#WeAreElliott: Grant Silverman

Grant Silverman, M.A. International Affairs, 2022, #WeAreElliott

Grant Silverman is a master’s student at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs where he studies conflict and conflict resolution, disinformation, and right-wing extremism. His research has paid special attention to the rise of illiberal and extremist movements in the U.S. and E.U. Prior to his studies at the Elliott School, he earned his bachelor’s at the University of South Carolina in International Studies and German. He previously served at the Holocaust Museum Houston. He is especially interested in the roles that digital media and disinformation have played in the rise of violent political movements. He presently serves as a research assistant with the Illiberalism Studies Program through the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the Elliott School.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?

I have always been interested in the wider world around me and I studied International Studies in undergrad, graduated, lived abroad, and worked for the Holocaust Museum in my hometown, Houston. I felt that I wasn’t done learning though and that I could greatly advance my career to be able to make an impact. I felt that by earning a master’s degree I would open the doors necessary for me to have a career in the field I was interested in. When I visited schools in 2019, Elliott made a great impression on me. I liked the balance of personal attention that MA students got, the career focus, the flexibility to choose from a wide variety of programs, and coursework to make your degree your own. Going into grad school I knew it was an enormous investment, and I picked Elliott because of the promise it offered me in terms of return on that investment, while also being a stimulating academic environment.

What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?

This is a tough one because there have been so many that I have enjoyed! If you’re going to twist my arm though, I think my favorite would have to be Dr. Marlene Laruelle’s class on Right Wing Politics in Europe and the U.S. I have always had a fascination with political extremism, and in the post-January 6 world, discussion of right-wing extremism is an especially important part of my research on disinformation and, in my opinion, our national politics. Through this course I was able to learn about and explore the ways that the far-right uses rhetorical strategies, organizing tactics, violence, and pop-culture to mainstream their message. It’s unfortunately a dark topic, but one that I think is vitally important, and in the course, we had engaging and honest conversations about a politically charged topic. I must give credit to both Dr. Laruelle and my classmates for a great experience in the class. It’s this openness tempered with candor from both professors and students that make any graduate degree a powerful experience. In this class in particular those qualities were exemplified.

Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?

Presently I am working with Dr. Laruelle as a research assistant for the Illiberalism Studies Program through the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies. Because I am interested in a career in think tanks, my role at the Illiberalism Studies Program is a great fit. Within the program I can explore, research, and write about topics that I choose. The freedom to write and publish for the program’s blog has given me a great opportunity to get my name and writing out there, which is a key part of being in the think tank world. In addition to my writing responsibilities, I help conduct key-scholar interviews within the field of illiberalism which is a great way to stay abreast of the most exciting research in the field. I also serve as a research assistant for the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics. Originally my role included coding lines of hate speech collected through open-source intelligence methods, but now I serve in an advisory role owing to my extensive knowledge of the far-right and how it operates.

Think of where you were (in life, school, career) when you applied to the Elliott School. What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now, as a student?

I would say that the advice I would give my younger self is that it is okay to have some room for exploration in grad school. When I applied, I thought that you had to more or less have it all figured out—what you would study, where you would work, and so on—but that isn’t the case. I originally wanted to study international development, but during my first year, I did something of an about face to focus on domestic extremism and disinformation. Luckily, I was in a place that allowed for the freedom to explore those opportunities. Because of this, I can speak on a wide range of topics and have a tremendous degree of academic and professional flexibility, which was a concern of mine when I was applying—that I would be pigeonholed into a particular field or area of expertise. Nothing could be further from the truth!

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?

At the Elliott School, the most valuable thing that I have learned is a skill rather than any single piece of knowledge. Thanks to my time at the Elliott School, I am able to think more deeply about the topics that interest me. I studied international studies in undergrad, so my time at the Elliott School has felt like a continuation of my prior studies, but thanks to the rigorous academic requirements, and my professional activities, I am thinking about global issues in a much more complicated and nuanced way. I think this kind of professional empathy is vital for individuals seeking careers in the field of international affairs. Without being able to understand a variety of viewpoints or nuanced points of view, it is impossible to solve the global issues we face today.

What is your favorite city that you’ve visited and why?

Lisbon! Hands down! I had such an amazing experience in Portugal in 2018 that I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since. In the evening the sun bounces off the yellow buildings off the Praça do Comércio and sparkles on the surface of the Tejo. The people are warm, the food is delicious, and the city itself is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to be there on April 25, which is when the Portuguese celebrate the Carnation Revolution that ended the brutal corporatists dictatorship of Antonio Salazar in 1974. I had deep conversations late into the night with journalists and government officials, where we discussed democracy Though it wasn’t all Fado and Pastéis de Bélem, I also had an in at a local jazz club and was able to get on stage for an impromptu jam of the jazz standard “All of Me!” Que coisa!


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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.”