Meet the SBS Students Named 2021 UMass Amherst Rising Researchers
This year, persistent UMass Amherst undergraduates adapted to COVID-19 restrictions as they engaged in research, exercised their creativity, and elevated their campus and community. They found ways to thrive, working on campus when permitted and capitalizing on remote research, learning, volunteer, and experiential opportunities. Nine students were named spring 2021 UMass Amherst Rising Researchers, including three from SBS: Claire Healy '21, political science, Commonwealth Honors College; Isabel Levin '22, sociology, Commonwealth Honors College; and Solomon Siskind '21, sport management and sociology—meet them here:
Claire Healy ’21, political science, Commonwealth Honors College
In her first year at UMass, Claire Healy had a grand vision. What if there was an international, multilingual magazine that could create community among young people across borders? The magazine would publish poets, writers, artists, and journalists and its audience would experience a diverse collective of perspectives, artwork, and languages. The first issue of Claire’s dream magazine, The Open, will be published before she graduates from UMass in May. She produced it on a focused foundation of four years of coursework, internships, study abroad, and extracurricular work.
Claire traces her interest in global social justice to her childhood among the international community in Cambridge, Mass. “Growing up, the conversations my friends and I were having were often about social justice and human rights,” she says.
Beginning with her first semester at UMass, she took advantage of every opportunity to expand her education beyond the classroom: she was both a political science and a legal studies research assistant; she participated in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences internship program in Washington, DC, and remained in the capital for a summer internship; she wrote for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and was an Amherst Media news anchor; she worked as a communications assistant for Commonwealth Honors College; she attended a journalism bootcamp.
I realized I had to understand history and culture and be able to speak to people in their own languages in order to make a positive impact on the world.
In her sophomore year, determined to broaden her international perspective, Claire doubled down on her political science classes so that she could study abroad both semesters of her junior year, enrolling in the most immersive programs available. In fall 2019 she studied Arabic (her minor) in Jordan, and in spring 2020 she studied Spanish in Havana, Cuba, and lived with a host family there.
In Cuba and Jordan she made close friends who would become staff members and contributors to The Open. The first edition of the magazine is in English, Spanish, and Arabic. “The design itself is a demonstration of the ability to have conversations despite linguistic or physical barriers,” says Claire.
The 70-page first issue includes 11 thought-provoking articles, such as a story from Lebanon about the tradition of gun shootings at weddings and funerals, several stories about higher ed during the pandemic, and a story from Cuba about consumerism’s impact on the planet, as well as poetry, and art from around the world.
Claire’s faculty advisor, Professor of Political Science Paul Musgrave, has high praise for The Open. He says, “This is an unusually challenging and impressive piece of work. Claire has wrangled dozens of writers, artists, translators, and editors to contribute to her publication. She’s taught herself how to manage across cultures and time zones, how to balance editorial judgment and artistic freedom, and how to create web sites and use desktop publishing software. This is an exemplary piece of work that UMass should be proud to claim, embodying as it does a commitment to excellence, creativity, inclusion, and equity throughout.”
Claire’s outlook is eloquently expressed in The Open’s mission statement: “We believe people across the world are the same, and that young people make positive change. The future rests in the hands of those who understand these international connections and prioritize common peace and happiness.”
This summer, Claire will serve as a fellow in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences internship program in Washington, DC. And she and her collaborators plan to keep publishing The Open. “I really want to make this long lasting,” Claire says, “I believe we can spark positive change.”
Social Media: @theopenintl
Isabel Levin ’22, sociology, Commonwealth Honors College
After enrolling at UMass Amherst, Isabel Levin progressed from barely having heard of sociology to becoming what Assistant Professor of Sociology Kathryne Young calls “the most promising undergraduate researcher I have ever met.”
As Young’s research assistant, Isabel laid the groundwork for her later independent work. She learned qualitative data collection, conducting highly sensitive interviews on topics as diverse as the opioid epidemic and queer underground sexual cultures.
In the summer of 2020, Isabel took part in the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where marginalized undergraduate researchers in the social sciences and humanities conduct independent research. Through MURAP, Isabel came to the realization that her identity and personal experiences as a Latinx-Jewish woman were a resource: “I learned that I can maintain scientific rigor in my contributions while still using my voice as a symbol of resistance against the historic silencing and mistreatment of my community,” she says. Consequently, Isabel chose to draw on her identity as a Latinx-Jewish woman for her research project.
On her research website, Isabel recalls growing up with her Peruvian mother in Marblehead, Mass. “I always felt like my family stuck out, especially in school,” she writes. “It felt like my mom’s voice, perspective, and knowledge did not have a place in my education and, in turn, that she was somehow less than the other moms. As I have grown up, I have started to think more critically about how non-white, specifically Latinx, families are treated within public schools and how schools can, but often fail to be, places of community development and collective growth.”
I am no longer consumed by the fear that a career in academia is incompatible with spearheading community development, policy change, and the celebration of my voice as a marginalized thinker.
For her MURAP project, Isabel focused on understanding actions taken by school administrators in North Carolina to integrate Latinx parents and address their needs. In her paper, “‘They Don’t Know How to Complain’: How American Schools Have Forgotten Immigrant Parents,” she concluded that school administrators implicitly blame Latinx families for their own disadvantage and then as a logical consequence, aim to change parents rather than enhancing the inclusivity of the system. Isabel’s advisor, Young, remarks, “This cogently argued work is simply remarkable.”
Upon returning to UMass last fall, Isabel built on those findings for another paper, “A Seat at the Bargaining Table: How Privileged Parents Determine School Operations in the COVID Era.” She also conducted an oral history with her mother, “El Sendero Luminoso A Través de Los Ojos de Mi Mamá” (The Shining Path Through the Eyes of My Mom). Her honors thesis will explore the various dimensions of how second generation Latinx immigrants come to understand their sense of self and cultural identity.
Isabel’s work and commitment to social science research have drawn attention. She presented her MURAP paper at the Scholarship & Social Justice Undergraduate Research Conference at Harvard University and presented her independent study on the reopening of schools at the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference. Last spring, she received the C. Wright Mills Award for Sociological Imagination and the Feldman-Vorwerk Family Undergraduate Research Award.
She plans to pursue a PhD in sociology and become a professor. “I see my future as filled with opportunities to address the social ills which have shaped my own life in an impactful and gratifying way,” she says.
Solomon Siskind ’21, sport management and sociology
As a Black student-athlete on the UMass Football team, Solomon Siskind was aware that some of his non-white friends and teammates experienced culture shock, microaggressions, depression, and feelings of isolation at UMass Amherst. In his junior year, he gathered and analyzed data confirming and quantifying these problems. That project set the course for his future: “Research will be a big part of my graduate school life and career,” he says. “I want to ensure that student-athletes are getting the most out of their college experiences and that these institutions are creating equitable environments for everybody involved.”
Early in 2020, Solomon and Desiree Oliver ’21, a basketball player on the UMass women’s team, represented UMass Athletics at the Black Student-Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas. At the conference, Solomon says, “I was able to learn from and interact with some of the brightest people in sport and mental health. This summit exposed me to people of color, specifically Black people, in unique roles that I wasn’t accustomed to. The event allowed me to better understand my experience as a Black student-athlete.”
Solomon and Desiree returned to campus charged up to make change at UMass and immediately began work on a research project: “Analysis of the Black Student-Athlete Experience at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).” They created a 47-question survey focused on racial and ethnic differences in attitudes towards support systems and resources at UMass, went through the rigorous UMass IRB (institutional review board) approval process, and sent their survey to 650 UMass student-athletes.
Research can be tough, but when you love it and it’s meaningful to you and others it doesn’t feel like hard work. I’ve loved every second of it.
They received 175 responses with representation from every team. Their survey showed that at UMass, non-white student-athletes experience culture shock, anxiety, and depression at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. For example, the data showed non-white student-athletes are three times more likely to experience culture shock and half of non-white student-athletes reported feeling depressed or isolated at UMass.
“This is something we’ve seen first-hand, but it goes unsaid,” Solomon says. “And we hadn’t seen hard data. To finally see the numbers confirms what’s going on. You can’t deny the numbers.”
Having seen the numbers, Solomon and Desiree took action. They inaugurated a campus Call to Action Research Fair and made formal recommendations for change to UMass and UMass Athletics. Their proposals ranged from inclusive community groups, to mental health education awareness, to transformational experiences for student-athletes. “With COVID-19 and with the Black Lives Matter movement, UMass was already starting to get ahead of this,” Solomon says. “We’ve already seen some progress in Athletics, such as new safe spaces for our Black athletes and the hiring of a director of sports psychology.”
Elizabeth Smith Hamlet, senior assistant director for academic success in UMass Athletics, admires Solomon’s activism. “His work ethic, perseverance, and ability to push the envelope for student-athletes is unmatched,” she says.
Solomon will stay at UMass to study for his master’s degree in sport management and will serve as a research assistant to Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Nefertiti Walker. He concludes on a positive note: “There’s still work to be done, but I’m confident that UMass Athletics and UMass as a whole are heading in the right direction.”