Zach Hermann’s Summer Research Project

Zach is one of the University of Puget Sound’s Matelich scholars, and that scholarship has allowed him to pursue an independent summer research project in cadence with the AHSS summer research students on campus. As the supervisor of his project, I asked Zach to provide our departmental audience with a bit of detail about his research interests this summer. Here’s what he had to say!

The primary research question I seek to engage with in this project will be: How does Reform Jewish youth engage with and understand their role in Palestinian liberation movements?

In recent months, the Israeli occupation has continued to encroach on territory within the West Bank. In response to the actions of the Israeli government, the If Not Now​ movement has created a petition for Reform Jews to demand more from the Union of Reform Judaism in regards to condemning Israeli apartheid. I hope to learn from engaged Reform Jewish community leaders who have signed onto this petition in order to better understand their perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what drives them to engage with the If Not Now movement.

I hope to create of a resource based on what I learn from the testimonials of engaged research participants in order to propose means for improving If Not Now’s engagements as well as providing insights for the Union of Reform Judaism to better understand the growing ideological shift within young community members.

As Palestinians oppression continues to be justified in the name of Jewish safety, the need for Reform Jews to understand the shifting consensus surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has never been greater. As anti-semitism increases across the globe, the Jewish people must find solidarity in humanity’s collective liberation of the oppressed. Through movements like If Not Now, Reform Jews are learning a new side to their story and face an urgent need to reevaluate their approach to Israel education within the faith. In this proejct, I hope to bring forth voices that can bring clarity to the ways in which both the Union of Reform Judaism and the If Not Now movement can increase and retain their engagements with Reform Jewish youth.

Although Zach’s semester with me in SOAN 299 Ethnographic Methods was thrown out of whack by the pandemic, the project he’s pursuing here certainly reflects the aspirations I try to convey to students — to design projects that are of scholarly and academic interest, but also incorporate applied goals that are useful in assessing real world issues or friction. We’ll check back with Zach at the end of the summer and hear more about his findings then!


Mariana Sanchez Castillo’s AHSS Summer Research Project

Hi all,

Students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support their summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful in past years, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Mariana Sanchez Castillo had to say about her new project:

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Mariana at the Church of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico

This past February, American movie-lovers witnessed the award nomination and recognition of the Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron for his film “Roma” at the Oscars ceremony. For the first time in the history of the awards, a foreign movie centered around the life of an indigenous woman was nominated for the best picture award. In Mexico, the conversation brought to light the controversial classist and colourist views of the Mexican elite towards indigenous domestic workers as well as their invisibility in modern Mexican life. While rural indigenous communities and traditions have been essential in the creation of the Mexican national identity, when it comes to policy-making their needs are very rarely considered, and they have not been given the agency they deserve to predict their own futures.

In the rise of a global environmental crisis and sociopolitical barriers to indigenous community development, there is a high demand for research that can illuminate how indigenous artisanal practices have developed in relationship to their rural environmental contexts and how those practices might influence national policies to promote the social and environmental prosperity of indigenous communities.

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Mariana during her semester abroad in Jaipur, India

Over the course of the summer, I will be visiting my home country of Mexico and living in Oaxaca City, near three different communities of artesanos. I will be conducting interviews with artisans, their families, and non-profit advocates of Oaxacan folk art production in order to gain a deeper understanding of their perspectives surrounding indigenous folk art and its cultural meaning as well as how environmental degradation could impact the preservation of this art and way of life. My research project will research the relationship between the ecological and cultural dimensions of indigenous craft production through a qualitative study on specific communities of Oaxacan artesanos. ​

Mariana, I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that this is really a fascinating project, and we look forward to seeing where your thinking ends up on this after your research. We’ll be in touch later in the summer to obtain an update from you after your project is underway. Good luck!


Anthony Hoffman’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]


The US Prison System is a complex web of relationships between various state institutions and private entities. These diverse actors–from private companies who make specialized goods for use in the prisons to legislators to prison guards–have overlapping goals and intentions, and different understandings of how and why the system exists in the first place. Is the prison’s primary purpose to punish, to rehabilitate, to turn a profit, or something else entirely? It really depends who you ask. More importantly, how does this network of considerations manifest in practice? How these tensions play out directly impact the lives of people in prison; these individuals experience the final product of so many political choices, of all of these systems, institutions, private entities, and other forces, coming together.

But what happens when prisoners reenter society? The vast majority of people who are currently incarcerated will eventually return to their communities but they do not leave the system unchanged. Those who have been incarcerated are likely to be impacted by the experience itself but on the most basic level, they return to society with a publicly accessible criminal record. This alone has a huge impact on employment opportunities and often their visibility in the community to law enforcement. It seems punishment doesn’t cease entirely when citizens physically leave the walls of the prison.

On the other hand, incarceration can also interrupt destructive cycles in the lives of individuals. We are familiar with redemption stories of people who go to prison and begin educating themselves or encounter something fundamentally life changing that leads that person to refocus their intentions, the Malcolm Xs so to speak. It is not my intent to romanticize this, because these stories are truly the exception rather than the norm. The US Criminal Justice System has incredibly high rates of recidivism. But surely these cases occur, and I think it’s fair to say that most people involved with “Corrections” would like to find meaningful ways to lower recidivism rates.

What factors allow a select few to break the “revolving door” cycle? Should we expand access to therapeutic programs? Educational programs? Vocational training? Does the system need to be harsher still to deter people from committing crimes? What actually makes a difference in people’s lives on the inside and beyond and what is the system accomplishing? At what point does punishment stop? Does the system criminalize behaviors or does it criminalize people, marking them permanently as second class citizens? The public accessibility of a criminal record alone could be considered a form of punishment that follows a person long after their formal sentences have ended, though some would argue a person’s criminal record is important public knowledge related to public safety.

Through an ethnographic study of formerly incarcerated citizens, I will explore how this experience impacts life outside the prison. In addition to semi-structured interviews, I incorporate participant observation, drawing upon my experiences volunteering with at least one organization that operates a program for prisoners outside the prison walls in conjunction with a local corrections facility. Though I am involved with one organization that operates within a local prison, for specific reasons I will not incorporate any experiences I have had volunteering with any programs that operate inside the walls of the prison into my research. I examine the consequences of being labeled an “ex-con” and whether or not various kinds of programs within prisons can improve opportunities for individuals upon reentry, counteracting some of the social handicaps that come with the legal status as a felon.

Matthew Wettig’s Senior Thesis Project

Matthew![Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the role that the police play in society.  Particularly, I’ve often been struck by the amount of authority vested in police officers.  Growing up in Chicago, I witnessed overtly and implicitly how this dynamic shaped the relationship between the police and the community they serve.  In 2012 and 2013 I was fortunate enough to write for a magazine based out of Columbia College, where I was able to explore my interest in the police further.  I was given opportunities such as interviewing the then Chicago Police Chief Gary McCarthy, talking to various community organizations about the violence epidemic, as well as hosting a town hall meeting to present my findings.  My passion for criminology grew as I arrived at UPS.  In the spring of 2017 I conducted research with the Tacoma Police Department (TPD), examining their handling of police misconduct and internal affairs.

For my current research, I intend to explore the perceptions of efficacy surrounding the TPD’s community-oriented policing initiative.  Moreover, I seek to examine the ways in which the TPD and community members frame narratives of interaction.  This has been largely affected by the implementation of Project PEACE (Partnering for Equity and Community Engagement).  The drafting of Project PEACE was a collaborative effort between the TPD and community members, in an effort to continue to foster a positive relationship with citizens and the police.

This can largely be seen as a progressive effort on most fronts with endeavors such as: building trust and legitimacy with the community, improving policy and oversight, enhancing mental health response units, expanding the community policing division, and enhancing training and education on institutional racism and implicit bias.  However, Project PEACE also involved the bolstering of proactive policing strategies within the Community Policing Division, which utilizes the Tacoma Crime Control System (TCCS).  The TCCS is an algorithmic system designed to suppress crime by analyzing crime statistics throughout the city.  Recently, this technology has received criticism that it simply reinforces trends of biased policing.  These are all aspects that will be explored further in dealings between the TPD and the Tacoma community.

To conduct my research, I intend to utilize both quantitative and qualitative methods.  Quantitatively, I seek to ground my research in crime statistics in Tacoma.  Moreover, I will be conducting participant observation in the form of police ride-alongs and community meetings, as well as structured, semi-structured, and unstructured interviews with members of the TPD, the City’s office, as well as individuals in Tacoma.

Gibson Buttfield’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Over time, the way we share music has changed; from records to the radio, to cassettes to CDs, and finally across the internet in the form of MP3s and WAVs, it has never been easier to create, share, and acquire music. Through these changes, the way that we experience and interact with music has taken new forms, and with the introduction of social media platforms specifically for music, such as Soundcloud and Spotify, our interaction with music has changed substantially. The inclusion of these social media-spheres has given artists and their fans direct lines of communication that change the dynamics of the audience-performer relationship. I hope to unravel why these platforms have become so popular and the reasoning behind why this is the next step in how we spread and interact with music.

pic for blogMusic appreciation and performance has been present for most of my life. I recall my sister gifting me CDs with notes written in sharpie across the paper envelope. I coveted these possessions and still have many of them to this day. I have played in rock, funk, jazz, world, and reggae bands from a very young age, and today I am in a band and enjoy producing and writing tracks in my free time. Because of the centrality of music in my life, I am surrounded by musicians and artists who are also seeking to find meaning in this new media-scape, and I can only assume that this is not a feeling exclusively felt between me and my friends, but also across the globalized world. My involvement in the music community also provides to me a list of individuals who would be valuable assets for interviews and participant observation.

The data I will be collecting in this project will consist primarily of ethnographic interviews with artists who utilize these platforms as well as listeners who use them as a source of music. I plan to construct a survey of the Puget Sound student body to obtain representative statistics about how my generation interacts with music. I hope to interact with artists from a wide range of different genres to gain a broader sense of understanding regarding who is using these platforms and see if there are any trends that are genre specific. I would also like to interview managers to get a sense of what they are recommending to the artists they manage and how these recommendations shape the musical scene. This project could shed light on how technological changes in the world around us shape how we interact with one another and create social spaces.


Elizabeth Marks’ Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]
In the spring of my freshman year, I had an incredible opportunity to see William Cronon, a renowned environmental historian, speak on campus. At the time I had been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to pair my SOAN major with an additional major in environmental policy. However, after listening to Cronon speak about the ways in which culture is largely responsible for shaping our perception of the human-nature relationship, my mind had been made up for me. Since then, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” an essay of Cronon’s, has become the enduring foundation of both my anthropological and environmental interests. In this essay, Cronon discusses the way in which American culture has created a false duality between humans and nonhuman IMG_2648nature, making it especially difficult to create and instill environmental ethics and policies that allow humans to coexist sustainably with the environment. It is this complex question of the influence of culture on our attitudes about the environment that I plan to explore in my senior thesis project.
More specifically, I am planning to take a comparative approach to this question by examining two different dimensions of American culture: the urban and rural. Currently, the majority of rhetoric surrounding environmental concerns and sustainability stems from urban areas and so too does environmental policy. The paradox inherent in this is that those in rural areas tend to be in more direct contact with nonhuman landscapes and, I hypothesize, may engage with them and think about them in different ways. Therefore, through the course of my research I am hoping to explore how ideas and rhetoric about the environment vary between urban and rural communities.
While I am still in the process of shaping my research design, I plan to speak with individuals from around the northwest who have lived primarily in one of two locales, either urban or rural. I am hoping to discern, through interviews, what environmental attitudes and experiences these individuals hold and how they compare between the two dimensions, as well as the factors and forces that have shaped these attitudes. I am also hoping to research the environmental policies that are in effect in the northwest and assess whether or not, and to what extent, rural and urban perspectives each seem to be represented. I believe this is an especially important topic of study because it seeks to clarify how our intellectual and regulatory approaches to environmentalism may impact different socio-cultural groups and to assess how we might adjust these approaches in order to make them more widely representative of all perspectives and ultimately more effective.

Sophia Howard’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

For my senior thesis, I plan to examine the effects of a growing political movement which is cultivating charter schools as its ideal educational norm. At the same time, I hope to identify how charter schools and the families of special need students are navigating a new platform that is detached from bureaucratic policies and standards. Through my research I will reach out to individuals who have been impacted by the change in our national pursuit of educating all students regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ability. I will conduct semi-structured interviews with teachers, administrators and families, all of whom are a part of the charter school community. IMG_3632 copyAdditionally, I will spend a significant amount of time as a participant-observer inside special education and mainstream classrooms as a way to gain a better understanding of the daily lives of students with disabilities within the Tacoma, Washington area.

As a future educator, I am immensely curious in finding out ways in which school communities can best serve its most vulnerable population. Because our country is at a crossroads both in its politics and in its social responsibility, I believe it is critical now more than ever to explore if in fact federal and state policies are enriching and including all of its students. By investigating this pressing issue, I hope to bring to light the many unheard and overlooked narratives that belong to individuals who deserve equal access and opportunity in and out of the classroom.

Charlotte Parker’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Discussion regarding globalization has been circulating for quite some time, and can be demonstrated through the variety of languages taught in public schools. In United States, foreign language education has remained quite low in comparison with other countries, reinforcing a culture of monolingualism. A way in which to understand which languages are most valued on a national scale is to investigate language education within the United States. Combining an interest in linguistic anthropology and years spent teaching both Spanish and Chinese, I have developed a thirst for understanding the policies involved in implementing foreign language education.

PastedGraphic-1In previous research, I investigated the morphological differences between English and Chinese in an attempt to understand how the languages we speak can hold cultural significance. For my senior thesis, I intend to apply my love of language to an exploration of American language education. In the next few months of research, I will compare language education programs in public schools in Pierce County, Washington and Middlesex County, New Jersey. These districts shall serve as a window into the national issue of how to successfully implement foreign language education. New Jersey is unique as it has the highest enrollment in foreign language programs of all the U.S. states. In contrast, Washington is among the twelve other states with the lowest enrollment. I hope that in comparing schools in these two states, I may be able to uncover illuminating information on how some schools fail while others succeed in introducing language education.

In order to conduct thorough and comprehensive research, I shall combine ethnographic semi-structured interviews and participant observation with an analysis of pre existing data. These interviews will be with individuals within school administration and teachers in language education. My ultimate goal in conducting this research is to contribute meaningful observations to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages on how schools can overcome any larger socioeconomic limitations, and succeed in implementing language education in public schools.

Ariane Farris’ Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

For my senior thesis I plan to examine the lived experiences of individuals with facial anomalies. By facial anomalies, I mean physical craniofacial differences that require medical intervention. These can be either congenital, ones the individual is born with; or ones acquired later in life. For this research I intend to conduct a number of semi-IMG_5396structured ethnographic interviews with individuals born with facial anomalies. Additionally I am interested in speaking with the family and close friends of individuals with facial anomalies and hope to conduct participant observation in any support groups I am able to work with.

In doing this, I hope to examine how facial anomalies shape the development of an individual’s sense of identity and their social interactions. I am particularly interested in how these individuals perceive their facial anomalies and how that contrasts with social perceptions. I intend to address topics of normalcy and the stigma of physical difference particularly due to the inherent visibility of the face. In a continuation of my summer research, I would like to learn about what sort of social support these individuals have received and what further forms of social support they believe would be helpful. Further I hope to explore how media shapes the social understanding of facial anomalies and to examine the potential impact of problematic media portrayals on individuals with facial anomalies.

I am drawn to this topic based on my own personal experiences. I was born with a complete cleft of lip and palate. Seven surgeries later the scars, though much less noticeable, remain. To me, the experiences of growing up with a facial anomaly have become a fundamental part of my identity and a lens through which I see the world. I wonder if others are experiencing the same struggles with understanding the identity tied to facial anomalies and how it has affected their lives. Through this project I aim to better understand a group for whom, ironically, despite the visibility of their particular form of difference, have been rendered invisible due to social discomfort when it comes to addressing stigmatized differences.

Carley Arraujo’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Nationalism is popularly defined as “patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts.” But how is nationalism fostered? Under what conditions does it flourish? What historical moments and experiences inform our experience of nationalism or the lack thereof? There are so many ways that one’s national identity can be formed, reformed, shifted, and re-focussed. In my thesis, I intend to explore how individuals’ and communities’ identities influence perceptions of national belonging. I will specifically be examining nationalism within the context of Hawai`i and Hawai`i residents,  a notably diverse region of America.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_650I hope to hear from a wide variety of individuals who call Hawai`i home, including those whose families have lived in Hawai`i for multiple generations. I will be conducting semi-structured interviews and administering a survey with those interviewed. I’ll be examining three generational tiers of Hawai`i residents: 1) people who were born in the territory of Hawaii and lived to see Hawai`i’s shift to statehood, 2) people who were born in the state of Hawaii and lived to see the centennial anniversary of Hawai`i’s overthrow and 3) people born after 1993 (the centennial anniversary of the overthrow). I hope to sample from a diverse population in terms of racial and ethnic identities, gender, age, sexuality, religion, etc.

I hope to hone in on the intersectional significance of Hawai`i’s political, economic, racial and ethnic history, as it is quite unique. Hawai`i has gone through phases of chiefdom, kingdom, territory, and statehood. As a result, Hawai`i’s historical relationship with the United States has been profoundly complex. I hypothesize that personal identity, historical heritage, and Hawai`i’s historical context will impact and complicate nationalism in the context of Hawai`i.