Raihan Alam

Raihan Alam '23 graduates with a double major in psychology and political science.

Raihan Alam Promotes Civil Discourse

He graduates with a double major in psychology and political science.

Photography by

Christa Neu

After a Lehigh career focused on research with his professors, Raihan Alam ’23 will pursue a doctorate where he will examine civility, incivility and polarization in public discourse.

An interest in public discourse is how Alam left his mark on Lehigh. He co-founded the Douglass Dialogues, a student club that encourages civil discourse about social, cultural and political topics. A psychology and political science double major, the San Francisco native says the club was founded on the belief that the right structure could encourage such conversations.

“The prevailing consensus today that you often see in The New York Times is that [those in] our generation are ‘snowflakes’ who are unable to have these conversations,” Alam explains. He and the club’s vice president, electrical engineering major Declan Coster ’23, thought otherwise. “We decided to make a structure where we have some sort of community guidelines, and we democratically talk about these issues and develop trust.”

The club, which began virtually in 2020 during the pandemic, has flourished on campus in bi-weekly sessions that draw 20 to 30 students. Events featuring panels and guest speakers, such as the one in spring 2023 featuring noted linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky, have drawn more than 100 participants. It will continue after Alam graduates.

Raihan Alam

During his time at Lehigh, Raihan Alam co-founded the Douglass Dialogues, a student club that encourages civil discourse about social, cultural and political topics.

A first-generation college student, Alam says he chose Lehigh because of the many opportunities it offers students, such as the Eckardt Scholars Honors Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. He has taken advantage of the program’s emphasis on deep intellectual work and mentorship.

Alam says he was able to plunge into research as a first-year student because, as an Eckardt Scholar, he was exempt from distribution requirements and free to explore his interests.

“I was able to hit the ground running and do all the research and activities I’ve been able to do,” he says.

His multiple research projects have received institutional funding, including several Strohl Undergraduate Research Grants and a College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant.

In one project, he worked with Psychology Department Chair Michael Gill, studying the way people perceive and react to opposing or inflammatory viewpoints on Twitter. Study participants receiving information about a person’s background, such as whether they grew up in a community or a church that stressed conservative values, were less likely to lash out at that individual’s inflammatory message.

“It implies that when you understand where someone’s coming from, you’re less likely to engage in uncivil dialogue with them,” Alam states. The research was published in summer 2022 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Raihan Alam

Raihan Alam is a first-generation college student.

He also is working with Anthony DiMaggio, associate professor of political science, on research examining authoritarian values and tendencies as reflected in people’s attitudes about events and movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and conspiracy theories. Alam plans to continue working on the project after graduation.

He says a highlight of his Lehigh career was being chosen for the Martindale Student Associates Honors Program. He was one of 12 juniors and seniors who visited Denmark in summer 2022 for in-depth study of social, cultural and political issues impacting the country.

“I was extremely grateful to have that opportunity: I didn’t think I was going to travel abroad in my college career,” Alam says.

Alam’s extensive undergraduate research experience led to his acceptance into a doctoral program at the University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management. He will work on research with psychologist and assistant professor Tage Rai, who studies polarization and incivility, while pursuing a doctorate.

Before that next chapter, he will celebrate with his parents, who emigrated from Bangladesh and became U.S. citizens. They are coming to Bethlehem for commencement as he becomes his family’s first college graduate. “This is really for them,” he says.

– Story by Vicki Mayk

Photography by

Christa Neu

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