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Research

My scholarship is invested understanding how social actors remember, reconcile, and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of mass violence and atrocity. Such cases range from genocide, racial terrorism, and sexual assault, with a focus on how social location shapes individual and communal healing after violent crime. Understanding the racial and gendered social processes that occur after adversity is crucial, because the way people memorialize their past through institutions, narratives, and shared identities influences how they construct their future. My book analyzes the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide but scroll down to see my ongoing research projects.

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Why do people risk their lives to save others?

Rescue Behavior during Genocide

I am currently working on a project that analyzes a different dimension of genocidal violence: those who saved others during times of mass violence. Hundreds of millions of people have been killed in genocide over the past century, often at the hands of their fellow citizens. Yet, during each episode of mass violence, many people chose a different path: they not only resist genocidal violence, they actively save others. Our interview sample, completed in 2019, is now the largest qualitative database of Rwandans who engaged in rescue during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With my colleague Dr. Hollie Nyseth Brehm, we focus on two analytical dimensions: individual and communal-level dynamics.

 

Check out our most recent publications on rescuers based on our preliminary sample in Social ForcesJournal of Genocide Research and Genocide Studies and Prevention. Our work was also awarded the 2018 Harry Frank Guggenheim Distinguished Scholars Award.  Be sure to visit Mobilizing Ideas to read our blog post on rescuer efforts, "Lessons on the 25th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide."

Legacies of Racial Violence

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A second project I am working on looks at the aftermath of mass atrocity on US soil: the legacy of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. In 1979, during an anti-racism march in the city in Greensboro, North Carolina, KKK and Nazi Party members opened fire on demonstrators, killing five and wounding eight. After two failures, on the cusp of the 25th anniversary of these killings, efforts by community members culminated in the convening of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) in the U.S. My colleague, Dr. David Cunningham and I draw on a unique collection of public testimonies and private interviews with GTRC staff, we use social network techniques to compare accounts offered in these distinct settings. We found that narratives offered in private were more varied, yet also cohesive in locating blame in social actors. Public testimony, in contrast, was more consolidated and singular, placing the majority of culpability on social structures. Based on these significant distinctions, this project will have implications for future research and policy around transitional justice initiatives.

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Healing Through Memorialization

The worlds first memorial to survivors of sexual violence

A third project I am working on (with my colleague Dr. Alexa Sardina) centers on the aftermath of sexual violence in America and healing through memorialization. While memorials to atrocity dot the built environment throughout the United States, in October 2020, the first memorial in the world to sexual assault survivors opened in Minneapolis, MN. The memorial serves as both an intervention and prevention effort, functioning as a public acknowledgement to the prevalence of sexual violence.  Our project evaluates both the process and end-product of the survivors’ memorial by interviewing the major stakeholders that made such a groundbreaking space possible. An article from these interviews is forthcoming in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and we were recently awarded the American Sociological Association's Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline to continue studying the impact of the memorial on visitors, crime and community dynamics.