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Assigned Reading: Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo

What books, shows, music, and podcasts you should take a look at.

Kristina Zignego '13
April 20, 2021

Your Spring 2021 Assigned Readings

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When Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo visited the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the first time, she was a potential doctoral student. “Everyone seemed so welcoming and willing to work on collaborations in their research — and those feelings are what led me back to the UW, despite the cold!” She ultimately chose the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her PhD in social welfare. She went on to become an assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Nursing before returning to the UW.

Rowell-Cunsolo is now an assistant professor in the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, where she studies the intersection of health and the criminal justice system. Much of her work focuses on how widespread disease outbreaks, like COVID-19 or HIV, disproportionately affect underresourced communities — especially communities of color — and how to prevent such outbreaks.

What are some of your favorite assigned readings for your classes?

“My first [UW class was] this spring ... Substance Use and Social Work, which explores when use becomes abuse and how it affects different segments of the population based on the political climate. I love to assign literature reviews. I think it is important to be exposed to the research that has already been done in the field, and literature reviews pull all the research together, which is great for students to get a comprehensive view of the existing research.”

One review Rowell-Cunsolo will be using is A Scoping Review of Treatments for Older Adults with Substance Use Problems. “I think it’s relevant due to its focus on older adults with substance use problems. There’s much more work on young adults because there is an interest in preventing substance use problems from developing. Substance use among older adults is often overlooked.”

What are you currently reading, listening to, or watching?

“I used to have an hour-and-a-half commute each way in New York. I haven’t had the chance as much recently to listen to podcasts, but some of my favorites are the 5 A.M. Miracle, which is basically advice on getting a strong start to your morning and features highly successful guests from around the world. I also listened to The Secret Lives of Black Women. This podcast covers a range of issues (some a little too personal) that affect Black women. Topics range from budgeting to relationships to climate change and politics ... well, you get it — it covers a lot of important and timely topics! I am never up on late music ... but I like Lizzo! And Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi is one of my favorite repeats.”

Rowell-Cunsolo is also reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Before coming to the UW, she lived and worked in New York City, where Baldwin lived. “It’s two letters he wrote about the climate in NYC, and it is amazing how little and how much things have changed.”


What is the one thing that you think everyone in the world should read?

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. It is one of my favorite reads for how well it tells the story of Black women in the South at that time. Every system was designed to oppress them, and they were still able to build such strong relationships with each other. Even in this day and age, people can still relate to that story, and it sets a good picture of what Black women have gone through in American society and what little power they have over their personal situations. It’s a story of resilience.”

What are some things you keep meaning to get around to watching or reading?

“There are so many! There’s another James Baldwin book called Notes of a Native Son — an essay book, so it’s easier for me to get through, since I can read a little bit at a time.”

Rowell-Cunsolo also loves a good Netflix binge. “TV shows provide such a break from everything. ... I haven’t had the time, but if I did, I would watch the new Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit that everyone has been talking about — or binge watch The Crown!

What are some of your favorite things you’ve written or are writing?

“Ah ... you’re not supposed to say that about your own work — that you like your own work — but I do like my work! One of the first things I wrote was a study, ‘Exposure to Prison Sexual Assault among Incarcerated Black Men,’ for my dissertation. I went into a max-security male prison in Philadelphia, and it really set the tone for the rest of my career. I am still looking at those same populations and similar issues. There’s so much work to be done!”

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