have violated the Student Code of Conduct.

Dr. Michelle Cheyne is Assistant Professor of French in the Department of Foreign Literature & Languages at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. She specializes in 19th-Century French Theater.

Justine Dunlap is a Professor of Law at UMassD, where she teaches Civil Procedure, Domestic Violence Law, and Field Placement. She loves to read and has started book groups in three cities. Two of them are still running strong.

Dylan “Minion” Grigsby has read a lot of books over the years in his spare time. He has a black belt in Uechi-Ryu style. He came to UmassD and found his greatest friends.

Kenneth Henry is an illustration major and has been a member of the Torch staff since 2009.

Austin “Ozzie” Hightower is a former Spelling Bee champ and overall aficionado of the English language. Ozzie believes that he and his peer readers will find the best essays!

Dr. Tara Lyons is an assistant professor of English literature at UMass-Dartmouth. She is currently working on a book manuscript on Renaissance drama in collections.

Teresa Mauk joined UMD in 2010 as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management.  She enjoys reading, travel, and spending time with her family – both two-legged and four-legged.

Sean Quintin received a B.S. in Computer Science from UMass – Dartmouth in 2000; a M.S. in Computer Engineering from Northeastern University in 2002.  He is currently employed by General Dynamics as a Systems Engineer and is a first year student at the UMass School of Law.

Shelagh Smith has taught writing for the past six years at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and holds a Master of Professional Writing degree. In addition, she has provided consulting services to a some of the country’s largest for-profit, not for profit, and academic institutions.  She is the winner of the 2009 PEN New England Discovery Award in writing.

Katy Wittingham has her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, Boston.  A poet, her work has been published in numerous journals and magazines with a collection, By a Different Ocean, published by Plan B Press in 2009.  She teaches first year composition, Critical Writing and Reading, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Call to Action

We have discussed Gladwell’s purpose, audience, and credibility as an author.  We have
analyzed his methods and picked apart examples, anecdotes, and research that worked well and resonated with us and some sections and aspects of the book that did not.  We have identified Blink as a great conversation starter, and we certainly have started a lively conversation here.  These are all important steps, but what now?   Where do we go from here?  How can we move this open conversation toward action or change in our own individual lives, the lives of those in our community, or for the most ambitious, the world?  At academic conferences, we often call this next step beyond conversation as the “Nuts and Bolts”, what we can actually DO with new knowledge and understanding.  The last section of Blink’s Afterword is appropriately called “ A Call to Action” beginning on page 273.  In this section, he discusses how his original intention for the book turned out to be different than his understanding after publication and the passage of time.  If you have not read this portion, I urge you do so.  We don’t always get such insight and direction from an author.

As with many events, my time with you when presenting this book during Summer Orientation in June seems both shorter and longer ago than two months.   Regardless, there is no question we are rapidly approaching Fall Orientation in less than a week and the beginning of your semester.  So again I feel compelled to ask, where do we, not just as part of Gladwell’s overall audience, but as a defined learning community, go from here?  For example, there are some logistics. The book discussion group is coming up on September 6th, which is also the date the first copy of your essay is due.  You will also be asked to hand in a copy to your first year writing instructor, and the book will be incorporated in this class in some form.  What are your expectations at this point?  How have those expectations changed or not changed?  What concerns, questions, and/or insights do you have?

Until We Meet

So, as the other bloggers mentioned, we have come to the end of our blog time together. Reading your comments today and seeing the conversations taking place I can say that I am really excited about this group of incoming students here at UMD! I think you have all been engaged and thoughtful here in a myriad of ways. You have responded to questions that weren’t always easy and you have probed and explored the book Blink through personal and academic lenses. You have also given your peers thoughtful feedback and honest engagement with their ideas and this is truly exciting.

I can’t wait to meet you in person now! I find myself wondering which ones of you I will have in my classes and what your writing will look like, how it will grow and change through this semester? In short, I am looking forward to getting past the small tidbits of information I have about each of you now and getting to know you each as individuals in my classes.

So, enjoy your last week and we’ll see you soon!


Opening the Kimono

So this is my last blog entry and I face it with some regret.  There’s a lot left to talk about – we’ve only just scratched the surface.  Hopefully these conversations will carry over into your classes and you will continue to make deep connections to the material and to those around you.

But  I thought now might be a good time to reflect on my thoughts on this whole experience – the blog, your amazing reactions to posts, the school year, and what comes next.  And I will end by making you a promise and asking you to make one too.

After two months of focusing on Blink I think we can all see the benefits – and negatives –in thin slicing.  We’ve covered quite a range of areas.  There was a lot to dig into.

I found the blog to be inspirational in its own way.  (Yes, I know I’m a geek.)  It was wonderful to see students engaged with the material and each other, and the depth and number of posts was exciting.  It was nice to see you all fully invested in this project and your own academic career.  Some of the posts were mind-blowing with their insightfulness; their connections to society and self were wonderful to consider and contemplate.   You helped me see the world through your eyes and I thank you for that.

And I greet the school year with a bit of trepidation.  It is the end of the summer after all, and who likes that?  In just three weeks, we’ll be back to work, churning through new material and barreling toward new goals and deadlines.

But I will also consider this oncoming semester as a new opportunity.  Blink changed the way I think about things, the way I see things.  I’ll let you in on a secret – though it’s probably not as much of a secret as I think.

Your instructors thin-slice you too.

We look at the students sitting in the back row, slouched in chairs, hoodies pulled down over faces, and think those students don’t care about school, grades, etc.

We look at the students who sit in the front row as the good students – only over-achievers sit in the front row, right?

And we look at students who never speak up in class as disengaged; we think their minds are a million miles away.  They are happy to muddle through, caring enough to show up, but not enough to fully engage.

In other words, professors thin-slice too.  We make snap judgments that are not always right.  We are only human.

I’ve been fortunate to go through enough semesters to realize my assumptions are not always right.  I have had straight A students who slouch their way through the semester; I’ve had amazing work come from the middle row; and I’ve had students who dutifully sit up front leave with a less than stellar grades.

So as I wrap up blogging for this year, I’ll make you this promise:  I will NOT thin-slice.  I will not put my biased judgments on you.  I will not let previous experiences dictate the way I see you.

Will you promise me the same?

I hope so, because that is the only way we’re ever going to get beneath the surface and become the people – the scholars – we want to be.

Liking What I Like

My last post brought up questions about author credibility and intended audience.  One question was the following: “Considering this kind of audience one Lundsford calls a ‘whole audience’, how effective is Gladwell’s appeal?  Which examples, anecdotes, studies, and cultural references are most effective for you as a member of his multiple or whole audience and which ones are least effective?” 

In criticism of Blink, David Brooks, an Op-Ed columnist, questions what he perceives as Gladwell’s assumption (at points in the book) “that our brains are like computers”.  In his 2005 review of Blink for The New York Times he asks,  “Isn’t it as possible that the backstage part of the brain might be more like a personality, some unique and nontechnological essence that cannot be adequately generalized about by scientists in white coats with clipboards?”

I  had a similar question regarding the omission, in cases, of the role of personality and personal preferences when reading about Kenna and the Pepsi Challenge, in particular, which to answer my own question from above were less effective examples for me as part of Gladwell’s whole audience.  I guess I don’t particularly “like” being told why I “like” or don’t “like” something.  I’m aware, for example, that there can be very talented musicians who I can appreciate as talented, but who are not my particular cup of tea, so to speak.  Maybe I just don’t have a preference for their style of music.  For me, no amount of, for lack of better words, “brain science” could prove that all of my preferences can be reasoned out or generalized about in all cases.

 Now, this is not an endorsement for any product, but I LOVE Coke and I dislike Pepsi.  I recognize this as a personal preference, and I know some people feel the opposite.  I would like to think that no matter how many times market researchers tried to trick me, even if I had to choose based on a hundred samples, I would pick Coke each time, although this, of course, would not be consistent with the group research.  Even if I didn’t for reasons that have to do with the difference between two samples and multiple samples or any other trickery, to me, in my day to day life, this means very little because if I was in a restaurant and the server gave me Pepsi instead of Coke, I would know,  I would not like it regardless of the reason, and I would not drink it.  I know market research is expensive and important for companies because they are looking to make the most profit, but for me, pretty much the only thing Pepsi could do to make me like it better is make it exactly like Coke, and what would be the point of that?

Were there examples that left you feeling like you were being unfairly characterized, defined, or grouped or any parts of the book that are not working for you as much as others for any number of reasons?

Defying the Stereotype

In response to the last post, I began to wonder about what happens when people defy their negative stereotypes? In the case of the West Memphis Three, a town decided that three men were guilty, wrongly accusing them based on shaky evidence and in essence, letting the real killers go free. But, this week I read an open letter to the American people by Warren Buffet in the New York Times which made me feel cautiously hopeful towards a group I normally  view with a negative bias. That group is the self-proclaimed “mega-rich.” In the article Buffet, who is purportedly the second richest American, advocates that the U.S. government “stop coddling the rich” with low taxes and tax breaks.

Effectively, he breaks down some of the myths that are circulating around our nation–that if the rich pay higher taxes they will stop investing and stop creating jobs. Using historical context as his proof, he argues that even when taxes on his income bracket have been much higher in the past, economic growth still progressed. In fact, things were better economically. His argument is logical and passionate and espouses a view that we owe it to each other to pay our fair share to support our own community. He even asserts that his rich friends are decent, civic-minded individuals who want to pull their own weight.

See, here comes my biased judgment. The mega-rich are altruistic? The mega-rich aren’t just asking for more and more special considerations? Is it possible that even the richest Americans have had enough of the imbalance we’ve created in our country? I always assumed that it was these rich folks who were at the helm, directing our government puppets to help themselves get richer. Hmmm…

I came away with a few questions from this article. Who is Warren Buffet and is he accurate in his assessment of his own group? What does it mean that even the mega-rich are feeling like enough is enough? What exactly is the purpose of lowering taxes on the wealthiest Americans and who is it serving exactly? Was I wrong about a billionaire?  Or is Buffet just a noble individual amongst a greedy majority? Often in Gladwell’s book I feel like snap-judgments are something that are enacted “on” someone else. Where is the agency of the individual to defy the social role they’ve been handed?

My question to you is, when you are being thin-sliced (which happens to all of us), what do you do about it? How do you prove them wrong? Can you? What do you have to say about Buffet’s letter in such a context?


Thin Slicing Turns Tragic

For the past several weeks, we’ve discussed thin-slicing as it pertains to academic life; my colleague Professor Whittingham has also discussed the Amadou Diallou case, when thin-slicing and race collided to result in tragedy.  Today I want to discuss a case that has been going on for the past 18 years, a case where thin-slicing had similar tragic consequences based on nothing more than the way three teenagers dressed and the music they liked.

In 1993, three eight year old boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas.  Within days, the police had arrested three teenagers for the crime – Jesse Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols.  When the police were asked to rate, on a scale of 1-10, how confident they were that these three had committed the crimes, they responded, “Eleven!”  The whole town cheered.

It came out during the trial that these three young men were picked up by police because they were “odd.”  Damien Echols had a funny first name, a name he chose because, police claimed, he wanted to be Damian from the Omen horror movies.  (He actually chose the name to honor Father Damien, the Catholic priest who worked in Hawaii with the lepers – Father Damien was later sainted by the Catholic church.)

Damien and Jesse and Jason also liked heavy metal music – Metallica, to be exact.   They wore black clothes.  Damien was Goth before Goth was popular.  He had long hair.  He acted “funny.”



These three were peculiar.  They were scary.  They were different.   In West Memphis, Arkansas, with no physical evidence to tie these three to the crimes, that was enough to arrest them for murder.

All three were convicted.  Jason and Jessie got life sentences; Damien Echols was sentenced to death row.

Today, eighteen years, two HBO documentaries, and one investigative book later, Damien, Jesse, and Jason were set free.  They walked out of jail today as free men.  Here’s what Damien looks like now:



He looks pretty “normal,” doesn’t he?  Today he just might fit right in with the rest of the citizens of West Memphis, Arkansas.    What a difference 18 years makes.

I believe that thin slicing put them in jail.  It helped an entire community make a rash decision and justify their actions in convicting three teens of murder.  Once the town was able to identify the bogeyman, they could rest easy again.

But it all went horribly wrong.  The real murderers were never found.  These young men went into prison at 18 years old.  Today, they walked out at 36 years old.

Being different – being unique – is a right we’re supposed to enjoy in this country.  But what we can’t control is how people view us.

So what do we do about that?  Is there anything we can do about it?