8 September/October 2017
FROM THE HILL
UNC faculty members who applied for — and won — an $867,000 Department of Homeland Security grant to develop communication strategies to counter recruitment
efforts of violent extremist groups are
mystified that the award was canceled.
Under the Obama administration
and announced before inauguration day
in January, the department awarded 38
grants, mostly to law enforcement groups
and municipalities; only three were
awarded to universities. UNC was to get
the largest of all of them. In June, 12 of
the grants were pulled; UNC’s Office of
Research Development received an email
that said the criteria had been changed.
Cori Dauber ’ 84 (MA), a professor of
communication, and Mark Robinson ’ 91
(’01 MA), a lecturer and director of the
department’s multimedia lab, had recruited
24 students to create media campaigns to
counter messages of radical groups in the
U.S. Along the way, they went through
a petition campaign by the University’s
Muslim Students Association calling for
the University to reject the grant, saying
the language of the grant proposal disproportionately targeted Islamic extremism.
Dauber, who specializes in rhetoric and
argument, explained that there is a fear in
the Muslim community that projects such
as the ones the grants supported could
be fronts for anti-Muslim surveillance.
“The objection was based primarily on a
rumor,” Robinson added.
Dauber and Robinson believed college
students were among the best equipped to
create counter-extremism media because
they are the demographic that hate groups
target for recruitment. Dauber noted
how jihadists sometimes mimic scenarios
from popular video games and superhero
movies. “If we don’t have a 20-year-old
kid look at the video, I feel like we’re
missing out,” she said.
The researchers had worked with 12
students in a “Maymester” course — one
of a set of intensive three-week courses
offered in the spring — in 2016 to produce counter-jihadist media. Impressed
with the students’ work, they applied for
the grant that September.
“Let young people affect the future of
other young people,” Robinson said.
Their grant proposal said the students’
As of June 23, when Homeland Secu-
work also would cover white suprem-
acist activity, which they believed was
an important component for a program
named “Countering Violent Extremism.”
On Feb. 1, the Reuters news agency,
citing unnamed sources, reported that the
Trump administration was eliminating
white supremacist groups from the scope
of the $10 million grant program. Reu-
ters said the program’s name would be
changed to Countering Islamic Extremism
or Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.
rity announced the smaller number of
grants, the name had not been changed.
“Reuters was very wrong, but we bore
the brunt of it,” Dauber said.
She said in July that she still doesn’t
know why UNC was denied the grant.
She and Robinson had been told the
money would start coming on March 1;
when it didn’t, they were assured it was
coming soon. Besides hiring students
and reserving studio time, they had spent
some preparatory money out of their own
answering the phone. The Homeland
Security news release did not mention
the shortening of the recipients list.
In June, public radio station WUNC
reported that a Homeland Security
spokesperson had told it that grant
winners were not scratched from the
program because they planned to target
the messages of white supremacists. The
spokesperson said, according to the report,
“The program has not been altered to
focus on any one type of violent extrem-
ism. Of the 26 projects announced today,
16 projects are equipped to combat all
forms of violent extremism, including
white supremacist violent extremism.
Ten focus on ISIS and/or other foreign
terrorist organization recruitment and
The students would have been paid to
work on the project — it was not a class.
“After spending so much energy, it’s a
body blow,” Robinson said.
“The worst of the whole thing was
having to contact the kids who hadn’t
graduated” and would have been able to
work on the project for most of the new
school year, Dauber added.
Homeland Security Changes Mind About Anti-Extremism Grant
Early this year, Cori Dauber ’ 84 (MA), a professor of communication, and Mark Robinson ’ 91
(’01 MA), a lecturer and director of the department’s multimedia lab, recruited 24 students
to create media campaigns to counter messages of radical groups in the U.S. In June, they
learned the federal grant supporting the project had been canceled.