Naomi T-T Levine

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contact Naomi via naomit.tlevine[at]gmail[dot]com

Research

Evolution of Interests

I do not tend to focus on having a set career goal that I am working toward when I choose projects to participate in, topics to spend hours digging into, or work I put out for others to consider; however, I do regularly choose to reflect upon the trail of mementos that I have left behind me as I forged ahead1.

Some of my areas of interest are:

Taking my interests in physical infrastructures and materiality, I can see linkages to this from as far back as early childhood while growing up around plumbing and construction as well as having watched as a parent went to school to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) in my early teens. Growing up around floor plans; ventilation, electrical, and plumbing blueprints; and spending days off from school around construction sites, all influenced my early imagination which was expressed through self-made box forts out of water heater boxes, highly imaginative drawings of floor plans for houses with improbable room themes, and small cities made out of locally forged materials. As I got older, my parent returned to school in their 30s and my days off from school were then spent in anatomy & physiology classes, science labs, and being the live model for practicing splint making and studying muscle groups. All this exposed me to how human bodies can function and can adapt with(out) the use of tools. With all of this in my trail of mementos, as I entered college and took classes that taught me about intersectional feminism and communication I got to thinking more about the mementos and how we communicate belonging through relationships, community organizing, policies, and (lack of) accessibility in our building layouts. I was also introduced to how websites are (not) accessible by colleagues and public figures with a variety of (dis)abilities. Notably, the work of Molly Burke has been very educational for me.

As a scholar at the, among many, intersections of being white, cisgendered, bisexual, and disabled I am constantly challenging myself to wrestle with recognizing my privileges, reinterpreting my limits on access to power, and unearthing socialized hegemonic narratives engrained in my vantage point. One example of navigating equity in accessing institutional support that I routinely return to when I think about diversity, equity, and inclusion comes from my first year of community college. As a first generation college student on any college campus, I was very much at a disadvantage when it came to getting information about resources and knowing what to expect of the institution as many of my peers, faculty members, and support staff tended to be used to many of these processes and it might did not occur to them that the explanation they provided began at Step D rather than Step A. This disparity can be exacerbated by a number of intersectional issues (ex. race, (dis)ability, gender presentation, etc.) and it is the effects/outcomes of the interaction of individual identity with agents/processes of institutions that I am deeply concerned with both understanding and amending. Of note, my dissertation work examines the way in which an institution communicates which bodies belong through their bathroom design and layout decisions.

In addition to being interested in how identities are supported/limited by institutions, I am interested in how individuals come to identify with the various institutions they interact with as well as what barriers exist to their being able to identify with a particular organization. Connected with my interests in physical infrastructure and materiality, I am particularly interested in the ways that an organization is built could have an impact on how people either do or do not forge an identity as part of the institution. For example, there has been much discussion about gendered bathrooms being an infrastructural barrier to identifying with an organization for folks who identify as non-binary or are/have transitioned. The process of negotiating how to exist comfortably in the space is impacted by the physical infrastructural limit that cis-normative & bi-gendered bathrooms communicate. Even beyond gender, navigating physical space and belonging presnets many challenges for folks of other marginalized identities. And for those at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities, some organizations may not be worth setting foot within.

As something that will come to no surprise to folks who work for large organizations, there is commonly a disconnect between the expressed values of the organization and the lived reality of those working for the organization. It is not uncommon for organizations to claim that values like diversity, equity and inclusion are of critical importance to them, but, just below the surface, one can see that there is a lack of supporting action for this claim. This disconnect is often thought of as an act of intentional malice–and I do not doubt this as a possible factor–but I think that there’s more to it than that. Borrowing from a childhood trauma perspective, I think that when those in a position of power and authority make a promise it is not uncommon for it to be a messy way for someone to miscommunicate their hopes. They may want to do what they promise, but they announce that promise before they have the plans for how to make it happen and that haste is often driven by popular discourse. This is not an effort to downplay the pain these actions have caused nor alleviate responsibility for these actions from the powerful decision makers of these organizations, but I believe that in approaching understanding the motivations that can drive this kind of harmful miscommunication I am better able to make suggestions for change that do not put these organizations on the offensive.

So as to not duplicate my full webpage on empathy and the modeling of it, I will briefly share that, in the work I’ve done, empathy is about approaching knowing what another is feeling, simulating feeling what another is feeling, and communicating compassionately. I treat empathy as a metatheoretical approach in my work which means that it shapes the ways that I plan, conduct, and disseminate my work with, by, and for communities.

1 It is critical that we begin to recognize how both the trail of mementos as well as the act of forging ahead are not fully autonomous decisions. Often, our choices are dictated by, as Maslow would convieve of them, base needs like the ability to eat, sleep, and live in a secure shelter. These needs continue to come at a cost under the contemporary socio-political conceptualization of what life looks like. While I value the work that I’ve done, I do think that it is critical to recognize this major influence on my decision making publically and call on others to do the same.

Dissertation

My dissertation is under embargo until August 2024. Please email me details about your interest in my work if you would like to read an advance copy of my work.

If These Stalls Could Talk: If these stalls could talk: Organizational invitations to identification evoking a user’s sense of belonging as communicated through infrastructure

Abstract:

Organizations communicate messages to users of their physical spaces via artifacts and features that compose the spaces. I argue that these infrastructural messages are invitations to users to identify with the organization. I argue further that an individual’s experience of these messages—via user experience—may (or may not) evoke a sense of belonging. In order to explore what it looks like for a user to feel like they (do not) belong, this autoethnographic study explores the different infrastructural messages within the public bathrooms of 70 buildings on Purdue University’s main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The main research question for this study is: how do public bathrooms, as a part of the physical infrastructure of an organization, communicate belonging through user experience in them? To explore this question, concepts of identification, belonging, physical space, and time were important to explicate. Identification looks at what it means to identify with an organization and ways that individuals have been invited to identify with the organization by the organization. This study further examines how one feels about an organization that they identify with by looking at one’s sense of belonging to a space. Consideration of space brought considerations about affordances, user experience, and hostile architecture. Finally, an exploration of time aided this work in developing a means by which to investigate the relationship between measured and perceived time when navigating physical space under distress.

This autoethnography offers a deep perspective of one user’s (my) experience within the bathrooms. Additionally, this work employed the use of land surveying from landscape archaeology (e.g., examination of constituent parts of the bathrooms), user experience field notes (e.g., collection of unique aspects of each bathroom as well as detailed experience reflections), and a unique methodological tool for collecting and comparing measured and perceived time.

Analysis of data collected based on a combination of these methods showed that how—beyond available affordances and barriers—the bathroom is used by an organizational member holds importance. Spatial design and navigational artifacts which can reduce the measured time for locating a bathroom are noticeable relative to the user’s experience of time (i.e., perceived time) to a point. However, when the user’s perception of time becomes less reliable, perceived distress seems to be the main feature coloring this experience. Therefore, spaces which challenge users physically and emotionally are not likely to be received as an invitation to members’ identification with that organization. Such messages impacted members’ sense of belonging to the organization. Further, through land surveying data of the artifacts and features of bathrooms combined with secondary data on building ages, this study assessed the University’s assumptions about the different type of bodies and needs that are present among their organizational members.

Theoretically, this work contributes a conceptual framework for belonging, fieldwork at the intersection of space and belonging, and a fat body taking up space within the literature. Methodologically, this work provides an innovative way of documenting time, a look at self-accommodation in research for scholars with disabilities, a demonstration of the use of embodied measurement, and a critique for user-centered and participatory design. In sum, this study illuminates what it was like for one fat body to try to meet her needs and reflect on how this impacted her sense of belonging to the University. This work has implications for further development of public bathrooms locally on Purdue’s campus as well as for scholarly inquiry about the relationships among organizational identification, belonging, user experience, and design of spaces.