Faces of UMSI: Tyler Musgrave
Crossing the globe with an inner compass
Tyler Musgrave (PhD ’25) started college during the height of the Occupy movement. She found herself more invested in the learning she was doing outside the classroom: organizing, protesting and talking to peers.
As a firstborn, Tyler is used to leading the way, but navigating college felt more difficult than they had imagined. They broke the news to their parents that they wanted to drop out.
Tyler describes her parents as blue collar – her dad is a truck driver and her mom is a nurse who earned a bachelor’s degree later in life. “My parents just wanted me to finish. They’re like, you get a trade and you work in it,” she says. “But I feel like a lot of my navigation was coming from a sense of self.”
At this juncture, a friend told Tyler about a bachelor’s degree in global studies offered by Long Island University Global. The program is designed to foster global citizens by giving students the opportunity to learn in a different country each year.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Tyler remembers realizing. “It fit my values: I want to be in community and learn from people.”
These values served as a compass throughout Tyler’s studies in Costa Rica, China, South Africa and New York through LIU Global. After graduation, their values guided them to join the Peace Corps, to facilitate restorative justice circles for youth in San Francisco and — most surprising to Tyler — to get a PhD.
“That wasn’t even on the horizon,” she laughs. But her interest in bringing restorative justice into the tech world prompted her to email associate professor of information Sarita Schoenebeck, whose research focuses on equity and justice in online environments. It was Schoenebeck who first encouraged Tyler to apply for a PhD.
Now in their fourth year as a doctoral student at UMSI, Tyler’s research centers on identity and safety in social media, including the online harassment of Black women and femmes. They use restorative justice as both theory and method.
In the summer of 2022, they were awarded a fellowship from the U.S. Department of State to learn Swahili in Tanzania. Next semester, as a Foreign Language Area Studies fellow, they’ll return to Tanzania to do research for their dissertation, exploring global Blackness and how Black peoples’ perceptions of their own and others’ identities are shaped by social media.
“All of this is a part of my identity now, and I feel like I have such a sense of duty to all of it that sometimes it can be hard,” Tyler says. “What if I mess up?”
Part of the duty she feels is to consider her audience “outside the ivory tower” of academia. Currently, she’s working on translating one of her research papers into an animation that will be accessible to non-academics, like her parents.
Tyler feels most in their element when doing qualitative research: learning from people. The same impulse that has driven them to explore also roots them in community.
“As a first-gen scholar at Michigan, I've been able to build out a community of folks who have my back — from students, to professors like Sarita, Kentaro Toyama, Frieda Ekotto and Yvette Granata, to staff like Devon Keen, Sandra Lopez and Dan Cameron,” Tyler says. “I'm saying all these people's names because that's part of restorative justice. You talk about the people who have upheld you and who have supported you.”
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