The culture shock of coming to Kenyon from her large urban high school in Denver – with a 60 percent minority enrollment – only deepened the interest of Elizabeth Cheever '14 in the role diversity should play in American schools. She’s tackling the topic in depth this summer with research examining the history of affirmative action rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.
“Kenyon was quite a change for me, but it gave me all these opportunities to expand my knowledge,” she said. “I did a lot of thinking about diversity after I arrived here because attending a small liberal arts college in rural central Ohio was so different from my high school experience in the city.”
A political science major, Cheever is among seven fellows in the John W. Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-Legal Studies, a program that provides research opportunities for students to explore the application of law in society while working in close collaboration with faculty members.
Cheever will spend hours in law libraries, reviewing hundreds of Supreme Court and lower court decisions, many of which involve the use of racial preferences in college admissions policies. “Court rulings have been trending away from affirmative-action programs,” she said. “I am looking at what the Court has done and where it is going. If we can’t do racial affirmative action anymore, what can we do instead to create diversity in our educational institutions while still meeting Constitutional requirements?”
Cheever is one of five scholars conducting independent research. One,for example, is serving as a research assistant for a faculty mentor and another is performing an internship with two local nonprofit organizations. Classes such as Constitutional Law, the Sociology of Education and Theory and Practice of Urban Education, which included a residency in a Cleveland public school, helped set the stage for Cheever’s summer project.
“The program attracts a variety of students from different majors because it blends legal analysis with a sociological perspective,” Cheever said. “It gives undergraduate students a chance to do real-world research on a graduate student level.”
Topics this year range from campaign finance reform to parental-leave policies. Students summarize their findings with a comprehensive paper and public presentation. The program includes field trips, seminars by guest faculty, and a summer film series.
Cheever is one of two students mentored by H. Abbie Erler, associate professor of political science, who has worked with a student in the program every year since its inception in 2007. “She has been hugely influential in helping me focus my research, but she also lets me run with my own ideas,” Cheever said.
This year’s scholars and their projects are:
Mary Bank '14, English and sociology double major, “Drug and Alcohol Regulation and Disciplinary Policies on College Campus Post Legalization.”
Cheever, “A Plea to Justice Roberts: Strict Scrutiny and Diversity in America’s Schools.”
Daniel Kipp '14, women and gender studies, “Comparing Parental Leave Policies: Gender Equality in the U.S. and Sweden."
Jennifer Ruymann '15, sociology, ”Shroud and Sign: An analysis of Religious Grave Markers on Federal Land."
Frances Seldon '14, English, with concentration in law and society, “Reform in the Juvenile Detention System: Mental health Issues of Youthful Offenders.”
Olivia Siulagi ’14, psychology, with concentration in neuroscience, “Mothers Who Kill: Legal and Psychological Aspects of il Delitto di Cogne."
Jake Thorn '14, English, “Citizens United: The Past, Present and Future of Campaign Finance in the United States.”