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Six Ozarks seniors present research project results

May 4, 2012
By cnp
Posted in Sociology

As the spring 2012 semester came to a close, six Ozarks seniors gathered in the Hanna Room in Seay Student Center to present the results of their senior research projects.

The poster presentations summarized the research done by the students, who are all pursuing a major in either environmental studies or sociology. Senior seminars and senior thesis courses are research courses designed to be the culmination of the student’s college experiences. "This is the capstone course for both programs," said Dr. Jesse Weiss, Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies. "The goal of the class is to see if they can take a concept and carry it through and do some research and draw some conclusions."

Weiss said the students used three research methods in their projects - policy evaluation, content analysis, and literature review. The May 3 poster presentations gave the students an opportunity to describe their research methods and summarize their results for the guests who attended.

Dixie Crucifixions and Puppet Masters: An Examination of 20th-Century Black Militant Literature through a Marxist Lens was the topic of the presentation by Matthew Arant, from Georgetown, Tex. "I’m a history and literature as well as sociology major," Arant said, "so I had the kind of tall task of weaving both into one paper that made sense." For his study, Arant examined 20th century black militant literature, starting with the writings of Langston Hughes, and ending with works by Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, a timeframe that extends from the 1920’s to around 1953. "I looked at their relationship with Communism or Marxism," he said, "and I found a significant pattern." Arant said that Hughes started out very idealistically, with his writings urging for a bi-racial work community - communism - as opposed to a segregated work community. But Arant said that as time went on, he found that other African-American writers, including Wright and Ellison, began to distance themselves from the ideas of communism. Arant said he was very surprised by what he found in his research. "I didn’t really notice that pattern until I started reading a lot of scholarship on Native Son," he said.

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Six Ozarks seniors gathered in the Hanna Room in Seay Student Center on May 3 to present the results of their sociology or enviornmental studies senior research projects.

Kendra Branson’s environmental studies research topic was Opposition to Elk Expansion in the Bearcat Hollow. A business administration and environmental studies major from Olathe, Col., Branson examined a number of documents related to the proposal which calls for the clear-cutting of 17,000 acres in the Big Piney Ranger District to expand elk habitat. Her research sought to understand how the public reacted to the proposal, and to suggest reasons why they may have reacted the way they did. Among the documents she examined were the environmental assessment study produced by the U.S. Forest Service, a number of newspaper articles, the public comments submitted to the forest service, and the agency’s responses to the comments. Branson found that overall, public reaction to the proposal was negative. "A lot of people think that because they’re expanding the habitat, they’re bringing in more elk," she said, "but that’s not the case." Her research suggested that the negative responses were a result of poor communication by the agencies involved. "A lot of the problems the forest service had came because they used technical terminology," Branson said. "The common person doesn’t have a clue what [they] mean. The other problem is (she pointed to the environmental assessment) - this is 100 pages long - this is what they want you to read. To communicate with the public, the forest service is going to have to change their tactics."

Tristan Cooper, a biology and environmental studies major from Clarksville, Ark. researched the literature to find information about public opinion regarding the U.S. Forest Service practice of controlled burning. The topic has a special significance for Cooper, who has actually helped with controlled burns as part of his work for the Forest Service. His presentation, Public Perception of Prescribed Burning as a Resource Management Tool, first explored the historical context for wildfires, and then described how fire shapes the ecosystem. He then looked at the public reaction to the prescribed burns. "There’s about a 70/30 split between people who support it, and people who don’t like it," he said. "Lots of people don’t understand it."

Andrew Heim, a sociology major from Arlington, Tex., explained his topic, Privileged Gender Socialization’s Perpetuation of Patriarch: How Religious Identity Relates to Sexism, this way: "It’s a fancy way of saying ‘boys are taught to be boys, and girls are taught to be girls, and with that males are valued higher in society and treated differently.’" Heim said he wanted to explore where that differential treatment has its roots. Using the General Social Survey (GSS), which is a survey done by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, Heim cross-tabulated data to determine how people who self-identified as orthodox Christian answered specific questions related to gender issues. "I wanted to see, with respect to a person’s religious identity, is there a correlation between religious beliefs and sexism," he explained. Heim said that his results suggest that there is, in fact, a strong correlation between religious belief and patriarchal attitudes.

Personal interest and experiences led Monica Linares to select her research topic, Perceptions of Violence in El Salvador: A Content Analysis of Four Blogs. The economics and sociology major from La Libertad, El Salvador said "I decided to study violence in El Salvador, first of all because I’m from there, and second of all because I want to help El Salvador, and one of the most pressing problems that needs to be addressed is violence." Linares said she decided to do a content analysis of blogs because they’re usually updated on a regular basis, and they often have much pertinent information. She used a coding method to identify topics related to violence in the bogs, and found three prominent themes: Remilitarization of the security forces, government negotiations with gangs, and violence against environmental activists. Linares said her research has special significance for her as she finishes up her schooling and returns to El Salvador. "I want to work for an NGO to try to foster social and economic development in El Salvador," she said.

Travis Morgan, a sociology major from Ozarks, Ark., conducted a literature review to determine what influence, if any, Christianity played in framing the nudist subculture. "I wanted to see if Christianity condemned [this lifestyle] or was more open to it," he said. His research, entitled Christianity and Social Nudism: Can they Co-Exist? found that in fact, in many instances, Christians are very open to the nudist lifestyle. Morgan said that he found no evidence supporting the suggestion that Christians viewed the nudist lifestyle as deviant behavior - in fact, the literature actually suggests that Christianity holds a very benevolent view of the sub-culture. Morgan said that he hopes his research can be used as the foundation for further research into the topic.

With the completion of their poster presentations, the six students, Arant, Branson, Cooper, Heim, Linares, and Morgan, have met the final requirement for the senior seminar course. All six are set to graduate on May 12.

For more information about the environmental studies or sociology program, contact Dr. Jesse Weiss at, Dr. Kim Van Scoy at, or see the majors section here on the Ozarks website.