Senior Thesis Symposium

All members of the Government Department community are invited to the first annual


Government Undergraduate Thesis Symposium


Friday, May 1

3:00-5:00 p.m.


With presentations by 

Angie Cui Isabelle DeSisto * Dhruv Gupta * Brandon Martinez 

Juliet Pesner * Daniel Ragheb * Isabel Slavinsky * Selena Zhao

Please RSVP via this form by 12 p.m. on Friday, May 1 to receive the Zoom link for the session. 


See you there!  


Theses Presented:


Angie Cui, Diplomas for Diplomacy: Foreign Students in China and the Soft Power Question


Abstract: This thesis examines the impact of international higher education exchange on Chinese soft power. Specifically, I focus on China’s investments in education exchange as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructural development and overseas investment strategy that has been at the center of Chinese foreign policy since its introduction in 2013. My research focuses on the experiences of the over 300,000 students from countries involved in the BRI who are currently studying abroad in China. I argue that their education, from the scholarships they receive to the classes they attend, is part of China’s larger effort to project a more favorable image of itself to foreign publics. Using policy and discourse analysis, qualitative interviews, and results of an original survey distributed to BRI students in China, I assess the overall effectiveness of China’s investment in conducting diplomacy through education. I find that although China's effort to conduct public diplomacy through education appears to be working within my survey population, the politicization of education exchange results in some uneven and surprising implications for Chinese soft power.


Isabelle DeSistoFrom the “Island of Freedom” to the Iron Curtain: Rethinking the Role of Soft Power in Soviet-Cuban Educational Exchange Programs

AbstractFrom 1960 to 1991, tens of thousands of Cubans studied in the Soviet Union. To explore the dynamics undergirding these large-scale educational exchange programs, I spent one month in Moscow collecting archival documents and two months in Havana interviewing Cuban diplomats and graduates of Soviet universities. My qualitative thesis adds nuance to existing theories of soft power by analyzing the programs at both the interstate and individual levels. I find that, far from being a simple tool of Soviet soft power, these exchanges mirrored the complex relationship between countries whose objectives were often in conflict. 


Dhruv GuptaBike-Sharing is Transit: Building Tools to Plan and Optimize Bike-Sharing Networks


Abstract: Over 30 million Americans lack reliable access to a car. Many live in “transit deserts”, where transportation demand far exceeds transit supply. Bike-sharing has emerged as an eco-friendly, healthy, and congestion-limiting transit option. This thesis presents BikePath: a novel simulation tool for modeling bike-sharing, letting planners simulate the impacts of different ridership-demand and weather scenarios. In Chapter 1, I interviewed 26 bike-sharing operators and transit officials in 16 major American cities, finding that conflicting goals amongst interest groups and political stakeholders limit the availability of bike-sharing. My interviews highlighted the need for efficient bike-sharing planning and optimization tools to maximize ridership and minimize operating costs. In Chapter 2, as a case study, I used BikePath to simulate a policy giving all Boston Public Schools teachers Bluebikes memberships. Even with the additional ridership-demand, BikePath found a way to remove a third of the 3000 bikes in the network and still meet transportation demand. In Chapter 3, I analyzed cellphone GPS data for 1.5 million trips to identify potential locations for new bike-sharing stations based on forecasted demand. This thesis offers new tools for bike-sharing planners and operators for improving access to efficient, reliable transit options for those who need it most.


Brandon Martinez,The Politics of American Municipal Electoral Reform


Abstract: What explains the recent return of electoral system reform in American municipalities, and what have those reforms done to municipal politics? This thesis analyzes the strategies and systems used to enact endogenous electoral reform, where elected officials change the rules that once elected them. Endogenous reform’s two strategies differ by way of whether elected officials join a municipality’s pro-reform coalition. In cooperative engagement, an organized constituency convinces legislators that reform aligns with their enlightened self-interest without any counter-mobilization. Under coercive engagement, pro-reform coalitions increase the costs of status-quo politics so that opponent legislators unwillingly adopt a proposal. This thesis finds that cooperative engagement creates higher reelection rates, while coercive engagement creates lower reelection rates post-reform. It also investigates the electoral and political effects in Californian cities implementing two systems, First-Past-the-Post and the Alternative Vote, endogenously. The results are that reform from Block Voting to First-Past-the Post reduced the effective number of candidates in each district and raised disproportionality, while reform from the Two-Round System to the Alternative Vote potentially lowered disproportionality. The methods of this thesis are to analyze municipalities that (never) adopted and rejected reform through historical analysis, interviews, and difference-in-difference panel-data regressions. In this way, this thesis contributes to commentary on current activism around electoral reform, and makes a theoretical contribution by centralizing the role of political actors, institutional and non-institutional, in reform. 


Juliet PesnerThe Effects of Judicial Panel Gender Composition on Employment Sex Discrimination Case Rulings in the U.S. Courts of Appeals


Abstract: Despite the rise in judicial diversity in the U.S. in the last several decades, the vast majority of plaintiffs in federal employment sex discrimination appeals face all- or majority-male panels of judges. How does this judicial gender imbalance impact the outcomes of such cases, and why? To study this question, I created and analyzed a novel dataset of 1,104 employment sex discrimination cases heard and ruled upon by the U.S. Courts of Appeals from 2009 through 2018. I found that female judges are more likely to vote for plaintiffs in such cases and that panels including female judges are more likely to yield pro-plaintiff majority rulings than panels without female judges. Furthermore, I conducted several tests of the mechanisms behind these patterns. I tested a representational hypothesis, which holds that female judges purposefully seek to support employment sex discrimination plaintiffs, as well as an informational hypothesis, which holds that female judges have distinct information about employment sex discrimination which they share with their male counterparts. I found significant evidence suggestive of an informational effect, including evidence that the presence of a female judge on a panel impacts plaintiff success more than the number of female judges, female judges influence their male but not their female co-panelists’ votes, and female judges’ pro-plaintiff behavior does not depend on a plaintiff’s gender. I'm very grateful to my advisor, Albert Rivero, for his guidance and support for this project.


Daniel RaghebHow Our Brains Vote: Neurobiological Differences Moderate the Impact of Sleep on Voter-Related Behavior


Abstract: Although there have been a multitude of studies interrogating the predictors of voter turnout, the majority of them focus on political factors such as affiliation, income, and race. However, no previous literature has considered the impact that neuroanatomical structures have on voter behavior. In fact, there has been no previous interrogation of political science questions using volumes of neuroanatomical structures. This thesis thus interrogates how brain volume interacts with sleep quality to predict patience, and subsequently, how patience predicts voter turnout. I hypothesize that decreased sleep quality reduces patience. Additionally, I predict that this effect is more severe among individuals with smaller brain structures. Patience and validated voter turnout are provided by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Sleep quality, patience and brain volume are provided by the Human Connectome Project. Results confirm my hypothesis and show the following: (1) increased patience predicts increased voter turnout and (2) reduced sleep quality reduces patience, and this relationship is exaggerated in individuals with lower brain volumes. The implications of this research range from public policy suggestions focusing on neuroanatomical health to ethical questions considering that neuroanatomical qualities can reliably and individually be targeted to produce political behavior.


Isabel Slavinsky“I’ve Never Met a Jew Before”: An Exploration of Antisemitism and Geography in the U.S.


Abstract: With recent instances of violent antisemitism such as the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, new approaches to antisemitism are necessary. This senior thesis explores the relationship between antisemitism in the United States and where Jewish individuals live, addressing whether living near Jewish individuals impacts the formation of antisemitic attitudes. This work is situated in broader literature which evaluates the impact of intergroup contact on prejudicial attitudes and behaviors, but which is infrequently applied to antisemitism. Combining datasets from multiple sources to derive previously-unexplored insights, this thesis uses regression analysis to explore how this association may vary depending on how antisemitism is measured. It finds that while antisemitic vandalism, harassment, and assault are positively correlated with a larger proportion Jewish of an area, antisemitic Google searches are negatively correlated with the proportion Jewish of an area. I argue that these relationships demonstrate different types of antisemitism — one stemming from a dislike of individuals who are visibly different and another based in a willingness to ascribe stereotypes to an unknown group. While these types of antisemitism are interconnected, this thesis provides evidence that a single monolithic approach will not be effective at combating antisemitism in the United States.


Selena ZhaoUnderstanding The Elite-Mass Divergence in Sectarianism: A Case Study of Northern Ireland


Abstract: My thesis seeks to understand the conditions under which politicians can successfully mobilize support along ethno-religious divisions. According to political science and social psychology theories, reconciliation following ethno-religious conflict is extremely difficult because when sectarian identity has been mobilized by the political elite, in-group solidarity and out-group hostility increase at the mass level, perpetuating conflict—as in Lebanon or Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, in Northern Ireland, I find that while politicians continue to mobilize support along the main ethno-religious divide (Protestant-Catholic), societal divisions are lessening. In fact, a third identity, Northern Irish, is emerging. The divergence between enduring elite sectarianism and lessening mass sectarianism has not been observed elsewhere and is theoretically surprising because mass and elite sectarianism have not been conceptualized as distinct in existing literature. My thesis first demonstrates this empirical divergence through elite interviews, public opinion survey data, and archival research. Then, it argues that when government performance and thus political trust is sufficiently poor, politically-molded identities weaken—providing a potential pathway to societal reconciliation. Thus, the argument pushes for the re-conceptualization of elite and mass sectarianism as independent. Furthermore, using Northern Ireland as a case study, we can understand what conditions foster post-conflict reconciliation.