Katherine ZaslavskyKatherine Zaslavsky
Frank Vafier '74 Ambassador in Leadership
Keep the Muslims Out: Understanding the Anti-Immigration Debate

In the summer of 2016, I completed a research project to understand the sociology behind anti-immigration activism. This project was structured as a case study of the conservative activist group PEGIDA UK, which protests Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom. As I formed and carried out this project, there were several unique phenomena at play around the globe: Europe was facing a large influx of Muslim immigrants due to violence in the Middle East, Britain was facing its referendum on Brexit, and the U.S. election cycle was already starting. This project became a manifestation of those world events, allowing me to conduct research on a subsection of what was, even then, a significant population with a common view. In order to understand that view, I traveled to England and attended a rally held by PEGIDA UK, chatting with supporters, organizers, and skeptics. I also studied the roots of PEGIDA UK, which is a branch of the pan-European organization PEGIDA. I traveled to Dresden, the home of the original branch of PEGIDA, where I was able to attend a rally and discuss interpretations of the group with academics who had been studying that branch for months. As a sociological researcher, equally important to my project was the general state of the culture at large, so I spent time meeting with experts throughout Europe and experiencing the changing dynamics of globalism first-hand.

Group of people holding flagsWhen I returned to the United States for the fall semester, the research I had conducted was clearly relevant to the state of our own nation. To this end, I organized and spoke at a panel on the presidential election titled “How Did We Get Here? Understanding Key Factors Behind the 2016 Presidential Election.” Along with panelists Professor Max Mertel (Communication), Dr. Denise Scott (Sociology), and Dr. Jeffrey Koch (Political Science), as well as host Dr. Andrew Herman (Communication), we explored the country’s singular political and cultural conditions in the week leading up to the election. In March, I’ll be presenting an original research paper titled “The Vacuum of Entitlement: A Case Study of Conservative Activist Group PEGIDA UK” at the 2017 Midwest Sociological Society Conference. This paper is the culmination of my research, and it covers my research experiences and the theoretical ideas that came out of those experiences. 

Protester holding posterThe Frank Vafier ’74 Ambassador Grant in Leadership gave me the opportunity to travel and conduct research that is inaccessible to most students at the undergraduate level. This project provided many “firsts” to someone of my background. I had never traveled outside the country by myself before this past summer; I had never even left the North American continent before I undertook this project. I had never slept in a hostel or figured out public transportation, much less traveled through a country where I didn’t speak the native language. I had never organized an expert panel on politics or presented on a political topic. I have a background in conducting research on relations between the West and the Middle East, but before this project I had relied on internet data. Conducting this research gave me the invaluable opportunity to expand my experiences as a researcher, as a student, and as a person, to test my limits and explore opportunities that I’d never had before. I’ll be entering a doctorate program in sociology this coming year, and this project has solidified my focus and drive to that end. All of the new experiences that came along with this project, planned or otherwise, allowed me to see from a new perspective, to explore new mindsets and understand new ways of thinking. Every day, that brand of analysis becomes more valuable to me and to our world at large.

Video from the panel that Katherine Zaslavsky organized as part of her Student Ambassadorship program: