By Linda Smith
Dr. Amy Fisher-Smith has recently been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Anderson Charitable Fund to pursue a qualitative course of study titled, “Disengagement from White Supremacist or Other Ideological Groups.” Fisher-Smith was approached by Mr. John Macready in the philosophy department about the study. Some of her past projects have included collaboration with psychology professors Dr. Erin Freeman and Dr. Gilbert Garza, and history professor Dr. Charles Sullivan.
“We worked together to fill in the study parameters,” Fisher-Smith said. “I really like working on projects that are multi-disciplinary … This is a great example of a multi-disciplinary research project that requires social science theory, methodology, historical and philosophical analytical rigor.”
Her study will examine “the process of deradicalization and disengagement from violent extremist hate groups—in this case, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.” The qualitative study will include what Fisher-Smith called “semi-structured” interviews with about eight to 10 people who are former members of radical hate groups, especially neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. Fisher-Smith’s team has begun the interviews in the United States and in Europe. She said that she believes that the study will shed light on how to approach terrorism today.
“Because the research literature needs to be developed in this area of terrorism research, we hope to add to an understanding of the psychological and sociological process of deradicalization,” Fisher-Smith said. “This is particularly important in this era of terrorism. Counteracting terrorism requires limiting the process of radicalization from the outset, facilitating exit from the group, and reducing support for the group—all aspects that a deradicalized member can help shed light upon.”
The grant was processed through vice president of advancement Dr. Deborah Roark, and she and Fisher-Smith heard back about the grant quickly. They submitted materials in March and heard back the next month. The grant money will go to assist Fisher-Smith with travel, materials, supplies, research assistants and the like.
Roark believes that the study will benefit the entire University of Dallas community in several ways.
“It is scholarly work, it’s within her goals for her scholarly activities that she does, so it helps to promote that,” Roark said. “It helps to provide additional literature, for citation purposes. It’s an area that there’s research ongoing, and so it just adds to that volume of research. For the University of Dallas, it helps to give some exposure to others of our campus and our university and the great work that our faculty are doing here.”
Fisher-Smith hopes to present her preliminary findings at the 2016 American Psychological Association conference in Denver next summer.
“That’s aligned with what faculty members do as a part of their teaching, their research and their scholarly activities and being published,” Roark said. “This opportunity allows her to continue some of her past research that she’s done and it’s an extension of that. She’s very passionate about research in addition to her teaching. This adds to her teaching now too, because she’s learned something new to then come back with her classes.”
Fisher-Smith also said she believes that the findings of her study will likely translate into the classroom and will benefit her teaching overall.
“Dr. Charles Sullivan and I teach a course on the Shoah at UD, and I imagine that some of the results from both this current study as well as results from the last Holocaust education study will impact and shape how we teach this course,” Fisher-Smith said. “All research benefits you as a faculty member—it sharpens your methodological and critical thinking skills, and hopefully, you can pass some of these skills to your students.”