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Interpersonal communications and women and gender studies senior Sarah Cullen hopes to use her year as an SNF Ithaca Student Leader learning more about conducting academic research, growing as a leader and organizer, and creating opportunities for dialogue not just both among students but also between students and the University UD administration.
“Politics have always been something that I have been passionate about, but I have come to realize that most people find them to be an uncomfortable subject. I don’t think it has to be this way,” Cullen said. “When I was made aware of the opportunity to be an SNF Ithaca Student Leader, I saw it as a way to channel this passion for politics and civil discourse into a positive impact on the UD community.”
As a junior majoring in computer science with a special interest in human-computer interactions, Luke Halko sees the SNF Ithaca Student Leaders program as the perfect way to put ideas into action. Working with faculty mentor Matthew Louis Mauriello, an assistant professor and human-computer interaction researcher in the College of Engineering, Halko has been developing a browser extension that tracks a user’s news-browsing behavior. The goal of the project is not to help users become more reflective and critical with respect to the content they consume—ultimately improving media literacy and allowing users to make their own decisions.
“One of the many challenges we face in U.S. society is the spread of misinformation online and how to best mitigate this threat,” Halko said. “Whether we succeed or not will have serious social and political consequences. This is an issue that I feel strongly about, and the SNF Ithaca Initiative has given me a unique opportunity to contribute to solving it.”
A junior political science major with minors in legal studies and philosophy, Moses Martinez plans to spend his time in the SNF Ithaca Student Leaders program learning more about bringing people of all backgrounds together to address pressing issues—particularly how politicians craft language to appeal to voters. A first-generation Latino student from Sussex County, Del., Martinez is interested in following themes of community and communication, and hopes to inspire others by serving as a role model through leadership.
“I believe that the program could fill the gaps found on campus when it comes to addressing students in a way that they feel that their voices are finally being heard by taking action, as well as bringing people together to address issues collectively,” Martinez said. “We do our work with the students in mind and hope to maintain that attitude throughout the rest of the process.”
Through the SNF Ithaca Initiative, Katya Raskin sees an opportunity to “cultivate an environment on campus that is more conducive to having open conversations about hard topics.” A junior double majoring in environmental studies and public policy with minors in geography and resource economics, Raskin hopes to raise awareness for such civil discourse while working on research focused on the Lenni Lenape tribe. Raskin spoke to Principal Chief Dennis Coker of the Lenni Lenape tribe at the cultural center in Dover, Del. after hearing him share the oral and environmental history of the tribe.
“Working on this project has shown me just how much I didn't know about the culture and history of the tribe that originally owned the land we live on today. I would encourage everyone to take some time to learn about the history of colonialism, indigenous ways of knowing and settler-indigenous relations.”
Following the death of George Floyd, junior public policy and political science major Samiya Sherman has been driven to answer the question: “How can we get everyone, not just the Black community, on the same page in finding a solution to racism and discrimination?” Conversations with faculty mentor Jorge Serrano, an assistant professor of Africana studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, led Sherman to realize that the answer is civil discourse. As an SNF Ithaca Student Leader, Sherman is more deeply pursuing this big question, working with Serrano and Biden School doctoral student and SNF Ithaca rogram coordinator Pablo McConnie-Saad on research around civil discourse and critical race theory.
“It is important to understand that civil discourse is not just polite debating,” said Sherman, a junior majoring in public policy and political science. “Civil discourse makes it easier for both sides of an argument to get their points across, while also having each other actively listen to each other's points. Civil discourse is a tool for understanding differences.”