Two UChicago students earn Marshall Scholarships

Sarah Nakasone to study HIV prevention; Christopher Crum to explore law and the internet

Fourth-year in the College Sarah Nakasone and Law School student Christopher Crum have received prestigious Marshall Scholarships to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom next fall.

Announced Dec. 3, the highly competitive national scholarships will enable 48 American students to study in the United Kingdom in any field of their choosing. Twenty-seven people affiliated with the University of Chicago have now won a Marshall Scholarship since 1986.

A global studies major, Nakasone plans to pursue a career in disease control and prevention, specifically looking at how to better engage women in HIV sexual health programs—work that was first inspired by her research at UChicago and abroad.

“I’m curious about how women draw on their social networks to spread sexual health information, and how we as researchers and medical providers can assist those networks, instead of fearing them,” Nakasone said. “Making sure women have the information they need, from people they trust and on whom they already rely, will allow for more effective health programs because it will give women the strength and resilience to advocate for themselves.”

A second-year law student, Crum intends to use the Marshall Scholarship to examine how governments can use law to combat threats that the internet poses to individual privacy, the integrity of elections and quality of public discourse. He will take two years away from the Law School and then return to finish his final year.

“I plan to study the relationship between privacy, democracy and the common law, on the assumption that legal systems have the ability to increase or decrease, and thereby control, the amount of privacy an individual has—and, by extension, regulate that individual’s role in a democratic system,” Crum said, adding that figuring out how to deal with the downsides of the internet will be “the political question of my generation.”

Nakasone will pursue two degrees: a master of science in control of infectious disease from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, followed by a PhD in epidemiology and population health from University College London.

“We are tremendously proud of Sarah,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Over the last century, University of Chicago faculty, students and alumni scholars have successfully confronted the most important problems of our times. We are delighted the Marshall Scholarship has recognized Sarah’s extraordinary talent and commitment.”

Crum will pursue a master’s degree in the social science of the internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. The institute, he noted, is at the forefront of research on some of today’s most pressing internet-related concerns, including identifying falsified news content using something called blockchain technology, a decentralized system of verifying and tracking information accuracy.

“If fake news could be removed from public discourse and elections could be electronically safeguarded, it would go a long way towards restoring public faith in the democratic systems in the U.S.,” Crum wrote in his Marshall application. “As an American citizen, I feel as though I have an obligation to pursue that end as far as I can.”

During his two years, he also hopes to explore how legislation and the common law system might approach internet regulation in a productive way.

“We are immensely proud of Chris for bringing his powerful intellect and stellar work ethic to bear on these complex and pressing questions, which are fundamental to the future of our society and democracy,” said Law School Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics. “The Marshall Scholarship is both an honor and an opportunity, and we look forward to seeing how Chris’s time at Oxford shapes his inquiry. We also look forward to welcoming him back to the Law School at the end of his two-year study at Oxford.”

Research at UChicago inspires career path

Raised in a military family, Nakasone knows the value of community and the vital role it plays in providing support in times of need. It was this appreciation that first sparked her curiosity in how support networks can spread health information.

“In HIV work, like the military, the idea of community takes precedence over everything. Members here protect themselves from the trauma and stigma of health concerns and in doing so, become a family,” Nakasone said. “I have positioned my research to elevate community voices in policy discussions because the people for whom I fight operate under my childhood tenet: If you want to help the individual, you have to enrich their community.”

Nakasone first began her work on HIV as a graduate research assistant at NORC at the University of Chicago, where she worked with the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination to research the effectiveness of peer change agents in educating communities about HIV prevention.

“The idea that networks of friends could accomplish something with which the medical establishment was struggling, particularly resonated with me,” she said.

Thanks to a grant from UChicago’s study abroad office, she traveled to South Africa to work as a research assistant with the Africa Health Research Institute, designing tools to investigate rural health care workers’ perceptions of HIV prevention methods for young women. This past summer, Nakasone received a grant to work in the U.K. as project director for the Women2Women Project, where she worked alongside community activists to design a study that examined how minority women share sexual health information.

“The Marshall Scholarship allows me to return to the U.K. as they lead one of the most exciting moments in HIV prevention in decades,” said Nakasone. “I was lucky enough to build connections with activist groups this summer, especially at a moment when they are concerned about bringing women in the U.K. into the HIV movement, and now I will have the time and funding to learn more from them.”

Nakasone credits UChicago’s global studies program for helping teach her to look in a broader context. “It was one of those programs that taught us to look at problems in a different light and not see the global and local as completely separate spheres. It’s how I have been able to learn lessons from South Africa and London and bring them back to Chicago.”

After her time in the U.K., Nakasone hopes to return to the United States and work in the deep South—which bears the burden of new HIV cases—as a researcher for an HIV outreach organization. Ultimately, she intends to manage legislative affairs for a state department of public health.

“Receiving this scholarship is a validation of the work in which I so greatly believe. It is a confirmation of my view that communities can save themselves, with the tools we already possess. We can end HIV now, not just in some future world where we have a vaccine that absolves us of listening to the voices of those affected.”

Law School fuels questions about internet

In many ways, Crum’s interest in law and the digital commons has been building for years.

As an undergraduate at Bates College in Maine, where he majored in history and minored in philosophy, Crum wrote a thesis on the ways in which European powers tried build their maritime empires by claiming ownership of the ocean. It’s a concept, he argued, that served as an early foundation for modern-day ideas about ownership, including intellectual property. The paper won the Ernest P. Miller Prize for the most outstanding history thesis.

The summer before starting law school, he interned at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Mass., where he studied online free speech and digital copyright. He was troubled by claims of proprietary ownership on the internet commons, which he saw as “a drag on the creative promise that the internet represents.”

Law school only fueled his many questions about the digital commons. In his Elements of the Law class, he debated how to balance free speech with interests in regulating fake news. In his Property class, he thought about privacy, individuality and nuisance law. As a staff member on the Chicago Journal of International Law, he worked on a student comment that focused on appropriate institutional design for dealing with the downsides of the digital commons.

“UChicago, more than anything else, gave me the confidence I needed to apply for the Marshall Scholarship,” Crum said. “Being here in a community full of some of the smartest students and professors in the country normalizes aiming high. Moreover, my Hyde Park experience has given me a renewed appreciation for institutional choice and design. More specifically, if it's inevitable that the internet is going to be more regulated in the future, it remains integral to determine whether the regulators should be private or public, something the state’s choices go a long way in determining. UChicago has highlighted that crucial point.”

Crum, who will be working on data-privacy cases this summer at Ropes & Gray LLP, hopes to build a future career first in legal practice and, ultimately, in political advising.

He said the Marshall Scholarship represents “an amazing opportunity to pursue my research interests”—and is one that he hopes will make him a “better, more informed lawyer when I come back to finish my JD.”  

Both scholars secured University nomination and received application support from the College Center for Research and Fellowships, which guides candidates through rigorous processes for nationally competitive fellowships. Additional support is provided by the UK/IRE Awards faculty nomination committee; its ongoing service is a critical part of student success at the national level.