Jepson Research Symposium

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies hosts a symposium each spring to give students an opportunity to showcase their research projects and to recognize students who will earn honors. This event is typically held in Jepson Hall and includes student exhibits and remarks by faculty who are advising honors students.

Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, we hosted a virtual research symposium on April 16, 2021. The symposium included an honors research ceremony, followed by student Zoom research presentations. Click on students' names below to view research abstracts, posters, and videos. 

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  • Nora Apt and Samara Rosen

    Effects of COVID-19 Anxiety on Social Interactions and Drinking Behaviors amongst College Students

    Our research focused on examining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on undergraduate students, a particularly vulnerable population as a result of the altered nature of higher education. Two recent longitudinal studies have found greater levels of stress and anxiety among college students during the pandemic (Huckins et al., 2020; Zimmermann et al., 2020). We explored COVID-related anxiety in connection to students’ social relationships and drinking behaviors. The literature suggests a possible relationship between anxiety/depression symptomatology and alcohol use -- drinking increases as mental health worsens. We surveyed currently enrolled college students in the United States (N=160) to examine the relationship between COVID-19 anxiety and social interactions and drinking behaviors. Our results show that students who experience higher levels of COVID-19 anxiety report lower social connectedness, greater loneliness, and greater alcohol consumption. These findings have important implications for leaders in higher education who might consider enacting concerted efforts designed to promote social connectedness among students and address potential increases in problematic drinking behaviors.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt


  • Matt Barnes

    The Mitigation of Biased Algorithms

    Rapid developments in computing have radically expanded opportunities and created new possibilities for the use of automation in many areas. Detrimentally, that expansion of possibilities comes at the cost of introducing new potential for discrimination and inequity to be propagated by computer programs. Biased algorithms pose a threat to minority groups because prejudice and discrimination can be indirectly or directly built into them. To mitigate the adverse effects of biased algorithms, several conditions must be met. First, data must be treated properly to prevent algorithms from making decisions based on biased data. Second, a well-thought-out, application-specific definition of fairness in computing is needed. Finally, consideration of all algorithmic outcomes must be examined beyond the efficiency of the primary outcome. As the world becomes more dependent on technologies, mitigating bias in computing is critical to preventing the perpetuation of discrimination.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio


  • Alex Beran

    The Ethics of Collegiate Coaching and Eating Disorders

    As a competitive gymnast and diver, I was surrounded by many female athletes who suffered from eating disorders. As I transitioned to collegiate athletics, I realized that it was not just a problem in aesthetic sports. I understood that the pressure of collegiate athletics puts female athletes at a greater risk of developing an eating disorder than the general population. But how should collegiate institutions and coaches mitigate the risks of eating disorders? In my first chapter, I study the relevance of body weight and athletic success across different categories of sports. In my second chapter, I develop an ethical theory to coaching based on my values of well-being and autonomy. In my third chapter, I argue that an ethical coach should promote the well-being and autonomy of athletes in respect to eating disorders.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Terry L. Price

  • Megan Brooks

    The Truth about True Crime

    My independent study focuses on the ethical implications of murder culture in America, specifically, how the murder narrative focuses on young women as the instrument of death and desire. I have explored in depth the way the idea of murder has changed over the years into the murder culture of today. Starting with the 16th century and moving into the present day, I explored the fixation we have with brutal and violent crimes and how we can explore murder in a more ethical manner. In particular, I’ve considered how we can give a voice to the victims of crime instead of focusing just on the murderer. The lowbrow, mass production of our murder culture suggests that serial killers’ importance outweighs victims’ importance and that as a society we would rather create a monster out of a man than expose the truth.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio

  • Kendall Crispin and Anna Marston

    Mindsets of Addiction and Stigma toward Those with Addiction


    In this research, we tested if believing that addiction cannot be changed, or holding a fixed mindset of addiction, can have both beneficial and adverse consequences on stigma toward those with addiction. We tested predictions derived from our double-edged-sword model of mindsets: does believing that addiction is not manageable, that is, holding a fixed mindset of addiction, indirectly predict less stigma via blame attributions, but more stigma via reduced essentialist thinking? We tested these predictions in a cross-sectional study (N=355). Results revealed that fixed mindsets and growth mindsets are independent and negatively correlated factors. Fixed mindsets predict greater stigma, including prejudice and discrimination, and do so through enhanced essentialism and blame. These findings highlight the detrimental link between fixed mindsets of addiction and attitudes toward those with addiction and suggest that one path forward for reducing stigma might be to promote beliefs in the changeability of addiction.

    Research Advisor:  Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt

  • Julia Feron

    The Death Penalty: Attributability, Accountability, and the Capacity for Self-Revision


    My thesis argues that just as the ’insanity’ defense makes it appropriate for courts to excuse people from punishments, facts about people’s upbringings--and the characters that those upbringings give rise to--may make it appropriate for courts to excuse people from punishments that they may otherwise have been justifiably subject to. Specifically, I’ll argue that when people are arbitrarily subject to bad upbringings that produce bad character traits, and when those character traits then lead them to commit crimes that would otherwise be punishable by death, the death penalty is not appropriate. First, I explore moral responsibility as it relates to character and actions that arise from character. In particular, I discuss the cognitive and motivational components to character that influence an individual’s decision to commit a crime. I explore different ways that individuals can be considered ‘responsible’ for their actions. Second, I argue that whether or not we can distinguish between those who are morally responsible for their character and those who are not, we can distinguish between them from the standpoint of political philosophy and how they should be held legally accountable for their actions. I use a Rawlsian framework to discuss accountability from behind the veil of ignorance and argue that the death penalty would not be agreed to because the attributes that influence relevant citizens’ characters are morally arbitrary from the standpoint of equal citizenship. Finally, I consider the utilitarian objection that the death penalty is needed for its deterrence value. I respond with the claim that a deterrence justification for the death penalty is ineffective for individuals who lack a capacity for self-revision, which includes many individuals on death row.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Marilie Coetsee

  • Casey Friedman

    Technology Policy Timeline

    I am researching governmental technology policy to find key legislation that has affected both private sector and future governmental policy. I am creating a timeline to visually show important legislation and how it connects to other legislation, as well as providing commentary and analysis of the implications and impacts of certain bills.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio


  • Sabrina Garcia

    Power and Performance: The Role of Witchcraft in the Leadership of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England

    Modern-day beliefs about the early modern European witchcraft trials portray this time period as ignorant and superstitious, easily falling prey to religious fervor. However, when looking at the primary source materials from the Elizabethan and Jacobean reigns, one can see that beliefs on witchcraft were quite varied and complex. By using primary documents, as well as popular plays of the time that focus on malleus maleficarum (harmful magic), this thesis attempts to explore what beliefs about witchcraft reflect about the leadership styles of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England. Looking at these works through lenses focused on gender, power dynamics, class structures, and cultural context, this thesis attempts to make sense of the ways in which witchcraft was used as a means to comment on the current leader. It argues that witchcraft was not an arbitrary belief, but instead a device used to express satisfaction or anger towards the monarch in power.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio


  • Alec Greven

    Speech and Sovereignty: A Kantian Defense of Freedom of Expression


    This thesis critically examines the moral foundations of free expression and offers a framework for evaluating morally justifiable forms of censorship. This investigation has three parts. The first section argues that rational considerations constrain how moral principles for censorship can be structured methodologically. It concludes that moral principles must be universally coherent and consistently applied. The second section considers several existing justifications for censorship that fall short of these methodological requirements and arbitrarily apply extensionally inadequate moral principles. To be rational, these approaches must either abandon these inconsistent justifications or commit to more consistently authoritarian moral principles. The third section outlines several methodologically consistent principles and ultimately defends the liberal model of free expression as the most plausible censorship principle that institutional leaders should adopt. This model restricts the censorship of speech in all cases except where censorship is necessary to defend the autonomy of others from rights violations.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Jessica Flanigan

  • Keeley Harris

    Religious Tolerance and Anti-Trinitarianism: The Influence of Socinianism on English and American Leaders and the Separation of Church and State


    My research focuses on Socinianism, a Christian sect that originated in mid-16th century Poland. Socinians held radical Christian views built upon ideas from humanism and the Protestant Reformation, including Anti-Trinitarianism and the rejection of the divinity of Christ. Most importantly, they believed that in order to follow Christ’s message, separation of church and state and religious toleration were necessary. Socinianism spread across Europe into England. Although most English were intolerant of the sect at first, it came to the forefront during the English Civil War. Socinian ideas helped further political agendas of Royalists and ultimately influenced Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Joseph Priestley. Religious toleration spread into early American colonies via new religious modes, namely Unitarianism, and through political ideas via writings from important English and colonial thinkers. This led early American leaders, specifically Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to have political and religious motivations for establishing the separation of church and state in America. The last part of my project focuses on implications of this legacy for current leaders and the political climate in present-day America.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio

  • India Henderson

    Storytelling as a Foundational Element of Leadership


    From a young age, I have loved hearing and sharing stories—telling my parents about my day at school, learning about love and life through music, and most notably, portraying complex characters on the stage in plays and musicals. Today, that passion has translated into a desire to create a story of my own. Over the course of the semester, I have been writing and developing a one-act play entitled F.I.O. (Figuring It Out), which melds both my leadership studies focus and my life-long passion for theatre, considering performance and directing as well as set, costume, and lighting design. The play follows two women in their pursuit of truth, justice, and authentic freedom as they learn both the impact that their storytelling has on their own lives and on their community, which is entrusted with receiving their stories. 

    Read/watch the play.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio

  • Emma Johnson

    Justice and Civil Society: Revisited

    Although the Justice and Civil Society course has changed over the years, service learning has remained one of its defining factors. Until recently, students were required to participate in regular community service as part of the coursework, but this has since been suspended in order to reconsider the nature of the requirement. This research, which has been part of the reconsideration process, begins by tracing the history of service learning, both in general and in the context of Jepson’s history. Next, this research examines a few of the most widely practiced models of service learning and critiques them. Finally, this presentation seeks to understand how the Jepson School defines “community,” as well as challenge Justice and Civil Society’s service-learning practices and provide commentary on some important considerations as this course is revisited.

    Research Advisor:  Dr. Julian Maxwell Hayter

  • Nina Joss

    Memorialization, Public Art, and Resistance in Richmond, Va.


    In the summer of 2020, a national reckoning with race in the United States restarted conversations about memorialization in our country--conversations that began in 2013 with the Black Lives Matter movement. My independent study focuses on the recent dialogues and action surrounding memorialization in Richmond, focusing specifically on building names at the University of Richmond and the Robert E. Lee statue in what is now called Marcus David Peters Circle on Monument Avenue.

    The first part of my project is composed of four investigative podcast episodes, produced as part of the Westham Project for The Collegian. Through these episodes, my team investigates the history behind Robert Ryland, Douglas Southall Freeman, Thomas Justin Moore, and memorialization at UR. The second part of my project is a series of interviews conducted with members of the Richmond community about their experiences relating to the protests this summer and the transformation of MDP circle. Through these interviews, I examine the concepts of public protest, space, art, reclamation, and social justice.

    This collection of perspectives and research acts as a snapshot in time of the movements regarding memorialization and provides an in-depth investigation of why and how transformation happens. Through these documented actions and discussions, people question the figures we exalt, resist the ideologies those figures represent, and transform public symbols and spaces in order to reshape and reclaim them for a different kind of society.

    Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio



  • Hannah Lee

    The Commercialization of Crime Solving: Ethical Implication of Forensic Genetic Genealogy

    With the advancement of DNA technology and expansion of direct-to-consumer DNA services, a growing number of cold cases have been solved using a revolutionary new investigative method: familial DNA mapping. While the technique has been lauded by law enforcement as revolutionizing criminal identification, others are concerned by the privacy implications and impact on the family structure. In this thesis I will draw on communitarian, liberal rights, utilitarian, and social justice arguments for and against the practice. I conclude that this method has the potential to increase security and provide justice for victims and families, but absent comprehensive regulation and privacy protections, serves as a threat to autonomy and privacy rights. Should they choose to submit their DNA to a company that provides access to law enforcement, individuals ought to opt in to such access and be provided comprehensive information in order to give informed consent.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Terry L. Price


  • Kexin "Helen" Li

    When They Lost Their Words: The Impact of Microaggressions and Exclusion on Chinese International Students’ Linguistic Capacity and Leadership Emergence


    As a response to the racist and xenophobic attacks against international students of color on the University of Richmond campus, I conducted this study to research the impact of microaggressions and social exclusion on non-English speakers’ linguistic capacity and leadership emergence, focusing on the Chinese community. We randomly assigned participants to one of two conditions in an online experiment: an identity-threatening or an identity-safe condition. Participants were asked to give two speeches, one before and one after being presented a video of an ostensible group of two university students they would be joining. The videos were designed to be identity threatening or identity safe. Participants’ speeches were recorded and coded for eight elements of fluency. Participants also self-reported their reactions to potentially joining the group. Findings show that in the identity-safe setting, Chinese international students tend to speak English more fluently and show more interest in joining the group. This research underscores the importance of working to promote inclusive and welcoming social environments on university campuses and offers simple changes that can help promote inclusion.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt



  • Allie Margolis

    The Effects of Mental Illness Mindsets on Stigma and Support for Those with Mental Illness

    The goal of the current work was to explore the role of mindsets in both stigma against and support for those with mental illness. Across two studies, we examined the double-edged-sword hypothesis, which provides a framework for understanding the effects of beliefs in the changeability of mental illness and overall stigma and support. In the first study, participants were randomly assigned to report their beliefs about one of two illnesses: depression or schizophrenia (N= 254). We sought to replicate and extend findings in Study 2, assigning participants to respond to questions about mental illness generally or schizophrenia (N= 499). In both studies, effects are similar across conditions. Across both studies, growth mindsets predicted less stigma overall and indirectly predicted less stigma through less essentialism and more stigma through blame. There were mixed results for support. In Study 1, growth mindsets had negative indirect effects on support through both blame and essentialism, and once essentialism and blame were controlled for, mindsets positively predicted support. In Study 2, there was a negative indirect effect of growth mindsets on support through blame, but overall growth mindsets had a strong and positive direct effect on support. This work highlights the benefits more so than the costs of believing in the changeability of mental illness. This work suggests that one path forward for leaders working to promote a more inclusive and supportive society for those with mental illness might be to promote these growth beliefs.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt


  • Mekenzie Montgomery

    Would You Follow the Leader or Follow the Money?

    With the climbing rates of obesity in our country, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial to the overall health of every individual. Students experience heightened levels of stress when entering college, which can lead to an increase in unhealthy habits or a decrease in exercise. A major part of our health is associated with physical fitness. This study investigates the influence that monetary incentives, role-modeling nudges, and message reminders can have on the gym attendance of undergraduate students at the University of Richmond. Participants completed an initial survey and were randomly split into one of three groups. Their gym attendance was analyzed across a three-week experimental period. Message reminders and role-modeling nudges to attend the gym were sent in emails twice a week. At the end of the experimental period, all subjects were sent a post-experimental survey to complete.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Haley Harwell



  • Lindsay Pett

    The Importance of Leaders in the Time of COVID-19


    For my honors thesis, I chose to examine if leaders mattered during the time of COVID-19.  I analyzed this by examining the effect of the stringency of leaders’ policies on cases and deaths from COVID-19.  Next, I ran additional statistical analyses examining if leaders had an effect on COVID-19 outcomes independent of the economic situation and cultural norms of their respective countries.  Lastly, I examined countries that experienced a change in their head of state during 2020 by comparing changes in the stringency of leaders’ policies before and after the leadership change occurred.  Ultimately, I concluded that leaders did have an independent effect on cases and deaths from COVID-19.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Christopher R. von Rueden

  • Katherine Szeluga

    Access Alone: The Unintentionality of the Diversification of Higher Education


    Recently, American colleges and universities have seen an increase in hate and bias incidents. These incidents are, unfortunately, nothing new. In coming to terms with the continuity of discrimination in higher education, history matters. The process of diversification challenged higher education in seen and unforeseen ways. Namely, institutions of higher education often fail to reconcile the distinctions between their stated institutional claims and actual practices. More bluntly, university administrations have not been as intentional about inclusivity and diversity as they would like the public to believe. Many of America’s universities have failed to institute apparati that might allow diversity to thrive. In fact, the process of diversification is often more a matter of marketability than social obligation. Unlike their predecessors of the 1960s, many students have also failed to challenge (or organize against) these institutions’ often lukewarm responses to hate and bias incidents. This paper addresses why institutions of higher learning have struggled to meet the challenges of diversity and inclusion and why students have struggled to organize against the glacial rate of change. In answering these questions (and others), I examine the history and purpose of higher education, how diversification challenged both, and the role 1960s student protests played in forcing institutions of higher learning to modernize. This endeavor then delineates the actual impact that these movements had in changing institutions of higher education and how universities struggled to manage students’ concerns. Ultimately, I contemplate how administrative initiatives frequently fail to meet the challenges of diversity–marketability often takes precedent over intentionality. Until recently, students have done little to challenge their positions within these institutions—often acting more like customers than orchestrators of culture and agents of change.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Julian Maxwell Hayter

  • Emily Trumble

    Doing Good Better: The ‘Do Good’ App

    Although we all want to do the right thing, doing so reliably is often extremely difficult because we do not always know what the right thing to do is. Personal biases undermine our ability to perceive information in a way that does not favor ourselves. Additionally, even without those biases, we often do not have enough information to make adequately informed decisions. The solution to this problem is the Do Good App, an app which would assist people in making the correct decisions. Unlike humans, the Do Good App would not be biased and would have easy access to limitless information. As a result, individuals who use the Do Good App would make more reliable decisions.

    In my research I explore solutions to potential objections to the Do Good App: First, in response to the question of which moral theory the app should use--utilitarianism, Kantianism, or virtue ethics--I argue that the determination should be predicated on an individual’s first moral principle. Second, in response to the question of whether each of these moral theories may have objections to the app and therefore not be able to support it, I argue that, with adjustments, each moral theory could support versions of the app.

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Marilie Coetsee

  • Will Walker

    The Case for Moral Diversity


    This paper studies the impact that a particular rationale for diversity has on an undergraduate student’s perceived sense of belonging. To study this impact, we used a seven-point Likert scale and created a 39-item questionnaire to ask undergraduate students (N=257) the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about the perceived experiences they would have at an American university.  After conducting a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), we observed data that indicates the presence of a significant relationship between an institution’s framing of diversity and an undergraduate student’s perceived sense of belonging. Our results show that with a moral framing of diversity in effect, undergraduate students think that the university promotes more positive feelings of belonging, diversity, and identity safety and less discrimination. Our results further show that students would only be marginally more likely to describe an on-campus situation as discrimination. This study’s results have implications that are beneficial to educational policymakers, institutional leaders, student/scholar-activists, and researchers. 

    Honors Thesis Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt