A second group of 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 as part of a three-year National Science Foundation grant project.
Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, associate dean of CBHHS and professor of criminal justice, and Dr. Robert Lytle, the graduate coordinator for the school, received a three-year $324,987 National Science Foundation (NSF) 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 2023 summer student researchers include Eliyah Campbell of the University of Alabama, Anna Goyette of Washington University, Gracie Hess of Longwood University, Larissa Nichols of the University of Florida, Dalal Shalash of Ohio State University, Sam Strickland of Florida State University, Zion Soloman of Rogers State University, and Jimmi Winn of University of Central Oklahoma. This year’s cohort participated in the design, implementation, analysis, and reporting of this project through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
“Getting research experience as an undergrad sets you apart,” said Solomon, a senior psychology major. “I wanted to see if research is something I want to do in the future, and I wanted to experience working with people who are as excited about being in a learning environment as I am. They taught us about such a variety of things, it’s all going to be useful at some point.”
This year’s cohort build upon the work of the 2022 summer cohort, who analyzed qualitative interview data with members of the Muslim community in Central Arkansas to identify common patterns and themes in experiences with anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crime.
“This year’s cohort focused on quantitative methods to produce a data analysis of public perceptions of anti-Muslim discrimination,” Lytle said. “However, they are also part of an ongoing project to gather experiences with anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crime from a larger sample of Muslims in Arkansas.”
The students completed a literature review of research on anti-Muslim sentiment and victimization as well as a data analysis using a publicly available opinion poll – the American National Election Study (ANES). The literature review incorporated more than 100 research articles on four topics – hate crime offending, hate crime victimization, help-seeking and crime reporting, and Islamophobia.
“The data analysis looked at public perceptions of Muslims as a group targeted for discrimination in the United States – essentially a measure of the belief that Muslims experience discrimination in the U.S,” Lytle said. “In addition to a written report on the findings of the literature review and data analysis, the students also presented their findings in a public presentation on the UA Little Rock campus. The written report will be finalized over the coming weeks. Some of the students have expressed interest in presenting the results at academic conferences in the coming year.”
During the summer program from June 5 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. Three criminal justice professors and three graduate assistants at UA Little Rock served as mentors for the students.
Strickland, who is a senior psychology and law major, said participating in the program helped build her research, statistical analysis, and academic writing skills.
“My goal is to get a Ph.D. in clinical and forensic psychology,” Strickland said. “You need to have a really great understanding of different groups of people so you can provide meaningful and worthwhile treatment to your patients. This is a gem of a program, and it touched my heart. I really wanted to challenge myself this summer and see how I would grow as a researcher and a person.”
Hess, a senior, said that the summer research project was a perfect way to combine her majors of criminal justice and sociology.
“I was really excited to put my research skills to the test,” Hess said. “I think that this topic combines my two majors well. I also wanted to learn more about graduate school and more about in-depth research. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the research is never over. It’s applicable to many areas like policy and law.”
During the upcoming 2024 summer research program, undergraduate students will interview police officers, prosecutors, and policy makers. The reports from the research project will be used to provide information for policy change, dispel myths about Islam, empower victims, identify help-seeking resources that need to be better supported, and help add training, education, and awareness in the community.