Elon students present research on student perceptions of drug and alcohol safety policies at international conference

Cameron Mullins ’21, Hannaleigh Pierce ’21 and Mackenzie Martinez ’21 presented their research on student perceptions of drug and alcohol safety policies at Elon at the joint meeting of the American Anthropological Association and the Canadian Anthropology Society in Vancouver, British Columbia.

From left, Assistant Professor Jennifer Carroll (Elon), Hannaleigh Pierce ’21 (Elon), Cameron Mullins ’21 (Elon), Professor Philippe Bourgois (UCLA), Mackenzie Martinez ’21 (Elon), Associate Professor Helena Hansen (NYU). Elon students pose with mentors after their conference presentation. Helena Hansen is a medical anthropologist and practicing addiction psychiatrist whose research on the role of whiteness in the current opioid crisis served as the foundation of the students’ analysis. Philippe Bourgois is also a medical anthropologist who pioneered contemporary methods of substance use ethnography. Students studied his work in Carroll’s Qualitative Research Methods class.

An interdisciplinary team of student researchers composed of psychology major Cameron Mullins ’21, statistics major Hannaleigh Pierce ’21 and Mackenzie Martinez ’21, who is majoring in anthropology and Spanish, presented original research at an international anthropology conference in November.

Hannaleigh Pierce ’21 (Elon) poses with Professor Jason de Leon (UCLA) in front of his exhibition “Hostile Terrain.” Professor de Leon is a renowned archaeologist and a 2017 winner of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. For more than a decade has used a novel synthesis of archaeological and ethnographic research methods to study the violent impacts of unpatrolled border territories in the U.S. on individuals migrating from Mexico to Arizona on foot. Pierce recently read his book “Land of Open Graves” in an upper-level anthropology course.

The project the students presented, entitled “If You’re Black and Using Drugs, People Don’t Want to Help You: Substance Use, Harm Reduction, and Default Whiteness on a College Campus,” explores the role of race as a mediator of student perceptions of emergency services and medical safety policies at Elon. Put another way, the project asks whether students feel safe calling 9-1-1 during an alcohol or drug-related emergency and whether the perceived barriers to calling 9-1-1 (fear of getting in trouble, distrust of police, etc.) are different for students of different races. After analyzing numerous interviews with fellow Elon students, the research team came to the conclusion that, in fact, race greatly affects students’ reported comfort with calling 9-1-1 as well as their perception of the consequences they will face if they decide to make the call.

This collaborative research effort began as a class project in Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jennifer Carroll’s Qualitative Research Methods course in fall 2018. Originally exploring how student resident advisors at Elon perceive their role in ensuring student safety with the rest of their class, Martinez, Mullins and Pierce elected to continue their analysis and explore deeper, more complex questions about how students perceive and act in light of university policies.

L-R: Associate Professor Helena Hansen (NYU), Assistant Professor Jennifer Carroll (Elon), Mackenzie Martinez ’21 (Elon), Cameron Mullins ’21 (Elon) and Hannaleigh Pierce ’21 (Elon)While in Vancouver, students were able to join addiction medicine expert and social scientist Helena Hansen on an early morning tour of Insite, a novel public health and overdose prevention facility operated by Vancouver Coastal Health (the municipal public health department). Insite was the first facility of its kind anywhere in North America. The tour took place before the facility opened for the day and was led by members of the nursing staff.

In addition to presenting their original research to a large and enthusiastic audience, students were able to network with senior anthropologists whose work has been a centerpiece of their coursework at Elon and their team-based independent research.

Student travel to this international conference was made possible by the generosity of the Elon University Office for Undergraduate Research and the Elon University Department of Sociology & Anthropology, both of which offered substantial funds to support the students’ attendance. Thanks also goes to Elon University Assistant Dean of Student Life Whitney Gregory, who has been a supportive advocate of this research project and shown dedicated interest in the findings it produces, all done with the shared goal of making Elon a safer and more equal community.