To Be Or Not To Be…Researching the Tragic Fire in Hamlet, NC

by Gregory DeCandia
2016 Graduate Research Consultant
Department of Dramatic Art

It is essential for an actor to be a ravenous researcher to truly portray the raw emotion of another’s tragic circumstances. UNC’s Drama 85H- Documentary Theatre course presented freshman students alternative methods to make research more resonant, long-lasting, and even fun. Research projects ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde instilled a deeper understanding of the events surrounding the tragic fire at Imperial Food in Hamlet, NC. Students began their research of North Carolina’s worst industrial disaster at UNC’s Davis Library under the guidance of Dramatic Arts Librarian Thomas Nixon. Mr. Nixon highlighted for students the Library’s impressive access to periodicals, databases, and an arsenal of internet tools to enhance their research papers that tackled topics from race relations to food processing regulations.

Next students were exposed the the audio library of the award winning Southern Oral History Project (SOHP) allowing them to listen to first hand accounts of a wide range of experiences of living in the South. Students selected SOHP transcriptions to cull into theatrical monologues to be performed during the courses’ final presentation. Local choreographer, Aya Shabu, offered a workshop in documentary dance that created a vocabulary of movement for students to physicalize their research and experience the monotony of factory work.

Ernest Grant, RN, Anita Fields, RN, and Pastor Shirley M. Massey from UNC’s Jaycee Burn Center were invited to share their experience treating burn victims and their families physically, mentally, and spiritually. The fact that these nurses treated victims from the Hamlet fire had a profound effect on the students’ understanding of this event. A field trip to Hamlet, NC allowed students to actually walk the site of the fire, pay their respects at the memorial, and experience the sights and sounds of this tiny town that had suffered so greatly. Once all the research and reflections were compiled, the class, Professor Kathy Williams, playwright Howard Croft, and I collaborated to present the results in theatrical form. Ultimately a script was written, rehearsed, and presented by the students as a stage reading on the last day of class to a very responsive audience. The effort of the expansive research will continue on by serving as a dramaturgical source for a new play by Mr. Howard Croft and directed by Kathy Williams during Kenan Theater Company’s 2016-17 Season at UNC Chapel Hill.

4 Lessons from Working with Undergraduate Researchers

by Anthony Chergosky

student speaking in front of undergraduates1. Individualize your advising. Although many graduate students have received extensive training in research methods, most of the students I worked with were fairly new to conducting original research projects. Thus, awareness of your audience is critical when working with undergraduate researchers. For me, this involved asking students about their background in research methods and advising their projects accordingly. If I found out that a student had taken several classes in statistics, we could devote attention to relatively advanced quantitative data analysis. For students without prior coursework in statistics, I would focus more on the processes of theory development and relatively basic data analysis. Through individualizing my approach, students could gain valuable experience with the research process that built on the skills and prior knowledge they brought to the class.

2. Reduce large projects to small, manageable steps. Students can be overwhelmed by the prospect of conducting original research projects simply because the size of the entire project can seem overwhelming. I combatted this through helping students break down the full process of completing their research projects into smaller, specific steps. Rather than telling students to “work on their projects,” for instance, I tried instructing them to “find three relevant academic publications” or “identify an appropriate data source.” Completing these smaller steps gave students a sense of accomplishment along the way to finishing the overall project, helping them maintain motivation throughout the research process.

3. Keep the interests of students first. When students asked me for guidance about topics to research and address in their projects, I needed to resist the temptation to steer them toward topics that I study. I knew where this temptation was coming from, as I was in the position of advising students and would naturally feel comfortable advising them on familiar subjects. However, this approach risked putting my interests before those of the students. As a result, I made sure to remember the importance of understanding the interests of my students, and making sure that their projects reflected their interests. After all, students are more likely to be driven to complete a high-quality research project when the project addresses a topic that is personally important and meaningful to them.

4. Convey your passion for research. As students encountered the struggles that are inevitable in the research process, I found it useful to help them stay motivated through emphasizing why research is worth conducting in the first place. In what ways will their research projects offer interesting, important insights? What will we learn from the projects? What is original and novel about the research they are conducting? I loved noting the exciting lessons to be learned from students’ research and seeing the students react with enthusiasm. I believe that this helped convey the importance of academic research and showed students that their projects were much more than just a course requirement!

Surf, Sand, and Trash: Undergrad Research on Marine Debris at the Institute of Marine Sciences

By Kathleen Onorevole, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Marine Sciences


Not your typical day at the beach! Capstone students walk along the shores of Carrot Island, searching for debris.

Not your typical day at the beach! Capstone students walk along the shores of Carrot Island, searching for debris.

The students looked like they were running drill practice as they walked up and down the shore of Carrot Island. They weren’t enrolled in ROTC though, and no one had lost a valuable. In fact, the students were searching for the exact opposite: they were looking for trash. Judging from the heavy garbage bags they were toting, this was a sadly successful mission.

The students had plenty of trash in their futures. The class of 11 undergraduates was enrolled in the UNC’s Institute for the Environment (IE) Morehead City Field Site at the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS). Located in the southern Outer Banks, IMS is a marine lab that studies everything from algae to hurricanes to fisheries. It may sound unglamorous to add trash to that list of research topics, but thanks to work done by the IE Field Site Capstone course, we can do just that.

student standing with trash

Patrick Winner holds marine debris collected from the beach.

The Field Site Capstone (ENEC 698) is designed to immerse students in a topic pertinent to the Morehead City area. Students are charged to think like consultants and work in small groups to ultimately create a report and presentation attended by the public and relevant stakeholders. After serving as a Graduate Research Consultant for last year’s class, I was assigned to work with the Fall 2015 Capstone, which focused on the prolific problem of marine debris.

The students decided to investigate the impact of human recreational activities on the presence and distribution of coastal marine debris. Their study sites were beaches used by people in different ways. One beach, for example, was on an island mainly visited by the odd boating party looking for a temporary place to anchor. Another study site was Shackleford Banks, which receives high volumes of tourist traffic in the summer. The Capstone students were interested in exploring the connection between beach use and trash along the shoreline. After framing their question, the students started to develop a research plan.

The group-based format of the Capstone makes the GRC role particularly necessary. As a graduate student, the research process is almost second-nature to me, but many of the undergrads had never designed an experiment or packed for a field day. My role was especially pronounced in the first half of the class, as I helped the groups organize their research plans. Of course, it was also important for me to assist with fieldwork, which conveniently enough is at the beach!

students grabbing buckets and boarding small boat

The students sort through debris as they prepare to hop aboard the boat back to IMS.

At each site, the students paced systematically along the shoreline, documenting and collecting any debris. The debris they found was analyzed in various ways, including taking measurements and quantifying bacterial abundances. Meanwhile, other groups within the Capstone worked on supporting research questions. One group conducted an experiment to document organisms that colonized pieces of marine debris over time. Another used data from The Ocean Conservancy to compare marine debris in Morehead City to coastlines worldwide. I was available during all parts of the research process, including near the end as the students synthesized their work into a final report and presentation.

Among their many findings, the Capstone class reported that small pieces of plastic were the most common type of marine debris on Carteret County beaches. They recommended that future beach clean-ups focus on zones of the shoreline with the highest concentration of debris. Since the students presented these results to an audience that included local environmental professionals, their findings may help future beach clean-ups more efficiently remove debris.

Thanks to the 2015 Field Site Capstone, beaches in the Crystal Coast now stand a better chance of being crystal clean!

Locating Lynching: Digital Humanities and Undergraduate Research

Written by Elijah Gaddis, GRC and graduate student in the Department of American Studies

One hundred and twenty three years ago this month, Carter Burnett was abducted from his jail cell in Oxford, North Carolina and hanged from a nearby tree. The men responsible for his murder were never caught. His death was a lynching–one instance of the extralegal mob violence that plagued North Carolina for decades, especially in the years during North Carolina’s gradual transition into the 20th century. Carter Burnett’s story is one of the roughly one hundred and fifty stories featured in Locating Lynching. This digital humanities project was born out of a collaboration between myself, Dr. Seth Kotch, and a class of first year students. It maps every reported lynching that took place in North Carolina between 1865-1941 in an attempt to show how widespread this form of racial terror was and how close our connection to many of these landscapes still is.

While serving as a Graduate Research Consultant for Seth Kotch’s first year class, Digital Humanities: The Rural South, I came to class initially to help the students with digital research tools and strategies. Early on in the class, the Equal Justice Initiative and its project to place historical markers on the sites of every lynching in the South was profiled in a New York Times article. Dr. Kotch brought this article and an accompanying map to the students and discussed its implications for the study of the rural South and for the digital humanities methods that the students were learning. Afterward, when he polled the students, they unanimously agreed to forego their individual projects in favor of working on a larger scale digital map that would show the lynchings in North Carolina and reveal details of the lives of some of its victims.

The ability to change direction here was important. It allowed the students to be invested in a project that they’d help outline and that they wanted to learn more about. It suggested to them the possibilities of digital research and digital humanities tools which would allow them to collaborate with one another. And most importantly, it showed them that research–original research that they conducted–could be responsive, important, and timely.lynching capture

To start the project, we paired students up and assigned them lynchings to research. They used digitized newspapers, city directories, and census data to find out about each lynching and each victim. Their data went into a database that I had designed in consultation with Dr. Kotch. As the students continued research, fuller stories of these events and the people at their center started to emerge. We saw, in what those of us working in digital humanities often think of simply as “data,” sketches of the lives of people made marginal by their race or social class and whose lives each ended amid the indignity and terror of a communal practice that left great wounds on the history and landscape of North Carolina. For the students, this was a lesson both in how to do research and why research matters. Like me, many of them were struck to discover how close many of these lynching sites were to places they’d been many times before. They helped uncover and make visible hidden histories that we all live with and among.

We published a version of Locating Lynching in October, 2015. We hope to continue and expand the project in the future, but you can see our interactive map of North Carolina Lynchings, as well as explanations of our process and further details at

OUR seeks Graduate Assistant

Title of the position: Graduate Assistant: OUR Outreach Coordinator
Department: Office for Undergraduate Research
Reports to: Associate Dean, Office for Undergraduate Research

The Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR) was established in 1999 to expand the opportunities for undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill to engage in innovative research, mentored scholarship, and creative performance. Accordingly, we have a variety of resources, including financial support, to help research become a distinctive feature of the undergraduate experience. See for more information.

Key areas of responsibility:
We are seeking a Graduate Assistant who can advise undergraduate students interested in research, who will serve as the OUR’s outreach coordinator to students, and who will assist with the maintenance and analysis of data on OUR’s programs. The Graduate Assistant will manage the OUR student ambassador program, write and publish the OUR bi-weekly e-newsletter, and solicit and publish posts for the GRC and OUR blogs. In addition, the Graduate Assistant will maintain an active Facebook presence for OUR, maintain an active Twitter presence for OUR, and assists with the coordination of other events sponsored by the OUR. During the Spring semester, the graduate assistance has a major role in coordinating the Celebration of Undergraduate Research. During the summer, the Graduate Assistant assists with the OUR’s participation in orientation for incoming students and their families. As needed, the Graduate Assistant will also assist with general office duties, develop publicity materials, and help oversee work-study students assisting with web development and event planning.

Key Qualifications:
Qualified candidates should have a strong interest in promoting undergraduate research, the ability to work well in a team, and the ability to design and manage e-newsletters, Facebook, and twitter accounts. Qualified candidates should also be skilled users of WordPress, Photo Editing software such as Photoshop, and other standard software such as MS Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. Qualified candidates will be expected to work independently, attend weekly staff meetings, and demonstrate strong writing, presentation, and organizational skills. The ability to manage large databases and analyze data using statistical software such as STATA is a plus.

Terms of employment and Compensation:
The Graduate Assistant will be expected to work 15-20 hours per work during both the academic year as well as the summer and will be reappointed on an annual basis. The Graduate Assistant will be paid $20/hour. In-state tuition benefits are not available.

To apply: Submit a cover letter and resume to Monica Richard at The cover letter should explain why you are interested in the position and undergraduate research.

Start Date: We will begin reviewing applications by November 1.

Closing Date: Applications will be reviewed continuously until the position is filled.

Transnational Romanticism and Undergraduate Research

Written by Rachael Isom, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

During the Spring 2015 semester, I joined Dr. Jan Koelb’s Comparative Literature 460 class as the Graduate Research Consultant (GRC). This course on “Transnational Romanticism” included readings from canonical writers such as William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman, but it also encouraged students to view Romanticism more expansively by interrogating the theoretical aesthetic frameworks essential to Romantic ideologies and by incorporating a broader range of texts. Focusing on “Romantic Imagination and the Modern World,” the course proved not only transnational but also interdisciplinary, exposing students to a variety of art forms on UNC’s campus, including works at the Ackland Art Museum and a production of Arthur Miller’s An Enemy of the People at Playmakers Theater. Many students pursued their interests in projects that traversed continental boundaries and incorporated topics as various as social protest in Romantic drama and realist fiction, the intertextual understandings of the window in nineteenth-century visual art, J. M. W. Turner’s paintings of sublimity, and the legacy of Jose Marti in modern Cuban politics. Tackling these topics and more, they formulated research questions, compared primary texts, and probed extant criticism in search of answers to their evolving inquiries.

My chief responsibility as the GRC was to be an additional resource, a helper and mentor along the journey from curiosity to composition. Throughout the course of the semester, I met with students in pairs for hour-long tutorials in which we discussed their progress at various stages of the research process, from developing a question to formulating a storyboard, as well as through two complete drafts of the papers that emerged as answers to nearly semester-long queries. One of the most challenging tasks in these tutorials was to help students find the proper scope while still attending to their interests. Using the Turabian research model, we worked toward specific, targeted questions that could lead to fruitful investigations of the Romantic writers and painters students had chosen. As these topics became narrower, it was fascinating to see how each student’s interests shaped the comparisons and issues that emerged. For instance, two students wrote on Wordsworth’s Prelude in conjunction with more recent texts; however, one student compared Wordsworth’s “spots of time” to the experiences of twentieth-century psychedelic writers, while the other used Wordsworth’s conception of childhood to inform her reading of the Kenneth Grahame’s popular children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. Two other students wrote on Whitman, but one examined critical links to Blake while the other connected Whitman to Chinese poet Guo Moruo. As students moved from question to hypothesis to supported reasoning, their arguments took shape, and our later tutorials supplemented Dr. Koelb’s instruction by examining each piece of evidence as it related to the larger claim. Using scholarly models and a systematic approach, students were able to move from storyboard outline to rough draft, from rough draft to their finished products.

In the fourth and final set of tutorials, I reviewed students’ final drafts. As gratifying as it was to hear students’ thanks for the suggestions and affirmations of these sessions, what was far more rewarding was to see them directing their own revisions and advising those of their peers. Though they still solicited my advice, even the types of questions they asked evinced a much stronger sense of what good research demands. They’re still learning, as are we all, but their collaborative efforts are certainly steps in the right direction. While the students of CMPL 460 didn’t quite spend fifty years building and revising their targeted research projects as Wordsworth did with his Prelude, their “honourable toil” of sixteen weeks represents a set of fascinating papers by remarkable undergraduate students. Challenged and guided along the way by Dr. Koelb, they infused the research and writing process with their own interests, skills, and expertise. I am grateful for their trust, for their confidence, and for the chance to be a part of their growth as researchers and writers.

Note: You can read this related post from Morgan Welch, one of the students in the class.

Pedagogy, Digital Tools, and Undergraduate Research: Librarians as Co-Educators

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Associate Director of OUR

The Multimodal Librarians initiative is approaching the end of a summer-long workshop series. In the second workshop I was able to attend (read about the first one here), Jonathan McMichael, UNC’s undergraduate experience librarian, discussed some pedagogical considerations in using the digital tools available to help support undergraduate researchers and faculty embedding undergraduate research in their classes. He noted that the most effective projects/assignments are a careful balance between order and chaos, a concept that I love.

Jonathan posed a number of interesting questions to reflect on as you consider your pedagogical choices and classroom practices.

  • How do you figure out what tool works best for what kinds of data sets?
  • Can the tool you are using answer the question that you’re asking?
  • Can the data that you’re using generate an answer to the question that you’re asking?
  • What are the learning benefits in using this tool and/or this digital assignment?
  • Does it help teach a concept/fact/skill better than you currently teach it?
  • Does it provide a learning environment for a unique skill that can’t be taught any other way?

Jonathan suggested two specific questions to ask when you are designing an assignment or implementing a particular tool:

  • What will students be able to do at the end of this learning experience?
  • How often will they use this new capability in their future?

Sometimes there are costs to consider in using a designing a digital assignment – and Jonathan didn’t mean only financial ones:

  • Does it create anxiety or boredom for students? (From my own perspective, student anxiety is not necessarily bad and can provoke a teaching/learning moment. But I agree that it needs to be managed effectively.)
  • How are you going to grade the assignment?
  • What, if any, are the extra organizational or administrative needs for the assignment?

We discussed the Association of College & Research Libraries framework for information literacy, which is based on a set of threshold concepts. Two that resonated for me were “research as inquiry” and “scholarship as conversation.” Undergraduate research is often described as one approach to inquiry-based learning. At OUR, we are frequently guiding students to think about how, as researchers, they are entering an intellectual conversation. How does their research question interact with what’s going on in their field and with what others have done and are doing?

This approach to scholarship as conversation also helps with the tendency many undergraduates exhibit when they’re thinking about a research paper for a course. They will share that they are writing about X (Jane Eyre, the Civil War, poverty in India, whatever their chosen or assigned topic may be). But selecting a topic is not the same thing as designing a research question. In my own teaching, I try to help students reframe their project by asking them to tell me what question they are asking – or trying to answer – about their topic.

Jonathan also mentioned the concept of visible learning, discussed in a book of the same title by John Hattie. According to the Visible Learning website, “Visible Teaching and Learning occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.” This is the kind of empowered learner undergraduate researchers generally become as they move from being consumers of knowledge to knowledge producers.

I encourage faculty to think of our librarian colleagues as partners and co-educators. There is a plethora of expertise available as we think about how to innovate our pedagogy and support undergraduate research in and out of the classroom.


Librarians Support Undergraduate Research

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Associate Director of OUR

There is an exciting new initiative at UNC Libraries. Multimodal Librarians “is an initiative at UNC to cross-train the research and instruction staff on digital tools and techniques that can easily be incorporated into undergraduate class assignments. This is a natural extension of the traditional role librarians play in research instruction and it supports the library’s strategic goals of engaging both the entire research lifecycle as well as transformative teaching and learning.”

NGram UGRAs part of this initiative, librarians are invited to training sessions to learn how to use digital scholarship tools to support undergraduate research. I had the opportunity recently to attend a session facilitated by Dr. Stewart Varner which focused on using data visualization tools for text analysis. Stewart demonstrated for us Google’s Ngram Viewer, Voyant, and Google’s Fusion Tables.

Ngram pulls information from the Google Books corpus to create its visualizations. You can search in several different languages and you can use words or phrases. I used “undergraduate research” and “inquiry-based learning” for my example.

The Voyant tool creates visualizations based on the text you input. In our session, Stewart uploaded a digVoyant GRC pageitized book from the Project Gutenberg catalog for our demonstration example. Voyant only works with single words, not phrases. You can see the number of unique words in your text. Or, you can use the “keyword in context” tool to see where in your document any particular word appears. There is also a “stop words” function if you want to exclude common words like “the” or “it” — or the title character in the book you’re analyzing. I used the GRC page from our website to generate my word cloud.

Spring 2015 GRC Courses

Spring 2015 GRC Courses

Fusion Tables works with data you provide in spreadsheet form. You can also use Google spreadsheets or public data tables. Then you can display the data in several different formats — scatter charts, line or bar graphs, pie charts. etc. I used network analysis format to map the connections between course prefixes and course numbers for our Spring 2015 GRC courses.

While we were experimenting with these tools, Stewart was careful to remind us that at this point we were just generating data points, not making an argument. It’s easy to see, though, how these visualizations might “inspire a research question,” in Stewart’s words. In one project Stewart described, the researcher compared unique words in the texts of two different authors to examine the range of vocabulary one author used in comparison to the other. Stewart also emphasized the need to select the tool that can answer the question you are asking. As a result of the Multimodal Librarians initiative, many of the librarians will be prepared to help students and faculty think through what kinds of research questions and projects will benefit from the use of digital tools.




ENGL 376: Undergraduate Research in the Archives

Written by Gale Greenlee, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

Do you ever enter Wilson Library? Or do you just hang out on the front steps? This year, I frequented the library as a Graduate Research Consultant for ENGL 376: Depictions of Children in Literature and the Visual Arts. I have been a TA for Dr. Laurie Langbauer’s children’s literature course, so I eagerly accepted the offer to work with her Spring and Maymester courses.

Whether taught over sixteen weeks or only three, the goal is the same: to give students hands-on experience producing original research. The assignments certainly included readings, discussions, papers, and exams. But students spent a great deal of time – in and outside class – delving into Wilson’s archives. They unearthed letters and diaries, photographs, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and rare textbooks. And they used these texts to curate mini exhibitions that explored changing cultural assumptions and experiences of childhood.

For most students, this kind of research is new. One Maymester student said, “I’ve never done anything like this before.” I believe the novelty is part of the attraction, but it can produce some anxiety. So, early on, students headed to Wilson’s Grand Reading Room for an introduction to archival research. Thanks to librarians Jason Tomberlin and Matt Turi, students saw a smidgen of Wilson’s extensive holdings from the Rare Book Collection, the North Carolina Collection, and the Southern Historical and the Southern Folklife Collections. More importantly, they handled documents instead of observing them through a glass pane. Students also went to the Ackland Art Museum for a crash course on visual analysis, and they visited the Tobe exhibition, which provided a model for their own work.

My role was truly that of a consultant, since student research shaped the courses. I helped students brainstorm and narrow their topics and guided them as they navigated online finding aids and located archival materials. I also recommended relevant secondary sources and offered feedback on their written work and in-class presentations.

In the Spring, I worked with ten students charged with creating a group exhibition, which they titled The Unknown Child. I selected an initial reading on children and American citizenship that served as a springboard for our first meeting and their group project. On workshop days, they shared images and drafts of their exhibition object labels and placards. Some students seemed nervous about producing a creative project rather than a research paper. But it helped when I framed the exhibition as presenting a visual argument that their panels would then support.

Meeting as a group was one of the most rewarding aspects. I read student drafts and examined their selected images before our sessions. When we gathered, I offered feedback, critiques, and posed questions including “What’s the argument here? How do your images relate to the overall exhibition? What does this image tell us about childhood?” I also opened the floor so that students could respond to one another. In doing so, they sharpened their analytical chops and pushed one another to think critically about their images and interpretations.

The Maymester was a roller coaster ride: short and intense, but fun. Students met daily for three hours, spending half the time in class, and the other half in the archives. They tailored their projects to their individual interests. One student, a dance major, stumbled upon photos from Teen Frolics, a locally produced African American dance show and forerunner of the nationally syndicated Soul Train. Another student, interested in art, examined children’s finger paintings. Our resident Boy Scout explored the connection between scouting images and nationalist campaigns. Two other students immersed themselves in women’s diaries: one from the 1860’s and one written a hundred years later. I am sure they found the work fascinating and frustrating, with promising leads and occasional dead-ends. But through trial and error, everyone discovered hidden gems.

I am fortunate to have been a part of this process since Dr. Langbauer piloted the course two years ago. I have learned about course development, collaborated with other University departments, and worked with archival material and digital collections. Most importantly, I’ve ushered undergraduates through Wilson Library’s doors and helped them gain first-hand experience as emerging researchers.

A GRC Perspective: Religion and the Problem of Violence

Written by Matthew Dougherty, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies

This semester, I had the pleasure of serving as a Graduate Research Consultant again, this time for a First Year Seminar RELI 077: “Martyrs and Warriors: Religion and the Problem of Violence” with Professor Bayne. A class on violence and religion is difficult at the best of times, but this semester was particularly so given the events both in our own community and abroad this year. I was happy to see that most of the students in RELI 077 approached the topic of religion and violence with a sense of immediacy and moral purpose.

My main role in the course was to help the students develop their final projects, which could take the form of papers, multimedia productions, or websites. The purpose of the final project was to help students think through the implications of the topics covered in the course for contemporary events, so many students chose to create websites to reflect their sense that a digital final product would better reflect the fluid state of affairs around many of their chosen topics.

Professor Bayne and I encouraged the students to base their websites around one incident or figure. About half of the students doing websites chose to look at issues in other countries, such as the religious motivation for Russia’s laws against “gay propaganda,” the role of Buddhist monks in encouraging violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority, and the events surrounding the death of an American missionary in Ecuador. The other half chose to turn the analytic lenses they had learned to use on events in the United States, such as violence against abortion providers by extremist members of the Pro-Life movement, the August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and vandalism at a Muslim school in Rhode Island in response to the shootings in Chapel Hill that wounded our community so deeply.

In working with the students on their projects, a few themes emerged. First, most of them wanted to consider the role that the traditional news media and social media played in the presentation of violence. The vandalism in Rhode Island, for example, was explicitly meant to respond to national debates over whether and how the shootings in Chapel Hill constituted a hate crime. Web sites, because they allow for the integration of videos, sounds, and social media like Twitter feeds, were ideal for tackling that topic. Second, although many of the students wanted to begin their analysis of violent events from the scriptures central to the religions involved, as they thought more deeply about their projects they found that familial, local, economic and political causes were often as influential as religious beliefs on the way that events played out.

My main challenge was to get the students to narrow and deepen their analysis of their chosen topics. From the perspective of a first-year student, it can be difficult to see how one might deal with a given incident without discussing all the possible texts and histories that might have led up to it. Showing them how to pick and choose in order to craft a story that they could reasonably complete—and which would be more comprehensible to their audiences—became a major part of almost all the meetings I had with students. It was a pleasure to watch as students began to understand why I was asking them to cut down what they expected to discuss, and began to make their own editorial decisions.

To see Professor Bayne’s reflection on this class, click here.