Six political science seniors presented their honors theses alongside graduate students and professional political scientists at the 2016 Meetings of the Western Political Science Association (WPSA). The conference took place March 25, 2016 in San Diego.
As an assignment in their “Honors Seminar” course, students submitted theses abstracts to the WPSA for consideration for the 2016 Meetings; all the seniors’ abstracts were accepted.
“I have students submit their abstracts to external conferences because that in and of itself is a learning experience,” said Andrew Dilts, political science professor who taught the seminar. “I was pleasantly surprised when we found out that everyone got accepted.”
Students Alexia Barbaro, Rebecca Corona, Ugonma Nwankwo, Brittany Rosario-Gregory, Landon Wike, and Savannah Woolston presented posters sharing their research findings with conference attendees. Their research topics varied from Corona’s comparison of LGB rights in Israel and the United States to Nwankwo’s complex analysis of the motivations behind online activism.
To study why people engage in online activism, Nwankwo created and administered a nationwide survey on online political participation and accumulated 518 responses. Her analysis complicates the popular understanding of “slacktivists,” activists who choose online engagement because – according to conventional wisdom – they are not interested or motivated enough to participate offline. Nwankwo coined a new term to explain another type of political actor who might choose online-only political participation: “safetivists.”
“I created the term ‘safetivist’ because I found there’s a group of people who participate online rather than offline – not because they’re lazy, but because there’s a risk level associated with offline activism,” Nwankwo said. For example, an activist might tweet support for a social movement rather than attend a rally due to fear of violence, arrest, or other threat to safety. Her faculty advisor, Richard Fox, helped her hone her survey technique and regression analysis to pull meaningful insight from her data. “My research shows we need to look more deeply into the dimensions of online activism before jumping to conclusions.”
“I’m so proud of these students,” Dilts said. “The opportunity to present original research is the moment when a student transitions from consuming knowledge to creating knowledge. This is an experience that many students don’t get until graduate school.”
The six presentations were: