Award Winning Database is Revolutionizing the World of Data Access on Social Conflict One Incident at a Time

Data on social conflict now comes in a clean, flat, .csv file with any number of IV/DV combinations ripe for the picking (or analyzing) thanks to Dr. Cullen Hendrix’s  collaborative endeavor with researchers at the University of Denver and from the University of North Texas. Nearly a decade since its inception, the Social Conflict Analysis Database (SCAD) project was given the 2017 J. David Singer Data Innovation Award by American Political Science Association for being this year’s “best data contribution to the study of any and all forms of political conflict” (APSA). Today, researchers have the opportunity to combine, juxtapose, and differentiate information on nearly 20,000 social conflict events in Africa and Latin America with approximately 50 attributes per episode (think of the statistical power!).

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the co-parents of this brainchild, Dr. Cullen Hendrix, to learn more about this nationally recognized achievement.  Dr. Hendrix is a professor at the Josef Korbel School for International Studies and researcher at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy. His current work “focuses on the political and economic consequences of environmental degradation and climate change for peace, security, and stability in the developing world, with a particular emphasis on Africa.” (About). During my conversation with Dr. Hendrix I was specifically excited to learn about the involvement of DU graduate students on this project!

Database Background

The SCAD project was conceptualized in 2008 and officially released in 2011. It serves as a resource for exploring various forms of social and political unrest in Africa and Latin America that are not covered in traditional datasets (think smaller-scale events such as protests, strikes, and riots). Information is aggregated via media reports from LexisNexis and manually coded into the database by a team of researchers. The project provides a robust repository for researchers seeking to explore a variety of different avenues of inquiry surrounding global social conflict. This year new variables were added which include information on women’s participation, gender, and sexual identity. Funding was provided for the first six years by the U.S. Department of Defense and is now being supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation.

An Open Environment for the Public Good

In academia, it’s an unfortunate reality that data is often hoarded by researchers in order to avoid getting scooped by competing scholars. In creating SCAD, Dr. Hendrix, Dr. Salehyan, et al. took a risk; they chose to make data available as soon as it was cleaned and ready for analysis. While there was definitely the possibility for researchers to get the jump on Dr. Hendrix with this approach, he stated that it actually turned out to be an effective way to drive interest to the data project and resulted in some really fascinating research. Many of these contributions have moved far beyond the contribution of the SCAD database and demonstrated what can happen when you tear down the firewalls surrounding data and open it for use toward enhancing the public good. SCAD data underpins analysis on topics ranging from the effects of cell phones on violence to the role winning national team football matches has on ethnic self-identification.

DU Student Involvement

One exciting aspect of this project being housed at DU is the fact that Korbel students have the opportunity not just to gain a great education about world affairs, but also attain applied data oriented skills that give them competitive edge when they hit the job market (and including your involvement on a grant funded internationally recognized project on your CV isn’t too shabby either). Skills in data management and content knowledge have provided a springboard for DU students to market themselves after graduation. For example, Richa Bhatia, who is now an analyst with the US Department of Defense, reports that as a DOD Minerva Project funded endeavor, SCAD helped get her foot in the door for interviews with potential federal government employers.

Additionally, one can really gain some intimate knowledge of a region when their combing through media coverage of social conflict events in that area. So as students are analyzing, coding, and managing data, they’re also gaining deep substantive knowledge on a social conflict in a specific geographic location. To enhance the somewhat tedious task of culling and entering information, those involved in the project have the opportunity to bid on countries that they find interesting and/or relevant to their area of research. One of the first coders on the SCAD project, Jennifer Williams, who’s now the Deputy Foreign Editor at Vox, had the chance to code data for Egypt. This comprehensive content culling for SCAD provided fertile ground on which to grow her knowledge for her honors thesis: “External Financing and Extremist Group Viability: A Human Capital Perspective on Egypt’s Al-Gama’a and Islamic Jihad.”

PhD candidate and former Sié Center research fellow, Jonathan Pinckney, worked on SCAD both as a coder – reading newswire articles and transforming the information in them into lines of data – and as a supervisor – managing the work of the student research assistants and troubleshooting day-to-day problems in the coding process. For him the best parts about working on the project was “getting to learn so much about the political dynamics of particular countries and working alongside a world class scholar like Dr. Hendrix, which was both a tremendous privilege and an incredibly rewarding experience.” Jonathan is planning on using his strong data skills in his new role as a postdoctoral research fellow at Norwegian University of Science and Technology. At NTNU he’ll be working on the “Anatomy of Resistance Campaigns” project; an effort to build the scholarly understanding of the organizations and social groups that participate in resistance movements.

Database Challenges

However, involvement on the SCAD project isn’t all publication-induced academic glamour; it takes a lot of time and dedication to code data. The daily grind inherent in data coding and management takes a specific personality type that involves discipline, nuance, and a certain contextual understanding. One of those discerning individuals, Jonathan Pinckney, cited “quantitizing” qualitative information as a challenge that he faced while involved with the project. He states “any data collection effort involves translating the complexities of reality into simple, consistent numerical coding. Dealing with events that are unexpected, or weren’t anticipated in the original coding scheme is thus always one of the most challenging things about working on this kind of project.”

Another challenge involves the complicated nature of creating a database that relies on material that is inherently based on varying perspectives and subjective vantage points. Exemplified by Dr. Hendrix as the Rashomon effect, this challenge involves the many (and often differing) ways in which people experience a certain event. Having to depend on information generated in this murky space that involves the imperfect process of human observation inserts a certain degree of bias to the information that comes across a SCAD coder’s computer screen. That’s why proper discernment and judgment are so important for the grad students who are examining these accounts. This, however, is tempered by a detailed codebook intended to ensure interrater reliability among coders and facilitate consistency with those using and interpreting the data.

Developments on the Horizon

In the coming years SCAD will continue to be maintained and updated. The research team is also working with a librarian who will help get the data hosted on a SQL server. This will serve to enhance the scalability of the project as well as provide an opportunity to generate data visualizations in the future. This year Dr. Hendrix is leveraging SCAD’s bevy of data points to explore more nuanced insights about repression and uncover connections between climactic conditions in Africa and social conflict. Be sure to stay tuned for his upcoming research publications as well as articles using data from SCAD!

 

Image Credit: Takver, Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Yolande Bouka is investigating female freedom fighters in Namibia’s liberation struggle

Meet the Sié Center’s newest postdoc fellow, Dr. Yolande Bouka. Dr. Bouka is a highly accomplished scholar who not only conducted the first systematic investigation of the legal journey and reintegration of former prisoners of the genocide in Rwanda, but had two children during the process! Here at DU she is working on completing her book manuscript on transitional justice in Rwanda and continuing her study on female freedom fighters in Namibia’s liberation struggle. In this study she employs a feminist analytical lens to narratives of military participation to explore women’s agency. Enjoy reading more about her groundbreaking research and the advice she has for DU grad students.

Researcher: I received my PhD in International Relations from the School of International Service at American University. My MA was also in International Relations from Seton Hall University. At the Sié Center I am continuing my work on micro dynamics of violence by looking at women’s agency in non-state armed groups based on field research conducted with former female combatants who fought during Namibia’s war of independence.

Dissertation Research: My dissertation, “In the Shadow of Prison: Power, Identity, and Transitional Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” investigates power relations in Rwanda’s transitional justice program. More specifically, I analyze how the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) manipulates the transitional justice program to legitimize its post-genocide rule. The project explores the legal journey of former prisoners accused of genocide crimes. This exposes the bearings of long years of socialization in post-genocide prisons on ordinary citizens and how one-sided criminal accountability challenges social repair. It also explores how released prisoners remember the multiple episodes of violence in Rwanda that took place during the 1990s. My research finds that incongruences between their memories and the official narrative on violence frame which violent acts the RPF regime chooses to criminalize or normalize for political purposes. My research finds that the legal framework forces Rwandans who journey through the judicial system to take on unitary identities that highlight their assumed criminality but eschew their victimhood at the hand of the state. I argue that the transitional justice program in Rwanda is one of the new battlegrounds of identity politics in a continuation of power struggle between political elites since the colonial era.

In my dissertation, I used a mixed-method approach that involved four months of ethnographic work in Northern Rwanda, where I conducted in depth semi-structured interviews with released prisoners. The project also entailed a critical discourse analysis of the official narrative on the legacy of violence in Rwanda to contextualize my ethnographic and interview data. My research is the first systematic investigation of the legal journey and reintegration of former prisoners of the genocide and offers a new investigative window into the role transitional justice can play in identity politics following mass violence.

Research at the Sié Center: I am working with Marie Berry on a project on women in politics in Kenya and Timothy Sisk on a project on innovations in peace building. During my time as a postdoc fellow I will complete my book manuscript on transitional justice in Rwanda. Aside from that, I will focus the bulk of my time on a new research project  “Gender and Security in African Wars: Learning from Female Combatants in Namibia’s Liberation.” This ongoing study investigates female freedom fighters in Namibia’s liberation struggle. As part of my recent Fulbright Scholar grant in Namibia, I used life history interviews and archival data to investigate the agency of female combatants in the country’s war of liberation. While contemporary analyses often look at women in non-state armed groups as a new and emerging phenomenon, they have in fact always been part of such groups in various capacities. Because scholarly studies of insurgencies in Africa are based primarily on analysis of masculine perspectives, I gender the narrative of the Namibian liberation by looking at women’s agency and how they navigated the rules and norms of the non-state armed group despite the limits to their participation. This ongoing project breaks new ground within the gender and security literature by applying feminist analytical lenses to narratives of military participation in episodes of political violence, which has not been applied to the case of Namibia to date. This research hopes be part of larger project on women’s agency in warfare in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Postdoc Job Search Steps: Because I have spent the past few years working in security policy, away from academia, it was important for me to focus my search on postdocs that would enable me to focus on academic publications. At the end of last summer, I started looking for postdoc through various sites, but my most fruitful finds were through word of mouth. Once I identified the fellowships I wanted to apply for, I familiarized myself with the faculty, the vision and mission of each program to tailor each application.

Biggest Challenge as a Doctoral Student: My biggest challenge was staying focused during the writing process while parenting young children. I had two children during the course of my doctoral studies. Luckily, I had a very supporting chair who encouraged me to stay focused and even came to my house once to discuss one of my chapters.

Advice for DU Doctoral Students: Publish before you finish your doctoral program and apply for research grant, even if you don’t necessarily feel the need for it. It will one of the key things committees will look for on your applications. Also, look for balance in your life. Mental health is a problem in academia.

Sie Center Postdoc, Kelsey Norman, Explores Migrant and Refugee Settlement in the Global South

A photo of Kelsey taken by an interviewee while conducting fieldwork in Alexandria, Egypt in 2015.

Happy day 2 of National Postdoc Appreciation Week! We’re taking this week to acknowledge the wonderful research our DU postdocs are conducting on campus. Today we’re featuring Dr. Kelsey Norman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Josef Korbel School’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy. The Sié Center’s many research projects focus on managing violence and maximizing resilience at the local, national, regional, and global levels. In her scholarship, Dr. Norman examines Middle East and North African states as countries of migrant and refugee settlement. Below she explains more about her research, dissertation process, and steps she took in her postdoc job search. Happy reading!

Researcher: Dr. Kelsey Norman: I graduated in June this year from The University of California, Irvine with a Ph.D. in Political Science. I received a Master of Public Policy from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dissertation Research: My dissertation, “Reluctant Reception: Understanding Host State Migration and Refugee Policies in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey,” explores migrant and refugee settlement in three Middle East and North African host states and asks: What policy options do states in the Global South have for engaging with migrants and refugees, and what factors make a state choose one option over another? To answer this question I conducted extensive fieldwork and 131 interviews in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey with government officials, international organizations, local NGOs, and individual migrants and refugees.  I find that in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey were able to mostly ignore the implications of their new inward migration due to three primary factors: migrants and refugees found ways to integrate into large informal economies, international organizations and domestic organizations intervened to provide essential services, and the issue of migration was not so highly politicized that it gained prolonged traction in media or amongst the national population. By allowing migrants and refugees to integrate in a de facto sense through minimal government intervention and by relying on international organizations to provide primary services, host states derive international credibility while only exerting minimal state resources.

I also look at the factors that cause migration and refugee policy to change over time in each host state. I find that geostrategic imperatives and international perceptions drive state engagement decisions more than the capacity of each host state. Capacity is therefore not only an empirical reality but also a perception that can serve strategic purposes, and this influences the choices that host states make regarding migrant and refugee responsibility. Additionally, I find that host states will enact a liberal strategy if (a) doing so allows it to co-opt domestic civil society critics, or (b) doing so will reap economic or diplomatic benefits from either a powerful neighboring state or a geostrategically important sending state. This contravenes the extant neoinstitutionalist and postnationalist explanations for why states in the Global North adopt liberal migration policies.

Research at the Sié Center: My primary project is working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript, but I’m pursuing an active research agenda that includes: (1) further work on forced migration and host state policies in the Middle East; (2) migrant and refugee activism in semi-authoritarian settings; (3) the rise of global migration deterrence measures; (4) diaspora involvement in home country politics; (5) the role of international organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in determining host state migration policy outcomes. I currently work with Dr. Deborah Avant, the Director of the Sié Chéou-Kang for International Security and Diplomacy, but I look forward to working with various members of the center and of the broader Korbel academic community.

Biggest Challenge as a Doctoral Student: Endurance. Working on a project for five+ years is difficult under any circumstances. I began my dissertation project in 2012, just following the Arab Spring and as Syrians were only beginning to seek refuge in neighboring countries. I did not anticipate, as I was finishing fieldwork in the summer of 2015, that the migration and refugee “crises” I had been researching would suddenly become front-page news in Europe, the United States and across the world. What had been a niche topic as I was writing proposals, seeking out contacts and conducting interviews, suddenly became mainstream. Initially this seemed promising: increased attention would mean increased support in terms of international funding and perhaps even refugee resettlement. But the momentary global sympathy after the body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach quickly dissipated, and was replaced by xenophobic nationalism, anti-immigration platforms, and calls for reinforced borders. Against this backdrop, the process of writing my dissertation between 2015 and 2017 was difficult. Often I felt that my efforts would have been better directed toward activism or public engagement that attempted to counter some of the racist and exclusionary rhetoric that has become so prominent. But I persisted in finishing my dissertation and the degree, and I’m hopeful that the research I conducted will eventually be available as a book, meaning that the labor and time spent in relative isolation won’t have been in vain!

Postdoc Job Search Steps:  I applied widely for postdocs and jobs. The primary resource I used was APSA ejobs, but because I was also looking at positions in policy schools or affiliated with institutes that aren’t necessarily composed of political scientists, I looked at positions advertised via other websites as well, including jobs.ac.uk and globaljobs.org. As a bit of advice, it’s a good idea to let other academics (in your department or elsewhere) know that you’re on the job market. Sometimes job advertisements aren’t circulated widely enough, but if something crosses your colleague’s desk and they know you’re in the process of looking for a postdoctoral position, they can easily forward the advertisement to you.

Advice for DU Doctoral Students: Various people during the course of my PhD told me, “the best dissertation is a finished dissertation.” Your dissertation won’t be perfect, and if you’re hoping to eventually publish it as a book you’ll have to do substantial rewriting anyway. More generally, I think this mentality applies to publishing and having your writing available for academic or public audiences. Don’t fret too much about perfection, and be brave about getting your ideas out there for peer-review or public critique.

DU IRISE Postdoc Fellow is Exploring Issues of Environmental Justice Between the U.S. and India

Did you know this week is National Postdoc Appreciation Week? Here at DU we are so thankful for the amazing contributions made by our postdoc fellows. They are such an important part of our scholarly mission and we’re excited to take this week and celebrate all their inspiring research. Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Pranietha Mudliar, a postdoctoral fellow specializing in Environmental Justice and Sustainability at DU’s Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)equality (IRISE). IRISE  is designed to support research and creative work dedicated to issues of (in)equality, social justice, and inclusivity. Under this initiative, departments, programs, and units on campus have the opportunity to engage and mentor promising scholars in their field or in an associated field. Below Pranietha shares a little bit about her journey as a doc student and what she’s doing now as a IRISE postdoc fellow:

Researcher: I graduated from Ohio State University in August 2016 with a Ph.D. in Environment and Natural Resources. My interdisciplinary mentorship committee consists of Dr. Sarah Bexell (Graduate School of Social Work), Dr. Chad King (Sustainability Coordinator), Dr. Andy Goetz (Geography), Dr. Karin Wedig (Korbel School of International Studies), Susan Daggett (Sturm College of Law), and Patience Crowder (Sturm College of Law). I works closely with Dr. Wedig on fisheries governance and Dr. Bexell on teaching and additional research.

Dissertation Research: As a doc student I was driven by the question of how social and economic inequalities among resource users affect water management strategies in developed and developing contexts. I synthesized theories from collaborative environmental governance, common-pool resources, and collective action to uncover conditions and institutions that promote collective action in socio-culturally heterogeneous groups in rural West Virginia, U.S. and rural Karnataka, India. I then examined whether these institutions address racial and caste-related inequalities. My findings indicated that institutions that promote collective action are actually repositories of power that merely mute racial and caste differences without challenging existing power asymmetries.

Research at IRISE: I am conducting a cross-national analysis of how adaptive governance can advance fisherfolks’ capacities to participate in and shape the outcomes of fisheries resource management in the Lake Victoria basin in East Africa. Specifically, I am comparing the socio-economic and political conditions in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania that create opportunities and barriers for the emergence of adaptive governance of fisheries in response to declining stocks of Nile Perch (Oreochromis niloticus) in the Lake Victoria basin. In our research, we found that even in the presence of enabling factors (networks, learning leadership, and trust) that facilitate transition to adaptive governance, widespread poverty among local resource users, relatively low state-institutional capacities, and institutionalized power asymmetries prevent such transitions.

In another research project, I am examining factors that contribute to the sustainability of collaborative watershed partnerships in the U.S. and in India. I am collaborating with Groundwork Denver, a non-profit working on watershed management in the lower Bear Creek in Denver, to undertake this research.

Biggest Challenge as a Doctoral Student: Finding a work-life balance was one of my biggest challenges as a doctoral candidate. Doing a Ph.D. is a full-time job with a myriad of conference and paper deadlines, teaching and grading responsibilities, conducting dissertation research, in addition to taking courses at the same time, which can take a toll on a student who is just starting out. Through the course of my doctoral career, I learned the importance of carving out time for myself and activities outside of school and breaking my work into smaller, manageable chunks.

Advice for DU Doctoral Students: As a graduate student, while finishing up with the dissertation must be a top priority, collaborating with other graduate students and faculty on other projects is a good way to get publications out of the door. Working on projects other than the dissertation gives you opportunities to expand upon the breadth of your experience in conducting research and build valuable and supportive networks with fellow graduate students.

Graduate Citings Tales from the Field – Samantha Brown

samantha-brown-university-of-denverHello Graduate Students! We hope you’re having a spectacular summer filled with a balance of relaxation and productivity. For August we’re featuring postdoctoral fellow and DU alumnae Dr. Samantha Brown. Dr. Brown is committed to reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families and has conducted extensive research surrounding child health and well-being. As a recent DU grad student Dr. Brown is very familiar with the stresses brought on by publication and dissertation completion. Be sure to read her research advice at the end of the article!

Researcher: Dr. Samantha Brown, postdoctoral fellow in the in the SEED Research Center in the Department of Psychology and PhD alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work.

Current Research: My overarching graduate research program sought to translate research on adverse childhood experiences, family functioning, and stress into the development and testing of preventive interventions aimed at promoting prosocial parenting behavior and child health and well-being. In support of this work, I implemented a randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based intervention that I adapted for child welfare-involved families with substance misuse for my dissertation. In addition, I am working with a research team to identify the mechanisms through which early adversity and family stress impact current parenting and child well-being.

While conducting my dissertation research (which I finished in 2016, yay!) I found that the mindfulness-based intervention could be feasibly integrated within public child welfare. Findings also indicate that the program reduced parenting stress and improved parenting and child behavior problems. These results are exciting in that there is potential to implement integrative mindfulness programs within child- and family-serving agencies. I am currently in the process of submitting findings from my dissertation for publication.

Collaborators: I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from talented scholars across multiple fields. The work that I have accomplished thus far would not have been possible without the great support and mentorship that I have received from my advisor and dissertation chair, Kimberly Bender, and my committee members, Jeffrey Jenson, Jennifer Bellamy, and Lavita Nadkarni. I will also continue to pursue this important area of study as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Sarah Watamura in the SEED Research Center.

Initial Inspiration: My prior clinical experience as a substance abuse counselor and child welfare caseworker is the driving force behind my current research interests and has motivated me to serve as a catalyst for change in reducing barriers to accessing services for vulnerable children and families. I worked with many children and families impacted by early adverse experiences and became interested in exploring alternative interventions that might be useful in helping individuals to develop sustainable skills to cope with these stressful situations.

Biggest Challenge: Setting aside enough time to complete tasks has been a challenge! I often underestimate how long projects may take, and then feel guilty when I don’t cross items off of my list. I have slowly learned to be strategic about every bit of time that I have available, which has helped me to stay productive and motivated, for the most part!

Research Advice: It is important to connect with a community of scholars who can provide support during a time that seems like a never-ending process! Surrounding yourself by positive role-models can only strengthen your skills and will add immensely to your experience. Sometimes the publication process can be tedious, but don’t let rejections or negative comments sway you from pursuing your important work! It is simply part of the process, and use those moments as learning experiences.

Meet Your New Graduate Student Government Board Members!

Did you know DU’s Graduate Student Government has 4 new members? We’re excited to introduce you to your new president, vice president, director of inclusive excellence, and director of communications! Check out who they are and what they plan to do in their newly appointed positions. Like all of you, they are grad students experiencing the ups and downs of postgraduate education. Be sure to read the advice that each of them have to share with you all!

Ariel Zarate

GSG Position: President; Major: 1st year master’s student enrolled in a dual degree program with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Graduate School of Social Work.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I enjoy being challenged and felt this was a great opportunity to develop valuable leadership and diplomacy skills while working on campus initiatives in which I have already been involved. I hope to continue to build upon GSG’s currently existing programs as well as facilitate partnerships between schools. I want to break out of the he existing silo structure and create spaces for mutual learning outside of the classroom. Additionally, I aim to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus, again using collaboration and integrated learning and development methods.

What are you studying/researching? I am currently researching mental health interventions in conflict settings focusing on community based interventions targeting and developed by women.

What has been your biggest challenge and what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge has been balancing external opportunities and graduate work. My interests are broad and I often find myself wanting to pursue more. I am currently working toward this goal so the best advice I can think of is to be organized and to research something you are passionate about. I have greatly enjoyed my research thus far because the scope of work drives my graduate school and professional career ambitions.

Michael Fiorini

GSG Position: Vice President; Major: 1st year PsyD in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology’s (GSPP) Clinical Psychology Program

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I’ve been involved in GSG as a senator for GSPP for the past year and during that time have helped spearhead initiatives for inclusiveness in GSPP and at DU more broadly. I think we are in great position to better integrate DU’s different schools and departments for cohesiveness, community, and greater collaboration; I aim to be integral to that process. I look forward to facilitating our GSG representative transition and continuing the work we’ve already done regarding grad student campus integration. Pet projects include: continued access for grad students to DU facilities and benefits like our fitness center and RTD passes.

What are you studying/researching? I practice as a psychotherapist in training for the DU community and neighborhood, as well as for a program rehabilitating criminals on parole from around the state. Academically I work for a research group studying the cognitive effects of traumatic brain injury in athletes. 

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? I think my biggest challenge as a grad student is our visibility, funding, and agency as a presence on campus. Given how much we contribute to the University, I think there is a lot of room for improving our general standing in campus affairs. Probably the best thing you can do is to be confident in your abilities. If you have believe in yourself and trust in your ability, when you hear about a new study being conducted you’ll be more willing and able to participate. As far as publishing independent work, it might feel like it’s a difficult thing to do at first. It’s possible you’ll get rejected or asked to edit your work before consideration, but don’t let that get you down. If you keep at it and find out about relevant journals or publishers, eventually you will find one that will be interested if the work itself is solid. You’re helping them out just as much as they’re helping you!

Amanda Meise

GSG Position: Director of Inclusive Excellence; Major: 3rd year PhD student in Communication Studies

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? This position is in direct relation to graduate research and aspirations. I have spent the past two years exploring Inclusive Excellence (IE), assessing campus climate, and working on several campus initiatives to help bring the goals of IE to fruition. I hope that this position will enable me to continue to expand the reach of my dialogues, understanding and contribution to moving DU as a community towards becoming the Inclusively Excellent space it strives to be. I hope to create a campus-wide dialogue about what IE means, the state of the current institutional climate, and how we can work collectively with the community to raise awareness of IE.

What are you studying/researching? My research includes topics of sexual violence, critical race studies, new materialist feminism, dialogue and IE. I work with Dr. Joshua Hanan in Communication Studies and Dr. Frank Tuitt who is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Inclusive Excellence. In my dissertation I will be considering how communication scholars can add to the growing body of research on Inclusive Excellence at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a grad student has been time management within the quarter system and finding the time for self-care. My advice would be to find a faculty member to mentor you through the process of submissions and revisions.

Gabe Conley

GSG Position: Director of Communications; Major: 1st year master’s student in Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Program

Why did you apply? I strongly believe in the power of student voices and the Director of Communications position gives me the opportunity to bridge the gap between graduate students and their relationship at DU. I am exited the help spread awareness and promote campus-wide events here at DU.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I hope to develop a better understanding of DU’s campus structure and climate to find possible solutions for establishing a close-knit graduate community. I also aspire to enhance a deep knowledge about my role in order to be an effective Director for Communications. I am currently doing research on retention issues on college campuses and solutions for closing the achievement gap between majority and minority student populations.

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a graduate student is commuting and getting hungry after being on campus all day! I would recommend that all grad students use the citation management software RefWorks to store all your references. It’s free through the DU library and comes quite in handy and saves you the time and energy. The library periodically offers workshops on Refworks which are also super helpful!

DU English PhD Student Wins 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize

 

Photo credit: Benjamin Finan

PhD student Diana Nguyen’s hard work is starting to pay off. Not only did she win the 92 Y “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize, but she also won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and is finishing all the edits for her upcoming book which will be published in April 2018! While we eagerly await her book release we’re excited to share with you Diana’s thoughts about her work, winning the 92 Y Discovery prize, and experiences as DU a grad student.

Researcher- Diana Khoi Nguyen is a 2nd year PhD student in the English Department’s Creative Writing Track.

Current Writing- I recently completed a manuscript of poems, Ghost Of, which won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and will be published in April 2018. My “Discovery” poems are included in this manuscript; the manuscript explores personal and family histories, trauma, and grief. It also touches briefly upon my parents’ flight from Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon.

At DU, I’ve worked with professors Bin Ramke and Eleni Sikelianos (who are both poets), and have also been inspired by my time with professors Eric Gould and Selah Saterstrom. For my dissertation, which will comprise the bulk of my next manuscript, I hope to explore the exodus of Vietnamese refugees from Vietnam at the end of the War; this project aims to examine refugees and children of refugees in various diaspora communities of the U.S., Cambodia, Australia, France, and elsewhere. I will be traveling to these communities to conduct interviews and listen to other families’ histories and stories.

Winning the 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize- My submission was a collection of multimedia poetry that works through my grief process; poetry that also explores spaces in which I consider the past, present, and future—for myself, and for my family. This work emerged after the death of my brother who died in 2014 at the age of 24. Two of my poems, Overture and Gyotaku, are currently featured on the Boston Review’s website.

Biggest Challenge- It has been difficult to find a way to be inclusive in my personal grief, and create bridges to others (family, friends, strangers) via my work—in a way that feels new to me. As if anything could be new these days…

Advice for DU Grad Students- I urge everyone to find what it is they care most deeply about—and excavate that thing in all the ways they can imagine (and haven’t yet conceived of). Don’t worry about publishing—pursue what is the core of you, get lost in the search/discovery, and publication will follow later.

Here’s one of Diana’s poems that will be included in her forthcoming collection. An audio of a live reading is available at the end.

GHOST OF

1

The night before their youngest child is born, a man and woman watch Oliver Twist (1948), name their only son Oliver. The family rejoices and for several years indulge their newest member, even though they are industrious refugees who previously celebrated nothing, even though they also have two daughters.

The eldest daughter resembles her brother until she wakes up one morning from a dream in which he was a tyrant. Soon after, her hips widen, one lone hair grows in her armpit. Sometimes the daughter feels like a son and sometimes the son feels like a shadow—like hosiery, alienable—he says to his first grade teacher: “You can’t draw inside the body. So why try to draw what’s inside the body at all?”

2

If one has no brother, then one used to have a brother. There is, you see, no shortage of gain and loss.

Let’s admit without embellishment what we do with each other. When the daughter begins to walk, it is apparent that she ambles pigeon-toed. A doctor tells her alarmed parents that no surgery is needed, just some rollerskating. Each day after work, the father helps his daughter stay upright on her skates.

If you have a father, then you also have a son.

A child has difficulty weaning from nursing bottle to glass of milk. Concise in her expression of impatience, the mother pours a gallon of milk over the girl’s head.

A tiger came across a donkey and having never seen a donkey before, mistook it for a god.

After everyone has gone to bed, an eldest child hoists her younger brother over her shoulders, then a sheet over his shoulders, and they sway as one into the middle sister’s room.

Who is weak and who is weaker and what does relativity have to do with it?

3

Let me tell you a story about refugees. A mother and her dead son sit in the back seat of his car. It’s intact, in their garage, and he is buckled in; she brushes the hair behind his ear. This is the old country and this is the new country and the air in the car is the checkpoint between them.

Let me tell you a story about seat belts. While driving her children to the local pool, a mother enumerates to her children their failures.There was a mother, she says, who put her children in a car, sewing their seat belts so they couldn’t unbuckle them, who drove them off a seaside cliff.

A boy on a unicycle goes round and round a lighthouse, dodging tourists, ridicule, and awe. He doesn’t go up, he doesn’t fall down.

Son, says the mother, meaning child not her husband. Son, says the father, whose name is Son. Sister, says the son, lying in a coffin. To hell with family, says the rest of the family.

4

A brother is a brother when he has at least one sibling. The brother believes he is not a brother but one in name only.

When the brother meets a couple his parents’ age, he takes the time to tell them he’s an only child and an orphan. The three of them agree that one must not be without family, that there must be at least two in a family, that three is even better. They embrace and the couple encourages the brother, the brother waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whose shoe? His or the couple’s?

Five pairs of shoes dangle from the pole of a traffic light. Over time, birds make a nest in each hollow, each separate space.

Put yourself in someone else’s bird nest.

5

“Your hat is Mexican … ?” asks a sailor in Côte d’Azur.

“No, it’s Moroccan.”

“Are you from Japan?” asks a Moroccan shopkeeper in Marseille.

“No, I’m American.”

Is belonging and fulfillment possible without family? No. Is it possible with family? No.

You cannot connect if you keep answering no.
 You cannot keep your brother alive if you keep your mouth shut. You cannot keep your brother alive.

At camp, some counselors take the kids on an excursion into the woods, leading them in a game of hide-and-seek. One boy, a deaf child who was also going blind, hid so well that they couldn’t find him and he didn’t find his way back. He had done everything right—

Nabokov says, “The lost glove is happy.”

Is the lost brother happy?

6

A man lies in an open grave after a body is taken out of it. This practice is said to lengthen life expectancy. The brother imagines his bed is a nest in which his body is removed.

There’s a story about a man galloping by another man who asks, “Where are you going?”

“Ask my hearse,” says the man.

“I was never lost in the jungle,” says a father, “just looking for a way out.”

“Ghost Of” retrieved from The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry. Reprinted with permission of the author.