Student Abstracts

Below is a sample summary of some of the exciting research projects students have been working on in the last year:

“How the Conservative Christian Right Used Intellectual Discourse to Justify and Reinforce Bigotry: Studying Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage, 1996-2015,” by Trevor Bolin, History 469

In the United States, between 1995 and 2015, conservative pundits and the Republican party altered how they discussed same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ+ community. Sourced from articles and videos available from conservative news, magazines, and advocacy groups between 1995 and 2015 and then using the citations within those articles to discover the sources for their claims, I compared those sources with other prevailing research from contemporary scholars. Three questions guided the research: What were common conclusions among conservative news sources and advocacy groups in their arguments against same-sex marriage? What were the sources that conservative writers used to make those arguments? Finally, were the sources biased, misquoted, or used out of context? My paper contends that between 1995 and 2015, conservative writers who argued against same-sex marriage did so under the guise of intellectual authority by removing context, citing biased sources, and misquoting others to cultivate panic about dangers to children and the undermining of American values. This fear-mongering technique continues today with panic about transgender issues. Inhibiting trans-youth access to quality-of-life improvements such as gender-affirming medical care, using their pronouns, and education about gender can cause immense emotional distress and other problems. The ACLU, as of April 2023, is tracking 452 different bills across the United States that would harm the LGBTQ+ community. This research is significant because when discriminatory language towards marginalized groups becomes normalized within the United States, Americans take a hop, skip, and a goose step away from democracy.

“An 18th-Century Zoo for the Mentally Ill Taught You Everything You Think You Know About Mental Illness,” by Amya Dahl, History 105

If one was not insane going into Bedlam—an insane asylum run in the 18th century in London—they were driven to insanity by the time they got out. That is, if they survived the horrid treatments within. Bedlam opened its doors to the public and promoted false ideas about mental illness. This had a negative effect on patients but also created the idea that people with mental illness provided a form of entertainment for the masses. Beldam hospital was basically a torture institute that treated patients worse than many zoos treated their animals. During the 18th century, the definition of mental illness was so loose that anyone could be deemed mentally ill who did not fit social norms and/or embarrassed their family. Patients were chained to their cell walls or locked in cages for days on end with no heat and the comfort of straw for a bed. They were subjected to being bled out and purged regularly to “cure” their insanity. To make matters worse, Bedlam opened their doors to entertain the public. Articles by J.B. Spence and Peggy Pyke-Lees highlight the mistreatment of the patients in Bedlam. Bedlam on the Jacobean Stage by Robert Rentoul Reed provides insight as to how Bedlam started a public fascination with mental illness as a form of popular entertainment.

“Satanic Panic,” by Shawn Radford, History 469

This research project examines the “satanic panic” during the 1980s and early 1990s to ask: was the spread of satanic panic fueled by the media and fear of societal change? To answer this question, I used sources that consisted of new articles from the period as well as books written by people claiming to be survivors of satanic cults. Additional sources are sociological books and scholarly/refereed articles on the topic. My research found that during the decade of the 1980s, a new moral and physical threat began to arise to strike fear into the heart of America. People feared that Satan worshipers were committing widespread abductions, rapes, and murders regardless of age but particularly of babies and young children all under the nose of the unwitting American citizens. This satanic panic was not the first moral panic to arise in the United States nor was it the only one to involve fears of satanic cults committing unspeakable acts; in fact, there is a long history of previous moral panics.

“Digging up Portugal’s War on Drugs,” by Taryn Beck, History 105

My topic was how Portugal approached the war on drugs. I have always had an interest in the war on drugs. My dad used to be a prosecuting attorney. I grew up in Idaho, where my dad was trained to not be lenient on the people. As my dad grew in his career, and studying information and statistics, he saw that by incarcerating these people, he was trapping them in their addiction. He began to feel that our government should provide them with more resources to escape addiction and become a contributing part of society again. My dad had a career change shortly after coming to this realization, but I grew up in a household that stayed up to date on the war on drugs, and I feel a close connection to the topic, seeing how addiction has trapped a few of my relatives, and the legal side of it all from my dad.

Throughout this project, I have learned many critical research skills, such as the difference between sources and how to format in the Chicago Manual style. I learned many things I did not know about the war on drugs, and how beneficial decriminalization can be. I highly recommend people take time to learn about how Portugal went from among countries with the highest number of overdoses to being among those with the lowest, and how it has benefited their society. 

“Marsha P. Johnson: The Iron Wall Against the AIDS Epidemic,” by Joshua Ejiogu, History 105

Marsha P. Johnson was more than just a trans icon and a revolutionary who fought for LGBTIQQ rights. She was also a caretaker whose work with ACT UP led to significant improvements in AIDS/HIV treatment. Marsha P. Johnson is commonly known for her incredible activism regarding gay rights and sex work. Her influence as a drag queen and as a co-founder of the STAR organization led to large steps in the recognition of LGBTIQQ youth as well as material benefits for those part of LGBTIQQ community suffering homelessness. Even with all this important work, I believe an important part of her activism is overlooked—the efforts she made in progressing accessibility for AIDS treatment. Johnson was instrumental in the fight against AIDS as she worked as a participant within the ACT UP movement commonly engaging in protests and acting as a caretaker to those who had contracted the AIDS virus. ACT UP’s influence in the accessibility to AIDS medication is well documented; ACT UP started a large protest in Wall Street with the purpose of lowering the cost of AZT treatment. This led to a lowering of the cost of AZT for patients.

Now many might ask why I chose Johnson as a research topic and my answer to that would be that the history of LGBTIQQ rights within institutions across the country is severely lacking, especially when it comes to covering significant actors who made LGBTIQQ rights as prominent as they are today. The research I use in my project was largely from the National Woman’s History Museum on Johnson’s life and an article from the New Yorker detailing the organization ACT UP and its achievements. Most high school students are familiar only with the Stonewall (Uprising of 1969) rather than the multiple movements and actors that existed prior to make that event happen; and Johnson’s activism can help show that many people and events made possible human rights for LGBTIQQ people today.

Digging Up the Past - drawing of an animated-looking human skeleton buried in dirt from the waist down.
‘Digging Up the Past’