Our sixth class of Fellows represents professors, staff and graduate students from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, selected from the largest number of fellowship applications received to date. This cohort’s research focuses on higher education’s role in preparing scientifically literate voters, diversity professionals’ views on political bans and marginalized students’ experiences with biased and hateful speech, among other topics. Their projects include developing educational materials and programs that can serve as a roadmap to safeguarding and encouraging the robust exchange of ideas while simultaneously upholding the institutional values of equity and inclusion.

Susan Balter-Reitz & Michael Bruner

Professor of Communication, Montana State University Billings; Professor of Communication Studies, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Research Title: "Assessing the Impact of the FORUM Act on Free Speech in U.S. Universities: A Rhetorical Analysis"

In 2017, the FORUM Act emerged as model free speech legislation aimed at state funded U.S. universities. Twenty-five states have now passed such bills or portions thereof. This project will analyze the legislative debates around the act and how it is being enforced in states where it has passed.

Kaleb Briscoe

Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma

Research Title: "Dismantling DEI in Higher Education: An Analysis of How Diversity Professionals View Political Bans"

DEI is under attack by state lawmakers, which has dangerous repercussions for higher education and diversity professionals’ roles, who often resist political propaganda. This project focuses on educating campus constituents and political leaders on how banning DEI, notably eliminating the roles of diversity professionals, could threaten freedom of expression.

Eliza Epstein

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin

Research Title: "Campus Civic Engagement during Turbulent Times: Student Responses to Law Based Threats to Free Expression and Inclusion"

In Florida and Texas, conservative political operatives are narrowing the scope of intellectual engagement on college campuses through restrictions on race- and gender-inclusive scholarship. This participatory project documents student-led organizing against this countermovement to understand student democratic participation, strengthen movement networks, and provide guidance to institutions for fostering civic engagement.

Frank Fernandez

Assistant Professor, University of Florida

Research Title: "Higher Education’s Role in Supporting Democracy: Preparing Scientifically Literate Voters"

Campaigns of disinformation and misinformation are reaching voters through social media. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to analyze secondary data to examine whether higher education not only activates voters, but whether it can facilitate learning so that students and alumni participate in the democratic process an informed way.

Nina Flores — Senior Fellow

Associate Professor, California State University Long Beach

Research Title: "(Un)Silencing Ourselves: Building New Networks of Engagement and Support"

My initial Fellows research was about supporting faculty through incidents of targeted harassment by members of the public. This Senior Fellows project puts those findings into action by using the workshops developed through that research to partner with organizations that train scholars to be engaged, active participants in our democracy.

Sara Johnson

Assistant Professor, Tufts University

Research Title: "Role Models as a Motivator of College Students’ Civic Engagement"

Role models for civic engagement abound on college campuses. Drawing on in-depth interviews, this project explores how college students think about, identify, and learn from civic role models in order to provide guidance to campus communities on how to maximize the contributions these individuals can make to students’ civic engagement.

Alex Kappus

Account Executive for Student Success, Credo Higher Education Consulting

Research Title: "Cultivating a Culture of Civic Engagement and Democratic Learning: Examining Institutional Responses to the California Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act (AB 963)"

This study will review institutional responses to the California Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act (AB 963), namely, to examine the nature and scope of efforts across the three segments of public postsecondary institutions in California: California Community Colleges, California State Universities, and Universities of California. The project will be relevant to colleges and universities inside and outside of the state of California, highlighting promising practices and identifying barriers to structuring and advancing nonpartisan political engagement.

Raquel Rall

Associate Professor and Faculty Chair, UC Riverside

Research Title: "The Reach of Civic Engagement The Impact of Student Trustees on Campus and Beyond"

I conceptualize student trustees as agents whose daily decisions act as levers for change to expand notions of university-community democratic engagement and free speech. I use social network analysis maps to showcase how student trustees create, maintain, and bolster “circuits” through which resources, people, and opportunities flow.

Ashley Robinson

Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Research Title: "Institutional Dismissal and Betrayal in the Name of Free Speech: Student Stories of Reporting Bias"

This institutional ethnography examines marginalized students’ experiences with biased and hateful speech that their institution has deemed protected free speech. Ashley will engage students in analysis of their experiences to imagine creative possibilities for higher education institutions to engage in education and accountability in situations of biased and hateful expression.