Weber Scholars 2022

Carson Aldrich ’23

Major: Psychology, Music
Concentration: N/A
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Recent controversy surrounding standup comedians being canceled incorrectly assumes the problem can be addressed through John Stuart Mill’s harm principle. Instead, I will explain how the purpose of comedy informs when a standup comedian is justifiably canceled. Using the framework outlined by philosophers Robert Mark Simpson and Amia Srinivasan, I argue that Mill’s harm principle is too complicated, and the most compelling alternative is to look at purpose as the determining factor. I look at incongruity theory, the prevailing humor theory, and its sub-theory, benign-violation theory, to determine whether Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle were justifiably canceled. Under these two theories of humor, I find that the purpose of comedy is cultural critique with the intention to entertain. When a comedian intends to do anything other than entertain their audience, as an advocate might, they step outside the protection that comedic freedom provides. In conclusion, this paper addresses how humor theories provide justification for both the cancellation of comedians and explains the protection of comedians under the umbrella of comedic freedom.

Grant Bielke ’24

Major: Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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This summer, I conducted research on Abraham Lincoln and the numerous ways in which he has been depicted. I chose this topic because I was intrigued by a controversy over how the “1619 Project,” which we read for our June seminar, had portrayed Lincoln. The “1619 Project” briefly invokes Lincoln, highlighting certain positions he held on race to depict him as racist and support their overarching claim that America is inherently racist. Others have argued that such a one-dimensional depiction of Lincoln fails to capture the complexity of his thought. My paper takes this disagreement over Lincoln and traces the history of how he has been portrayed from 1860 to the present to provide a broader context to the discussion and assess whether or not a specific reading of Lincoln should be used to support a broader claim.

Katie Bergquist ’25

Major: History
Concentration: N/A
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In a country where tuition has left millions of students with a lifetime of debt, much of the discussion surrounding higher education focuses on “college for all.” However, this often leaves those lacking college aspirations without a place. An exploration of colonial American colleges and apprenticeships reveals that both methods of education achieved the same goals, making them two sides of the same (educational) coin. However, the fall of American apprenticeships left high schools to fill in the gaps the trades left behind, resulting in “college for all” prep programs and leaving those who aspire to trade school or apprenticeships unsure of how to pursue their goals. Despite this, history is a reminder that apprenticeships and trade schools thrived once, and they can do so again. Expanding preparation for postsecondary education in American high schools beyond the “college for all” message and bringing trade-adjacent classes back into the American education system can call attention to the litany of problems in higher education, decrease the shortage of workers in the skilled trades, and reduce the stigma surrounding trade school education, ensuring a brighter academic and societal future.

Priyanka Chaharia ’25

Major: Quantitative Economics, Philosophy
Concentration: Management Studies
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Affirmative action is a set of policies designed to target discrimination in sectors like education, and the workplace. While some people label it as beneficial, others like Thomas Sowell argue that it does more harm than good. In the United States, the debate surrounding affirmative action has been heated, yet there are no hard bound regulations. Alternatively, India has a long history of affirmative action due to its battle with caste-based discrimination. This brought me to the question: How does India’s 2008 increase in affirmative action for educational institutions affect education, law and order, and health outcomes? My first hypothesis was to examine whether total crime increased as affirmative action might result in resentment against the targeted group. The other focused on whether students being put in places for which they are underprepared resulted in suicides. The regression I ran showed me significant values for affirmative action targeting lower castes linked with increased crime, lower female enrollment and higher literacy rate for the country. At the same time, overall suicide did have any significant difference.

Sofía Chamorro Pilacuán ’25

Major: Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology
Concentration: Latin American Studies
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This paper undertakes a comparative study of populism in the United States and Latin America, concluding that populism evolves to either use or avoid technocracy, meritocracy, and bureaucracy to the benefit of populists themselves. Taking the example of Ecuador and the United States, I argue that the former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa developed a populist movement supported by technocratic arguments. This technopopulism implemented in Ecuador contrasts with the anti-technocratic populism used by Donald Trump. Both political movements polarized their countries, put democratic institutions into question, and destabilized their democratic system. However, Correa’s populism used technocracy to hide the negative aspects of his populism, gaining enormous power and validity, something that Trump and his government did not possess. Therefore, without scientific arguments to support his actions and claims, Trump’s emerged as a weaker form of populism that is easier to challenge in electoral processes, opinion polls, and government legitimacy.

Erica Collin ’24

Major: Political Science, Classics
Concentration: N/A
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John Rawls worked to describe a way in which society can grant all citizens equal rights as the government uses legitimate political power in a democratic system. While most of his work is centered around the conception and distribution of justice in a society, he shares some thoughts on the proper economic system. Subsequently, scholars have used Rawls to support a range of economic systems, from capitalism to socialism. But in his own writings, Rawls clearly stated that his work is focused on justice, not the support of particular economic regimes. A puzzle emerges: Rawls didn’t want the application of his work to be used in defending different economic regimes, yet scholars have continually done just that in the 20 years after his death. Why? In my paper, I survey how Rawls has been used in support of different economic systems and evaluated those claims based on what Rawls himself says about his work. Furthermore, I explore the discontinuities that arise when applying abstract theories such as Rawls’ to real world situations without context, history, or a robust ontological understanding of the individual.

John Emmons ’23

Major: Chinese, Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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For my research, I examined the reception of two important Western critics of liberalism, Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt, in contemporary Chinese political thought. In considering the historical and political views of two prominent Sino-Straussians, Liu Xiaofeng and Gan Yang, I have found that Strauss and Schmitt play an important role for these thinkers in rationalizing opposition to the US-led liberal status quo. Despite Strauss serving as the primary intellectual inspiration for American Neoconservatism, and Schmitt’s important role in rationalizing and encouraging Nazism in Germany, these two thinkers are synthesized by the Sino-Straussians to criticize liberal democracy and imagine an alternative political modernity in China. From this critique, I argue their narrative of world history positions China at a crucial point of historical agency. With sufficient will and power, thinkers like Gan and Liu argue, China has the opportunity to discredit global liberalism’s claim as an objective and superior frame for politics, effectively reversing the “end of history” and inaugurating a world order that is not just multipolar but also multicivilizational.

Besna Erol ’25

Major: Psychology
Concentration: Neuroscience
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In recent years, many scholars have drawn attention to rising political polarization and have attempted to find solutions for it. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, suggests that his framework of “viewpoint diversity” will help resolve this problem in academia. However, this framework contradicts his earlier work in moral psychology, especially the “social intuitionist model.” On the one hand, he argues that reason does not play a central role in changing someone’s mind and moral judgments. On the other hand, he believes that scholars can change each others’ minds on political issues through reason. This paper argues that there is a tension between the “viewpoint diversity” and the “social intuitionist model” and attempts to reconcile it. Understanding these criticisms is crucial, especially for scholars who believe Haidt’s strategy looks bright in reducing political polarization in academia. My paper suggests modifications to Haidt’s framework for moral development to reconcile the two concepts.

Ruth Hailey ’24

Major: Philosophy, Music, Ancient Studies
Concentration: Linguistics
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With the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion is once again returned to the states; each has a responsibility to draw the line – at what stage does abortion become illegal? Consequently, there should be renewed interest and rigor applied to the ethical nuances of personhood and the rights granted therein. My paper, Incoherent Personhood: The Moral Intersection of Infanticide and Abortion, addresses the fact that the majority of Americans are unaware that contemporary justifications for abortion implicate the idea that infanticide is permissible. Some liberal philosophers, such as Peter Singer and Michael Tooley, have accepted these implications (chiefly, the acceptability of infanticide) as a consequence of their accounts of personhood. But would the common pro-choice American likewise endorse infanticide? In the flux of post-Roe change, many are newly confronted with a debate that has been acute in the literature for decades. This paper readdresses the relevance of personhood and contends that pro-choice advocates face a significant dilemma of ethical consistency: either retain a progressive, pro-abortion stance and allow infanticide in the door, or radically alter their comfortable abortion views.

Alli Hering ’25

Major: Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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My research addresses a book we read this June: Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit. I was especially interested in his proposal that college admissions would be more egalitarian if they took the form of a lottery among minimally qualified candidates at selective institutions. After the June seminar where we discussed affirmative action and other controversial ideas about education, Sandel’s proposal warranted further reflection. My paper argues that Sandel fails for two reasons. First, its Harvard-centric view of education obscures how merit can incentivize social mobility among students outside of the Ivy leagues. This section of my paper looks at both those who attend Harvard and struggle to keep up academically, as well as those who attend state schools and suffer from a lack of attention from their universities. Second, I look at how attempts to implement the lottery system have failed. Here I look into a study by Baker and Bastedo about diversity in lottery schools. In addition I look at Lowell high school which switched to a lottery system in 2020, and now two years later changed back to merit. Ultimately, my paper evaluates if this proposal would actually create more equality, and less hubris, like Sandel proposes.

Sinthya Juviani ’23

Major: Psychology, Statistics, Data Science
Concentration: N/A
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Some would claim that we currently live in a new age: the age of algorithms. The private and public sectors are rapidly transforming towards machine algorithms to automate decision making processes without the drawbacks of human subjectivity. Disconcertingly, many cases of algorithm bias–where we see the systematic discrimination of marginalized groups–have emerged in recent years. My research explores the intersectional relationship between bias within algorithms and the perception of fairness in algorithms in conjunction with best practices to mitigate bias. This paper reveals that people tend to have a skewed perception of algorithmic objectivity that adds to the challenge of detecting and mitigating algorithm bias. Ultimately, I argue for diversity and inclusion practices to play a bigger role in the empirical field of data science and computer science in order to alleviate bias.

Luanga Kasanga Junior ’25

Major: Political Science
Concentration: International Relations, Africa and the African Diaspora
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My project was inspired by Michael Sandel’s Tyranny of Merit. My research investigated the links between meritocracy and access to educational opportunities, and applied it to a more personally relevant context in South Africa. My project was empirical in nature, and drew mainly from the fields of Political Science, Sociology and a little bit of Economics. I used the technique of panel data regression analysis to investigate the differences in educational access between different provinces over ten years; and how social outcomes (in particular, crime) differed between them. All variables were also proportioned on a per 100,000 province population basis. After controlling for various variables such as electricity and water access, police presence, among others, we found that provinces with better educational access have higher rates of crime. I concluded perhaps educational access is not as relevant to the question of merit. Potentially other factors, such as access to basic necessities and services, are more important in the South African context. This would be more relevant for policymakers to focus on to reduce inequality and crime differences across provinces, to allow for more fluid social mobility for a more equitable society.

Jack Kiehne ’24

Major: Sociology and Anthropology, Psychology
Concentration: N/A
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Inspired by aspects of John McWhorter’s book Woke Racism, which we read in the seminar portion of the Weber Scholars Program, my research focuses on the characterization of social movements as religions. McWhorter provides a framework that allows us to assess this characterization against seven proposed tenets of religion. Using this framework, my research applies these seven tenets to environmentalism, a movement that has been critically compared to religion by scholars previously. In applying the framework to environmentalism, my research grapples with what it means to view environmentalism in this way, and what it means to view any movement in this way. Related to the seminar’s theme of scholarly discourse, my research seeks to create a constructivist characterization of religion. Because in the face of a threat like climate change, our view of the movement that seeks to combat this crisis must be more nuanced than this characterization affords.

Jonah Kunka ’23

Major: Political Science, Religion
Concentration: N/A
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My project for this summer’s Weber Scholars Program engaged the idea of leftism as religion. It has become common for scholars on the right to label leftist political ideologies as religious. In Woke Racism, John McWhorter makes such arguments about “wokeism.” The goal of my paper is to analyze McWhorter’s claims of leftist religiosity from a religious studies perspective. After exploring theories of religion from Timothy Fitzgerald, Anne Taves, Emile Durkheim, and Paul Griffiths, I argue that only the latter would clearly support McWhorter’s claim that the “woke” left have submitted to a religion–and this comes at the cost of using a theory of religion that is quite broad. Furthermore, even if some definitions of religion may leave room for framing anti-racism as such, the motives for doing so are not necessarily legitimate. Many, like McWhorter, who do use the term “religion” do so to signal their contempt. The label, “religion,” signals for them something backwards, simple minded, and consisting of people who blindly accept certain ideas without subjecting them to critical thought. All of this means that we must be cautious in accepting the labeling of social movements, including left “wokeism,” as religions.

Mikael Maritz ’25

Major: Physics, Computer Science
Concentration: N/A
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As a physics major, I have become interested in the call to “decolonize” the discipline of physics. In some circles, however, “decolonization” has become a catch-all term that has lost conceptual precision, potentially limiting such movements in their ability to accomplish the goals and aims of decolonization. My paper investigates how well-grounded the recommendations for decolonizing physics are in the theories of decolonization. While some proposals may improve pedagogy or increase inclusivity, laudable ideals in their own right, they do not align with the precise meaning of the term “decolonization.” Presuming that decolonization can be defined in terms of undoing the injustices of colonialism, I look at five key scholars who identify injustices inflicted by colonialism and I adopt a definition for decolonization that reflects their combined work. Finally, I critically consider various recommendations for decolonizing different aspects of physics by evaluating how well they align with the aims and goals of decolonization. Ultimately, I hold that connecting these recommendations to decolonization without being grounded in postcolonial scholarship opens them up to unnecessary criticism, undermining the potential good they could do.

Julia Newman ’24

Major: Political Science, Environmental Studies
Concentration: N/A
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In recent decades there has been an increase in activist scholarship, a specific type of work where scholars seek to generate knowledge and pedagogies that aim to solve social problems through political change. As a result, universities and academics are grappling with the complexity of facts and values that are at odds with each other, specifically in the social science field. Throughout the research portion of the Weber Scholars Program, I sought to understand the debates surrounding activist scholarship, value neutrality, and the inherent politicization within academia. After engaging with works published by Max Weber, James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Charles Hale, I examined Ibram X. Kendi’s Anti-racist Constituional Amendment Proposal as an example of a policy proposal derived from scholarly research. This case study allows for a deeper appreciation of how politics can become intertwined within scholarship. Ultimately, I argue that activist scholarship has a place within academia, but only if people are ready to discuss and engage in constructive discourse, and if those who conduct activist scholarship can remove themselves from policy decisions.

Adam Raney ’23

Major: Economics, Philosophy
Concentration: N/A
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I set out to explore the connection between free markets and charitable behavior. My idea for this project came about from our reading of Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals by Virgil Storr and Ginny Choi, which defended free markets as not only efficient but also as institutions that created positive moral behavior. To explore how charity, in particular, was affected by markets, I created a linear panel model of 163 countries over a 10 year period to analyze the relationship between markets and 3 specific parts of charity: volunteerism, charitable donations, and the propensity to help a stranger. My results showed a correlative connection between the relative freedom of a country’s markets and a country’s propensity to volunteer or help a stranger. These results seemed to support a positive conception of markets as a moralizing force. Exploring the intersection between markets and morality has been something that I have been lucky to explore during my time in the Weber scholar program. I am thankful for the opportunity to create my own knowledge regarding how markets can shape how we think and challenge my original conceptions of what it means to live in a market-based society.

Annah Sandeep ’24

Major: Nursing
Concentration: N/A
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My research focuses on the permissibility and morality of providing conscience-based protections to Health Care Providers. This discussion revolves around 1) The healthcare provider’s need to refuse or object to a particular procedure or 2) the patient’s interest in being able to avail the care that they are entitled to, when facing such refusals. This paper focuses on a distinct worry, namely, 3) the healthcare provider’s own conscience based need to provide the best care, from their perspective, when they are working in specific institutional contexts that constrain their actions (e.g. Catholic Hospitals that follow the Ethical and Religious Directives, who deeply value conscience based protections for refusers).

Diego Varas Rubín ’24

Major: Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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Social movements like anti-racism or capitalism are highly complex, both historically and normatively. Given their vast differences, moreover, few have found reason to compare them. But according to a recent trend, visible in popular and in academic circles, one effective way to critique both movements is to treat, and indeed identify, them as religions. Two recent examples of this approach are: Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter and The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity by Eugene McCarraher. In what follows, I offer a review of both books, particularly focusing on whether the “x is religion” move is successful. While assessing every idea within these books is naturally not feasible, I argue that the core attempt to identify these social movements as religions does more critical work in the capitalism case than in the anti-racism case. Part of the explanation for this is that McCarraher demonstrates more familiarity with the academic study of religion than McWhorter. Another part of the explanation is that capitalism is, indeed, closer to a religion than anti-racism is–or at least it’s closer given frameworks from Émile Durkheim’s and Clifford Geertz’s about the nature of religion.