This year’s Peace Scholar cohort is composed of 18 Peace Scholars who are conducting their dissertation research across the globe. To learn more, read their biographies below.

Current Peace Scholars

Peyman Asadzade

Peyman Asadzade (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Arizona State University, School of Politics and Global Studies
“Diplomatic Support for Protest Movements: Causes, Effectiveness, and Consequences."

Dissertation Summary
Peyman’s dissertation focuses on the causes, effectiveness, and consequences of diplomatic support for protest movements. More specifically, it seeks to address three general interrelated questions around the central concept of diplomatic support for protest movements. First, why do states provide diplomatic support for protest movements in other countries? The second question asks about the effectiveness of diplomatic support. Does diplomatic support contribute to the success of movements or undermines them? The final question is about the public response to foreign diplomatic support: how does the public in target countries respond to foreign support? This question seeks to understand whether diplomatic support increases sympathy for political campaigns and helps them to mobilize further, or it damages their public image and as a result, undermines campaigns’ mobilizational capacity.

Peyman Asadzade is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Politics and Global Studies. His research focus is on domestic and international sources of contentious politics. While his primary regional focus is West Asia, his research addresses broad questions and involves a variety of contexts around the world. Peyman’s dissertation examines the causes, effectiveness, and consequences of foreign states’ diplomatic support for protest movements.

His articles have been published in Conflict Management and Peace Science, Research & Politics, Journal of Global Security Studies, and Nations & Nationalism. He has also written articles for the Monkey Cage of the Washington Post.

Nejla Asimovic

Nejla Asimovic (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | New York University, Department of Politics
“Growing Closer or Further Apart: Exposure to Social Media in Post-Conflict Societies.”

Dissertation Summary
With her dissertation, "Growing Closer or Further Apart: Essays on Identity, Social Media and Conflict", Asimovic strives to move away from social media determinism by both identifying the conditions under which exposure to social media shapes levels of affective polarization within ethnically polarized societies and developing scalable strategies that would facilitate positive interethnic contact online. Her dissertation projects include social media deprivation experiments during conflict commemoration days within two empirically understudied contexts (Bosnia and Herzegovina; Cyprus), as well as a consensus-building online intervention. The findings from the RCTs, further explored with the tools of textual analysis and qualitative interviews, intend to shed light on the key mechanisms and conditions that may allow for digital technologies and social media to bridge rather than widen cleavages, even within areas in which divisions reign.

Nejla Asimovic is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Politics at New York University, and a Research Associate at the Center for Social Media and Politics (CSMaP). Born in Kosovo and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nejla began exploring questions of group identity and conflict from an early age. This quest continued throughout her education in Hamilton College and her work experience, including involvement with an NGO working with vulnerable populations in Madrid, an internship at a Washington, D.C. organization focused on accountability for crimes against humanity, and work at a social enterprise helping leaders align profit and purpose.

As a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at New York University, she studies group dynamics within areas of deep societal divisions, with a particular focus on the role digital technologies and social media play in negotiating identities and shaping group relations. Her (co-authored) work was published in the Proceedings at the National Academy of Sciences, and was most recently supported by the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant. Nejla graduated (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Hamilton College in 2016 with a B.A. in World Politics and minors in Mathematics and Hispanic Studies.

Hannah Baron

Hannah Baron (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Brown University, Department of Political Science
“In Pursuit of Justice: Vigilantism, Policing, and Rights in Mexico.”

Dissertation Summary
Hannah’s dissertation, “In Pursuit of Justice: Vigilantism, Policing, and Rights in Mexico,” examines citizen decision-making and behavior with respect to security and justice amidst criminal wars. The first empirical chapter demonstrates citizen backlash against human rights in Mexico and argues that in high violence communities, human rights are increasingly viewed as a tool to protect perpetrators of violence at the expense of ordinary citizens. The second empirical chapter argues that contrary to conventional wisdom which views vigilantism as an extralegal alternative to state-provided order, common forms of vigilantism in Mexico attempt to galvanize legal, state responses to alleged crimes. This chapter contrasts legal and extralegal methods of crime control and demonstrates that the average citizen views neighborhood participation in detaining alleged criminals and then calling the police as just as appropriate as exclusively police-involved arrests, and as more fair and effective than harsher forms of vigilante punishments. The third empirical chapter characterizes state responses to lynching events in Mexico and citizen-state negotiations surrounding extralegal crime control. The project draws on original discussion groups and in-depth interviews conducted in the state of Michoacán, large-scale, nationwide surveys, and a lynching dataset of events between 2009 and 2019.

Hannah Baron is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Brown University and a Predoctoral Fellow at the Center for US-Mexican Studies, UC San Diego. Her research examines vigilantism, policing, and justice attitudes in Mexico. Her dissertation asks: When do citizens support vigilante punishments? What leads people to view human rights and due process as incompatible with their safety? And how can rights-protecting criminal justice policies gain public support in contexts of ongoing conflict? She uses multiple methods to answer these questions, including in-depth qualitative interviews, focus group discussions, large-scale survey data and survey experiments.

Hannah’s collaborative work on these topics include a field experiment involving citizen deliberations on crime and justice policies in Morelia, Michoacán, an original dataset on contemporary lynchings in Mexico, and practices to better monitor research ethics in violent settings. She also co-coordinates the Democratic Erosion consortium. The consortium helps students and faculty evaluate threats to democracy both at home and abroad through the lens of theory, history, and social science, and spans over 50 universities in multiple countries. Hannah earned her B.A. in Romance Languages and Literatures, and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Harvard College, magna cum laude.

Zenobia Chan

Zenobia Chan (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Princeton University, Department of Politics
“Affluence without Influence? Understanding Positive Economic Statecraft and Influence in International Politics.”

Dissertation Summary
Zenobia’s dissertation is titled “Affluence without Influence? Understanding Positive Economic Statecraft and Influence in International Politics.” This book project investigates how positive economic statecraft––such as foreign aid, loans, and investment––work in influencing preferences and behavior of elites and publics abroad. Drawing on insights from behavioral economics, political psychology, and the domestic politics of foreign policy, she proposes a unifying framework to explain the effectiveness of various types of positive economic statecraft based on their cost contingency and time horizon, and a theory of how these two factors determines (1) the target’s perceptions of the sender’s trade-offs in delivering the economic inducement, (2) the credibility of the promised inducement, and (3) the target’s perceptions of the sender's intentions, and ultimately foreign policy decisions. She combines archival materials, elite interviews, experimental data, and large-N statistical analysis to test this theory in four sets of cases with substantial policy implications: Chinese foreign aid and infrastructure projects in West Africa, the Baltic States’ arms trades with their NATO security partners, vaccine donations to Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chinese support for the Euro during the European debt crisis.

Zenobia Chan is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics at Princeton University, where she studies signaling in foreign policy and the economic statecraft of revisionist powers. Her research interests lie in the intersection of international political economy, security studies, and computational social sciences. Her dissertation book project investigates how positive economic statecraft––such as foreign aid, loans, and investment––work in influencing preferences and behavior of elites and public abroad. Her other research projects examine the effects of Chinese and Russian information operations on voter polarization abroad and develop machine learning techniques for discovering heterogeneous treatment effects.

Prior to her doctoral studies, Zenobia was an analyst and geo-data engineer at Google, Inc. She has also served in analyst and consultant positions at the United Nations, OECD, and World Bank on issues related to development assistance, infrastructure financing, and energy, environmental, and industrial policy. She holds a Master of International Affairs in International Security Policy from Columbia University, an MA summa cum laude in International Economic Policy from Sciences Po Paris, where she was an Alexandre Yersin Scholar of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and a BBA (1st Hon) in International Business and Global Management from the University of Hong Kong.

Soha Hammam

Soha Hammam (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Claremont Graduate University, Department of International Studies
“A Multi-Method Analysis of Civil Resistance Dynamics and Outcomes.”

Dissertation Summary
Soha’s dissertation is a multi-method analysis of civil resistance dynamics and outcomes. The central question of her research is: How can people who are stuck in politically stagnant situations, often against repressive central authority, achieve change? Soha takes a data science and data analytics approach to examine properties of civil resistance that are not easily captured with standard econometrics or country case studies. She implements a set of computational social science methods, some of them dynamic with emergent properties, and some empirical, to examine the connection between authoritarian regime type, repression, and political outcomes. In her dissertation, Soha tests a range of propositions using data analytics and machine learning algorithms and applies agent-based modeling to explore the emergent behavior in civil resistance processes in addition to investigating how different mobilization scenarios can lead to different outcomes. She also performs spatial analysis of civil resistance using Geographic Information Systems to examine the effect of proximity between countries that experience popular uprisings within the same year on civil resistance outcomes.

Soha is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University where she studies civil resistance dynamics and outcomes using computational social science methods. She received her MA in Applied Data Science and International Studies from CGU in 2019. Her research focuses on the prospects for political change in authoritarian regimes through non-violent collective action. Her research received support from The Transdisciplinary Studies Office at Claremont Graduate University. She was also awarded the Claremont Graduate University Scholar Award and the Department of Politics and Economics Board of Advisors Outstanding Scholar Award.

Beyond her dissertation research, Soha is involved in multiple research projects that study the spatial aspects of racial and economic inequality, and how they negatively impact communities of color. Her academic focus is to use her data science training to study strategies to empower vulnerable populations.

Jiwon Kim

Jiwon Kim (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Stanford University, Department of Political Science
“Security, Identity, and Minority Politics: Explaining Ethnic Mobilization in Post-conflict Elections.”

Dissertation Summary
The dissertation explores the political legacies of civil wars, focusing on how ethnic political mobilization is affected by the experiences and outcomes of ethnic conflict. Elections in post-conflict settings present a different set of incentives for both voters and political leaders from peacetime elections. Jiwon argues that ethnic mobilization can weaken in these elections as ethnic minority political leaders are co-opted by the state and voters seek strong national representatives who can bring them security. The dissertation uses both cross-national quantitative data analysis and in-depth case studies to illustrate this dynamic. First, using a newly constructed dataset of constituency-level outcomes of post-conflict elections, it demonstrates that conflict outcomes, rather than the mere ethnic identity labels, determine the success of political parties even after ethnic wars. The cross-national analysis is complemented by a sub-national analysis of Myanmar’s civil war dynamics and election outcomes. It shows how both the state co-optation of ethnic minority leaders and the national aspirations for democratic change have weakened the political salience of ethnicity in a country stricken by prolonged ethnic conflicts. Lastly, the dissertation further explores the individual-level political preferences of conflict-affected minorities through a survey analysis of Tamil voters in post-conflict Sri Lanka.

Jiwon Kim is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the political legacies of ethnic conflict, specifically looking at post-conflict elections in ethnically divided societies. Starting with fieldwork research in Yangon and Chiang Mai during her undergraduate studies, she has pursued an in-depth study into Myanmar’s civil war and ethnic politics. She uses both qualitative interviews with political actors and quantitative data analysis to examine the conflict experiences and political preferences of ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Her dissertation broadens the focus to general cases of post-conflict elections to study how voters’ incentives are shaped by conflict and reflected in the election outcomes. Her work has been supported by the Stanford King Center on Global Development and the National Science Foundation. She graduated from Yale University with a BA in political science.

Sumin Lee

Sumin Lee (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Rutgers University, Department of Political Science
“Gender Justice for Whom: Domestic Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence.”

Dissertation Summary
Why do some governments hold perpetrators of wartime sexual violence accountable while others do not? Sumin’s dissertation answers this question by analyzing variations in the extent to which perpetrators of wartime sexual violence are held accountable for their crimes. She argues that states are motivated to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable as a means of building legitimacy with the international community and domestic audiences. Governments will take accountability measures to build their legitimacy and authority with both domestic and international audiences, but these strategic motivations mean that the resulting measures are likely to be ill-designed and limited in reaching victims and survivors. Sumin collects an original dataset that comprehensively documents different types of accountability measures for wartime sexual violence in conflict-affected African countries between 1998 and 2018. She adopts a mixed-methods approach, including geospatial data analysis, and interviews with advocacy groups and legal experts. The dissertation provides a better understanding of the political dynamics behind impunity and accountability for wartime sexual violence by showing how legitimacy-seeking incentives lead to limited form accountability for wartime sexual violence.

Sumin Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University. Her dissertation explores the political dynamics behind impunity and accountability for wartime sexual violence during and after civil conflicts. She examines how legitimacy-seeking governments strategically adopt accountability measures to win domestic and international supports. Her research interests include conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, women’s roles in conflict and peacebuilding process, and domestic and international accountability for sexual and gender-based violence.

Sumin has received financial supports from the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM) Institute and the School of Graduate Studies of Rutgers University. She has worked as a graduate research assistant for the NSF-funded Borders and Boundaries Project (NSF #1917573), where she specialized in data management, geospatial analysis, and text analysis. She holds a BA in political science and international relations from Korea University, South Korea.

Casey Mahoney

Casey Mahoney (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences
“How Friends Fight: International Alliances, Military Technology, and Intra-Alliance Bargaining in the Shadow of Conflict.”

Dissertation Summary
This dissertation asks why allied states succeed or fail in adapting military strategy to changing circumstances, particularly when new warfighting technologies and doctrines emerge. Early research for this project has focused on U.S.-U.K. strategic decision-making in the first years of World War II and on efforts the U.S. has led among its contemporary allies to adopt policies setting ethical guardrails on military applications of artificial intelligence (AI). Mahoney’s theory argues that variation in alliance institutions ought to affect the structure of intra-alliance bargaining over choices in policy, strategy, and doctrine and tactics among transnational actors, from civilian leaders, bureaucrats, and defense industry representatives to military commanders and logisticians. As allies adopt new methods of threatening and using force—methods that change the types of technical information and expertise required to adopt optimal strategies—whether institutions evolve to enable the necessary information-exchange among allies has consequences for alliance resilience. In an era in which international multipolarity is shifting the incentives states face to preserve or change their relations with allies, this project seeks to shed light on questions policymakers will need to address in managing alliance politics and military strategy in the twenty-first century.

Casey Mahoney is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a Shawn Brimley Next Generation National Security Fellow with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. His research focuses on international security issues including alliance politics, emerging military technology and strategy, and the interaction of domestic and international security institutions. Prior to coming to Penn, Casey served as a Nunn-Lugar Fellow at the U.S. Department of Defense. While at the Pentagon, he contributed to the Department’s counter-ISIL team as the country director for Jordan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy) from 2015 to 2017, and he supported WMD nonproliferation efforts in the Asia-Pacific region by advising on Cooperative Threat Reduction program oversight matters from 2013 to 2015. Casey has also conducted research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. His work has appeared in War on the Rocks, the Washington Post “Monkey Cage” blog, and Orbis.

Casey holds an M.A. in nonproliferation and terrorism studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a B.A. in Russian from Middlebury College.

Paula Mantilla-Blanco

Paula Mantilla-Blanco (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Columbia University, Department of International & Transcultural Studies
“Education through Memory Sites: Youth and the (Im)Possibility of Peace in Colombia.”

Dissertation Summary
“Education through Memory Sites: Youth and the (Im)Possibility of Peace in Colombia” examines the role of state-sponsored memory sites, such as museums and memorials, in creating and disseminating memories of conflict and expectations about peace. It draws on a multiple-case study of three memory sites in Colombia to explore the link between students’ personal, intergenerational, and collective memories of violence and their views on the possibility of achieving peace. Focusing on school visits to state-sponsored memory sites, Paula’s dissertation highlights the intersection of public pedagogy and formal schooling. It examines how students interact with memory sites and their staff, as representations of the post-conflict state, in a context of protracted violence and continuous peace-seeking. The project uses a mixed methods research design incorporating surveys, observations, focus groups, and interviews with students, teachers, curators, and other key actors, to analyze the pedagogical use of memory sites. By examining the connections between past and future and between individuals and collectives, this project sheds light on the challenges that arise as youth situate themselves as social and historical subjects in a country transitioning to peace.

Paula Mantilla-Blanco is a Ph.D. student in Comparative and International Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include education in post-conflict and transitional contexts, the construction and transmission of collective memories of violence, and the role of education in transitional justice processes. Her dissertation focuses on the pedagogical use of state-sponsored memory sites in Colombia. Paula holds an MA in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies from Loyola University Chicago and a BS in Mathematics from the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. Her pre-dissertation research was funded by the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity at Columbia University.

Aidan Milliff

Aidan Milliff (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science
“Seeking Safety: The Cognitive and Social Foundations of Behavior During Violence.”

Dissertation Summary
Aidan’s dissertation asks: in complex political violence scenarios, like inter-communal conflict in South Asia, what determines the strategies that people pursue to keep themselves safe? The actions civilians take during conflict have substantial political consequences, but existing literature falls short in explaining why one person might respond to violence by leaving their home while their neighbor stays put and tries to weather the storm. Aidan develops a political psychology theory, situational appraisal theory, which focuses on variation in individual interpretations of violent environments to explain civilian behavior. The dissertation first uses situational appraisal theory to explain the behavior of Indian Sikhs who encountered violence in rural insurgency and urban pogroms during the 1980s. Pairing original interviews with a novel method for applying multilingual text classification algorithms and automated video-analysis tools to analyze an archive of hundreds of oral history videos, the project shows that situational appraisals of control and predictability explain substantial variation in individuals’ choice of survival strategies when confronting violence. The dissertation then tests the generalizability of situational appraisal theory to international security domains, using survey experiments to evaluate how control and predictability framing influences foreign policy preferences in an online study about hypothetical U.S.–China military confrontation.

Aidan Milliff is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a 2021-2022 predoctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. He is an affiliate of the MIT Security Studies Program and the Harvard Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, and was a 2016-7 MIT Presidential Fellow. His work combines computational social science and qualitative tools to answer questions about the cognitive, emotional, and social forces that shape political violence, migration, post-violence politics, and the politics of South Asia. His work appears or is forthcoming in AAAI, Political Behavior, the Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog, War on the Rocks, and other outlets.

Before MIT, Aidan was a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he studied nuclear deterrence and the military balance in South Asia, as well as domestic state capacity and governance in India. He holds a BA in political science and MA in international relations from the University of Chicago. He was born and raised in Colorado.

Dijana Mujkanovic

Dijana Mujkanovic (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
“Conflict Prevention and Transformation: A Study of the Effects of Contact between Ethnic Groups in Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Dissertation Summary
Intergroup contact theory suggests that increased contact between ethnic groups reduces prejudice and, consequently, violent conflict, but empirical research shows conflicting results. Dijana’s dissertation, “Conflict Prevention and Transformation: A Study of the Effects of Contact Between Ethnic Groups in Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” aims to address this gap by exploring how different qualities and quantities of contact between groups affects conflict outcomes. During her fieldwork in Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina, she will gather preliminary data to conduct network and ethnographic analysis of relationships between individuals belonging to separate ethnic groups in places with prior occurrence(s) of ethnic violence. Greater understanding of the nature of contact between groups and its relation to conflict is incredibly valuable. Dijana hopes that her research will offer important insights about interethnic relations to help better inform the design of national and subnational cross-group initiatives that promote peaceful relations in conflict regions.

Dijana is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds an M.A. in Public Policy with a specialization in Conflict Resolution and Mediation from Tel Aviv University and a B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies from North Central College. Her research centers around intergroup contact and ethnic conflict, migration, and ethnonationalism. Dijana is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Mediterranean Studies, which is a joint initiative of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the European Studies Center, and the Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to her arrival to GSPIA, Dijana worked with various grassroots and international organizations in the sphere of civil and human rights advocacy, specifically as they relate to refugees, indigenous populations, and other marginalized communities. She spent seven years doing such work in the Middle East, primarily Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Dijana is originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, she arrived in the United States with her family as a war refugee in 1999.

Paul Orner

Paul Orner (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | University of Southern California, Department of Political Science & International Relations
“The Logics of Chinese Strategy: How the PRC Undermines American Security Partnerships.”

Dissertation Summary
Paul’s dissertation analyzes the perceptions and assumptions that undergird Chinese strategy. While academic and policy audiences blame Chinese overconfidence, nationalism, or domestic dysfunctions, “The Logics of Chinese Strategies” highlights the specific perceptions that drive Beijing’s decisions to adapt either cooperative or coercive tactics. Conducting an in-depth qualitative analysis of Chinese-language policy statements, government reports, and academic publications, Paul demonstrates that contrary to conventional wisdom, a rising China will not necessarily drive Indo-Pacific states to upgrade security cooperation with the U.S. In fact, Chinese strategists perceive ways in which the PRC’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric and assertive tactics will undermine American influence and secure China’s future in the Indo-Pacific. More recently, Paul has expanded his dissertation to document the ways in which Chinese forces have modified their tactics during the coronavirus pandemic, shedding light on how China will conduct itself during future periods of global uncertainty.

Paul Orner is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California and a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies. He is also an Adjunct Researcher at the RAND Corporation. Paul was previously a U.S.-Asia Grand Strategy Fellow at USC’s Korean Studies Institute. Paul’s research has been supported by the Department of Education’s Foreign Language Area Studies program and a Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

Prior to commencing his graduate studies, Paul spent a number of years studying and working in East Asia, focusing on China-Japan relations and Indo-Pacific security, as well as working as a report analyst at the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, a Beijing-based NGO focused on inclusive and green development. He has also worked as a private investigator, tracking Chinese trafficking of telecommunications hardware. He received a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Asian Studies from Saint Joseph’s University. He is professionally proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese.

Apekshya Prasai

Apekshya Prasai (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science
“Gendered Processes of Civil War: Understanding Women’s Inclusion in Rebel Organizations.”

Dissertation Summary 
Why do male-dominated rebel organizations pursue gender inclusivity? When, how and why do rebel groups operating in patriarchal societies include women? In what ways do women influence this process? Apekshya’s dissertation, “Gendered Processes of Civil War: Understanding Women’s Inclusion in Rebel Organizations”, seeks to address these questions through a temporal analysis of women’s inclusion within the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) during the People’s War in Nepal (1996-2006) and supplementary case studies of women in rebel groups across South Asia. Drawing on ethnographic approaches, she bases this analysis on original data collected through repeated informal conversations and formal interviews with elite as well as rank-and-file, male and female, CPN-M rebels across various districts in Nepal. Her dissertation also analyzes previously unexamined Nepali language, primary source documents like CPN-M affiliated magazines to further shed light on gender dynamics within the CPN-M. Original data from Nepal will be supplemented by secondary data from other South Asian conflicts to assess the mechanisms that trigger rebels to adopt inclusive policies and practices. Through this project Apekshya intends to shed light on the processes that underlie women’s inclusion in violent groups and highlight the ways in which women influence these processes.

Apekshya Prasai is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studies gendered processes of civil war. Her research examines gendered practices, women’s activism and women’s inclusion within rebel organizations and interrogates how women’s agitation influences gender dynamics within rebel groups. Her scholarship focuses on South Asia, particularly Nepal, where she has conducted fieldwork among former Maoist rebels. Previously, she has conducted field-based research on the impact of disaster aid on women’s economic empowerment post-2015 earthquake in Nepal and has also designed and implemented programs to support violence affected women and children in the country.

Apekshya is a non-resident fellow at Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative and a junior scholar with the International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network (IPSCON). In addition to the United States Institute of Peace, her research has received support from MIT’s Center for International Studies, MIT India Program, MIT Governance Lab and the Jeanne E Guillemin fund. Apekshya holds a B.A. in Government and Legal Studies with honors from Bowdoin College.

Faizaan Qayyum

Faizaan Qayyum (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
“Dis-placemaking: Ethnicization of Afghan lives in Quetta, Pakistan.”

Dissertation Summary
Faizaan’s dissertation studies how subnational identities influence displaced people’s urban experiences, and how urban space is accessed, used, and produced as a result. Using the example of Afghan Pashtuns and Afghan Hazaras who now live in Quetta, Pakistan, Faizaan shows how their identities are ethnicized in the city and how this ethnicization leads to different social and spatial experiences for each group. The project uses qualitative data to break down the “Afghan” identity into its constituent subnational identities as they play out in Quetta. It then uses comparative process tracing techniques to study how these identities influence urban experiences including education, health, and livelihood opportunities and how these opportunities are distributed spatially for each group.

This dissertation makes several contributions to our understanding of displacement in general and urban refugees in particular. Specifically, it highlights the potential for both conflict and nonviolent outcomes in situations of mass displacement, informing global humanitarian governance of key ways in which subnational identities shape these outcomes. Through a focus on processes, the project’s findings would hold relevance for forcefully displaced populations around the world and especially in the Global South.

Faizaan Qayyum is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He studies how identity, violence, and displacement influence cities and urban life in the Global South. His work has focused on how groups that face discrimination and targeted violence organize amongst themselves and engage with state planning processes to acquire basic urban services and make political claims. Faizaan is now studying how forced displacements across international borders influence urban life and how displaced populations’ localized urban experiences are mediated by their subnational ethnic identities.

Faizaan holds degrees in Urban Planning from UIUC and Economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. He has previously studied socioeconomic and market linkages between large metropolitan areas and smaller urban centers in their hinterland, with a focus on how class and gender shape mobility and economic participation for residents. He is a co-founder of Aahang, a Lahore-based student-run initiative that strives for respect, tolerance, and mutually beneficial nonviolent exchanges among various religious, sectarian, and ethnic communities.

Matt Schissler

Matt Schissler (USIP Peace Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | University of Michigan, Department of Anthropology
“Histories of Violence and Inter-religious Life in Myanmar.”

Dissertation Summary
In Myanmar, the year 2012 marked a transition away from decades of authoritarian rule; it also featured incidents of anti-Muslim violence, first against ethnic Rohingya in western Myanmar and then against non-Rohingya Muslims elsewhere in the country. Because Muslims in Myanmar faced violence during British colonial rule and after, most foreign observers concluded that violence was the continuation of an established pattern. This fit the expectation that ethnic violence is the “dark side of transition”: an inevitable result where controls over a pre-existing conflict are relaxed by the end of authoritarianism. This assumption of inevitability, in turn, helped justify diplomatic and economic engagements with state and non-state actors in Myanmar even as some of them worked to promote what investigators would later conclude amounts to genocide. It also echoed the way assumptions about patterns of violence have shaped international responses to other conflicts, such as in Yugoslavia. My dissertation project thus seeks novel approaches to understanding the background to a recent period of violence, through an anthropological history of changes in interreligious relations between Buddhists, Muslims, and others over time in Myanmar.

Matt Schissler is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research seeks to understand the production of violence and peace in its social and historical context. Matt’s doctoral work has received support from the Social Science Research Council, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Blakemore-Freeman Foundation, and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He was ordered to return from fieldwork in Myanmar two weeks after beginning a Fulbright-Hays, due to the pandemic.

Prior to graduate school, Matt spent nearly a decade living in Myanmar and with refugee communities in Thailand. He worked as a member of local organizations that seek to document war crimes and violations of human rights, conduct independent journalism, and strengthen civil society. During this time he also co-founded the Myanmar Media and Society (M.MAS) Research Project, a partnership between a leading digital rights organization in Myanmar and St Antony’s College, Oxford. Matt speaks Burmese and holds an M.St. in international human rights law from Oxford and a BA in politics and in rhetoric from Whitman College. He has an infant and a toddler and spent the pandemic caring for them in the rural Pacific Northwest.

Mashal Shabbir

Mashal Shabbir (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | American University, School of International Service
“Rebelling Against the Rebellion: Explaining the Magnitude of Insurgent Group Disintegration.”

Dissertation Summary
In her dissertation, “Rebelling Against the Rebellion: Explaining the Magnitude of Insurgent Group Disintegration”, Shabbir examines why patterns of disintegration vary across insurgent groups. Conventional wisdom on the subject equates disintegration with splintering, or the emergence of a new insurgent group from a parent group. However, insurgent groups can disintegrate in a range of ways during conflict. Some insurgent groups experience large-scale splits, while others experience little to no disintegration. She aims to provide an explanation for this variation by developing and testing a theoretical framework focused on intra-group decision-making dynamics. To this end, she has prepared an original dataset on insurgent group factions and analyzes it using qualitative comparative analysis and regression analysis. She aims to test her theory further by conducting a comparative case study of two insurgent groups involved in the Algerian conflict of the 1990s, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). This dissertation aims to contribute to academic and policy discussions on the resilience/vulnerability of insurgent groups by focusing on the underexplored role of intra-group leaders and their decisions.

Shabbir is a doctoral candidate at the School of International Service (American University). She is passionate about understanding the causes and drivers of political violence and how academic research on intra-state conflict can be leveraged to guide policy and practice. In line with this approach, she works as a research manager to support the Research on International Policy Implementation Lab (RIPIL), an affiliate of the Bridging the Gap initiative. Prior to joining her doctoral program, Shabbir taught self-designed courses on international relations theory in Pakistan to undergraduate students. She obtained an MA in International Relations with merit from Kings College London (UK) where she wrote her graduate thesis on how Pakistan-United States relations after 9/11 affected Pakistan’s internal security and political development. She holds a B.Sc. in Economics and Finance from the Lahore School of Economics (Pakistan).

Aaron Stanley

Aaron Stanley (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | The Graduate Center, City University of New York
“Local Conceptions and Perceptions of Legitimacy in Post-Conflict States.”

Dissertation Summary
Aaron’s dissertation, “Local Conceptions and Perceptions of Legitimacy in Post-Conflict States,” examines how community consensus on conceptions of political legitimacy impact violence and civic order in states recovering from long-term conflict. Political legitimacy is often considered a critical component of establishing political-institutional stability and improving the efficacy of government programs. Government coercion that lacks legitimacy is believed to lead to a range of societal pushbacks from everyday forms of resistance to outright rebellion. Still, internal and external efforts to develop legitimate and accepted institutions in post-conflict states regularly fail to institutionalize governance arrangements despite a politically active and engaged citizenry.

Through a comparative study of communities in Puntland and Galmaduug federal member states in Somalia, the research aims to better understand the norms, values, and activities that aggregate into a conception of political legitimacy in different Somali communities, and how community consensus on legitimacy’s inputs affects government longevity, citizen cooperation, and levels of violence. The research design is participant-driven. Focus groups will participate in indicator development and photovoice activities to identify the norm and rules that underlie conceptions and perceptions of legitimacy, and how communities apply these understandings to local and national government institutions.

Aaron Stanley is a Ph.D. candidate in the political science department at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research focuses on political legitimacy, state-building, and civic order in post-conflict states. His dissertation, “Local Conceptions and Perceptions of Legitimacy in Post-Conflict States,” examines how variation in community conceptions and consensus around political rules and norms contribute to a government’s longevity, citizen cooperation, and levels of violence.

Aaron is a program analyst at Carnegie Corporation of New York where he supports the Peacebuilding in Africa, Asian Security, and Bridging the Gap grantmaking programs. He has written for Political Violence at a Glance and Kujenga Amani, and produced and hosted the podcast series Peacebuilders featured on

Previously, Aaron was based in Mogadishu, Somalia, working for Finn Church Aid, where he managed conflict resolution programs. Additionally, he has worked for the Somali program at Conflict Dynamics International, volunteered with Concordis International and the New York Peace Institute, and interned with the U.S. House of Representatives and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Aaron holds an MSc in Violence, Conflict, and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a BA from Boston University in International Relations and African Studies. 

Olivia Woldemikael

Olivia Woldemikael (USIP-Minerva Peace and Security Scholar Fellow)
Ph.D. Candidate | Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
“South-South Migrants, Refugees, and Hosts: Lessons of Tolerance from Uganda and Colombia.”

Dissertation Summary
Millions of forced migrants are fleeing conflict and insecurity, leading many host citizens to respond with xenophobia and host governments to restrict migration. The project asks, given the perceived burden of migrant hosting, what drives Colombian municipalities and communities to incorporate forced migrants from Venezuela? The electoral and bureaucratic incentives for exclusion of migrants and minorities are well-examined in the academic literature, concluding that electoral competition, partisanship, and nativist citizen sentiment are important determinants. The dissertation contributes to this literature by theorizing and empirically testing the incentives for tolerance by host governments and citizens. Woldemikael’s research examines when Colombian politicians and bureaucrats support Venezuelan migrant inclusion and how support for inclusion built from their constituents. The dissertation project relies on mixed methods using qualitative data, including interviews with political elites and focus group discussions with migrants and host communities, and quantitative analyses of administrative and original data, including mayoral platforms, electoral data, and data on previous displacement and conflict, and a survey of host citizens.

Olivia Woldemikael is a fourth year Ph.D. student of Comparative Politics in the Harvard Government Department. Her research focuses on migrant integration in Africa, Latin America, and the US. Olivia’s dissertation zooms in on two case studies, investigating the migrant-hosting dynamics in Uganda and Colombia, looking at how political discourse, migrant and refugee-led organizations, and national policies influence migrant inclusion. In other projects with collaborators, she examines how the local application of migration policies affects refugees, immigrants, and host communities. One project examines the impact of aid-sharing between refugees and their host communities on support for refugee inclusion. The other studies the adverse consequences of increased immigration enforcement in the US, which has been published in Political Behavior. Earlier stage works focus on the consequences of public service quality and access for social integration of refugees and the financial implications of refugee-hosting in cities. Before starting grad school, Olivia previously worked for the UN World Food Programme in Uganda (2015-2017) on refugee assistance, and on recovery and social protection programs. She has also written policy-focused articles that have been published in the Washington Post’s The Monkey Cage, African Arguments, Ethiopian Insight, Africa is a Country, and Media Diversified.