I still haven’t run into Roxanne, our student blogger, now in her second year, but just before classes began she was kind to send me a report on her summer in Colombia. In a busy week, there’s nothing like being able to draw on unexpected blog contributions! Here’s Roxanne’s report on a fascinating summer.
As I type these words, I sit surrounded by papers full of Fletcher information: 2013-2014 course offerings, capstone project submission forms, registration requirements for international students. September has always been my favorite time of year because there is a sense of renewal and possibility in the air — not to mention that it is the start of fall! Anyone who has spent time in New England, as I did as a college student in Boston, can appreciate the crisper air and the first signs of leaves turning red.
Despite my love of fall, I am not quite ready to part with the lingering memories of the summer. As Jessica mentioned in an earlier blog post, the majority of my energy this summer was channeled towards a field research project in Colombia. Under the guidance of Professor Dyan Mazurana, and in affiliation with local organizations, I designed and implemented a study on the gender dimensions of enforced disappearances. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity and defines it as:
Enforced disappearance of persons means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.
In Colombia, similarly to other countries with a high reported rate of enforced disappearances, the majority of the missing are men and the majority of the surviving family members who initiate and/or lead the search process for the missing are women. As part of my research, I interviewed both surviving family members of the missing and “key informants” — government, NGO, and international organization officials who could discuss the topic in their professional capacity. Through these interviews, I sought to shed more light on a number of questions: How does enforced disappearance impact the surviving family members of the missing person? Where and how do surviving family members of the missing fit within the victims’ groups and their narratives? How does the memory of the missing, and the experience of their family members, figure into the creation of collective memory?
The process of creating this summer project provided a glimpse into the rituals of the academic world. First, I consulted with both Professor Mazurana and the local partners to set the parameters of the research and understand how the local context in Colombia would affect my research design and methods. Then I sought the approval of the Institutional Review Board, the organization that ensures that all research involving human subjects is ethical. This involved devising interview questions, drafting consent forms, and thinking of strategies to protect my interviewees’ privacy, confidentiality, and security without subjecting them to unnecessary risks or costs. Once I arrived in Colombia, the focus shifted to identifying whom to interview, with an eye towards the inclusion of multiple, diverse voices and perspectives. Journalists, government officials, NGO leaders, victims’ group advocates, academics, jurists, and community leaders are among the groups that helped me with my research. The fall and winter will consist of processing the data I collected and identifying patterns that emerged from the research. I am looking forward to developing more robust qualitative research skills in order to complete this task.
A few other experiences round up my summer: speaking alongside Professor Mazurana at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Non-Violent Conflict on the topic of gender and non-violent movements, presenting my work on wartime sexual violence at the Women in International Security conference in Toronto, Canada, serving as an international consultant to an organization in Pakistan seeking to conduct a conflict assessment on access to education, and riding a tandem bike across Boston on every beautiful day this summer could muster. I must admit to feeling fatigued, inspired, grateful, overwhelmed, and lucky all at once. Free time during the next few days will hold catch-ups with Fletcher friends, sleep, and outdoor adventures, before the air gets too crisp. Next time you hear from me, I will have fully entered my second year at Fletcher!