Scott A. Bass
I have served 22 years as a senior administrator in both public and private higher educational settings - 10 years as provost. Such seasoning has provided a unique perspective on the overall operation of the academy and its nuances. As a result, and with the encouragement of the Board and President of American University, I have embarked on creating a center dedicated to three fundamental issues bedeviling higher education – 1) intensified polarization and extremism; 2) analysis of mechanisms to promote student success; and 3) academic infrastructure and technology. While three distinct areas of emphasis, they are inter-related and hence the inaugural Director of Research for the Center for University Excellence (CUE) selected to help build the institution is someone who brings academic strengths well beyond my own, Cynthia Miller-Idriss. Our new collaborative capability is designed to intersect with scholars who study higher education and societal polarization, as well as practitioners who seek to ameliorate deep-rooted structural causes of individual and institutional stressors.
Director of Research
My interest in higher education is related to its role in capacity-building and knowledge-dissemination on issues of critical national and global import. How can higher education institutions improve and strengthen democracies, local communities, and the wellbeing of all youth? These are the questions that motivate my engagement in CUE, especially in the three areas CUE will be focused on in our first few years: polarization and extremism in education, undergraduate student wellbeing, academic progress and inclusion, and efforts to rethink the use of technology in the academic infrastructure. Within CUE, I’m especially excited to be leading the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), which will pursue out-of-the-box, empirically testable and scalable research, intervention, and public education ideas to reduce rising polarization and hate. My hope is that the PERIL approach will be a model for how CUE can connect innovative academic research with the public in a variety of areas in the years to come.
Director of Operations
Katie Spann, known for her collaborative skills and community involvement was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Finance from Upsala College and an MBA from the University of Maryland, Global Campus. In her spare time, Katie volunteers for the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, Manner Food Bank, and the DC Diaper Bank. Her successful professional career of over 20 years in Finance, Event Management, Community and Faith-Based initiatives, and most importantly as an educator for the Montgomery County School Systems has provided her a broad perspective on the importance of inclusion and diversity. She enjoys traveling domestically and abroad, and she has resided in many parts of the United States to include Colorado, Nebraska, and North Carolina.
Associate Director Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), Research Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs
Brian Hughes recently earned a PhD from American University’s School of Communication focusing on Lone Actor in the Hypertext: Digital Comms Tech & Its Influence on the Ideological Commitments & Identity Claims of Violent Lone Actors. His work explores the impact of communication technology on political and religious extremism, terrorism and fringe culture. His work has addressed the impact of communication technology on the ideology of violent lone actors, media ecosystem of ISIS, the political economy of early "Alt-Right” media, and more. This work seeks to identify the technological, psychological, and political-economic commonalities between extremists of differing ideologies, cultures, times, and places. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Communication, Intervention, and numerous publications with the Center For the Analysis of the Radical Right. He has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Al Jazeera Inside Story, and the NPROne Team Human podcast. He is a Doctoral Fellow with the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right. His chapter “Brand of Brothers: Marketing the Islamic State” appears in the Indiana University Press collection The Media World of ISIS.
Meili has worked as an analyst researching domestic & international violent extremism across ideologies, terrorist propaganda, online extremist networks, and more.
Wyatt Russell is a graduate researcher & the project manager for the partnership between PERIL and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is also a first-year master’s student at American University, studying public administration.
Meili Criezis is a Program Associate at PERIL and a Global Network on Extremism and Technology Associate Fellow. Her research focuses on Islamic State propaganda, ISIS supporters' presence on encrypted apps, extremist networks in online spaces, and, more generally, violent extremism across ideologies. She is enthusiastic about collaborating on research and engaging in work that seeks to address issues of polarization and extremism.
Wyatt Russell is a graduate researcher & the project manager for the partnership between PERIL and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is also a first-year master’s student at American University, studying public administration. He recently graduated from North Carolina State University majoring in political science, with honors, and double minoring in physics and Spanish. He is originally from San Francisco, California, and has lived in D.C. for the past 3 months. Wyatt is deeply interested in the causes of various social and economic issues, where the majority of his experience comes from founding a small nonprofit in Raleigh, NC, dedicated to mentoring students to help ensure their future academic and professional success. Wyatt is aiming to continue his involvement in working to find solutions to issues in education, climate change, criminal justice, and in dismantling white supremacy. Later in life, he aspires to work as a researcher or program director for within the same fields of policy. He has a passion for sailing, woodworking, being outdoors, working on cars, and having a good political debate. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with family & friends, traveling to new places, working out, and listening to music whenever possible.
Kesa is a graduate student in the School of Public Affairs, studying Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy. Her primary interests are terrorism, foreign policy, and national security.
Kesa White is currently a graduate student in the School of Public Affairs, studying Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy at American University (AU). Her interests are primarily focused on terrorism (violant extremism and terrorism organizations operating in Africa), foreign policy, and national security.
Kesa has conducted research in the field of terrorism while at AU and has completed two internships with the Federal Government (United States Department of Agriculture and the Drug Enforcement Administration). After graduating from AU, Kesa served as a contractor supporting the Drug Enforcement Administration. Currently, Kesa is working as a graduate intern with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Kesa graduated from American University School of International Service with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies in May 2018.
Daisy Gebbia-Richards is a May 2020 graduate from American University with a major in Psychology and double minors in Sociology along with Women Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Emily is an undergraduate student at AU in the School of Public Affairs currently majoring in political science.
Daisy Gebbia-Richards is a May 2020 graduate from American University with a major in Psychology and double minors in Sociology along with Women Gender and Sexuality Studies. This past Spring she was a fellow at the Peace and Violence Research Lab where she worked with Cynthia Miller-Idriss and PERIL on furthering examining how to interrupt the youth radicalization process. Since taking Professor Miller-Idriss’ course, Terrorism, Extremism and Education, Daisy has had a curiosity on the role of love and belongingness in the radicalization process. Stay tuned for more on Daisy’s research!
Emily Pressman is an undergraduate student at American University in the School of Public Affairs currently majoring in political science. Born in Canada and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has developed a strong interest in human rights, domestic terrorism and hate crimes. She has advocated extensively for the integration, fair and equal treatment of people with disabilities and has represented Pittsburgh students on panels discussing the impact of hate crimes on local communities and gun control legislation. Emily volunteered in rural Thailand and Laos where she supported community relations, integrated with local families and their children and assisted with infrastructure projects such as building houses and schools.
Isaiah is an undergraduate student at AU majoring in Literature with a minor in Political Science.
Graduate Research Assistant
JJ West is an incoming Justice, Law & Criminology PhD student in the School of Public Affairs at American University.
Isaiah Washington is a sophomore at American University. He is a University’s Honors College student and Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Program participant. He is majoring in Literature with a minor in Political Science. Hailing from Hanover, Pennsylvania, he has a deep penchant for journalism, biomythography, and other storytelling modalities and wielding them as tools to denaturalize what has become unchallenged and commonplace. These affinities continue to be contoured by his volunteerism in the D.C. community, literacy advocacy, mentorship of young adults of color through a leadership academy where he serves as the administrative assistant, cultivation of scholarship as one of the university's Honors Program Associates, and writing and copy editing for The Blackprint, a campus publication devoted to amplifying marginalized voices. His principal research interests include youth de-radicalization and a proliferating multiethnic, multiracial configuration of white supremacy.
JJ West is an incoming Justice, Law & Criminology PhD student in the School of Public Affairs at American University. She currently works at the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, assisting in research examining key decision-making points in the juvenile justice system. She holds a BA in History and Criminal Justice from the University of Delaware and completed an MS in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote her thesis analyzing the language of online violent incel rhetoric.
Graduate Research Assistant
Parnian is a Graduate Research Assistant for PERIL. She is currently a graduate student in the School of Public Affairs, studying Public Policy with a concentration in Global Policy.
Parnian is primarily interested in foreign policy, humanitarian assistance, and post-conflict peacebuilding/peacekeeping. Specifically, she is interested in policies that protect and elevate youth and women in fragile countries.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Affairs from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2017. During her undergraduate she completed numerous internships focused on global issues, including at the United Nations Foundation. Shortly after graduating, she began working within development at GirlForward in Chicago, IL where she had first-hand experience contributing to creating opportunities for adolescent girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution. The culmination of personal and professional experiences led Parnian to pursue her graduate degree at the School of Public Affairs to gain the skills necessary to contribute towards better policies and assistance for vulnerable civilians globally.
Akiko works as a consultant advising schools and educators on preventing & responding to hate and on prevention & intervention related to extremist radicalization.
Shannon has two decades of experience in developing community resource platforms aimed at inoculating individuals against violence & extremism.
Born in 1976 in Hollywood, CA, Akiko Ayalla Cooks was raised by a single dad who stressed education, discipline and the free spirit of the 70s. Growing up under the positive influence of the Huey P. Newton's and Bobby Seale's Oakland, California-based Black Panther Party and her father’s ideology to “care for people with dignity and treat them well,” Akiko developed compassion to become an advocate for oppressed people. Akiko attended Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, majoring in child psychology. Today, Akiko works as a consultant advising schools and educators on preventing and responding to hate, advocates for victims’ rights and mental health support, and consults on prevention and intervention related to extremist radicalization.
Shannon Foley Martinez, a former violent white supremacist, has two decades of experience in developing community resource platforms aimed at inoculating individuals against violence and extremism. Foley Martinez has worked in at-risk communities teaching and developing dynamic resiliency skills. She has worked for school systems, nonprofits, and community organizations. Foley Martinez now works as a consultant, speaker, and educator in the prevention & disruption of targeted identity violence and ideologies. She has worked with such organizations as the UN Office of Counter Terrorism, the National Counterterrorism Center, Department of Homeland Security, Hedayah, The Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, UN Women, Google, and Twitter. Foley Martinez has assisted in training law enforcement officers, building programs for educators, and collaborating with policy makers. As the mother of seven children ages 22 down to 3, she feels passionately about building empowered, deeply connected families and communities.
Dr. Christina Cliff
Christina is an assistant professor of political science and security studies at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. She works as a consultant to PERIL on matters of pedagogy and teaching.
Pasha Dashtgard is a Ph.D. candidate in Social Psychology at the University of California, Irvine, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at Loyola Marymount University.
Christina is an assistant professor of political science and security studies at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. She has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Idaho, Masters degrees in political science and national security studies from American Military University as well as a Graduate Certificate in Intelligence Analysis from AMU. She was the co-author of the Boogaloo Ballad of Henry Graves Education Guide. While her primary research interests are in various forms of extremism – hate crimes, terrorism, and genocide, she has also written for Time, Newsweek, and Fortune on issues relating to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs.
Pasha Dashtgard is a Ph.D. candidate in Social Psychology at the University of California, Irvine, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at Loyola Marymount University. He has a MA in Mental Health Counseling and an Ed.M in Education from Columbia University, Teacher’s College. Pasha’s research interests include masculinities, PTSD, and mental health policy and service delivery. Current research projects include analysis of PTSD in solitary confinement, the impact of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing on mental health, and developing a scale to measure masculinity and how it intersects with online behavior.
Elijah has been a public school teacher and principal for more than two decades and has written about adolescence, public schools and democracy.
Julica Hermann de la Fuente
Julica serves as the Director for Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Ministries at the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, and is currently completing her path toward ordination in UU.
T. Elijah Hawkes has been a public school teacher and principal for more than two decades. He has worked in rural and urban school communities, including Randolph Union in Central Vermont, and the James Baldwin School in New York City, where he was founding principal.
In addition to New England and New York City, he has lived and worked in Senegal and Benin, West Africa.
He holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York.
He is an advisor to the Polarization and Extremism Research Lab (PERIL) at American University.
His writings about adolescence, public schools and democracy have appeared in various books, magazines and online publications.
Julica Hermann de la Fuente serves as the Director for Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Ministries at the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, and is currently completing her path toward ordination in Unitarian Universalism. Born and raised in Mexico City, she first became committed to social justice when she came to the United States for college. Since then, Julica has been an anti-racism/anti-oppression educator and trainer in a variety of capacities over the past two and a half decades. In addition to a Lay Community Ministry degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School, she also holds an MSW from the University of Michigan and is certified as a master life coach. When not on shift for the resistance, you will find Julica playing with fabric, making costumes for her two daughters Aliana and Sofia, looking for more excuses to frost fancy cakes, and reading optimistic sci-fi and fantasy possibilities of a just and equitable universe.
Kurt is a Senior Methodologist at PERIL.
Joseph K. Young
Joseph K. Young is a Professor at American University with appointments in the School of Public Affairs and School of International Service.
Kurt Braddock is an Assistant Professor of Public Communication in the School of Communication at American University. Kurt also holds faculty fellow positions at the SOC's Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI) and the Center for University Excellence's Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL). His research focuses on the persuasive strategies used by violent extremist groups to recruit and radicalize audiences targeted by their propaganda. Kurt also explores how theories of communication, persuasion, and social influence can be used to inform practices meant to prevent radicalization among vulnerable audiences. His first book, titled Weaponized Words: The Strategic Role of Persuasion in Violent Radicalization and Counter-Radicalization (Cambridge University Press, 2020), provides examples of how terrorist groups persuade audiences to adopt their ideologies, and how this process can be fought. Kurt is presently interested in the development of communicative counter-radicalization strategies that prevent white supremacism, neo-Nazism, and the adoption of other violent far-right ideologies. In addition to publishing his work in key communication and security journals (e.g., Communication Monographs, Terrorism and Political Violence, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism), Kurt also provides input to key institutions in D.C. to inform how they fight terrorism. Some of these institutions include the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Defense. His work has also been used at the international level, where Kurt has advised the U.K. Home Office, Public Safety Canada, the United Nations Counterterrorism Executive Directorate, and others.
Joseph K. Young is a Professor at American University with appointments in the School of Public Affairs and School of International Service. His research utilizes quantitative methods, experiments, focus groups and interviewing to understand the causes and consequences of political violence and terrorism. Professor Young is the author of 37 peer reviewed articles, Op-Eds, a recent book, and is a contributor and editor for the award-winning blog, Political Violence @ a Glance. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, USAID, and the Department of Homeland Security. He has been invited to speak to members of the defense community about terrorism, insurgency and countering violent extremism.