Research News

Center for Democracy and Technology names two VU Faculty to 2024-2026 fellows program

Two Vanderbilt faculty members were named to the 2024–26 class of nonresident fellows at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a leading nonpartisan nonprofit in Washington, D.C., working to advance civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age.

Jenny Davis, professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Science, and Pamela Wisniewski, associate professor in human-computer interaction and Flowers Faculty Fellow in the School of Engineering, join 22 other distinguished scholars from a wide array of organizations and backgrounds to collaborate on critical policy discussions related to technology and society.

“Given the new and rapid advances in technology, it is increasingly important to address the unintended consequences of unbridled innovation on society, particularly our youth,” Wisniewski said. “CDT is deeply engaged in research and policy to protect the health and digital safety of youth online, which is my main area of research. I’m excited for this opportunity to study real-world problems that our youth are encountering online and for my research to help inform policy discussions.”

Krish Roy, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Dean of Engineering and University Distinguished Professor, applauded Wisniewski’s selection as a fellow.

“She is an expert in the interplay of social media, privacy and online safety for adolescents,” he said. “She already was doing exceptional research work. This opportunity with the CDT will accelerate her ability to contribute meaningfully to this rapidly changing field and most likely influence how future generations interact with the internet.”

Davis also studies the technology in society, albeit from a different perspective. Her research examines how technological design reflects and shapes individuals and societies, paying particular attention to artificial intelligence, big data and algorithmic systems.

“I plan to bring what I learn from being a fellow into the scholar and student communities I’m a part of at Vanderbilt, and I hope to learn from my colleagues and students at Vanderbilt in ways that can inform and enhance my engagement as a CDT fellow,” Davis said.

Davis recently joined the steering committee of Vanderbilt’s Grand Challenge Initiative in AI. She also teaches a class on AI in social systems.

“Jenny’s interdisciplinary and innovative work across social psychology and technology will contribute greatly to the fellows program and ultimately to broader understanding of, and policies about, the rapidly evolving technology that affects everyday life,” said Timothy P. McNamara, interim dean of the College of Arts and Science. “She is extremely deserving of this achievement.”

Selection of Vanderbilt faculty from across the university underscores the cross-disciplinary approach required for addressing the issues related to democracy and technology.

Davis noted that it also highlights Vanderbilt’s broad coverage in the area and readiness to help solve some of the most urgent problems facing society today.

“Every time we work together across fields or collaborate across schools, we help lay the groundwork for future cross-disciplinary initiatives,” she said.