Ten exceptional undergraduate students from across the country spent the summer at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock investigating Muslim hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment in Arkansas.
Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, director of the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology, and Dr. Robert Lytle, the graduate coordinator for the school, received a three-year $324,987 National Science Foundation grant in 2021 to study the perceptions of Muslims in Arkansas who have been the target of discrimination, harassment, or interpersonal crime, along with the impacts such behaviors have on victims.
“The summer program went very well,” ten Bensel said. “We worked with 10 exceptional undergraduate students from all over the country and one from our very own campus. They were bright, excited, passionate about advocacy work, and dedicated to advancing their knowledge in research and Islamophobia. This was a lot of work to complete in eight weeks, but these experiences enriched the learning process, and the students were able to see their own growth and tangible outcomes from their efforts this summer.”
This year’s cohort was the first of 30 undergraduate students who will participate in the design, implementation, analysis, and reporting of this project through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
“I took a crime and behavior class from Professor Molly Smith during my sophomore year, and that sparked a passion for me for this research,” said Hailey Davis, a junior criminal justice major at UA Little Rock. “Learning about the experiences of victims of hate crimes really interested me. Growing up in the south, a lot of people don’t know about special populations. I wanted to do my part as a criminal justice major to contribute to this field of research.”
The student researchers chosen for the program include:
Anna Bryant, a junior criminal justice and psychology major at Loyola University
Anna Cohen, a junior sociology major at California Polytechnic State University
Hailey Davis, a junior criminal justice major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Malak Dridi, a sophomore public policy and journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Grace Magori, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major at the University of Maryland
Emily Murphy, a senior criminology and economics major at the University of Oklahoma
Gabi Overcast-Hawks, a sophomore sociology major at Wake Forest University
Dylan Sarubin, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major at the University of Maryland
Lawson Schultz, a junior sociology and art major at the University of Delaware
Rachel Strickland, a sophomore criminology and sociology major at Florida State University
During the summer program from June 6 to July 29, the student researchers participated in research and content workshops, alumni presentations, experiential activities, collecting and analyzing data, writing a research brief on findings, and participating in a final presentation for internal and external stakeholders. Five criminal justice professors at UA Little Rock served as faculty mentors for the students.
“I thought it was really amazing to work one on one with faculty members,” Murphy said. “As an undergraduate, it can be hard to get one-on-one time with professors who are guiding your research and your education needs. Being paired with a faculty mentor during this program was awesome.”
Dridi, who is the education officer with the Arab Student Organization at her university, said she and the other researchers have been interviewing Muslim leaders in the state. Their answers will help design a statewide survey to better understand Muslim hate crimes and victimization in Arkansas.
“We have been conducting interviews with leaders in the Muslim community,” Dridi said. “We are specifically focusing on experiences of victimization or hate based on their religion. We asked if they have ever felt targeted because of religious clothing or if they have ever felt unsafe in their neighborhoods. This first year is essentially about establishing a better understanding of what the Muslim community is experiencing.”
During the second year of the project, the researchers will conduct interviews with up to 50 more people of the Muslim community in Arkansas and send out a statewide survey. The third year of research will include interviews with policy makers, legislators, and law enforcement about hate crime legislation.
“I think this program sparked an interest in learning more about the impact of victims in hate crimes and how they respond after being a victim of a hate crime as well as the response of the communities of those special populations,” Davis said. “We are all very grateful for the opportunity.”
UA Little Rock plans to publish a report on the findings from their first year of research at the end of the year.