Asher Baron

Student, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Social Sciences

Research Topic

History Population Health

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2022

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English

My hobbies/interests are:

Cooking/Baking Music Nature & environment Pets

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes

Yes

Influencer Of

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 25, 2022
Replying to Wena Teng
  • What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

Pedagogy -  Researching Imperial China has forced me to remove my Eurocentric and Western approaches and methodology; for example, an argument I hope to push is that despite a Confucian family-state paradigm, the "victimized Chinese women" trope is one that masks the heterogeneity presented in  As Dorothy Ko writes, "although women [of Imperial China] could not rewrite the rules that structured their lives, they were extremely creative in crafting a space from within the prevailing gender system that gave them meaning, solace, and dignity." These spaces stemmed from their inner chambers, where with the emphasis on somatic individualism, they used their bodies and minds as instruments of intervention; I hope to connect this, hidden yet powerful, history of Qing women poets/writers to contemporary activists who also use their bodies as instruments of protest, given China's specific public policy. Being able to understand that "Late Qing reforms were far more than a simple and straightforward cultural conflict between Chinese 'tradition' and western-style 'modernity," has also allowed me to dismantle distorting binary lenses. Viewing history from a revisionist perspective redefines contemporary activism and public dissent.

Accessibility - Navigating databases on Chinese public policy and legislation has been very difficult, especially when the original sources are not very accessible. In addition, I intended to analyze and organize my data using data science, but I am not sure how feasible it would be considering the short time of the program and the scope of my research that attempted Chinese legislation is characterized by legal jargon, as the poetry of Qing-Ch'ing and Late Qing women is characterized by "Old Chinese" and specific references to classical Chinese literature. Nevertheless, it was been an exciting process. 

  • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

Resources like JSTOR, the bibilography of publications, and WorldCat. Yet, while the archives, published work, and databases have been helpful for providing me with preliminary knowledge, the most substantial resources have been the networks I was able to surround myself with to improve my research. Professor Ko recommended countless papers, books, and journals, and answers all of my questions. She provided follow-ups with every connection I made, every contradiction that confused me, and every audacious claim I wanted to make. Her warmth, care, and expertise gifted me a space to be a critical historian, simultaneously reminding me to remove my Eurocentric views of Imperial China while guiding me to create my own conclusions and great conversations of joy/laughter. My graduate mentor Miguel has also been great with engaging in conversation with us on the ethics of research, translation, language, and media. With the guidance of Miguel, my research cohort and I also explored intersections of all of our interests, allowing me to realize how seemingly niche projects are so interdisciplinary; for example, recently, we had a stunning conversation about the ethics of translation, in relation to the Chinese room/natural language processing. Beyond activist literati, through trips to helpful resources like the Interference Archive, my research cohort and I are able to converse about research beyond the bounds of academia. 

Given yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, I think we have a lot to learn from your study of women in Imperial China crafting spaces of their own within an overarching system of gender. It has become clear that we are living in a repressive state on many levels, with gender being one of them, and we should not underestimate the power of maintaining meaning, solace, and dignity by ourselves without relying on institutions. I think this takes the form of mutual aid networks today and I'll be curious to see how your historical study connects to contemporary activism. 

Jun 25, 2022
  • What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

Since one of the organizations I was assigned is a very new one, started in April 2020, it has been difficult to find much information at all on it. I found myself relying almost entirely on the organization's website, which is not always the most objective source to find a good historical narrative. However, what I did find in regards to this second organization was a huge focus on a "chosen family" network in the form of a village setting, with "village stewards" and other caretakers forming a sort of mutual aid village. The lack of outside information combined with this novel organizational structure encouraged me to change the focus of my topic away from a comparative study! (It would have been impossible to compare the first organization with the second when I have so little info on the second). So now I plan to write a research proposal about how harm reduction organizations fit into the broader framework of "chosen family", often present in queer circles.

What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

Now that my focus has switched slightly, I've been exploring literature relating to chosen families and drug user networking. What has been really useful to me is citation mining, where I find one good article and then go through the citations to find other relevant articles! This has led me in a bunch of different (helpful) directions as I shift my focus and try to get some background information on chosen family networks. 

Jun 17, 2022
Replying to Dave Banerjee
  • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

I hope to ultimately write a paper and publish it in a journal. I will be presenting my work in a poster presentation at the research symposium in the fall. I plan on continuing my research throughout the year and into next summer. Most of the work I've done so far in the lab has been learning how to use the various instruments, so I haven't actually done much direct contribution to the project I was assigned to. Now that I am trained on most the instruments in the lab, I can make greater contributions.

  • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

In the lab, I am building microelectronic devices that are significantly smaller than the current technology. If we are able to develop feasible methods to fabricate these microelectronic devices, we can create technology that is smaller than ever imagined before.

I think it's great that you'll be continuing your research throughout the year and then into next summer! It's so easy to feel that we haven't had much direct contribution to our projects, especially when we're put on a much larger faculty project, so I'm sure that expanding the time frame over which you're working will feel very fulfilling. That way, all the time that you're spending learning how to us the lab instruments will pay off! 

Jun 17, 2022
  • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

I think that I will be writing some sort of comparative study between the two organizations that my professor has had me research. This will likely take the form of a short paper or article that I'll (hopefully) submit to be published somewhere. This will allow me to fully engage with each of the pieces of writing for the organizations individually, and then see how they sit more broadly when placed in conversation with one another. I was assigned to organizations randomly, and it ended up that both of them are based in Baltimore. By writing a comparative study, I hope to see what has been most and least effective among harm reduction organizing in Baltimore.

Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

My faculty mentor's project is set up such that I am on a team of five researchers who are each assigned to write entries that will all eventually be posted on an Omeka website. This website will have an intended audience of people already working in the harm reduction field, who so far have no singular place to see the gathered work of all harm reduction organizations. So my research will contribute to educating those already in the field, so they can have a better historical context for their work and ideally serve their populations more effectively. I am interested in this project because harm reduction touches so many interesting topics -- the carceral state, prison abolition, drug policy, sex work, gender and criminalization, HIV/AIDS, and more. By writing these entries for the eventual website, I am learning more about each of these connections within harm reduction. 

Jun 09, 2022
Replying to Sylvi Stein
  • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

I have begun to realize that a lot of the sources I am investigating are news sources with various agendas. Some are art market sources, some are round-the-clock news sources, some are human-interest pieces. All of these authors depict various aspects of the case I am studying, and sometimes, they emphasize different ideas and motivations of the people involved. I realize -- I have realized this before, but it's more startling to encounter this in person -- that there is no such thing as a truly objective viewpoint. In fact, any one source that claims to have all the facts has done something very wrong in their reporting. I find that the best way to collect the least-subjective view on this topic is to read a lot of different sources and to investigate the context in which these sources were produced.

As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

My research question has evolved after meeting with my mentor. I want to look at what, exactly, the intersection is between monuments and contemporary art. This is obviously a hugely broad question; the original idea that my faculty mentor suggested was a very ambitious response. He brought up the concept that monuments are best when they are unremarkable and invisible. I agree that this is a controversial idea in a country rocked by the protests against Civil War monuments, but I haven't yet done enough research to determine the relative merits of this idea versus the general consensus that monuments are important visibility-wise. I think it is a very interesting response to consider, and with every new piece of information that I learn about the way the public has reacted to non-traditional monuments in the last couple of years, the more information I get about how my faculty mentor could believe that this thesis could be supported.

Wow, your mentor's response is quite the hot take! My immediate thought is that if the best monuments are invisible, we may need to reevaluate what we do and do not define as a monument. I wonder if that's a question for you to tackle in your work, and I'm curious as to how your sources define what constitutes a monument and what you'll do with those definitions. 

Jun 09, 2022
  • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

As I have researched my first assigned community organization, the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, I have discovered ethical issues regarding how organizations interact with the police. In this year's Maryland legislative session, this organization lobbied for a clarification of the "Good Samaritan" Law, which protects people who report an overdose, as well as the victim of that overdose, from being prosecuted for drug possession. I see an ethical issue in the circumstances surrounding this bill, which unfortunately died in committee. The issue is that the BHRC, and many others under the harm reduction umbrella, claim to be "anti-carceral", but they are lobbying for legislation that encourages cooperation with the police. I absolutely understand this: saving lives must come first, which today means calling 911, but this bill is essentially arguing for a type of police reform, which does not seem to me to be "anti-carceral".  I think that it would be more truly anti-carceral if the organization were working towards finding alternatives to calling 911 when someone witnesses an overdose. I suppose that this is really not realistic, given that the moderate "Good Samaritan" clarification bill died in this year's legislative session, but I still see a disparity in how the organization labels itself and its practices.

As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

Some of my sources have encouraged me to consider alternative viewpoints. One critique of the BHRC's work is its distribution of glass and pyrex pipes, which several county elected officials feel encourages drug use (Dubose 2021).  This mirrors the rhetoric of critique of needle exchange programs and I know that historically, some Black leaders have called distributing needles in their community a "genocidal" act. I absolutely think this is an exaggeration, but it's forcing me to at least consider the viewpoint of how providing supplies could potentially encourage drug use. If anything, considering this viewpoint has encouraged me to take a more well-rounded stance on harm reduction, which is that drug use is bound to happen whether supplies are distributed or not. This view departs from other models of harm reduction that consider it as more of a "pathway to treatment". 

Jun 02, 2022
Replying to Peter McMaster

1. When I initially heard about the different research projects being studied in the program, I was caught off guard. I assumed that most of the research would be STEM-based, so I was surprised to see that there were equal amounts of STEM and humanities projects. Hearing about these projects and going through the various workshops -- like the interviewing workshop -- helped me realize that may research skills translate across disciplines, and it would be useful to have skills that would commonly be associated with other fields, like programming, writing, and communication. Consequently, I've been thinking about my major and research project in a broader context, understanding that there are many skills that I can pick up on from my peers that could assist me in my own research. 

2. Since my advisor will be out of town for the remainder of the week, my biggest challenge will be becoming familiar with the software my group is using on my own, and using my resources to troubleshoot along the way. The data analysis tools we are employing are not commonly used, so it was a struggle to figure things out due to the scarcity of online resources. However, as I get more accustomed to navigating the software I will be using, things will progressively become easier and more natural. 

I honestly had the opposite experience to your point in #1 -- I had my head so buried in the humanities world that I had forgotten how many people were doing lab work/STEM projects! I totally agree that our skills can translate across disciplines, and I love your point that it could be useful to have skills commonly associated with fields outside of our own. 

Jun 02, 2022

    1. My project itself is quite interdisciplinary, so much so that my faculty mentor has constructed a list of databases covering fields that may be relevant to our work, ranging from catalogs of underground writings like zines to an oral history of hemophilia to the NAACP Papers. Such a wide range of relevant topics has given me a great appreciation for finding connections between seemingly disparate events or organizations! The program's diverse range of projects only extends my appreciation for these connections -- I hope to continue learning about my peers' research and learning how their work connects to or enters into debate with my own. 

      2. The same list of databases mentioned above has been both amazing in furthering my understanding of the wide field of harm reduction as well as highly overwhelming in scope. I anticipate this challenge of being overwhelmed to be a hurdle that I must continually navigate as I get started. Any one organization that I add to my team's project could have connections to hundreds of others, or provide a wide range of services necessitating further research, or serve a unique population, or have a tumultuous history with securing funding, etc: all facets that require my research attention and will likely overwhelm me! I hope to properly utilize the many databases by learning how to use effective search terms to find the information that I need.