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2020 Graduates

Nikita Bazaj

Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology and International Studies

Faculty Mentor: Silvia Pedraza

Thesis Title: Burnout, Overwork, and Resilience: How Trump’s Policies and Rhetoric Affect Immigration Advocates

Abstract: This study examines the impact of the Trump administration’s policies and rhetoric on advocates who work in the immigration non-profit sector. Fourteen interviews were conducted with volunteers who work on an urgent response line at the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) and lawyers at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC). The results indicate that the present discourse as well as media coverage of immigration together with the rapidly changing policies and types of policy changes have had a multidimensional impact on individuals who advocate for immigrant rights. Policy changes affected volunteers’ and employees’ workload, mental health, and overall ability to advocate effectively. These results show that governments’ effects on non-profits go beyond providing funding incentives; harsh policies and rhetoric change the experiences of individual advocates in ways that heavily impact their ability to promote social change.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program: 
I have been able to develop better research skills and learned that editing and rewriting is okay and all part of the process.

Future Plans: After graduation I will be joining the City Year cohort in Detroit. I then am planning on applying to law school.

Zoie Chang

Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan

Majors/Minors: International Studies, Sociology, Minor in Environment 

Faculty Mentor: Pablo Gastón

Thesis Title: Water Crisis in America: A Comparison of Rural and Urban Mobilization Strategies

Abstract: There is a growing body of research on water contamination and the failures of America’s water infrastructure system. Communities whose access to clean water, such as residents of Flint, Michigan, have attracted attention both for the severity of the water pollution, and for mobilization efforts that span local and national levels. Meanwhile, water stressed communities in rural America struggle to bring national attention and federal funding to their water systems. This thesis compares the mobilization repertoires of rural and urban communities battling for clean water. To identify similarities and differences in community engagement and mobilization strategies, I conducted interviews with eight people from Martin County (Kentucky), Newark (New Jersey), East Chicago (Indiana), and Flint (Michigan) to discuss their perception of mobilization and activism in their communities. I found that rural communities are less likely to use disruptive strategies such as protest, while it is a key part of mobilization in cities. Moreover, urban communities have complex networks of allyship that include local, state, and national groups, while rural communities typically collaborate with fewer organizations, mostly local. Interview data indicates that these differences are due to different histories, demographic factors, and to a smaller extent, political leaning. My project illustrates the different frameworks acting upon environmental mobilization, and addresses a broader understanding of social movements in the context of the rural-urban divide.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program: 
Writing a thesis through the Sociology Honors Program constituted my first time reaching out to non-student groups and gathering interview data for a long-term research project. It's hard to identify just one skill that I took away from the experience, because the entire journey has been eye-opening. I gained a deeper understanding of academia and the type of work that usually goes into writing publishable research.

Future Plans: I'm planning to move to DC, where I hope I will find opportunities to work in East Asia-focused research, or environmental and sustainability-related initiatives.

Elyssa Engler

Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology

Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Barber

Thesis Title: STI Stigma in Sex Education

Abstract: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are stigmatized in media, healthcare, individual interactions, and even sex education, although the final topic lacks research. Stigma has significant health and psychosocial impacts on individuals. Since young people are likely to contract an STI, it is important to know what messages they receive about STIs, and from where. In this study, I examined how stigma occurs in sex education programs. Stigmatizing ideas were found in all of the programs in the sample. Some are more stigmatizing than others by being particularly alienating, judgmental, or pessimistic about life outcomes after getting an STI. I found 7 ways stigma arise in the programs, and I took notes on their prevalence. The most common stigmatizing ideas were exaggerating negative outcomes, linking STIs to emotions, and not including perspectives of STI+ people. I argue that stigma may be pervasive within sex education. Whether a program is comprehensive or abstinence-only may not determine how stigmatizing it is, and level of stigma can be influenced by the presence of multiple types of stigmatizing information. STI stigma in sex education should be studied further to understand how prevalent stigmatizing messages are, as they could be negatively impacting the lives of young people.  

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program: I learned how to increase my productivity and focus better on long-term projects.

Future Plans: 
I am studying to obtain an English teaching certification and moving to a Spanish-speaking country before the end of the year to work on becoming fluent.

Samuel Greenberg

Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology

Faculty Mentor: Roi Livne

Thesis Title: The Prosthetic Superhuman Narrative Among Amputees

Abstract: Previous research (Maradin, 2017) about media representations of people with prosthetic limbs argued that these representations portray prosthetic limbs as a means to surpass the natural limitations of the human body. I dub this promise the “Prosthetic Superhuman Narrative”. I conducted interviews with five amputees, all of whom wear prosthetic limbs, to ascertain the degree to which actual amputees recognize, believe in, and incorporate this narrative into their own lives. I found that my participants are familiar with this narrative and deploy it for purposes such as making the best of a bad situation, warding off stigma, and finding a symbolic lens through which to interpret a significant change to their bodies and lives. None of my participants, however, believed the promise that prosthetic limbs could make them superhuman, instead seeing their prosthetic limbs as imperfect replacements for the limbs they lost. I argue that the Prosthetic Superhuman Narrative is beneficial in that it provides a widely recognizable symbolic language through which to conceptualize desires for future techno-medical development and through which to combat stigma around amputation, but harmful in that the language of superhumanity may obscure the difficulty faced by amputees in regaining mobility and the role of institutional forces in contributing to that difficulty.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
I learned how to conduct interviews, when I had never interviewed anyone before. I learned how to construct questions that would encourage people to talk about themselves and I also learned how to encourage my participants to keep sharing during the interview. It was a very rewarding experience to hear people's personal stories while gathering valuable data.

Future Plans: As of right now, my plan is to go to law school the year after next, where I hope to launch a career working on privacy issues, consumer and worker protection, technology policy, or some other field focused on preserving the rights, privileges, and dignity of regular people. I'm looking to spend the year until then in an internship where I can hone my writing skills and learn more about my legal interests (while hopefully doing some good work along the way!) while also trying my hand at writing fiction in my spare time.

Olivia Hauserman

Hometown: Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Majors/Minors: Sociology and Spanish

Faculty Mentor: Kiyoteru Tsutsui

Thesis Title: Commemorating the Inconceivable: The Choice of Narrative in Genocide Museums and Memorials 

Abstract: Over the past 75 years, sociological research has sought to increase public knowledge about the effects of genocide on targeted groups. Many communities and victim groups have commemorated victims of genocides by designating specific locations as spaces of memory. This thesis examines the use of museums and memorials to commemorate genocide. Through case studies of the Holocaust and the Bosnian Genocide, it analyzes 18 museums and memorials throughout Europe in order to determine what narratives the commemorative institutions present. This thesis finds that institutions either focus on telling the stories of victims or describing the actions of perpetrators. Based on comparative analysis, this thesis finds that the narrative commemorative institutions present depends on two major factors. First, the narrative echoes the accepted depiction of the genocide in the local community and the local culture of commemoration. Second, the narrative may be influenced by the source of funding for the institution. The presence of different narratives in institutions commemorating genocide demonstrates a need for further research on how different narratives about genocide impact visitors’ understanding of the atrocities.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
I learned how to approach problems in moderation. Instead of biting off more than I can chew, I learned how to determine the right scope in my research and fully develop my ideas.

Future Plans: I will be working for Cravath, Swaine & Moore as a litigation legal assistant in New York City for the next two years before going to law school.

Brett Kellett

Angell Award winner for this year's best Honors Thesis!

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Majors/Minors: Sociology, Minor in History

Faculty Mentor: Margaret Frye

Thesis Title: Posting Only “Makes it Worse”: Stigmatizing Responses to Depression Disclosures on Social Media

Abstract: Using survey data from 316 University of Michigan students between the ages of 18 and 24, this study examines how online contact affects the stigma of depression among college students. The data suggest that while college students respond sympathetically to online disclosures of depressive symptoms, many believe that it is not “useful” for people to share posts about their experiences with depression on social media. The results of a vignette-based experiment included in the survey suggest that college students are less likely to respond to posts about depression from their weak ties than their close ties, and more likely to negatively evaluate people who disclose depressive symptoms frequently as opposed to infrequently. The qualitative data show that college students use their relationship distance to the poster and the frequency of posts in order to make determinations about whether people with depression are working to “get better.” These results suggest that online disclosures of depressive symptoms may elicit negative responses, including the stigmatizing belief that people with depression are
responsible for the continuation of their condition. I conclude with a few comments about possible directions for future anti-stigma efforts.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
Statistical analysis in R

Future Plans: I will be joining the American Institutes for Research as a Research Assistant.

Stanton Kowalinski

Hometown: Sylvania, Ohio

Majors/Minors: Sociology with a Law, Justice and Social Change sub-plan

Faculty Mentor: Barbara Anderson

Thesis Title: "We're Still Here!": Social and Structural Disparities in Flint Water Restoration and Relief Efforts

Abstract: Following the exposure of Flint’s water crisis in 2014, media sources have
depicted massive water restoration and relief projects that have been performed in the city. This thesis challenges the narrative that Flint residents have received adequate access to resources and recovery from effects suffered from their water crisis. Research on the current effects of Flint’s water crisis does not include how social dynamics such as race, income, location and social networks have affected accessibility to water restoration and relief efforts. To analyze these dynamics, this research utilized nine, cross-sectional in-depth interviews of Flint residents, asking them questions pertaining to their experience with restoration and relief efforts in their community. Theorizing how social inequality impacts residents’ access to water and other restoration resources, I utilize Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of capital to argue that residents may face increased accessibility constraints due to their income status and ability to navigate social networks. Participants all reported similar but varying degrees of hardship with receiving water and other resources, exacerbated by their race and levels of economic, social or cultural capital, manifested in their spatial location within the city. These results can demonstrate how social inequality might impact restoration efforts in communities. Lower accessibility to resources may be mitigated by the work of community-based organizations that provide resources and support to these disadvantaged members.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
Outside of the academic experience and my progress with the process of conducting qualitative research, I think this program helped me further develop my ability to communicate and engage with others. The skill of coordinating and conducting interviews, as well as handling my interaction with others in the field is valuable and can be applied to many things in my life, both now and into the future.

Future Plans: I will be spending the next year working while also studying to retake the GRE over the summer. Currently, I plan on applying to PhD programs in sociology for the 2021 cohort. I'm undecided on which schools I intend to apply to at this moment.

Selin Levi

Hometown: Birmingham, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology, Political Science, Middle Eastern and North African Studies

Faculty Mentor: Fatma Gocek

Thesis Title: Atatürk’s Citizens: Examining Turkish American Diasporic Identities 

Abstract: This thesis considers the role of Kemalism in Turkish American diasporic identities and asks how the ideology has been reconstructed in an American diaspora context, in response to transnational pressures. The analysis relies on data from interviews conducted with a specific population of first generation Turkish Americans in the Southeast Michigan region, as well as participant observation carried out at a Michigan-based Turkish cultural organization. I argue that Kemalism is central to Turkish American diasporic identity and has been reconstructed in three main forms in diaspora: as an act of belonging in American society, an act of cultural retention in diaspora, and a response to a loss of legitimacy in Turkish society. By considering how Turkish American experiences in American society have influenced their embrace of Kemalism, I highlight how long-distance nationalism is a phenomenon that evolves in response to transnational pressures. With my findings, I attempt to complicate previous studies of long-distance nationalism by highlighting how Kemalist Turkish Americans present a unique example to diaspora studies, and by emphasizing how long-distance nationalism is a transnational phenomenon inextricably linked to not only home country pressures but also domestic host country dynamics.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
Research skills! I learned a lot about conducting interviews which will be a useful tool moving forward and gained experience with ethnographic methods.

Future Plans: I will be going abroad and pursuing a Master's degree in Social Anthropology.

Erin Ringel

Hometown: Niceville, Florida

Majors/Minors: Sociology, Minor in Sociocultural Anthropology

Faculty Mentor: Pamela Smock

Thesis Title: Women’s Internship Experiences and Effects on Career Plans

Abstract: Past sociological research has examined how men and women1 are treated differently in workplaces, a phenomenon that contributes to occupational gender segregation. This project focuses on interactional experiences in a less widely studied part of the work experience: Internships. Through interviews with twelve female interns in various occupational fields at the University of Michigan, I examine the experiences and challenges that women face during their internships. The women I interviewed faced three main categories of difficulties at their internships: Inhospitable workplaces, denigrating interactions, and unwelcome pestering. Additionally, eleven out of the twelve women were influenced positively by other women through having a voice, career advancement, and feeling more comfortable. Another contribution of this project is its focus on linkages between interactional experiences and reported changes in women’s interest in pursuing a career in a specific field. My study suggests there is a possible link, but further research is necessary to draw this conclusion. By focusing on internships, this project highlights the barriers that women face before their careers begin and possible mechanisms by which occupational gender segregation is maintained. 

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
Through my experience in the Sociology Honors Program, I have learned how to manage my time, design a detailed research project, and conduct interviews with participants. I was also able to improve my writing and communication skills.

Future Plans: After graduation, I will pursue my Juris Doctor at Georgetown University Law Center, and I am specifically interested in public defense.

Peyton Sternfeld

Hometown: West Bloomfield, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology with Law, Justice, Social Change sub-plan, Minor in Intergroup Relations

Faculty Mentor: Mark Chesler

Thesis Title: What Does It Mean to Be White? White Students’ Learning and Understanding of Racial Identity

Abstract: Understanding a person’s social identities, especially race, is a first step in pursuing racial justice. This type of learning is essential for all identities, including white people who have racial privilege. Typically, white people have a difficult time understanding their unearned, societal privileges of being white, which removes them from thinking about the importance of racial identity. In my study, I interviewed undergraduate upperclassmen at the University of Michigan to understand how they think about their white racial identity, and how they talk about race. During college, students are having new experiences, meeting new people, and are living in a new place. I aim to understand which college experiences, on and off campus, influence white students’ racial understanding. My findings suggest that white students have a wide range of amounts of racial knowledge depending on their course selections, area of study, personal interests, and diversity of friends. Students who were more racially competent had greater social justice interests, more diverse friends, and took classes focused on race. Students who had less engagement with each of these factors had limited racial understanding. Although some students reported not thinking about their white identity, all participants subconsciously demonstrated how they internally think about their white identity by including me, a white interviewer, in their phrases ‘we’ and ‘you know’. These findings suggest that more university requirements for race and ethnicity learning could increase student racial competency and create more racially conscious individuals.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
I developed the ability to work towards answering complex questions and how to approach social science research.

Future Plans: I will be attending Northeastern School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts to obtain my J.D.

Isabelle Szczepanski

Hometown: Traverse City, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology, Minor in Arab and Muslim American Studies

Faculty Mentor: Rebecca Christensen

Thesis Title: How Community Cultural Wealth is Utilized in the Immigration Experiences of First Generation Latin American University Students in the Greater Detroit Area

Abstract: The Latinx community is the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States, however, they are also one of the most underrepresented groups within social science research. This study interviews eight first generation Latin American students currently seeking higher education at a four year university in the metropolitan Detroit area. Through critical race theory, which seeks to highlight the achievements of Latinx immigrants, this study determines that linguistic capital is the most utilized form of community cultural wealth in the immigration experience of this demographic. Linguistic capital is defined as the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style. Together, linguistic capital along with navigational, social, familial, and aspirational capital comprise the cultural capital and ultimately the community cultural wealth of this demographic. Linguistic capital would not be able to be utilized in the immigration experience without the support of the above forms as demonstrated through the myriad of ways in which the interviewees physically implemented the forms of cultural capital throughout their immigration experiences.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
I really loved learning how to interview people, but I also appreciated the time management skills that were learned while doing such an independent project.

Future Plans: After graduation, I will begin the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program here at U of M, starting in Spring semester. I will be applying to medical school next year!

Victoria Villegas

Hometown: Dowagiac, MI

Majors/Minors: Sociology

Faculty Mentor: Ian Robinson

Thesis Title: “We’ve created an animal!” Explaining the Rise of H-2a Visas in Michigan 

Abstract: In the past decade, Michigan’s use of the H-2a agricultural guest worker program has increased dramatically. Why has H-2a expanded so quickly and how has it affected domestic workers? Highly developed countries have historically sought foreign guest workers as a cheap way to address labor shortage claims without having to give workers the full benefits of citizenship. While most of the literature focuses on the retention of agricultural labor nationally, there is evidence that a local level analysis of labor shortages can give us a more precise understanding of regional agricultural labor markets. This study calls on the experience of 12 agricultural labor advocates, social service providers, and grower advocates primarily across Southwest Michigan in explaining the rise of H-2a in the state. The data leads us to conclude that local responses to climate impacts, statewide immigration procedures, employer housing practices, incentives to leave agriculture, and an impartial political context among labor groups encourage the use of H-2a by displacing the domestic labor force. Labor shortages then become a consequence of the preventable factors that create an inhospitable environment to US farmworkers.

Skills Developed in the Sociology Honors Program:
I've learned how to work independently as well as with a community of scholars. It's also given me the freedom to further explore my own academic interests and the real-world issues I saw in my community.

Future Plans: After graduating, I hope to find opportunities for travel although COVID has pretty much put everything on hold. Eventually I plan to go to grad school and and get my teaching certificate.