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Session 5: Sunday, June 3rd: 10:00 - 11:50am
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This panel brings together two undergraduate students and two faculty members to discuss and explore the possibilities of student-faculty collaborative research projects as sites for social justice work and campus organizing. The project at the center of this panel investigates the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nationwide “nonprofit” composed of state legislators and private corporations. Founded in the 1970s, ALEC works to create bills that are disguised to seem unbiased, yet are designed to benefit corporations at the expense of America’s middle and working classes. After ALEC, along with its legislative and corporate members, creates a “model bill,” legislators introduce it in state and federal governing bodies, allowing the organization to quietly coordinate and direct the nation’s political agenda. ALEC is responsible for some of the most egregious attacks on minority, immigrant, and working-class groups in recent years. It has promoted its pro-business, anti-immigrant, and anti-environment platform by crafting model policies for voter ID laws, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and bail bonds reforms that benefit the private prison industry, and accountability policies that aim to exploit America’s education system for profit.

As a student-faculty collaborative team, three of our panelists will describe the work they are doing at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to expose ALEC’s impacts on America’s working and middle classes by analyzing already-existing sources of information about ALEC, investigating Millennials’ information literacy capacities and rhetorical preferences for political information, and creating a multimodal campaign of social media messaging and on-campus organizing. Their goal is to mobilize college students to learn about and take action to stop ALEC’s campaign against equitable, inclusive policymaking.

Our first two speakers, undergraduates Wendy Santamaria and Sudeep Dhanoa, will begin the panel by describing ALEC and explaining how it works as a core part of right wing political activity in state and federal government. Then they will discuss findings from their comparative study of the effectiveness, reliability, and persuasive power of different rhetorical strategies for raising awareness about political issues on social media and websites. In today’s noisy media landscape, how can young people learn about complex political entities like ALEC? Santamaria and Dhanoa will present examples of the existing online information about ALEC, the infographics and info-videos their team has been developing, and the types of multimedia texts college students describe as most reliable, effective, and persuasive for learning about political issues on Facebook, Instagram, and other sites.

The third speaker will be Heather Steffen, a postdoctoral scholar and lecturer who collaborates with Santamaria and Dhanoa. Steffen will introduce key points from the literature on student-faculty collaboration in research and on the ways college faculty and staff can support student activists. She will reflect on the challenges and possibilities of such collaborative and supportive relationships, using examples from the ALEC project to demonstrate the enhanced learning, strong cross-generational bonds, and creative thinking about organizing that can take place in sites where students and faculty work together.

The panel and Q&A will be moderated by John Maerhofer, an adjunct assistant professor with experience in global and postcolonial studies. We will reserve at least 40 minutes of the panel’s time for open discussion among attendees, and we hope to spark a lively debate about the possibilities of activist research at institutions of higher education, as well as to prompt consideration of the potential that lies in cross-generational and student-teacher collaboration.


John Maerhofer teaches English and interdisciplinary studies in the City University of New York System and at Farmingdale State College, SUNY. His first book, Rethinking the Vanguard, was published in 2009, and his critical work has appeared in Cultural Logic, College Literature, Monthly Review...

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Sudeep Dhanoa is a fourth year Philosophy student with a minor in Writing for Civic Engagement at University of California, Santa Barbara. He has focused his studies in legal and moral philosophy and is passionate about reforming the prison industry and researching the role the private prison...

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Wendy Santamaria is a second year Political Science and Philosophy student with a minor in Writing for Civic Engagement at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has spent the last two years researching the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), analyzing the methods used by...

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