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Senior wins national Black studies writing contest

SUNY Cortland senior Daniel Reischer of Newburgh, N.Y., is fascinated with how racism and bias take root and grow.

Increasingly, Reischer’s observations are gaining attention. He’s won two writing prizes, including a national award supporting Black studies scholarship, and has shared his keen insight in several public lectures.

The political science major, who graduates in December, recently became the first SUNY Cortland student to win a prestigious national essay contest of the National Council for Black Studies (NCBS).

Established in 1975, the NCBS is the primary association that brings African American scholars together to formalize the study of the African World experience as well as expand and strengthen academic units and community programs devoted to the field.

Reischer captured the Undergraduate 1st Place Terry Kershaw Student Essay Contest Award for his essay titled “The Rise of Right-Wing Radio in the United States.” He wrote the piece for his Dimensions of Racism class.

Reischer’s 13-page essay, plus abstract and references, explored the rise of Right-Wing radio in the United States from the 1920s to today. Specifically, the paper delved into the careers and impact of three pioneers of the industry: Father Charles Coughlin, Joe Pyne and Rush Limbaugh.

Reischer, through SUNY Cortland’s Africana Studies Department, competed against students from more than 300 universities and colleges.

“It was exciting to be recognized on one hand, but I was really interested to hear presentations from the other winners, the graduate winner and other people who placed in the contest,” Reischer said of the national contest.

Associate Professor of Africana Studies Michael Tillotson, Reischer’s Dimensions of Racism course instructor, also entered Reischer’s essay in the SUNY Cortland Writing Contest. It won first prize in that as well.

All Kershaw Student Essay Contest entries were considered through a blind process. Kershaw, for whom the award is named, was editor of NCBS’ International Journal of Africana Studies from 2002-2011. Winners in the essay contest, which features both graduate and undergraduate awards, in the past have attended an annual conference to present their essays. Due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions, Reischer instead delivered a virtual summary of his essay to conference participants on Feb. 25.

Tillotson, who joined SUNY Cortland’s Africana Studies Department last fall as its first full-time faculty member to have earned a degree in Africana studies, from Temple University, soon noticed Reischer’s interest in the written research part of his newly introduced course offering.

“During the entire class, I started to notice a very distinct research quality, depth and scholarly maturity in Daniel’s paper,” Tillotson said. “In addition, after a series of one-one-one discussions and consultations with Daniel during office hours, I realized the promise in the paper and, after receiving his permission, I entered it in the NCBS annual student essay contest on Dec. 21.”

Reischer’s paper concluded with a discussion of how podcasts are on track to overtake syndicated radio as the prime disseminator of hateful rhetoric and conspiracy theories for a younger generation.

“Older generations tend to listen to that talk radio in the car but younger generations are the target of podcasts,” Reischer said. “That is why it is so dangerous. Because you can argue that radio in that form is kind of dying out. But with podcasts, it has the same effect of a radio: they’re in your home, in your ear, they’re just talking to you.”

His paper’s lines about the evolution of Joe Rogan’s podcast programs were written before the podcast host was perceived as very controversial.

“Rogan is operating his show in a way that doesn’t, on the outset, look hateful or evil,” Reischer said. “He was a comedian, he was a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) commentator. I think that’s the appeal of the show. Because he sets up a show in a way that sounds like he’s going to listen to all sides.”

During Black History Month 2022, Reischer presented a different paper written for the same class, titled “Predictive policing: History and methods,” on Feb. 22 in a Moffett Center Forum public lecture. His talk addressed how police have used computer algorithms skewed by human prejudice to unfairly increase their policing of Black neighborhoods. Reischer plans to reprise the paper on April 29 during Transformations, the university’s annual showcase of scholarly and creative activity.

Reischer admits he primarily took the cross-discipline listed course because he needed credits in his major. He hadn’t expected to learn much more about the topic of racism.

“In this class we were trying to approach racism in an almost non-emotional way, and look at it empirically,” Reischer said. “So we’re looking at psychology. We’re looking at pseudoscience. We’re looking at human behaviors and history and just combining all of this to get a deeper understanding about how racism developed into what it is today.”

A big baseball statistics fan, Reischer initially chose SUNY Cortland for its Sport Management Program.

“It was the year of the Parkland shooting and a lot of stuff happened at my high school as a result of that,” he said. “Before my first semester, I really had an epiphany. I just had to be involved in activism.”

So he enrolled as a political science major instead and at 18 signed up to vote at a campus New York Public Interest Research Group booth. Reischer eventually became that NYPIRG rep encouraging classmates to register. He served the Student Government Association as acting vice president in Spring through early Fall 2021.

“I’ve been really interested in this sort of subject matter,” Reischer said. “It’s what I want to research to an extent, when I go to grad school.”

“I’m always looking for the curious student,” said Tillotson, who before joining Cortland served in the Africana studies think tank M.K. Assante Institute.

“Because when they are curious, they are engaged and when they are engaged, they are learning. I’m always looking for the student who wants to be engaged in the life of the mind, to be on the trading floor of the market place of ideas to answer the great questions of the human story.”