Meaghan Reilly headshot

Elevate Scholarship Initiative Sends Powerful Message “You Belong Where You Are"

The Daniel Greeley Memorial Scholarship Fund is part of AU’s Elevate Scholarship Initiative.

“Opportunity” is a word Meaghan Reilly, SIS-SPA/BA ’21, SPA/MS ’24, often returns to when reflecting on the impact of scholarships. A graduate student in the School of Public Affairs’ (SPA) Justice, Law, and Criminology program, Reilly is a recipient of the Daniel Greeley Memorial Scholarship Fund, part of American University’s new Elevate Scholarship Initiative.

“The opportunity provided to me has let me spend more time on my degree and less time worrying about affording it,” Reilly says. "It is an incredible relief and privilege.”

For Reilly, opportunity means flexibility and access—both integral to her undergraduate and graduate research at AU. Her work draws upon interdisciplinary fields of sociology, linguistics, and technology to analyze the role of identity within the criminal justice system.

Now halfway through her MA program at SPA, Reilly has focused her research on masculinity and radicalization online. She hopes to probe how internet message boards can become hotbeds of hate speech toward women.

“I’m studying the way that the very ‘closed’ Incel community uses certain words that enable this dehumanization [of women],” explains Reilly. “What I'm hoping to do is program a web scraper and actually web scrape the boards for the profile information and the engagement numbers, and then do content analysis on words and break it down per year into different eras of engagement and themes of language.”

Web scraping is an automatic process that uses bots to pull large amounts of data from websites. Once Reilly has this data, she will be able to study it to identify trends and patterns. Understanding how language on message boards radicalizes people’s beliefs, she maintains, is critical to reducing its role in real-world violence.

“My hypothesis,” Reilly explains, “is that the more neutralizing [or dehumanizing] language you use, the higher engagement you have.”

This kind of interdisciplinary work is made possible by AU’s commitment to creating pathways to purpose for students. The dynamic scope of faculty expertise and course programming encourages students to personalize their learning in directions that best support their long-term goals.

For Reilly, the chance to tailor her undergraduate International Studies capstone toward transitional justice and human rights solidified her desire to pursue cross-discipline research.

“One of the continuing statements I got at AU was that ‘you don’t really need to limit yourself.’” Reilly says. “If you’re interested in a couple of different things, you can find a way they match up and intersect and you can find someone who’s able to help you with that.”

Understanding digital pipelines for violence has grown increasingly urgent in the wake of current events such as the #MeToo movement and January 6th Capitol attack. AU’s leadership in cutting-edge research in online subcultures through SPA’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) affords unparalleled access for students.

Reilly cites PERIL’s publications—and the AU Library’s dedication to contemporary scholarship—in sparking her next steps.

“I credit AU entirely for my new-found love of research. I absolutely would not have found it if it wasn’t for my independent study and my master’s program, and I look forward to moving into that field. I like finding out how things work.”

Her immediate goal is to work in some capacity with PERIL, either through the Summer Institute or a fellowship. Beyond her studies at AU, she hopes to leverage her research skills as an analyst with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help law enforcement investigate, catalog, and solve cases of missing children across the United States.

As someone who studies rhetoric online, Reilly is attuned to the tangible impact of messaging. For her, scholarships communicate AU’s invested belief in student potential.

“Donor scholarships send a message to people who do need alternative funding for schooling that someone truly believes that they are worth it for what they’re studying,” emphasizes Reilly. “In our current climate of academic insecurity and imposter syndrome, being told by someone who’s a donor, ‘you belong where you are’ is beautiful.”

In raising $25 million in unrestricted support, coupled with a university match, AU’s Elevate Scholarship Initiative reinforces this message of belonging. The initiative will ensure more students can continue their AU experience, reach their full potential, and share their contributions as changemakers with the world.

In Reilly’s view, the Elevate Scholarship Initiative represents AU’s commitment to student achievement in action.

“Knowing that someone else thinks that I'm capable of what I think I'm capable of,” she says, “is really, really quite amazing.”

To learn more and support the Elevate Scholarship Initiative, visit the Elevate Scholarship Initiative web page.