Dr. Alison Young Reusser, assistant professor of psychology, was recently awarded an Initiative Grant ($30,000 over three years) for a collaborative team research project titled “Does Grace to the Undeserving Have Social Costs?” The Initiative Grant supports research projects that bring together professors at two or more Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) institutions.
Young Reusser is the project leader for a core research team that includes Olivet Nazarene University psychology faculty members Lisa Gassin and Kristian Veit and Houghton’s own professor of theology Jonathan Case. “Lisa and I heard about the grant opportunity and started talking about any overlap between her research interests (forgiveness) and my own (social psychology of attitudes),” said Young Reusser. “After meeting a few times, we decided to look at benevolence more broadly—and, specifically, how others view us when we act benevolently.” Focusing the project on online discourse, the team plans to use machine learning to investigate benevolent responses on a large scale. “The idea for using machine learning was sparked by a large number of studies in computer science, which emphasize classifying toxic comments as toxic,” continued Young Reusser. “We have a sense for how often online toxicity occurs but not really how often benevolent responses to that toxicity happen.”
Associate Dean of the Faculty, Cathy Freytag, has applied for this grant in the past— “so I know how involved it is,” Freytag explained. “To be awarded this highly competitive grant on the first try is a really significant accomplishment—and their topic is so timely and relevant in this moment.”
Additional faculty members from CCCU institutions will be serving as external consultants for various stages of the project. “We have also asked Dr. Andrew Ledbetter at Texas Christian University, Dr. Cathy Bareiss at Bethel and Dr. Heidi Giannini here at Houghton,” added Young Reusser. “They’ve already proven very helpful! Additionally, we brought on a qualitative research specialist, Danielle Jacques, M.A., who will consult on the focus groups and interviews Lisa Gassin will be conducting.”
“We congratulate Alison on receiving one of this year’s CCCU networking awards,” said Houghton College President, Shirley Mullen. “These are highly competitive and speak very well of who Dr. Young Reusser is as a scholar and teacher in the context of a Christian liberal arts framework.”