Students Dissect Legal IssuesGAMBIER, Ohio (July 15, 2008) Summer research for Naomi Blaushild '10 means putting pardons, politics, and presidents under a microscope.
She's examined the 1,150 acts of executive clemency signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and she's moving on to John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Her work this summer with H. Abbie Erler, assistant professor of political science, has transformed an undergraduate political science major into a research colleague.
"To do research closely with a professor, it's just really a good experience," Blaushild said. "People say, 'I want to do research.' But research is not just writing the beautiful paper you're going to get published. I've been doing hours and hours of data entry, which is tedious but really rewarding. You have to be sure you're careful. I've been so careful."
Blaushild of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of four students in the John W. Adams Legal Studies Scholars Program. The program is in its second year, with awards of $3,000 and on-campus, summer housing for four students who work with Kenyon professors on socio-legal studies research projects.
Ric Sheffield, associate provost and associate professor of sociology and legal studies, oversees the program. He has encouraged a multi-disciplinary approach by students who compete for entry into the program by submitting their research ideas or, as Blaushild has done, by joining a faculty member's work in progress. "The classroom usually entails a lot of secondary research," Sheffield said. "This allows them to go beyond the classroom. It is one of the few opportunities undergraduates have in actually engaging in that sort of detailed, comprehensive research."
These are the other students in the program, their projects, and their faculty mentors:
Risa Griffin '09 of Asheville, North Carolina, a women and gender studies major. "From 'Feeble-minded' to 'Welfare Queen': Coerced Sterilization, Welfare Reform, and State Efforts to Control Poor Women's Reproduction." Marla Kohlman, associate professor of sociology.
Elizabeth Meyers '09 of Jacksonville, Florida, an English major. "Get a Job: The Impact and Ideology of Class in Workforce Development." Allison Hurst, visiting professor of sociology and legal studies.
Kara Stiles '09 of Chelsea, Michigan, a political science major. "Women's Incarceration and Rehabilitative Programming." Linda Smolak, Samuel L. Cummings Professor of Psychology.
Blaushild and Erler are examining acts of clemency, including commutations, pardons, and remissions of fines, in the context of the times in which they were granted, including the political and social climate. Acts of clemency have decreased since the 1950s and 1960s. "We can say some of the reasons for that are the 24-hour news cycle, the war on crime, the war on drugs," Blaushild said. The research will also shed light on acts of clemency undertaken to make a specific political point or granted during times of high approval ratings.
"It's a good experience learning about political science research," she said. "It's a lot of numbers and it's analyzing the data and looking at the political climate and other influences on what the data means," she said. "It's not biology. It's not chemistry. It's not a thing that we have certain rules for. Politics and people's opinions are so fickle."
The students will make a public presentation of their findings in January. Sheffield believes the taste of research will point students to further pursuit of their subjects through independent study.