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French House Focus: Lindsey Miller

Recent Ogden Honors College alumna raises awareness of military sexual assault through research

After talking with Lindsey Miller for just a few minutes, it’s easy to understand why so many people who encounter the recent Ogden Honors College graduate find her inspiring. She’s not afraid to tackle tough problems—even ones that appear too big to fix. Lindsey is passionate about putting an end to the military sexual assault epidemic and, through her research and education, hopes to be a part of the solution. It’s why she’s headed to American University in the fall, where she’ll pick up her law degree and master’s in public policy. It’s also why she chose to focus her Honors thesis research on understanding civilian response to the issue. She recently sat down with us to talk about the problem and how the Ogden Honors College helped her find her direction.

How did you end up at LSU?

I’m from Baton Rouge, but I absolutely did not think I was going to go to LSU. My parents are from Baton Rouge and went to school here, so they encouraged us to go off somewhere else. But we got an invitation from the Honors College and decided to check it out. Once we came to visit, my parents and I just fell in love with the Honors College. That’s really the reason I came to LSU. We heard about the four themes and we really liked the fact that the Honors education wasn’t just about you as a student, but about you as a person. They wanted to make you a steward in your community.

So what sparked your interest in military sexual trauma?

Well, I started hearing about military sexual trauma and, like any good millennial, I started researching it online. I found the discussion surrounding the problem really interesting and that started the long process of me figuring out that I eventually want to work in this area. So when I decided to apply for the Truman Scholarship, I talked with [Office of Fellowship Advising Director] Dr. Drew Arms, and she encouraged me to start doing a lot of thorough research. So I initially started out researching the topic for my Truman application. Of course, the more I read about the topic the angrier I got, and the more passionate I became about the problem.

Can you tell me about your time as an advocacy intern at Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR)?

It was probably the most influential experience I had in college. It was a big test for me. Reading a report can be heartbreaking enough, but working directly with victims is incredibly challenging. I really felt that it wouldn’t be fair for me to research and write these reports without ever talking to a sexual assault victim. I felt like I’d be missing a big part of the picture. Meeting with victims was really hard—sometimes you were there just hours after they were assaulted. And no one responds to a traumatic event in the same way, so you weren’t sure what was going to happen. Of course, that’s completely understandable. You’re there to listen and let them know about STAR resources. Sometimes you’ll just sit and hold their hand, or sometimes you’re just there to let them scream.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you started work on your thesis? Who was your thesis adviser?

I studied public relations and I’m going into law. I’m also hoping to get my master’s degree in public policy during law school. So I wanted a thesis that would help me bridge that gap. My thesis adviser was LSU Manship School of Mass Communication Assistant Professor Jensen Moore. I went to Dr. Moore and asked her for help. She got me thinking about what questions I wanted to answer and, once I figured that out, she helped me build the focus groups and the qualitative study.

Tell me about your research.

So what I find interesting is that, you know, in politics people usually disagree as to whether or not something is even an issue that needs to be addressed. But when it comes to military sexual assault, everyone agrees that it’s a huge issue. The argument is over how to solve the issue, though the sides don’t fall into your typical political camps—it’s civilians versus the military. So I became interested in learning what civilians know about military sexual assault and what they understand about the military culture. My thesis measured college students’ current level of knowledge of military sexual trauma, their attitudes about it, and then how learning new information about the issue affects those attitudes. It’s a very qualitative study, so we discussed how much do they think they know, where they think they heard it, and then we discussed gender relations within the military. It was really fascinating to learn what people think about the military.

Very interesting. So what did you find out?

There were a couple of main themes that I found during the focus groups. First, majority of the participants had no prior knowledge about military sexual trauma. Those who did usually mentioned seeing it on TV shows such as NCIS or Law and Order: SVU. A very few number did know basic information about the issue, mostly due to family members in the military. Second, almost all participants were shocked and angered by the basic numbers released by the Department of Defense: 19,000 service members experienced some type of sexual misconduct in 2014 and 62% faced retaliation for reporting the crime. Furthermore, participants were shocked that in the military, the commander of the accused is the person who determines if the case will continue to court martial. Third, I found that most participants’ attitudes change. At the beginning they felt that military sexual trauma was a problem in the abstract, but by the end of the session, many were angry.

How did the Ogden Honors College benefit you during your time at LSU?

Wow, in so many ways! The Ogden Honors College gave me so many opportunities that I never would have considered. Once you form a relationship with Honors college staff, if they see something and think of you, they’ll forward it to you. There are so many things I wouldn’t have thought about or heard of it wasn’t for them. The Ogden Honors College also taught me to put myself out there. When I first arrived at LSU I never applied for things like scholarships. I just assumed I wouldn’t win, so why even try? But when I decided to apply for the Truman Scholarship and I didn’t receive it, I realized it was okay. I worked so hard with Dr. Arms and I saw that I had still learned so much from the experience of applying. It made it worthwhile even though I didn’t win in the end. So now I apply for everything. That experience taught me that hearing no isn’t so bad, you can survive. So why not try?

Is there anything that surprised you once you got here?

Definitely how supportive the other students are. I came from a very competitive high school. Students were competitive about their grades and heaven forbid if you went up for the same fellowship. The Ogden Honors College students are amazing in that instead of trying to tear each other down they help each other. These are the most supportive friends I’ve ever had.

What’s your favorite thing about being in the Honors program?

My favorite thing is the camaraderie among Ogden Honors College students but also the Ogden Honors staff. I’ll drop by Cindy Seghers’ office and apologize for bugging her, but she always tells me that she loves for students to drop by her office. Of course I respect them, but they’re not too serious. I just really love how close everyone is in the Honors College.

What advice would you give to an incoming Ogden Honors College student?

I would say to use the Ogden Honors College resources. I keep saying that I love the Ogden Honors staff, but I really do love the staff! They’re there to help you, and they’re so nice!