Richmond Home

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. 

This year, we welcome you to join us as we host a virtual research symposium. Seniors who are conducting an honors thesis or who have conducted summer research or research through an independent study present their work below.

Katherine Brumund
Learning to Check Yourself: Improving Civic Engagement Through Duties, Better Voting Practices, and Combatting Group Loyalty

This project examines civic engagement. It is divided into three chapters: apathy, voting, and group loyalties. In the first section, I derive two duties, a duty to care and a duty to reason well, that serve as a framework for community engagement aimed at facilitating moral progress. In the second section the main topic is voting. Voting as it currently stands poses several difficulties when conforming to the duties of caring and reasoning well. Instead of arguing for abstaining from voting, I argue for strategies that we can vote well by being more rational. The third section of this project then focuses on what I viewed as the main obstacle to voting well and fulfilling duties: group loyalties. Group loyalties cloud our reasoning abilities, causing us to make motivated decisions. This project uses two duties to frame how to engage with others, proposes a better way to participate civically, and suggests ways to avoid pitfalls associated with group membership.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Javier S. Hidalgo


Kendall Crispin and Anna Marston
Mindsets and Addiction

In this research, we are testing the double-edged-sword model outlining how growth mindsets can have both beneficial and adverse consequences in domains associated with stigma. Believing an attribute is changeable, rather than fixed, indirectly predicts negative outcomes via blame attributions, but simultaneously indirectly predicts positive outcomes via stronger efficacy and reduced essentialist thinking. We are testing the double-edged-sword effect in the context of addiction and are focused on prejudice. We are conducting two studies. In the first correlational study, participants will respond to measures, including mindsets of addiction, blame, essentialism, and prejudice. In the experimental study, participants will read a message regarding either the growth or the fixed nature of addiction before responding to the measures. We predict that those who have naturally occurring, or experimentally induced, growth mindsets of addiction will simultaneously demonstrate greater prejudice toward those with addiction through blame and less prejudice through decreased essentialism.

Research Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt


Ayele d'Almeida and Lexi Russell
Criminal Justice and Belief Systems: Double-Edged-Sword Effects of Conservatives' Fixed Belief about Criminality

Last year when we started our research, we sought to investigate how political ideology and beliefs regarding the fixedness of criminality predict support for punitive sentencing goals. Merging political ideology theory with a double-edged-sword theoretical perspective, we tested if the association between conservatism and believing in the fixed nature of criminality would have contradictory effects on support for punitive sentencing goals due to the simultaneous cognitions that people are unable to change in the future (essentialism), but are also not to be blamed (uncontrollability). In a correlational study (N=130), we assessed political ideology, essentialism of criminality, mindsets of criminality (for controllability), and attitudes toward punitive sentencing goals. As predicted, conservatism predicted greater essentialism and greater perceived uncontrollability. In turn, essentialism predicted greater support for punitive sentencing and uncontrollability predicted less support. We are following up these findings by replicating with another correlational study and working on methodology to manipulate beliefs about criminality to explore causal effects.

Research Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt

Eliana Fleischer
Skewed Justice: The Failure of the Legal System to Hold Police Accountable

In recent years, police shootings of unarmed African American men have become nationally visible. With few exceptions, the police officers involved in those shootings have escaped any criminal penalties. This paper addresses the question: Why is it that so few police officers are convicted after shooting unarmed African Americans? This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach in answering this question. First, prosecutorial power and lack of accountability allow prosecutors to advocate for accused police officers to further their own career prospects. Second, the Supreme Court has adapted the qualified immunity and excessive force doctrines to become nearly all-encompassing legal shields for police misconduct. Third, the jury selection process creates mostly homogeneous juries susceptible to implicit racial biases that favor police officers in excessive force cases. The legal system is structured to protect police officers from liability, making it unable to deliver justice after incidents such as Tamir Rice’s tragic and unnecessary death.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Julian M. Hayter

Jaide Hinds-Clarke
The Intersectional Student-Athlete Experience

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a member-led organization with three divisions. The NCAA has 1,117-member colleges and universities. These member institutions serve as “homes away from homes” for over 460,000 student-athletes. According to the NCAA mission statement, its goal is “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” From this statement, the main concern shown is to make sure that athletes benefit from their athletic abilities and receive a college education.

One of the main focuses of the NCAA is its student-athletes. Unfortunately, mental health has become an increasingly important issue on college campuses, affecting the sense of belonging. It is important to analyze and assess how a student's social identities--in addition to their intersectional role as a student and an athlete--can affect their sense of belonging on campus. I argue that the current mission of the NCAA does not allow for adequate importance to be put on a student-athlete's sense of belonging on college campuses, specifically on the campuses of predominately white institutions (PWIs). This independent study has allowed me to investigate how gender, ethnic, and racial identity, as well as other social identities, affect student-athletes' sense of belonging on college campuses, taking into account the differences in experiences and lifestyles from those of the general student body.

Due to COVID-19, my research format was moved entirely online through surveys. With this data, the goal is to gain an understanding of the different factors that contribute to a student-athlete's sense of belonging, or the lack thereof. With this information, solutions and suggestions can be made to make sure student-athlete experiences are the most important to the NCAA and their member institutions.

Research Advisor:  Dr. Christopher R. von Rueden

Lauren Ilsley
The Rise of the Alt-Right and Its Effects on Mainstream Culture and Politics

My independent study focuses on the alt-right, a white nationalist political movement that has entered the national stage in the past couple years. I examine the history of the internet and the ways in which the histories of the alt-right and of the internet overlap, the rise of the alt-right and its characteristics, and its online platforms and terminology. Then, I delve into the moments when the alt-right became publicly visible, namely in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and the events in Charlottesville in 2017. The alt-right now occupies space both online and offline. Increasingly, the alt-right has been a part of mainstream culture and politics, through its interactions with President Trump and his administration, by hosting rallies and protests, and by claiming popular phrases and icons. Finally, I make predictions about the sustainability of the movement based on my research about its trajectory and what the alt-right looks like today.

I am working on a website that will be the home to my research, which can be accessed through this link beginning May 1. 

Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M.S. Bezio

Samantha Jaeger
Follow the Leader or Follow the Strategy? The Role of Perceived Legitimacy in Leader Effectiveness

Economists value leadership for its ability to mitigate coordination failure in collective action problems and social dilemmas. Yet while leaders are used as coordination devices to improve group performances, the literature does not examine how much followers attribute their decision-making to the leader’s differential influence, as opposed to incentives for cooperation found within the strategic environment. This paper discusses ways economists might model leadership through an integrative approach of the followership. Given that leadership involves dynamic interaction, I define leadership as the process by which an individual uses his or her asymmetric advantage over a group to strategically alter group behaviors, contingent on the leader’s ability to maintain a legitimate source of influence.  Investigating how followers perceive the legitimacy of a leader can help nuance results on leader effectiveness and distinguish the leader’s differential influence from that of conditional cooperation.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Haley A. Harwell


Kevin Kennedy
Perceptions of Consistency in the Attitudes of Another

The present study investigates how observers respond to witnessing an individual behave in a way that is perceived as contrary to the attitudes of the individual. We proposed that forming two inconsistent impressions of another person can arouse cognitive dissonance in the observer, which causes individuals to believe that the actor’s current attitude is the one that they have always held. To test this hypothesis, we had Democrats and Republicans imagine a Democratic candidate for election give a counter-normative speech against the Affordable Care Act. Results indicated that both parties believed that the Democrat was now, and always had been, against the Affordable Care Act, and denied that the candidate had changed his attitude. Results also indicated that those who felt most similar to the candidate were more likely to change their own attitude to maintain consistency with their in-group peer.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. George R. Goethals


Eden Kim
Racial Discrimination in College Admissions

Racial profiling in college admissions is an issue that dates to the landmark 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court case, which permitted race to be considered in college admissions. The decision of the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard University case (2019) is that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants. I use this decision as a basis for researching whether affirmative action puts Asian American applicants at a disadvantage in the college admissions process. Data show that many more Asian American and white students apply to elite colleges than black and Hispanic students; however, these figures are not reflected in the proportion of accepted applicants. Using an anthropological and hypothesis-testing approach, I will make predictions about race and group identity at elite higher education institutions and then test those predictions through interviews and archival work.

Research Advisor: Dr. Peter I. Kaufman

Alex Kirk
The Electoral College: Size Really Does Matter

My honors thesis is an examination and analysis of the history of the Electoral College and ways it could be altered going forward, particularly one option that provides the right mix of innovation, respect for tradition, and flexibility to be a permanent fix. Dubbed the Wyoming Rule, it centers on using congressional apportionment and the size of the House of Representatives to remedy the wide disparities in the people-per-electoral-vote ratio across states. I start by looking at the origins of the Electoral College in the Constitutional Convention, before moving through U.S. history and looking at how the Electoral College has played out in practice. I then analyze four of the most popular proposals for reform by looking at their constitutionality, winners and losers, impact on minority groups and factions, and what issue it would solve, before exploring the particulars of the Wyoming Rule as well.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. George R. Goethals

Grace Lynch
Netflix and Kill: A Look at the Cultural Fascination of Infamous Killers

For my thesis project, I studied cultural fascination with notorious murderers and how it parallels that of celebrities and other leadership figures. I investigate this topic through historical and cultural analysis, as well as a survey. I discuss general celebrity culture and how these killers have become part of our celebrity and popular culture, as well as the leadership theories that help to explain this role. I go on to explore specific infamous killers and discuss how they may or may not fit into our leadership schemas. Finally, I look at the followers involved and how their behavior mirrors certain practices from other groups and cultures. We must be careful how we perceive these people and how they may play a role in our ever-growing celebrity culture.  

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio

Kate McCarthy
Storytelling for Fundraising: Assessing the Impact of Personal Stories on Donation Behavior

In fundraising, some nonprofits have sought to channel the power of personal stories by including them in appeal letters. Are stories an effective tool in soliciting donations? In this study, participants read one of three appeals from an unnamed abortion fund. Two conditions contained a personal story, either an “unapologetic” or a “safe, legal, rare” narrative, about a woman who underwent an abortion; one condition did not include a story. Participants were then asked questions regarding the appeal and the organization before being given a “bonus” dollar, and offered the option of donating a portion of that to an abortion fund. Results showed that the effect of the conditions on people’s willingness to donate depended on their income level. Those with higher reported incomes were significantly more likely to donate, relative to those with lower incomes, after reading the “safe, legal, rare” message. Overall, we find a “one size fits all” approach to appeals might not be the most effective if the nonprofit’s donor base includes numerous demographics, as groups may react differently to the same information.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt

Emma Nash
The Paradox of Anxiety: Anxiety Mindset and Its Implication on Well-Being and Social Activism

Our research explores the impact that anxiety mindsets--the extent to which people believe anxiety can be changed (growth) or not (fixed)--have on an individual’s well-being and willingness to engage in social activism. We tested whether having a growth mindset of anxiety would increase well-being but decrease social activism. We also aimed to manipulate mindsets and examine whether the effectiveness of the manipulation depends on participants’ political ideology. We examined these questions across both a correlational study (Study 1) and an experimental study (Study 2). In Study 1, we found that growth mindsets of anxiety predicted greater levels of well-being and lower levels of social activism. In Study 2, we successfully manipulated mindsets; however, analyses revealed that was only the case for liberal, and not conservative, participants. Additionally, the growth condition promoted greater well-being and a lower likelihood to engage in social activism, again only for liberal participants.


Thesis Advisor: Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt


Lauren O'Brien
Liking and Listening: Impression Formation and Information Processing in Presidential Debates

Participants were asked to watch, listen to, or read a transcript of the opening statements from the first presidential debate of 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Afterwards, participants were asked to recall three moments in the debate, both list and identify quotes from each candidate, and indicate impressions of each candidate’s personality. My research aimed to see if there is any connection between debate format, how participants process information, and how participants form impressions of a leader’s personality. I hypothesized that participants who listened to the debate would best process information. While there were few situations where format was statistically significant in participants’ information processing, some data suggest that my hypothesis is correct. Notable contributions of my research include findings on the relationship between debate format and personality impression formation. Debate format proved to be statistically significant in how participants formed opinions about Kennedy and Nixon’s personalities.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. George R. Goethals


Jason Schwartz
Universities and Carbon Neutrality: Motivation to Act and How to Create a Domino Effect

My thesis seeks to answer questions about climate change, individual obligations, and social norm research, particularly for universities as first movers. First, I investigate the consensus on climate change science and controversies surrounding economic models. This invokes questions on how to monetize damages, setting a just discount rate, and the opportunity cost of funds. I argue that action to mitigate climate change passes a cost-benefit analysis and that the duty to carry out this task does not exclusively apply to large actors. Using expected utility calculations, I hold that given a high risk of an extremely bad outcome, even small actors have a responsibility to reduce emissions. This argument extends to universities, as specially motivated actors who can be among the first to achieve carbon neutrality, creating a new social norm in the process and modeling efficient solutions. Finally, I use social norm research to understand how universities can build upon their own efforts to convince followers, from students to large corporations, to strive for GHG reductions, using case studies to highlight best practices and opportunities for improvement.

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Javier S. Hidalgo


Alex Seeley
Psychedelic Influence and Emergence in Hip-Hop

I became interested in the topic of psychedelia as its recent comeback allowed me to notice the interesting emergence of the psychedelic era’s influences stylistically, lyrically, musically, and visually. More specifically, I became interested in the in psychedelic influences in hip-hop. As hip-hop is one of the top genres of music listened to in the United States and is becoming increasingly popular around the world, I found and continue to find a growing psychedelic influence in the music and message. This presentation seeks to show the uniqueness of psychedelic influence in hip-hop and also explores the patterns of influence of these hip-hop artists.

Research Advisor: Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio

Mehreen Usman
Afghan Diaspora in Pakistan: A Comparative Study of Refugees in Rural and Urban Areas

This research project will examine the Afghan diaspora in Pakistan that have been migrating to the country consistently since the late 1970s and give historical context and background information on the subject. Moreover, this study will investigate the differences in refugees in rural regions of Pakistan, specifically in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, federally administered tribal areas (FATA), and Punjab, versus in urban locations in the provinces of Sindh, Balochistan, and Islamabad. This study will focus on outcomes in health services, educational opportunities, and socioeconomic mobility. Using Seyla Benhabib’s philosophical framework in her book "The Rights of Others," the conclusion of this project will also offer policy recommendations to improve the status of the outcomes covered.

Research Advisor: Dr. Peter I. Kaufman


Monique Yen
An Analysis of the Tsimane Economy

My collaborative research with Dr. von Rueden focuses on the developing economy of the Tsimane, an indigenous people of Bolivia. Dr. von Rueden supplied me with a plethora of data which tracked employer-employee exchanges over the course of three years. The data serves as a primary source documenting primitive stages of a developing economy. With the help of my data management skills, Dr. von Rueden and I hope to make inferences using the data regarding the emerging economy. Our aim is to find any significant patterns that can be recognized through an analysis of this data as they relate to economic and community development. We are looking at income, instances of hiring, instances of being hired, influence, and age to determine if there are any intrinsically social implications of advanced economies on communities.

Research Advisor: Dr. Christopher R. von Rueden