Fall 2019 RA Posts

#TRIPwrapped – Fall 2019 Semester in Review

Fun Times at the Global Research Institute
Peter Leonard

One of the best parts about working at the GRI is the opportunity to attend its thought-provoking and engaging events. I was fortunate to attend several events this semester, ranging from a research showcase to a hot chocolate bar for finals. All of the events added to my positive experience at the GRI.


GRI Open House – October 7

The GRI’s Open House was a pleasure to attend not just because there was great food and people abound, but the event served as a valuable time to inform members of the community about our research. The TRIP team talked to people from all parts of campus, including President Katherine Rowe. I also had the chance to learn what the other organizations at the GRI were up to. I was especially interested in Nuke Lab, which researches nuclear proliferation, and Ignite, which focus on public health.

GRI Homecoming – October 17-19

The GRI hosted a few different events for William and Mary’s homecoming, including a series of “Lightning Talks” and a BBQ at the GRI. It was neat to see TRIP alumni talk about their experiences on the team and how the projects have evolved over time. A lot of the work we are doing now is built on the foundation that the alumni laid-out.

Fall Semester Research Celebration – November 20


I had the unique opportunity to serve as the MC for the GRI’s Fall Semester Research Celebration, which invited two members from the GRI’s assorted projects to present on their research. The event was lightning fast – presenters had three minutes to summarize their findings or risk being cut short by a gong. Two of the TRIP RAs, Maggie Manson and Morgan Doll, did a masterful job at presenting TRIP’s work and stole the show (albeit I may be a bit biased!). Powerful presentations AND pizza from Mellow Mushroom? I am now counting the seconds until the Spring Semester Research Celebration!

Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era: a Panel Discussion
Maggie Manson

On Thursday, November 7th the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project kicked off our Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference with a panel discussion titled “Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era.” The panel featured CNN Analyst and Brookings Senior Fellow Susan Hennessey, Reporter for the Intercept Akela Lacy ‘15, Correspondent for the New York Times David Sanger, and Professor Mike Tierney as the panel’s moderator. Topics discussed ranged from the unprecedented lack of press briefings by the current administration to the impact of the Trump presidency on U.S. foreign affairs. Much of the discussion tied back to the broader concept of the media serving as a conduit to the public and policymakers and how we can better incorporate academic knowledge into media discourse. 


The topic on the forefront of much of the audience’s mind was the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Panelists approached this topic by looking more broadly at how the Trump presidency has affected U.S. foreign relations with other countries. A common sentiment discussed among panelists was that after this administration, the next president will have to mend key diplomatic relationships that have been strained or broken by Trump. The U.S. will have to regain the trust of many of its historical allies and reevaluate its relationships with countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey that have found themselves in good standing with the current administration despite leaning authoritarian and committing human rights abuses.

The panelists could not speculate on whether or not Trump would be impeached and removed from office, but they did speak to the scale of executive power being utilized and potentially abused by this president. “You need to not just give a fair rendering of the law, precedent and long-term institutional position, but you also need to step back and situate it in the larger and unprecedented moment that we’re seeing in terms of the big, strategic positions that this White House is taking on the question of executive power,” Susan Hennessey stated. 

Another interesting topic discussed by panelists was the impact of leaks on transparency and security.  In regards to the increased volume of leaked confidential documents from the U.S. government, Hennessey and Sanger presented two divergent, yet equally thought-provoking perspectives. Hennessey argued that these leaks present a threat not only to international security and government legitimacy, but also to the personal safety of U.S. government employees. According to Hennessey, these leaks deteriorate governmental structures and legitimacy by creating a separate, irregular channel for this information to pass through.  

Sanger countered by stating that there is a trend towards over classification of information within the government and that such leaks actually foster transparency and hold the government accountable to its citizens. He also mentioned that at the New York Times, the process of releasing such information to the public includes active contact with relevant government agencies to ensure that the release of this information does not put any U.S. citizens or ongoing operations at risk. 

The Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era panel was not only interesting and informative for the audience, but also quite engaging of student questions and diverse perspectives. It was a great start to our Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference and a productive weekend of discussion between media and academia. Thanks to Susan Hennessey, Akela Lacy, and David Sanger for speaking on this panel!

RA Perspective: Recommendations for Improving Media Uptake of Academic Knowledge
Lucas Arnett

Since I became a Research Assistant here at TRIP, I’ve been fascinated by the central question we’ve been trying to answer: how can we make academia more relevant to policy discourse? Like many undergraduate students, I’ve often found myself dragging my eyes along the fiftieth page of some journal article and struggling to remember whether this one particular old white guy identifies more with the agentic constructivist or offensive neorealist paradigmatic camp. 

However, when I finally had the privilege of sitting in on a TRIP workshop full of talented journalists and academics, many of whom have trudged through those same articles, it made me realize that I’m certainly not the only one who thinks academia can work on being more relevant to policymakers. Over the course of three hours, I heard some well-respected journalists, academics, and publishers talk about some of the reasons why we don’t often see academia in the news:

On the “demand side”, (ie journalists, publishers, etc), we discovered many reporters are a little too focused on ‘getting the scoop’, recording that perfect soundbyte, or finding the quote that fits their pre-existing opinion instead of engaging with the nuance of what academics have to say. Considering many academic journals are gated by an expensive pay-wall or feature 60-page entries, it’s not surprising journalists turn to think tanks with pretty graphics or find alternative sources of expertise. 

On the “supply side” (i.e. academia), conference attendees suggested that scholars should do better to understand that journalists don’t necessarily want 200 years of Namibian history for a story about the election. Academics should also know that even when a journalist talks to them for background, and doesn’t quote them, they are still helpful to the reporting process and need not be offended.

Reporting and research are both challenging jobs that require boatloads of effort on the agent’s behalf. However, the more we try to cut corners to make our lives easier, the more we introduce barriers to mutual understanding, and the more academia is confirmed to be an ivory tower that no one except graduate students and other academics actually read and understand. To make research more palatable and impactful, the first thing everyone should learn about is the process of knowledge production (or should I say, epistemology) on both the supply and demand sides. Stay tuned for a report next year with more details on all the recommendations and takeaways from the conference.

Fall 2019 RA Posts

Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations

We are excited to share that Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations will be published by Georgetown University Press in Spring of 2020.


In many ways this book traces its origins to a series of conversations between faculty and students at William & Mary more than 15 years ago. The students routinely pushed the faculty to think more deeply about our discipline and our place in it. They asked why political scientists seemed to write exclusively for others in the field and to teach their students to do the same. They repeatedly asked that their coursework (and related research opportunities) be more closely linked to the practice of international relations (IR). They asked good, smart questions: Why do professors spend so much time in class teaching us about structural realism and the various flavors of constructivism? How will this help us to do better work at the State Department, World Bank, or Amnesty International after we graduate? Does any of the research done in the IR field actually shape the thinking and behavior of policymakers? What else should we study, other than political science, to affect outcomes in the real world?

We did not always have good answers to these questions because our answers were rooted in anecdotes and second-hand observations. We had plenty of theory and good evidence about war, trade, human rights, and foreign aid, but we lacked theory and good evidence about our own discipline, which are necessary conditions for social scientific inference. To address any of these questions in a serious way, we would need a more systematic approach to studying the teaching and research practices of IR scholars and we would need data on what practitioners find most useful from their counterparts in the academy.

The central question that motivates this book is whether research produced by scholars of international relations (IR) is relevant to policy and practice. In this first-of-its kind conversation across the academic-policy divide, leading IR scholars and veteran policy practitioners reflect on the nature and size of the gap across eight different issue areas within IR. This comparative study identifies two structural features that shape the academy’s ability and/or willingness to influence policy: 1) the level of uncertainty surrounding a policy problem and its proposed solutions; 2) the level of access that scholars have to policy makers. The book’s contributors also analyze two professional incentives that purportedly affect IR scholars’ research choices: 1) pressure to employ sophisticated empirical methods; and 2) few rewards for communicating research findings to the public or practitioners outside of academia. Individual chapters explore the impact of these factors on the size and nature of the theory-practice divide in trade, finance, human rights, development, environment, nuclear weapons and strategy, inter-state war, and intra-state conflict.

Pre-order the book from Georgetown University Press today!

Fall 2019 RA Posts

Foreign Aid: A Realpolitik Pawn or a Tool for Change?

By Maggie Manson
November 19th, 2019

Public impeachment hearings are now underway, with the first held on Wednesday, November 13th and a second on Friday, November 15th. The House and the public are anxiously awaiting testimonies from career public servants tied up in the Ukraine scandal. Much of the inquiry into the now-infamous phone call between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25th has focused on the question of a quid pro quo, or if President Trump’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals constitute justification for his removal from office. However, the portions of the hearing focused on foreign aid to Ukraine can be difficult to follow. What was this aid being used for? How do scholars view aid, and how does that differ from how Trump views this aid? 

The purpose of the U.S. aid to Ukraine is simple: to assist and protect a key U.S. ally in the east from their increasingly hawkish neighbor and historical U.S. adversary Russia. This aid includes monetary and military aid that provides training, weapons, and basic provisions such as medical supplies and uniforms for the Ukrainian military. The delivery of this aid is where it gets complicated. The aid package was approved by Congress and sent to Ukraine every year since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. That is, until this summer when the package was withheld by President Trump for two months before it was finally released due to bipartisan pressure in Congress. This hold on the aid had many in Washington questioning the president’s motives behind this move. Why would he withhold aid from a key U.S. ally who needed it so desperately? 

An initial assumption, held by many observers, was that this had to do with Trump’s complicated yet cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This assumption was later dispelled by findings in the whistleblower report released on September 26th. The whistleblower revealed that a conversation had occurred between President Trump and President Zelensky where Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who had conducted business in Ukraine, on the basis of illegal or corrupt conduct by the young Biden. This report began to raise concerns that Trump had not only pressured a foreign leader to investigate his political rival for his own personal gain, but also had linked the request to the hold on foreign aid; as a result, many labeled this interaction a quid pro quo. 

Trump’s willingness to trade foreign aid essential to Ukrainian security for his personal political agenda shows his disregard for the important role of foreign aid in protecting our allies abroad  One might argue that he views aid simply as a means of advancing his own interests, ignoring its true purpose to aid countries in security, development, and protection of human rights. One might expect the U.S. president to treat aid with more sensitivity and less volatility, but of course Trump is not a typical president. According to scholars polled in the 2018 TRIP Snap Poll XI, this unpredictable behavior is expected from Trump, and not seen as an effective tactic.  

While Trump’s personal motives behind this proposed exchange of aid for investigation are apparent, he isn’t the only one who views aid as a tool to advance interest. Also in the 2018 TRIP Snap Poll XI, scholars were asked how they would advise the U.S. government to respond to an increase in foreign aid spending by China. 39.01% of respondents stated that they would advise an increase in U.S. foreign aid spending to compete with China, while 33.89% of respondents would advise the U.S. government to seek to coordinate development spending in collaboration with China. 

These top two responses indicate that respondents also view aid as a strategic tool with the capacity to counter Chinese influence and advance U.S. interests. Both these scholars and Trump see the strategic benefits that aid can provide. Despite similarities, a key difference between scholarly perspectives and Trump’s view on aid is that while scholars view it as a tool for U.S. foreign policy, Trump tends to interweave personal and public objectives, often advocating for policy that advances his business and adds to his personal wealth. 

This brings us back to the Ukraine incident. Scholars agree that aid is a necessary tool to advance U.S. foreign policy. Some might argue that Trump’s leveraging of the Ukrainian aid package was not only justified, but a normal interaction between two world leaders to achieve their policy goals. However, that argument can be disputed by the personal objectives behind Trump’s actions; investigation of a political rival is not a national objective, but rather a clearly personal motivation. In condemning Trump’s actions, one might also consider looking at broader views of U.S. foreign aid. Should we shift away from the realist view of foreign aid as an instrument to be leveraged for national interests towards a more liberal view that aid should be issued with the intention to uplift countries through economic, social, and political change? The U.S. can still advance its interests in foreign policy through greater consideration of the impact and allocation of foreign aid. U.S. interests can align with global humanitarian interests if we pave a way for using aid for good. 

Maggie Manson is a sophomore at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Fall 2019 RA Posts

Retracing Fatal Journeys: U.K. Truck Deaths and Undocumented Immigration

By Patrick Zhang
November 13th, 2019

On Wednesday, October 23rd, the police in Essex County, England found 39 dead bodies inside a container truck after receiving a call for an ambulance. The truck was found at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, about 25 miles east of London. While the identity of these people and the reason for their deaths remained mysterious at first, the police soon claimed that the 39 people found dead in the truck trailer were believed to be Chinese citizens who were victims of human trafficking. The hasty conclusion of the local police raised concerns of the Chinese government towards the incident. As a statement by the Chinese Embassy in Britain says, “We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex, England. We are in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the relevant reports”. However, as the investigation went on, the police found that the people found dead in the truck were from Vietnam, not China.

The truck in which the 39 bodies were discovered in Grays, east of London, was driven to a secure location for further investigation on Wednesday. CNN.

Despite the debate over the nationality of these individuals, the reason for their death became clear after the investigation. As the local police retraced the fatal journey of the people in the truck, they realized that this was another tragedy related to undocumented immigration. While many details surrounding the deaths still remain unclear, this incident reflects further social and human rights issues related to the inflow of migrants into the developed western countries from underdeveloped regions across the world. Reports about various similar cases suggest that the practice of smuggling migrants into developed countries has become a recurring problem in the world. 

TRIP surveys in the past years provide valuable insights into the attitudes of the academic world towards immigration issues. A 2014 TRIP faculty survey asked IR scholars from different countries in the world about their opinions towards immigration in their own country. Among all the 3731 respondents, 42.94 percent believe that immigration to their countries should be increased while 29.35 percent believe that immigration to their countries should be kept at its present level. Only 11.95 percent of the respondents believe that immigration to their countries should be decreased. The distribution of the answers to the survey shows that the IR scholars across the world generally hold a positive view of the flow of immigrants into their own countries. 

The distribution becomes even more skewed when the question is asked again to IR scholars in the United States in TRIP Snap Poll III: Seven Questions on Current Global Issues for International Relations Scholars. 52.58 percent of the total 1335 respondents believe that immigration to the United States should be increased, while only 5.62 percent of the respondents believe it should be decreased. 

The responses of the IR scholars in the TRIP surveys reveal the relatively positive attitude of academics towards immigration. Although the surveys did not specify undocumented immigrants or refugees from other kinds of migrants, they still show the shared belief among most IR scholars world that immigration should be encouraged rather than suppressed whether in the U.S. or across the world. 

However, when the question of the surveys is specified into different kinds of immigrants, the answers of the scholars did not change much. In the 2014 TRIP faculty survey, scholars across the world are asked about their attitudes towards the migration of high-skilled immigrants into their own country. 35.51 percent of the respondents chose strongly agree and 42.38 percent chose agree when they are asked whether programs that encourage immigration by high-skilled workers would benefit the economy of their country. With less than 10 percent of the respondents answering disagree or strongly disagree, the result shows that the scholars’ views of high-skilled, documented immigrants are generally positive. Contrary to the arguments by many conservative politicians that portray immigrant workers as potential competitors for local workers and threats to the local economy, most IR scholars around the world believe that encouraging high-skilled workers and documented immigration would positively influence the economy of their home country. 

Besides the positive and welcoming attitudes of the IR scholars towards high-skilled and documented immigrants, scholars from the United States also believe that the country should be more open to the refugees coming from all around the work. Question #8 of the TRIP Snap Poll VII asked U.S. IR scholars about the U.S. policy towards refugees. 70.54 percent of the scholars who answered the question believe that the U.S. should increase the number of refugees it accepts in light of the recent refugee crisis. In contrast, only 6.39 percent of the respondents believe that the country should decrease the number of refugees it accepts. The distribution of the answers shows that the IR scholars in the United States generally believe that the country should take more refugees and perform a larger role in the humanitarian efforts across the world. 

In conclusion, despite the rising political debates over the government policies toward immigrants, IR scholars whether in the U.S. or across the world believe that increasing immigration would provide more benefits rather than threats to different countries in the world. More welcoming immigration policies would also contribute to humanitarian efforts by providing more opportunities for refugees across the world and prevent tragedies such as the truck deaths in the UK from happening again. The views of scholars suggest that opening up the countries to immigrants would be a win-win solution to both the local governments and immigrants across the world.

Patrick Zheng is a sophomore at William & Mary. He intends to double major in History and Economics. Patrick is interested in International Relations and Civil Rights issues. He has worked as a research assistant with Professor Betsy Konefal on her project studying human rights violations during Guatemalan Civil War. He was also a member of a research team based in the William & Mary Diplomacy Lab, studying social media in Turkey. This summer, Patrick is excited to see the connections TRIP is building between academia and policymakers.

Fall 2019 RA Posts

Gearing up for TRIP’s Foreign Affairs Journalist and Scholars Conference

By Morgan Doll
November 4, 2019

This weekend, the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project will host a conference at William & Mary for foreign affairs journalists and scholars to discuss foreign policy journalism in the Trump era and address the goal of bridging the gap between journalism and scholarship. The purpose of this conference is to create a dialogue between academics and journalists and brainstorm ways that scholars can increase engagement with the media. It will begin with a panel discussion open to the public, titled “Foreign Policy Journalism in the Trump Era” featuring CNN analyst Susan Hennessy, Correspondent for the New York Times David Sanger, and Reporter for the Intercept Akela Lacy. Additionally, it will include three workshops each with different themes and guiding questions for journalists and scholars to interact and discuss media-academic engagement. Here at TRIP we are incredibly excited for this weekend and have been gearing up for it for months. 


So, what topics can we expect to hear about from the attending guests?


It is likely that the journalists at the panel will discuss the Trump impeachment, since at least two of the featured speakers have written about/eluded to the impeachment proceedings in recent work, and impeachment seems to be on everyone’s minds lately. Since this conference will focus a lot on journalism and scholarship in the Trump Era, it would be interesting to hear how journalists predict President Trump’s impeachment and possible removal from office would affect journalism and politics leading up to the 2020 elections.

Fake News

The newer threat of fake news affects both scholars and journalists, so I would expect to hear a discussion of how skepticism of experts and the media has altered these professions and what can be done to combat fake news? What is the role of expert knowledge? How can scholars and journalists make sure they have the public’s trust?

America’s International Image

Finally, I would expect to hear a lot about how foreign affairs have changed in the Trump Era, especially concerning the unwritten principle that politics stops at the water’s edge. According to TRIP Snap Poll XI from 2016, 93.8% of IR experts agree that the United States is less respected today by other countries. It would be interesting to hear whether/how this has affected foreign policy journalism and whether journalists see this data in action when reporting abroad.

Here are some questions I have for the panel:

For all Panelists: 

  • In 2019 we surveyed journalists covering U.S. foreign policy about their views on international relations (IR) experts and expertise. Now, we would like to put some reasoning to the survey results. Do the journalists believe that the American public cares about the communication of expert knowledge?
  • My fellow Research Assistants and I have noticed that certain journals like The Monkey Cage and Lawfare employ scholarly articles in their OpEds more than traditional news sources such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, so does the outlet that one works for affect the degree to which they use/engage with expert knowledge? Do journalists feel pressured to keep up with scholarly debates and findings in the fields that they report on, or is it simply too much to keep up with?

For Susan Hennessey:

    • How has the Russian Connection affected the way the US is seen abroad, and how has it defined the Trump presidency and American Politics today?
    • In your opinion, has the office of the presidency and presidential powers changed forever under Trump?

For David Sanger:

    • Is there a divide between policy makers and reporters in DC? Do policy makers ever listen to your opinions?
    • How important is journalism to national security? Do you ever have to balance between protecting national security interests and reporting to the public?
    • Do you think young people care about politics/national security more or less now than when you first started at the New York Times? If so, was there a specific point in time when this shift occurred?

For Akela Lacy:

    • To your knowledge, how do experts view immigration and how has that been twisted by the media and Trump Administration?
    • Is there a distinct difference in reporting about foreign affairs compared to domestic issues?

We expect to learn a lot from this conference and are excited to hear what the journalists, scholars, and the public have to say about these topics.

The panel discussion will take place this Thursday, November 7th at 5:00pm in Tucker 127A, 350 James Blair Dr. 

Morgan Doll is a sophomore at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making.