General Information

This symposium is sponsored annually to promote professional development of undergraduate students in the social sciences. MTSU students from various departments as well as students from other southeastern states participate in paper presentations.
In addition to paper presentations, the annual symposium also consists of keynote speakers, panel discussions and often films.
Every year a central theme is selected by the organizing committee.  Our theme this year is: Catastrophes, Disasters, and Their Aftermaths.  Themes generally focuses on areas related to sociology and anthropology.  Past themes include immigration and refugees, voting rights, and college debt.  Students are allowed to submit paper presentations on any subject of interest, not only the theme. The submission deadline is February 14th.  Registation is at the bottom of this page. 

The event typically spans 2-3 days in either the fall or spring semester each year.  This event is traditionally held on MTSU campus, either in the James Union building or the new Student Union building.  However, other institutions are welcome to host the event in collaboration with MTSU. The symposium this calendar year is February 28th and March 1st, 2018.

The symposium is open to students from all colleges irrespective of major.  The State of Tennessee values contributions from across the community and participation from other southeastern states.  As this event is an undergraduate symposium, graduate students may participate but advice must be sought from a professor or faculty member prior to registration. 

The symposium is a free event and students can enter to win cash prizes for best paper.  Please note - papers must be submitted by the specified deadline in order to be judged. 

Prizes will be awarded for the top threee undergraduate papers submitted.  To enter the paper competition and to be considered for a cash award, please submit complete papers (not to exceed 25 pages, double-spaced) to Dr. McKinzie ( no later than Wednesday, February 14th. 

Please contact the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at MTSU for further information.

Mailing Address:  Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Middle Tennessee State University
1301 East Main Street, Box 10
Murfreesboro, TN 37132

Main Office: Todd Hall 342/344
Telephone: (615) 898-2508
Fax: (615) 898-5427

Email address:

2018 Panels and Abstracts

Medicine, Politics, and War: Medicine in History

Moderator: Dr. Ashleigh McKinzie

  • “The Orthopedic Revolution in World War One Britain” (Alana Markum)
  • “Syphilis in the Negro Community: Tuskegee and a History of Bad Blood” (Joseph Woodard)
  • “The Mosquito and Electricity: Malaria in the American South” (Lucindi Johnston)

 Convergences: MTSU Students Take on a Rapidly Changing World

Moderator: Dr. Latoya Eaves

  • Ashley McFarland
  • Hermon Phuntling
  • Emily Webb
  • Sydney Casteel
  • Hailey Litchfield

 Studying Local Religious Sites

Moderator: Kevin Lewis

  • Beatrice Barnett
  • Rebekkah Riley
  • Caitlin Martinez
  • Esaie Ndemeye
  • Cody Amis

 In the Time of Crises: Undergraduates’ Reflections on Learning about Disasters

Moderator: Dr. Ashleigh McKinzie

  • Kelsey Carter
  • Mandy Green
  • Tamara Milford
  • Erika Miller
  • Heather Openshaw
  • Kandace Reed
  • Rebekah Wagner

 Abstracts of Individual Presentations


Adcox, Devin (MTSU)

The Application of Forensic Science to the Human Rights Violations in Chile

This presentation seeks to illustrate the interaction between forensic science and the human rights violations committed by Pinochet’s regime in Chile. To accomplish this goal, the presentation will give the history of how the regime was established in Chile. It will also document the human rights atrocities committed by the regime and how forensic science was used to document these atrocities and give back to the communities of Chile that were affected by the horrible actions of the Pinochet’s regime. The goal of this presentation is to inform the general public of the human rights violations that occurred in Chile and how the work of forensic scientists can lend aid in the investigation of human rights violations. Key concepts within this discussion will be the effects forensic scientists can have on an investigation into the actions of an oppressive regime and the effects forensic scientists can have on those who have been affected by the deplorable actions of those regimes.


Alsulaiman, Ali (MTSU)

A Consideration of Jihad

In this paper I explore aspects of jihad. From its specific historical context in the emergence of Islam to the ways in which Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have treated the subject through the centuries to how it is understood in the present day, an in-depth exploration of jihad offers perspectives on how Muslims have understood themselves in relation to both Allah and those who do not adhere to the tenets of Islam.


Aslinger, Holly (MTSU)

Romania, Religion, and Reproductive Regulation: Coping After Communism

Romanians experienced many traumas throughout its communist occupation, among them mandatory reproductive health examinations for women of child-bearing ages and highly encouraged reproduction that were met with financial and even capital punishment if refused. Over a decade after Ceaușescu’s regime was overthrown in 1989, Romanian women tended to refuse preventative reproductive health examinations, such as pap smears that can detect cervical cancer, often citing God’s will as the primary reason for refusal. This paper investigates this popular attitude among Romanian women through the analysis of ethnographic research, Romanian history and religion, and the author’s personal experiences in Romania.

Rachel Beihl (Belmont University)

Southern Baptist's Women Portrayal of Women

Throughout the history of Christianity, Conservative Protestants and Southern Baptist men have placed women into the status of the other (Coser 1977, Gay 1996 et al.;Hoffmann and Bartkowski 2008; Kaylor 2010; Shaw 2010; Whitehead 2012). Sociological theorists, such as Karl Marx, George Herbert Mead, Simone de Beauvoir and many others, have used this term other or otherness in their work, to define the systems of social hierarchies; how the construction, influence, and placement of social identities become manifested by different groups in society. It is the notion of us versus them. Such theoretical background gives insight to understanding how gender ideologies are embedded into Christian culture. 
This paper serves as an analysis of Southern Baptist families. It provides insight to the portrayal of women within these communities. The overarching themes found in the research literature reveal the following: First, a good Southern Baptist woman must show submissiveness to her husband, enjoy the gifts of motherhood, and see herself as secondary to men in ministry. Second, we find that feminism is a radical movement that goes against Southern Baptists beliefs. Lastly, we conclude that divorce is an ungodly choice for the good Southern Baptist woman (Gay 1996 et al.; Kaylor 2010; Shaw 2010). 

Ayers, Darcy (UT Knoxville)

Hawaiian Concerns of Dust Exposure and U.S. Military Presence: A Community Risk Perception Survey

The author's previous geospatial analysis identified landscapes surrounding the Pohakuloa Training Area - a military installation in Big Island, Hawai'i - that are most at-risk from military vehicle-generated particulate matter through a predictive model.  The author conducted a follow-up project that validated the model by examining risk perception of residents of the Big Island through semi-structured interviews.  The research hopes to provide a bridge between methods of statistical, top-down knowledge production and perceptions stemming from individual community members.  While the results obtained were as expected - a correlation between the predictive model and perceived risk was found - other more unexpected findings were also significant.  Many interviewees took the conversations beyond dust exposure and into the realms of depleted uranium contamination and U.S. military presence on the Island.  In essence, community members were found to be using their criticism of dust pollution as a proxy for larger dissent aimed at the perceived U.S. military occupation of the Island.  This paper is an examination of the pathways of communication that engage (or deny) the voices of residents of the Big Island in regards to issues of dust exposure and self-determination.

Black, Ciarra (MTSU)

A Look within Matrilineal Cultures

Many small ethnic groups around the world are matrilineal. The Mosuo from southeast China practice communal breeding and the children live with their mother. The Minangkabau from Indonesia design their houses to fit the accommodations of the women and this group coexists within a patrilineal-oriented Islamic structure. The Lua from Northern Thailand held the secrets of salt production that was gained and passed down from the women of the village, which has impacted their economy greatly and is spiritually connected to their matricentric ideology. These cultures still strive today and continue their matrilineal practices, influencing the changing societies around them. It is also important to realize just how vital the women of these groups are to their very own culture and how they are treated.

Bradley, Emma (MTSU)

Political Extremism

This essay analyzes the inner workings of political extremist groups to understand how and why they operate.

Clanton, Shonda (MTSU)

An Elemental Analysis of the Mineral Springs at the Castalian Springs Mound Site

Castalian Springs has many historically important sites located in very close proximity. One of these is the main mineral spring at the Castalian Springs resort referred to in the Wynne family correspondence as the sulfur gum. (Smith & Hendrix 2015) During the summer of 2017, Middle Tennessee State University hosted an archaeological field school near the mineral springs, to the North of the sulfur gum. This paper provides an overview of my research into the salt composition and potability of these springs that were important places in this area for peoples during both the historic and prehistoric times.

Couch, Amanda (MTSU)

Debt for Nature Swaps: The Spread of Western Culture through Conservation

In the aftermath of a global economic recession and with the threat posed by global warming looming ever closer, debt for nature swaps seem to hold untold promise for redemption for underdeveloped countries. But could this “miracle cure” come with unintended side effects? To better understand the effects of debt for nature swaps on host societies, I consult contract law to better understand the legal structure of these agreements and investigate the societal impacts of swaps done in Madagascar, Mexico, and Bolivia. As seen in the cases of these three societies, debt for nature swaps often result in unforeseen consequences by imposing Western cultural norms on outside societies, alienating local populations during the conservation process, and force indigenous societies to participate in the Western legal system to defend their land rights.

Harlow, Regan (MTSU)

Interracial Marriage Shutting Down Systematic Racism


Lane, Chris (MTSU)

Zooarchaeological Fieldwork in Brazil


Newcomb, Hannah (MTSU)

Three Faces of Ezili: How Sexuality is Represented in Vodou

In this paper, the three major manifestations of the Vodou goddess Ezili are discussed and analyzed to answer the question: is Ezili the most sexually progressive vodou god or goddess? Through research on the manifestations of Ezili Lasyrenn, Ezili Danto, and Ezili Freda, the argument is made that Ezili represents a non-heteronormative expression of sexuality that Haitians, particularly LGBTQ or female Haitians, can gain insight and comfort from. Comparisons are drawn between the male gods of vodou and the declared sexually progressive Ezili. This is to illustrate how Ezili allows women and LGBTQ people of Haiti to express their sexuality in a way not normally accepted by their culture.

Openshaw, Heather (MTSU)

Plastic Bottle Waste

Plastic bottles are unsustainable for our wallets, our health and our environment.

Peacock, Clelie Cottle (MTSU)

Woe is Woad: An Alternative Explanation to the Source of the Early Briton's Body Dye

For decades it has been assumed as fact that the Iron Age Britons dyed their skin blue using a plant called woad prior to battle to frighten their enemies. This assumption is based upon Julius Caesar’s account of the Britons from his two expeditions to Britain ca. 55 & 54 BCE. The account was written in Latin, and recent evidence shows that the word which has been commonly translated as “woad” (vitrum) since the fourteenth century may have been mistranslated. This, along with the difficulties of trying to use woad to dye skin and the lack of archaeological evidence of woad associated with Iron Age British sites, has caused scholars to question the woad assumption. I offer the hypothesis that the Iron Age Britons used powdered metallic pigments to create their body dye rather than woad. In order to test my hypothesis, I used experimental archaeology paired with scholarly research to show that metallic ores, such as copper and iron, are more likely to have been the pigment base of the infamous blue-green dye.

Tamplin, Emma (Belmont University)

Memory, Narrative, and Cultural Trauma: Religious Interpretations of 9/11

Collective memory is inscribed into narratives and transmitted through various cultural objects such as political speeches, commemorations, history textbooks, and cultural scripts. As these narratives are interpreted in the ongoing present, memories are revisited and revised. It is the concern of the cultural analyst within memory studies to understand how and why these narratives create, constrict, and contest social knowledge. Narrative memory is created and changed through the interplay of structural forces and individual agency. While research adequately tracks the structural factors involved in the transmission of narratives and the rhetorical devices used in individual interpretations of the past, research has yet to show how narratives--as they are transmitted through various interpretive frameworks--shapes social knowledge. Ascertaining the operative cultural frameworks, and the instances in which these frameworks diverge and converge, is essential to map the evolution of social knowledge and its effect on social relations, organization, and redress. Through content analysis of Protestant sermons addressing the cultural trauma of September 11, 2001, I ask how social knowledge evolves as “it moves between different social contexts and is appropriated by different social actors” (Jovchelovitch et al. 2008: 431). Findings show the use of biblical and national metanarratives of romantic progress, individualism, and victory. Themes vary in significant ways by drawing on the distinct genres of Tragedy and Dualism, suggesting implications for group relations and civic (dis)engagement.

Watts, Nicholas (MTSU)

The Mariota Trichotomy: The Projection of Ethnic and Racial Labels on an NFL Quarterback

In this research current Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota serves as a case study in observing the process of marginalization that results in NFL athletes being commodified and labeled, prescribed an identity, based on such concepts as ethnicity and race through a process known as the “Look” or “Eye-Ball” test. This test involves the projection ethnic and racial bias to determine a football player’s position and quality amongst his peers within a hyper-masculine environment. I examine the effects of this process on Mariota’s career, identifying three labels of which he proves both example and exception: the ethnically charged perspective of Polynesian-descended athletes as Instinctual Defenders and the racially driven strategy of assigning either the Pocket Passer or Dual Threat label to a quarterback’s playstyle. Through Mariota’s portrayal in media and statistical analysis over the length of his NFL career, I exhibit the durability and subjectivity inherent within such labels, how this adds to the anthropological understanding of sports as a topic of cultural relevance, and how dynamic these social constructs can be.

Wilkerson, Whitney (MTSU)

Revitalizations of Nature Religions and the Decline of Monotheistic Religion: Wicca, Shinto, and Christianity

Wicca and Modern Shinto have much in common, such as their focus on nature, pantheons of deities with a female lead, elements of ancestor worship, and rituals for celebration and connection with the divine. Notably, they have stark contrast to the prevailing monotheistic religion, Christianity. These minority religions (in terms of world-wide) are being revitalized from ancient religions, pre-Christian Pagan religion, and Japanese folk religion/Shinto. They are coming back after destruction and deterioration, despite enduring persecution in the United States for being a Witch and fighting religious impassivity of the modern Japanese society. These “new” religions are a way of bringing back old traditions while creating contemporary customs to better suit our modern age.

The aspects of Wicca and new Shinto-based religions are appealing to urban people for many reasons: becoming close to nature and one’s ancestors, and finding importance in physical ritual, female power, and nonreligious reasons. First I will list historical context of these parent religions, their decline, about the revitalizations, then move into the above reasons, and why this shift has occurred in a presumably Christian-dominated world.

Wray, Alicia and Davis, Huey (MTSU)

“I’ve Met Great People In Here”: The Role of Family, Inmate, and Staff Supports in Adjustment for Life-Sentenced Women

This paper seeks to further the knowledge of women prisoners serving a life sentence and their adjustment to prison-life. It encapsulates the research done in a southern state prison (withheld to preserve anonymity) to better understand the driving forces behind their adjustment to prison and the social support dynamics involved. This paper goes beyond the standard measures of disciplinary infractions, violence, and suicide ideation and looks at emotional and psychological adjustment factors, such as depression and death-anxiety, as well as interpersonal relationships between their families, fellow inmates, and prison staff. A variety of variable relationships were looked at, including how family supports, inmate supports, and prison staff supports impact the women’s adjustment. The key findings of this study add to the small body of literature regarding women serving life and virtual life sentences and furthers the discussion on the impact the prison environment has on their overall well-being.

While reviewing the results, we found that there is a significance in level of adjustment regarding the satisfaction with prison staff and inmate support with the controls of depression, death anxiety, and disciplinary infractions. However, family support did not affect the level of adjustment as we anticipated. Throughout this research, the prevalent factor was the lack of literature of women serving life sentences.

 Zeitz, Joshua (MTSU)

What I Learned From A Disney Princess

This paper explores my time with the Disney movie, Mulan, highlighting the various gender and social barriers the main character faced as she attempted to thrive within her society.

Submission and Registration