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Belmont University | Belief in Something Greater

Student Research

Belmont Undergraduate Research Symposium (BURS)

Each year, social work students join with other undergraduates at Belmont in conducting independent research in their fields of study.  In the spring, the students present their research findings to a community of peers at the Belmont Undergraduate Research Symposium (BURS).  This opportunity provides excellent preparation for advanced study in social work and enhances understanding of the profession.

Recent Research Presentations by Social Work Students

Recovery High Schools in Tennessee

Lauren Barnhart, Laura Bowling, Hannah Kehrer, Caleigh Lyons, Chuck Whitaker

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health an estimated 4.3%, or 1.1 million, adolescents suffer from a substance abuse disorder. In 2017 Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) indicated 24,000 adolescents reported an alcohol or illicit drug dependence and 23,000 adolescents reported abusing prescription drugs, while 1,231 adolescents received treatment funded through the TDMHSAS.  Once discharged, research indicates that traditional high schools are frequently a high-risk environment for students working to maintain their sobriety. In fact, survey data indicate that 95% of students returning to school were offered drugs on their first day back (Finch & Wegman, 2012). In response to this landscape, Representative Smith and Senator Gresham have introduced legislation to support the recovery of these vulnerable young people.  House Bill 1460 and Senate Bill 1626 provide funding to build recovery high schools in Tennessee. These learning environments dedicated to supporting sober adolescents create a safe environment for teenagers to maintain their recovery while also receiving a quality education. The strengths and limitations of this legislation will be explored as will its potential impact on the lives of vulnerable adolescents. The creation of recovery high schools upholds all six of the social work values outlined by the National Association of Social Workers and as such deserves our passionate support. In making supportive recovery communities accessible to young Tennesseans we provide them the opportunity to prioritize their health, maintain their sobriety, and reduce the risk of relapse.

Rape Shield Act

Joan Sanders, Marissa Stone, Sarah Stob

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation a child is bought or sold for sex every two minutes in the United States. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (TNCTSN), one out of three females and one out of five males have been the victims of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. If the abuse is not met with therapy, it may lead to promiscuous behavior. This information is critical in understanding why it is so detrimental to the victim of sexual abuse to have defense lawyers subject the victims to unnecessary questioning about their sexual history or current sexual practices. The purpose of Senate Bill 2308 and House Bill 2615, as introduced by Senator Harris and Representative Mitchell, is to add protection for the children who have been victims of sexual abuse. This bill would make it more difficult for defense lawyers to discredit the testimony of a child who may be sexually active due to initial sexual abuse. As social workers we believe in the values of competency, social justice, the importance of human relationships, dignity and worth of the individual, integrity, and service. Using these values, we will examine the legislation to examine its congruence. We will also analyze the efficiency and feasibility of the implementation of this legislation and will discuss its strengths and weaknesses. To conclude, we are analyzing this legislation to help ensure that child victims are protected under the Rape Shield Act.


Voting Rights Restoration Act

DeEboney Groves, Nazje Mansfield, Elizabeth Skinner0Orgeron, and Gabrielle Yatauro

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

Making its way through Tennessee’s General Assembly is resurrection in the form of a Senate and House Bill. Senate Bill 1780 and House Bill 1590 are sponsored by Brenda Gilmore and Steven Dickerson. They aim to restore a convicted felon’s voting rights. In the United States, there are more than millions of Americans barred from voting due to felony convictions. As per the official social work values set forth by the National Association of Social Work, the two bills align justly with the ethics and values of the profession. Democrats and Republicans of Tennessee, this bill provides more than restoration of one’s voting rights; it provides reinstatement of a felon’s dignity and worth. Social Workers know that even after a person has paid their debt back to society, the world will only see them for their past mistakes. In various states, more than 10% of the Black and Brown populations are still paying for their past mistakes. By restoring the voting rights to felons that have repaid their societal debts, the ideas of justice for all may become a reachable goal. These bills making its way through the General Assembly is more than a mere suggestion. This is the first step towards civic redemption for millions of Americans. This presentation will present an analysis about the restoration of voting rights amongst felons.


Public Health and Infant Mortality in Tennessee

Katherine Helgren, MariCathryn Northam, Elizabeth Narvaez -Vega, Kaitlyn Huskey

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

According to the National Vital Statistics Report, in 2013, 6.8 for every 1,000 babies did not live to see their first birthday in the State of Tennessee. This puts Tennessee above the 5.9 infant mortality rate for the United States. House bill 1506 and Senate bill 1491 introduced by Representative Powell and Senator Kyle, propose a program to provide new parents with resources and materials, such as a safe sleeping box with a mattress and fitted sheet, to reduce the infant mortality rate in Tennessee. This bill nicknamed the “baby box” bill, can have a significant effect on the well-being of newborns across the state, as it encourages safe sleeping practices as well as teaches new parents necessary parenting skills. As future social workers we will be presenting our examination of this bill by our examination of the potential need for the “baby box” program as well as the benefits and consequences of this legislation. In addition, understanding the logistics of this potential programing, we assess how these policies align with the ethics and values of the Social Work profession in accordance with the National Association of Social Workers.


Workplace Protections for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Cassidi Honer,  Jenny McKeeby, Rebekah McKerley

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimated that, in 2013, roughly 19 percent of female rape victims and almost 10 percent of male rape victims lost time from work because of their experiences. According to the most recent report distributed by the Department of Justice, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states that, in the United States, one person experiences domestic abuse every 9 seconds. Because of these shocking statistics, House Bill 1861 and Senate Bill 1769 was introduced by Representative Raumesh Akbari and Senator Jeff Yarbro. The purpose of this bill is to create employee protection for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by allowing them to be absent from work for the following reasons related to their abuse recovery: attending court hearings, meeting with law enforcement personnel, attending appointments for physical or mental health, or searching for new and safe housing options. This bill ensures domestic abuse and sexual assault victims that their overall well-being is valued. They should not fear losing their job over seeking services to address their needs and concerns. This analysis will show the need to support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the workplace. This presentation will explore the population impacted by this legislation, as well as the strengths and limitations of the bill. We will provide recommendations on ways to improve the legislation, and also show how the bill aligns with the values of the Social Work profession.


Human Trafficking Expunction Act

Cara Allison, Maryam Fakhruddin, Ilsa Nagel, Mia Zera

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Crowell, Ph.D.

According to a study conducted by the Sharipo Group, Inc., in 2012 an average of 94 underage girls were trafficked in Tennessee each month. Most people who are currently trapped in the sex industry in Tennessee were trafficked as minors. Statistically most people remain trapped in the sex industry for seven years, at which point victims are usually no longer minors. Essentially, the crisis that Tennessee is facing is that children are being trafficked in droves, held captive for years, and then arrested as prostitutes once they are adults. Present law in Tennessee states that survivors of sex trafficking who have been charged with prostitution are only eligible to have their records expunged five years after the completion of their sentence. This law is based on common misconceptions about trafficking survivors, and it overlooks the fact that these individuals have been exploited and often have a history of poverty, abuse, and trauma. As proposed, Senate Bill 2505 and House Bill 2032, introduced by Senator Ketron and

Representative Coley, would give survivors of human trafficking the opportunity to file a petition for immediate expunction of their records. This bill is in line with social work values because it upholds the dignity and worth of human beings. In passing this bill, we would hope to see a positive shift in the way that society views this population, which will afford these individuals more opportunities for the future. This presentation seeks to outline the history and prevalence of human trafficking in Tennessee in order to highlight current gaps that this bill would fill. We will highlight the strengths and limitations inherent to the bill as well as its relevance to the social work profession. Shifting the narrative that is typically associated with prostitution and human trafficking will offer dignity to survivors and catalyze a movement to end this epidemic.