Jennings Randolph Peace Scholar Dissertation Scholarships and Minerva-USIP peace and Security Dissertation Scholarships are awarded to outstanding doctoral students in U.S. universities. The fellowships support ten months of dissertation research and writing on topics addressing the sources, nature, prevention, and management of international conflict.
This year’s Peace Scholar cohort is composed of 14 Peace Scholars who are conducting their dissertation research across the globe. To learn more, read their biographies below.
Current Peace Scholars
- Consuelo Amat
- Michael Wilson Becerril
- Zinaida Besirevic
- Austin Knuppe
- Roxanne Krystalli
- Summer E. Lindsey
- Michael Marcusa
- Salma Mousa
- Kerry Ann Carter Persen
- Mara Revkin
- Meshack Simati
- Benjamin J. Spatz
- Alissa Walter
- Frances Yaping Wang
Consuelo Amat is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Yale University. She studies state repression, civil society development, and nonviolent and armed resistance. Her dissertation examines how opposition to authoritarian rule develops in the face of state repression, specifically during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1973-1989). It maps the entire universe of cases of opposition, from its most incipient forms, regardless of objectives and strategy. The first part of the dissertation explains the transition from onset to sustained resistance with an original dataset of more than 900 opposition groups, compiled from archives and interviews. The second part of the dissertation focuses on the top targets of the regime and explains why some groups were more resilient to repression than others. Consuelo compiled an individual-level dataset of the regime’s top targets to estimate their relative rates of survival by group. The analysis is based on the comparison of militants on the government’s kill lists with the militants who were eventually repressed. The third part of the dissertation focuses on one form of resistance that emerged as a result of repression and not in spite of it: the resistance of families of the victims of the repression. It identifies the conditions under which we will observe this new opposition by leveraging archival materials, interviews with former leaders of these groups, and another original dataset that geo-codes the emergence of the new organizations across Chile.
The John F. Enders Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, and Yale University’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies have supported her research. Previously, Consuelo was a Research Assistant at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program, studying and publishing on security in Latin America. She graduated with B.A. degrees in International Affairs and Philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and holds an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University’s Government Department.
Michael Wilson Becerril is a Mexico City native and a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), where he studies peace and conflict in Latin America. Wilson’s research is situated at the intersection of everyday politics and violent conflict. His dissertation seeks to understand why mining conflicts escalate into, and transform away from, violence. To answer this puzzle, the dissertation compares four case studies of similar gold mining projects in the north of Peru. During 14 months of immersive, ethnographic field research, Wilson conducted more than 230 formal interviews with key actors on various sides of conflicts. Additionally, he collected and coded more than 900 archives.
Among other support for his work, Wilson has been a University of California Eugene Cota Robles Fellow (2012-2017), a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and a Ph.D. Fellow at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. As an undergraduate, Wilson was a student activist, student body president, co-founder and co-host of a news radio show, News Editor of the campus newspaper, tutor, and representative to state and countrywide student organizations. At UCSC, Wilson has worked as a Research Mentor, Teaching Assistant, Reader, and Instructor in the Politics, Latin American and Latina/o Studies, and Legal Studies departments. Recently, Wilson was also a researcher and content analyst for a U.S. Minerva Research Initiative project on the reasons radicals and terrorists eschew or abandon violence. Although he has studied the Andes and Amazon most intensely, Wilson has researched several other countries in Latin America and conducted fieldwork in Costa Rica, Guyana, and Mexico. When he receives his PhD, he will continue working at the intersection of anti-oppressive education and research that is socially engaged and policy-oriented.
Zinaida Besirevic, (Minerva-USIP Peace and Security Scholar)
“Equal Rights, Inherent Dignity and the Small Print: How children and adults make moral judgments about violations of Human Rights”
University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, Human Development and Cognition
Zinaida’s research is in the field of cognitive-developmental psychology, and more specifically the development of moral reasoning. She has a background in Philosophy (MA), Education (MA) and Political Science (BA), as well as professional experience working in post conflict development. She brings a blend of these perspectives to her current research pursuits focused on understanding social inequalities, violence, and people's conceptions of justice and harm. She is particularly interested in children and adolescents whose development is impacted by violent conflict and societal divisions.
Zinaida dissertation is a cross cultural research study, based on clinical interview method, comparing children and adults in their reasoning about violations of Human Rights and infringements on human dignity. She works with populations in the U.S., Turkey and the Balkans, looking at several dimensions of cultural differences and similarities between the three, including how historical legacies and sociopolitical realities may differently impact people’s perceptions of who and when, does or not, merit rights and dignity. Studying people at different ages, she also hopes to better understand in what ways does moral reasoning change with development, and whether and why we become more likely to tolerate harm.
Austin Knuppe is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at The Ohio State University. With concentrations in international relations and political methodology, his research interests include post-conflict peace building, militia politics, and the study of religion in international politics. His dissertation examines US security force assistance to the anti-ISIL coalition in Iraq, focusing on how noncombatants perceive of the legitimacy of foreign support to local security providers. Other work develops a typology of state building strategies used by great powers, as well as how non-state militias legitimize their activity in the eyes of the civilian population. His work has been supported by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, the Ohio State Decision Science Collaborative, and the John Templeton Foundation.
Prior to Ohio State, Austin was a Robert Bosch Fellows in Berlin working in policy planning at the German Federal Ministry of Defense and as a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. He also works as an outside instructor for the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. He has a MA from the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago and a BA from Calvin College.
Roxanne Krystalli, (Minerva-USIP Peace and Security Scholar)
“We are not good victims:” Hierarchies of Suffering and the Politics of Victimhood in Colombia
Tufts University, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,
Roxanne Krystalli’s project examines the politics of victimhood in Colombia. Victimhood is not a mere description of having suffered harm, but also a political status and site of power and contestation during transitions from violence. Despite the recurrence of the category of ‘the victims’ within transitional justice and peace research and mechanisms, there are gradations among and within groups vying for this recognition: a politics and performance of victimhood. Roxanne’s project investigates these politics of victimhood in Colombia’s transitional context: How do the state, human rights actors, and conflict-affected individuals themselves construct hierarchies of suffering and on what basis? What are the implications of these politics and bureaucracies of victimhood for conflict-affected individuals’ experiences of peace and justice? The goal is to focus not only on the legacies of violence, but also on the less-examined legacies of transitional justice.
Roxanne is a PhD Candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She has spent a decade working on issues of gender and violence in conflict areas and transitional contexts, including working with ex-combatants and victims of violence in Colombia, Guatemala, Uganda, Sudan, Mexico, Pakistan, and other areas in collaboration with international organizations and community-based groups. Her most recent project is a 4-country refugee research study, examining the moral and financial economies of forced migration in Greece, Jordan, Turkey, and Denmark. For her work, Roxanne has been recognized with the Presidential Award for Citizenship and Service at Tufts University. She is a recipient of the Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) and Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (DPDF), a fellowship from the Institute for Human Security, and a P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship. Roxanne holds a BA from Harvard University and an MA from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Summer E. Lindsey is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Columbia University. Her research examines violence against women in the wake of armed conflict. In her dissertation, she provides a theory of attitude and norm change during war. She uses a three-pronged approach—quantitative, experimental, and qualitative in nature—to empirically test attitude, norm, and behavior change in relation to armed conflict across eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Her study informs our understanding of post conflict environments while pushing the field of political science into new territory. In addition, her work aims to enrich the lives of the other “half the sky”.
Summer has conducted fieldwork in Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Croatia. Her dissertation research has been supported by the National Science Foundation; Folke Bernadotte Academy; and the Earth Institute, Harriman Institute, and Department of Political Science at Columbia University. She has also worked on two randomized control trials, evaluating a program designed to reduce violence against women in Madyha Pradesh, India and a community-driven development program in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Michael Marcusa is a Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Brown University. His research agenda addresses the question of why jihadist movements gain a following in some places but not others. His dissertation research approaches the issue of jihadist radicalization through a comparative study of two economically marginalized towns in Tunisia – the largest contributor of foreign fighters to IS. Through a combination of quantitative event tracking, 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork, and comparative historical analysis, the dissertation shows how different local histories create different political cultures that impact the way youth respond to jihadist recruitment efforts. The dissertation points to a new way of thinking about radicalism. While existing scholarship treats jihadist radicalism as solely a product of contemporary socio-economic dynamics, the dissertation argues that in certain cases, the ideology may just be a contemporary idiom for the expression of much older identities.
A proficient reader and speaker of Arabic, Marcusa has lived and traveled extensively in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the course of his dissertation research, he has held grants from the National Science Foundation in collaboration with the Watson Institute for International Studies and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies. An early distillation of the ideas behind his dissertation project received the Mark Tessler Prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper on North Africa . Before coming to Brown, Marcusa received a BA from Dartmouth College with Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude Honors.
Salma Mousa is an Egyptian Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Stanford University. She holds holds a B.Sc. in International Politics from Georgetown University in Qatar, where she researched secular governance, sectarianism, and democratization at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, and the Aljazeera Network. She also worked on launching an online portal to tackle Arab youth unemployment in addition to the region's first Arabic-language school of public policy (the Doha Institute). At Stanford, she has held fellowships at the Center for International Development, the Center on International Conflict and Negotiation, the Freeman Spogli Institute, and the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Salma is also a collaborative research fellow at Stanford's Immigration Policy Lab, where she is researching, designing, and testing interventions aimed at resettling refugees in the U.S. in partnership with the International Rescue Committee.
Salma's dissertation investigates the impact of integration policies on Muslims and non-Muslims in the Arab world. Combining field experiments, large-scale surveys, and Ottoman census data, her work shows how inter-group contact and nation-building policies can shape trusting attitudes -- and more importantly, behaviors -- among both minorities and majorities.
Kerry Ann Carter Persen, (Minerva-USIP Peace and Security Scholar)
“The Moderates’ Dilemma: Asymmetric Costs and the Case of Islamic Extremism”
Stanford University, Department of Political Science
Kerry Ann Carter Persen is a Carnegie Predoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the impact of violent extremism on political behavior in the Islamic World. In her dissertation, she develops a theory of the microfoundations of moderate mobilization against extremist groups using the case of Islamist extremism in Indonesia. Employing fieldwork, survey data, and observational data, she shows that moderates and extremists face asymmetric costs in the decision to voice their private preferences publicly. This asymmetry results in a failure of moderates to act collectively in line with their individual beliefs, a coordination dilemma called the “Moderates Dilemma.”
Kerry’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Global Religion Research Initiative at Notre Dame, the Horowitz Foundation, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, among others. Prior to graduate school, Kerry was the recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Award and worked at the U.S-Indonesia Society in Washington, D.C. She graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College with a double major in Government and Economics.
Mara Revkin is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Yale University, where her research focuses on governance and lawmaking by armed groups. Her dissertation examines the state-building project (and eventual state failure) of the Islamic State (IS) through multi-method data collection and analysis of archival documents, social media data, surveys, and interviews with key informants including former IS employees conducted during extensive fieldwork in Turkey and Iraq.
Mara holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was an Islamic Law & Civilization Research Fellow in 2016-2017, and is a member of the New York State Bar Association. Her legal scholarship focuses on the treatment of civilians who have lived in areas controlled and governed by terrorist groups under international humanitarian law and domestic material support laws. Her work has been published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law, and the UCLA Journal of Near Eastern and Islamic Law, among others. Before graduate school, she was a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Middle East Program) and a Fulbright Fellow in Jordan and Oman. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Arabic from Swarthmore College.
Meshack Simati, (USIP Peace Scholar)
“The False Promise of the Judiciary in Reducing Election Violence among African Countries”
Georgia State University, Department of Political Science
Meshack is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Georgia State University. His research areas of interest are institutions, elections and election related violence in unconsolidated democracies. He conducted fieldwork in Kenya in spring 2017 which was supported by the Georgia State Library travel grant and Georgia State Department of Political Science. His dissertation explores the implications of variation in judicial independence on the prevalence of election violence among African countries. The dissertation specifically looks at the circumstances under which the judiciary is more likely to influence or mitigate election violence. He uses quantitative analysis for cross-national comparison of elections conducted in sub-Saharan African countries after 1990. Qualitatively, he employs elite interviews and process tracing for the case study analysis of Kenya.
He speaks Swahili, served as an undergraduate student government president and prior to embarking on graduate studies, he worked as a community organizer for Bridging the Gap Africa Inc. He has also worked as an education and life skills volunteer for World Vision International creating books to be locally-adapted and contextualized for teaching and learning in marginalized communities served by World Vision. He is a graduate research fellow on a grant funded project that explores how terrorist groups utilize media for recruitment. He holds a BA from Bowling Green State University and an MA in Political Science from the University of New Orleans.
Benjamin J. Spatz, (Minerva-USIP Peace and Security Scholar)
“Bullets, Banks and Borders: How Targeted Sanctions Can Alter the Political Power Landscape in Sanctioned States”
Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Benjamin J. Spatz is a PhD Candidate at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on comparative politics and international conflict management. His dissertation explores how international targeted sanctions alter the domestic balance of political power in sanctioned polities, and the implications for elite political bargaining preferences, governance strategies and political outcomes. From 2013-2015 the UN Secretary-General appointed him as the Arms Expert on the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia to lead sanctions investigations into arms embargo violations, arms trafficking and regional militant activity. He previously investigated natural resource sanctions for the UN Security Council; served as Special Advisor to the Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Liberian Minister of Internal Affairs; worked for a relief organization in Darfur, Sudan; and monitored elections in Sierra Leone and Liberia. He is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Truman National Security Fellow. Ben holds a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he received the Sergio Vieira de Mello Humanitarian Award, and degrees in Philosophy and International Studies from the University of Washington where he was twice awarded grants from the Mary Gates Endowment. He is the recipient of doctoral awards from the Eisenhower Institute, Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation, the Topol Family Foundation, the Tobin Project and Tufts University. He is an award winning photojournalist and Contributing Editor of the national literary magazine Alaska Quarterly Review.
Alissa Walter, (USIP Peace Scholar)
“The Ba‘th Party in Baghdad: State-Society Relations through Wars, Sanctions, and Authoritarianism”
Georgetown University, Department of Middle Eastern History
Alissa Walter is a Ph.D. Candidate in Middle Eastern History at Georgetown University. Her research explores state-society dynamics within authoritarian contexts in the modern Middle East. Her dissertation examines how ‘ordinary’ Iraqis responded to urban development, economic shocks, the rise of identity politics, changing gender norms, and shifting social networks in the Iraqi capital during key periods of disruption from 1950 to 2003. This study draws on the Iraqi Ba‘th Party archives, the Saddam Hussein collection of auditory recordings, fieldwork in Iraq, and archival research in the UK, France, Greece, and US. The American Association of University Women, the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund, The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq, and others have generously funded her research.
Alissa earned an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and a B.A. in History from Seattle Pacific University. She is proficient in Arabic, Spanish, and French.
Frances Yaping Wang is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia in Political Science. She studies International Security and Comparative Politics, with a focus on territorial disputes, diplomatic crisis, foreign policy and politics of authoritarian and post-Communist states, public opinion and nationalism, and international relations of East Asia. Her dissertation examines the motivations and conditions when authoritarian states allow, promote, or even stage-manage media coverage of a foreign dispute, using primary sources from archives and interviews in China and Vietnam as well as computer-assisted text analysis of People’s Daily. Her research has been supported by the Albert Gallatin Research Fellowship, Dumas Malone Research Fellowship, Sally and Bruce Nelson Travel Grant, and Quandt International Research Fund, among others. She’s worked as a senior editor at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has authored a number of op-eds and policy papers on subjects of Asian affairs and international security. Wang holds a joint Master’s degree in Comparative Politics and International Affairs from George Washington University and National University of Singapore.