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Purdue profs. lead students to DC for inauguration research

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Nineteen Purdue University students, led by political science professors Nadia Brown and Natasha Duncan, will witness the presidential inauguration and a variety of related events during a research trip to Washington, D.C.

The four-day itinerary (which began Jan. 19) includes a tour of C-SPAN with founder and Purdue alum Brian Lamb, a visit with Indiana senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, the inauguration and parade, The Anti-Inauguration forum at the Lincoln Theatre, the Women’s March on Washington and a workshop on critical race theory and the election at Georgetown University Law School.

Throughout the various events, the students will work in small teams to study American political participation during the inauguration, ideally seeing the issue from a variety of viewpoints.

“I’m hoping they come away with experiences that lead them to be critical thinkers and citizens,” Brown said. “Our goal with the trip is to have them talk with people from varying perspectives and in doing so, they’ll be challenging their own views.”

In addition to being able to conduct research in a unique setting, the students will be able to expand their knowledge of research methods. Duncan said many students have ample opportunity to work with quantitative methods (methods that focus on objective data, such as statistics), but this trip will provide a unique chance to delve into qualitative methods (e.g. in-depth interviews and observation).

To prepare for the trip, Brown and Duncan have had two workshops to discuss specifics of the project, as well as more practical matters and advice, such as “Don’t wear a Donald Trump T-shirt,” Brown said. 

After the trip, students will attend two more workshops and analyze their findings, write reports and present their work to the group.

The trip will also be a learning experience for Brown and Duncan. While students go about their projects, the professors will be gaining insight on experiential learning and how teaching research skills can be different outside the typical classroom setting.

“From a pedagogical standpoint, we are thinking about this experience as an experiment, if you will, with a high-impact, short-term opportunity to teach research methods,” Duncan said.

Just as the students will be expected to do, Duncan said she and Brown would share their findings with their colleagues. Brown said colleagues, department heads and others at the university have been supportive of the trip from the start, and it’s not lost on her how significant that support has been.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t share that this is a remarkable moment in time, to have two Black women professors leading a group of students to the inauguration of someone who’s not Barack Obama,” Brown said. “When Natasha and students at Pi Sigma Alpha (proposed the trip), there was no hesitation from the university. That’s not something I take lightly.”

As Black women “wholly situated within this perspective of marginalized people,” Brown continued, “the support that we’re getting from the university to ask these questions and do these things … tells a good story about what we’re doing at Purdue.”



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