Michael Loadenthal reviews work performed by Prosecution Project team members at a work session

The Prosecution Project aided by Research Computing Support group

Prosecution Project team members (from left) Sarah Carrier, Olivia Sellegren, Meekael Hailu, and Morgan Demboski, discuss data at a work session.

For all the time, effort, and resources devoted to thwarting terrorism, it’s surprisingly difficult to get a complete view of sociopolitical violence in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center monitor racist and white nationalist violence. The Center for Biomedical Research collects data on attacks against animal testing facilities. The University of Maryland tracks international incidents of terrorism in its Global Terrorism Database. But because none of these groups’ datasets interface with any other’s, information remains siloed and analysis of broader relationships is stymied.

Michael Loadenthal is trying to break down those silos. A visiting assistant professor of sociology and social justice studies at Miami University, Loadenthal directs the Prosecution Project, which seeks to understand how terrorism, extremism, and hate crimes are prosecuted in the U.S. justice system. The Prosecution Project’s dataset includes all crimes of political violence, without regard to the identity of the targets or the ideology of the perpetrators, so it paints a uniquely comprehensive picture.

“We’re looking to understand the patterns that exist between who a criminal defendant is, who commits crimes motivated by sociopolitical violence, and how that relates to the crime they committed and the way it’s prosecuted,” Loadenthal says.

Altogether, Loadenthal and his project team — which consists entirely of his current and former undergraduate students — account for 46 variables in each case they add to their dataset. Each case is coded by two members of the project’s coding team. After review of the initial coding by at least two senior members of the analysis team, the data are then reviewed by an auditor. So far, the team has fully coded and reviewed about 40% of the 5,000 cases they have identified. Once the dataset is fully processed, Loadenthal intends to make it available to the public.

Working toward that goal has required Loadenthal to figure a way around some technical roadblocks. One place he turned for help is Miami’s Research Computing Support group, particularly Greg Reese, senior research computing support specialist.

Among other things, Reese developed a custom audit program that Loadenthal says “helps machine some of the irregularity out of the data.” Reese’s program reads the data the project team has collected and checks it against a set of defined rules — about 30 in all — to find irregularities or incongruences. Certain mistakes, like an extra space typed after a defendant’s name, will cause a computer to classify data incorrectly. (A computer treats “John Jones ” — with a space after “Jones” — and “John Jones” — no space after “Jones” — as two different people, for instance.) Reese’s audit program searches for such mistakes and flags them so they can be corrected to improve the integrity of the overall dataset.

Loadenthal is grateful for Reese’s willingness not only to listen to the specific challenges the Prosecution Project faces, but also to develop custom solutions.

“I’ve seen Greg learn different aspects of new computer languages in order to code what we need,” Loadenthal says. “He’s taught himself new skill sets in order to accommodate us. Instead of trying to use something he’s already familiar with — let’s say C++ — he adapted and learned Python, which is better suited to what we’re doing.”

Reese’s impulse for inclusivity fits something of a theme for the Prosecution Project, which has remarkably diverse personnel. Although most members of Loadenthal’s 60-person team identify as female, they otherwise represent the gamut of student demographics and identities.

“We have a highly diverse research team that closely resembles the world off-campus,” Loadenthal says. “Our students represent a variety of races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. They don’t all conform to binary notions of gender. In addition, they represent a broad set of academic majors, from biology to English to political science to sociology.”

Loadenthal isn’t sure why the Prosecution Project’s team is so diverse. Diversity is more common in the social justice studies and upper-level sociology classes Loadenthal teaches than in the university as a whole, but beyond that, the team’s diversity doesn’t result from any active recruiting strategy. Students self-select to participate in the project — he waits for them to approach him.

The key to the team’s diversity may lie in diverse students’ inherent interest in finding answers to questions about systemic inequalities, which tend not to work out in their favor. Loadenthal says one of his early goals for the Prosecution Project was to explain sentencing disparities. He acknowledges that many members of his team expected to find that nationality, religion, and race play a role. And while they did find that African-, Asian-, and Middle Eastern-born, Muslim defendants with foreign-sounding names often receive harsher sentences than American-born, Christian defendants of European descent, they also found that simple xenophobia didn’t fully explain the differences. Loadenthal is committed to making Prosecution Project data available to other researchers who can help develop more nuanced explanations.

“This project is the only one that co-mingles and assimilates data points so you can make comparisons between ideologies and not restrict it to one particular movement,” Loadenthal says. “That’s the main goal, to ask questions that aren’t specific to one interest group.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Miami University Photo Services.


Abstract illustration of four faces, showing diversity in colors, features, and so on.

Recipients of internal grants in social justice, human rights, diversity, and inclusion announced

Illustration of hands of various colors and sizes raised as though volunteering.

This past spring, as part of broader university-wide diversity and inclusion efforts, Miami University’s Office of the President and the Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship (OARS) issued a special call for proposals to conduct research, scholarship, or creative activities in the areas of social justice, human rights, diversity, and inclusion. Below is a list of projects that have been awarded funding through this initiative.

  • “Support for Disability Assistance? Deservingness, Group Affect, and American Public Opinion,” Monica Schneider (Political Science) and Rachel Blum (Political Science) – $5,000
  • “Inclusion of a Miami Undergraduate Student with Autism in Autism Research,” Aaron Shield (Speech Pathology & Audiology) – $4,300
  • “Strategies for Healing from Racial Battle Fatigue,” Stephen Quaye (Educational Leadership) – $5,000
  • “Elect Her? Evaluation of a College Training Program,” Monica Schneider (Political Science) and Colleen Bunn (Office of Residence Life) – $4,400
  • “Developing and Evaluating an Interdisciplinary Curriculum Focused on Social Justice in Pre-Service Teacher Education,” Scott Sander (Teacher Education), Andrew Saultz (Educational Leadership), Brittany Aronson (Educational Leadership), Ashley Cartell Johnson (Educational Psychology), Molly Kelly (Educational Psychology), Rachel Radina (Teacher Education), and Ganiva Reyes (Teacher Education) – $15,000
  • “Improving a Positive Youth Development Program for African American and Latina Adolescent Girls: A Participatory Culture-Specific Intervention,” Erin Harper (Educational Psychology), Anthony James (Family Science & Social Work), Chamina Smith (Commerce) – $15,000
  • “A Culturally-Sensitive Investigation of Bisexual Women’s Increased Risk of Sexual Victimization,” graduate students Amy McConnell, Julia Kaufman, and Prachi Bhuptani, under the direction of Terri Messman-Moore (Psychology) – $2,500
  • “A Cross-Cultural Study of Mental Health Stigma and Help-Seeking,” graduate students Sarah Dreyer-Oren, Anjali Jain, and Tessa Benson-Greenwald and undergraduate student Tassee Hammond, under the direction of Elise Clerkin (Psychology) – $7,500

In the 2017-2018 round of applications for the University Research Awards (URA), Doctoral-Undergraduate Opportunity Scholarship (DUOS), and Committee on Faculty Research (CFR) Faculty Research Grants programs, special consideration will be given to proposals that include research, scholarship, or creative activities in the areas of social justice, human rights, diversity, and inclusion. Look for more information as program announcements are released in the coming months.

Abstract face image by Dawn Hudson via PublicDomainPictures.net, in the public domain. Hand image by Kaitlyn via clker.com, used under Creative Commons license.

A woman presents her research to an audience at the Miami University Graduate Research Forum. On the screen behind her is a partial map of north Africa and the Middle East, with the title "Arab Spring."

OARS, Office of the President announce new internal funding opportunity

An African-American teacher works with two African-American students in a classroom.

As part of broader university-wide diversity and inclusion efforts, Miami University’s Office of the President and the Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship (OARS) are issuing a special call for proposals to conduct research, scholarship, or creative activities in the areas of social justice, human rights, diversity, and inclusion. Proposals may be submitted in any of these areas, but must address a scholarly question that will lead to testable objectives or measurable outcomes.

Full-time, tenure-eligible faculty and faculty-mentored undergraduate and graduate students in good standing are eligible for funding. Individual faculty may request up to $5,000, and faculty-mentored students may request up to $2,500 in professional expense funds to conduct the proposed project. Interdisciplinary teams of three or more faculty or faculty-mentored students may request up to $15,000 (faculty) or $7,500 (students).

Project periods should cover one or two academic semesters, excluding Winter Term. Higher levels of consideration will be given to proposals that show evidence of outcomes that will lead to scholarly presentations, publications, performances, or exhibitions and/or to the submission of grant proposals to external funding agencies or foundations.

Guidelines for proposal preparation are available on the OARS website here. Applications may be submitted online here.

The deadline for submission is April 7, 2017. Announcement of awards will be made by April 28 and funding will be available after June 1, 2017.

Questions about the program may be directed to Associate Vice President Ron Scott or Associate Provost Jim Oris.

Photos by Miami University Communications and Marketing.

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Service learning project seeks to diversify computing

A man wearing a purple plaid shirt and a grey suit jacket stands at the front of a computer lab/classroom. Seats in the room are filled by students.
Dr. Bo Brinkman, associate professor of computer science and software engineering, leads the NSF-funded Electronics and Computing Service Scholars program, which seeks to increase the participation of women and minorities in engineering and computing.

There’s no question that women are much better represented in STEM fields than they were in the 1970s. For instance, Census Bureau data show that 47% of all mathematics workers today are women, up from 15% in 1970.

But while upwards of 40% of today’s life/physical science and social science jobs are also held by women, only 13% of engineering jobs are, and just 27% of computing jobs. In fact the rate of women’s representation in computing has actually declined since 1990.

Dr. Bo Brinkman, an associate professor in Miami University’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, lays some of the blame for this underrepresentation on the culture within the technology industry, which he describes as “toxic.”

“The stereotype of the geeky guy sitting alone in his basement coding all night is self-reinforcing,” he says. “That becomes the standard of performance.”

Brinkman points out that that kind of solitary pursuit of an individual goal is in contrast to collaborative pursuit of a communal goal, which is what characterizes predominately female “helping” professions, like teaching, social work, and nursing.

“Women and minorities tend to have more communal goals than white men,” Brinkman says, citing the results of research conducted by Miami psychology professor Dr. Amanda Diekman. “If we want to attract more women to computing, then we need to do more to welcome people who want to work with others and in the service of others.”

To that end, Brinkman – in collaboration with Diekman, electrical and computer engineering faculty professor Donald Ucci and assistant professor Peter Jamieson, and computer science and software engineering professor James Kiper – is implementing a service learning program that lets engineering and computer science students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to help solve real problems in the local community.

As we continue to integrate computing devices and the Internet into our lives in ways we may not even always be conscious of, Brinkman says there’s enormous potential to solve big and small problems. “In that way,” he says, “computing really is a helping profession. This service learning program is designed to make that idea explicit, in order to attract women and others who want to serve their communities.”

Supported by nearly $621,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program will include an Electronics and Computing Service Scholars living learning community (LLC) and will provide financial support for student-led service projects and for student travel to professional conferences. Applications are currently being accepted for the first cohort of Service Scholars, who will be enrolled in the fall of 2015.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Featured photo (left) by viZZZual.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Photo of Bo Brinkman by Miami University Photo Services.