2015 Sentinels Fellows

2015 Sentinels Fellows’ names and report titles are listed below.  To read the abstract of each report, please click on the “+” to expand the content areas.

  • M CongdonHepatitis C in Berkshire County caught my attention due to its increasing prevalence and relative lack of preventative resources in the area. By reaching out to local public health workers and other community activists, as well as analyzing hepatitis C on a global and national level, I gained a detailed picture of the virus and its effects on the surrounding Williams community. Hepatitis C is spread through blood, which most commonly occurs through intravenous drug use when individuals share needles and other injection equipment. While Massachusetts has excellent health insurance, Western Massachusetts is at a disadvantage due to its lack of infrastructure for people who inject drugs to access syringe exchange programs or to utilize counseling services. People with lower income or education backgrounds are especially hard-hit by this virus, and may not be able to access the curative, albeit highly expensive, hepatitis C treatment. Throughout my research, I found that harm reduction methods were most effective at understanding intravenous drug use and the risks associated with it, as well as potential modes of prevention. I hope Berkshire County can increase education efforts surrounding the growth of hepatitis C infection and provide much-needed resources for an often-overlooked region of Massachusetts. Finally, I encourage Williams students become involved in prevention and treatment efforts in conjunction with community organizations in Pittsfield and North Adams.

  • S Desire

    The issue of police brutality against black people is certainly not a new one in the United States, but in the last few years it has again become one of the most relevant to discuss. Black Americans have long since believed that law enforcement intentionally seeks them out to punish, arrest, and kill. Now, with the shocking number of black lives lost to police violence receiving national media attention, accusations of injustice are intensifying and, subsequently, prompting research. I approached the literature of police brutality in an effort to understand where we as a nation currently stand on this issue and what more can be done to stop this cycle of violence against people of color. I have discovered that not only is this particular issue surprisingly sparse in the literature of police use of force, but what little exist is very inconclusive. Furthermore, there are no guidelines in place to analyze the issue at all, which leaves room for biased definitions and rampant manipulation of the statistics.

  • J Dombrowski

    The purpose of my Sentinels Fellowship is to conduct a pilot study on Rhode Island’s Voter ID law. The data and information collected during the pilot study will be used as the basis for building a model about the politics of voter registration laws that has applications across the states and certain nations. Rhode Island’s Voter ID law was selected for the pilot study as it is the exception to current trends.

    Indeed, Rhode Island shares few characteristics with the majority of states that enacted Voter restriction laws nationwide; it is the only state that is consistently “blue” in presidential elections, and it is one of few states with a Democratic-controlled legislature and self-proclaimed “progressive” Governor, to enact a Voter ID law. For this reason, the passage of restrictive voter legislation in Rhode Island challenges prevailing theories about why these laws are enacted (i.e., partisan politics) and, as such, requires a broader analysis that focuses on political entrepreneurs and economic issues as well as competing conceptions of what makes good policy and good government.

    Research for the in-depth pilot study examines every facet of the enactment of Rhode Island’s Voter ID law, including how the bill was drafted, who sponsored it and the debate that surrounded both its passage and implementation. In exploring the case in Rhode Island, I am looking for answers to a number of state-specific questions as well as to more general questions that will inform my thesis research. For example, I am looking for the factors that led a one-party, Democratic controlled state with a fairly liberal governor and record to implement such a law. What motivated the law’s sponsor(s)? How did other elected officials respond? What were the ideological leanings of supporters and opponents of the law, what were the tactics used to introduce and control debate, and how was the law marketed to the general public? And to what extent did those most likely to be affected by the laws have a voice?

    To answer these questions I conducted interviews with local officials involved in the law’s passage and implementation. I also met with civil rights groups and other organizations that took public stances on the bill like the AFL-CIO. To complement these qualitative interviews I collected a number of different data points such as provisional ballot data, information on the roll call vote of the bill, and the length of wait time at election facilities in Rhode Island from before and after the bill’s passage.

    The information I collected this summer yielded several areas for further research that would be helpful to my thesis. In the case of Rhode Island’s voter ID law it seems that incumbent protection played a significant role in the law’s passage and support. That is, it appears that black minority legislators, a group traditionally against these types of laws for their alleged impact on minority communities, supported Rhode Island’s voter ID bill in order to protect their base from the potential power of the an expanding immigrant population. This is something I hope to explore further during my senior thesis. I am planning on comparing the case in Rhode Island with a comparable state.

  • A FloresThrough interdisciplinary qualitative and quantitative methods such as action research, oral histories, research surveys, chi square tests, case notes, and over a 100 hours of volunteering experiences, I sought to explore the ways local, state, and national government policies either discouraged or encouraged immigrant political participation, and how those policies affected their political ideologies and ideals of citizenship. Even as a contemporary U.S. economic and social issue, the intersection between immigration and political ideologies, political participation and ideals of citizenship has not been addressed by contemporary scholarship. Ultimately, I sought to answer my central questions with a more holistic, multi-faceted and interdisciplinary point of view, instead of the traditional way of viewing a multi-faceted problem through only one lens, in order to understand how to enact, or reform policies that will foster equitable access to both the franchise and political involvement for all those living in the United States of America.

  • G HessIn New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, glaring inequalities abound. America’s wealthiest city, its capital, and its center of utopianism and visionary genius all boast large homeless populations, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods with increasingly inaccessible housing, and hugely unequal distributions of wealth and income. I explore these problems and describe some of the organizations I visited which try to solve them. I find hypocrisies and ineffectiveness, and a distressing force of systemic inertia, but also a degree of hope in the example of individuals who are personally committed to creating change in their local communities.

  • C LefloreMetro Detroit, Michigan and Berkshire County, Massachusetts are two very different landscapes. Logically, one would assume they also have very different public transportation situations. Surprisingly however, the two communities face many of the same challenges. Both communities face an uphill battle, not only providing public transportation to landscapes designed to be traversed by the car, but also convincing a culture so deeply engrained in driving to change. Compounding this problem is the disjointed nature of the transit agencies in both communities. While both Metro Detroit and Berkshire County have taken steps to correct this, the transit agencies still act more or less separately. Furthermore, these agencies do not compete to offer their customers the best service, but rather each agency has its own section of the market that it serves. This separation leads to poor service and glaring holes in the communities of areas not served by any agency. For both communities, the key is more regionalism, public involvement, and better funding. By delivering relevant and thought provoking facts on public transit, utilizing tools of engagement such as social media, and interacting with transit friendly activist groups, both communities can secure the funding that they each require to offer the services their residents deserve. By analyzing the two communities situations, we can draw not only similarities between the two, but also solutions that may be applied from one community to the other.

  • Y NicholsMass incarceration and high rates of offender recidivism are two of the most important issues of our time; assisting returning men and women in their reintegration process is becoming a social-ethical necessity. This summer, I visited the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in Pittsfield, where I did ethnographic research with the hopes of immersing myself in the jail environment, and witnessed firsthand the beginnings of the reentry process for returning male citizens. While at the jail, I sat in on education classes, attended weekly “group” meetings (designed to help inmates engage in self-critical dialogue), and learned about housing, employment and aftercare services in the Pittsfield community. During my summer investigation, I explored the correlation between gainful employment, support services, positive community relationships, education, and an offender’s tendency to re-offend. I also examined the financial challenges that impede program growth and expansion at the Pittsfield facility. My project synthesizes the information that I collected during my ethnographic work and details my observations. I discovered (not unexpectedly) that there is a strong positive correlation between financial stability, affordable housing, comprehensive services, and reduced rates of offender recidivism. My specific recommendations for what I call “The Berkshire County Jail Case” may be found in the concluding paragraphs of my paper.

  • M ThomasThrough analyzing data on public school graduation rates and educational nonprofits I have found evidence that  increasing the number of nonprofits in a region causes the graduation rate to increase. This seems to be the case for nonprofits that are not schools as well as private colleges. This has immediate relevance to the Williams College community.

  • Since the early 20th Century, politicians, medical experts, religious leaders, and parents have waged war over the best way to educate young people on sex and protect them from the risks involved. In the U.S., rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and premarital adolescent pregnancy are much higher compared with those of other developed nations, nearly double those of England, Canada, France, and Sweden (Kohler, Manhart, and Lafferty). These higher rates could reflect, among other things, how America’s diversity in terms of race, culture, and background make sex education something that must be manipulated to fit the mindsets and priorities of each group to which it is taught rather than be uniformly implemented across the country. Site-specific study is required to create programming that both effectively addresses its audience and complements its values. It is also crucial to analyze varying methods of teaching sex education and factors that affect the efficacy of these approaches. In this paper I will analyze several aspects of different sex education programs, specifically in how they teach contraception, and the efficacy and appropriateness with which these programs inform students in Berkshire County, Western Massachusetts. Through interviews with educators, students, and parents, I have found that comprehensive curricula, parent involvement in facilitating conversation, and appropriating classroom materials to fit students’ needs are key aspects of developing and implementing an informative, effective sex education curriculum. Such findings, I hope, will lead to a heightened understanding of teaching that will bring about a much-needed update to sex education programs across the country.

  • Many challenges confront small cities and towns in the U.S. as they devise economic policies to encourage or facilitate economic development while attempting to maintain their unique rural character. In order to identify some successful strategies that these types of rural communities can implement, I have looked at 12 different municipalities and compared them to Williamstown, Massachusetts. In researching this topic, I have compiled relevant data for each town, conducted phone interviews, and done some simple statistic analyses of the data to identify various economic development strategies.