Though she had already taught as an adjunct at Georgetown University for several years, and served as associate director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Mayesha Alam knew she wanted more rigor and credibility, both in the world of academia, and in public policy.
“For me, it wasn’t a question of Yale or somewhere else. This was the only program I wanted to attend,” the doctoral student in the Political Science Department said. “As someone interested in political violence, the faculty and opportunities that Yale offers are incomparable.”
Alam’s research focuses broadly on a range of interconnected issues, centering on the causes and consequences of armed conflict. As a comparativist, she is interested in understanding variation across cases in different regions of the globe. Why do civil wars occur? What explains wartime civilian victimization? How do external actors shape peacebuilding? What are the social and political legacies of mass violence? How do societies rebuild? These are the questions that motivate her work, building off topics she writes about in her first book, Women and Transitional Justice: Progress and Persistent Challenges in Retributive and Restorative Processes, published in 2014.
Yale was the perfect place for Alam to tackle these issues further. In addition to world-renowned faculty – like her adviser Elisabeth Wood – and a vibrant workshop culture, she cites the methodological pluralism represented in the political science department as being key factors influencing her decision to come to Yale. The generous funding package offered to all Ph.D. students and the opportunity to secure more funding for international research were also significant draws for her. In 2017, Alam was awarded the Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
“Students are really encouraged to identify the puzzle that interests them, and then match methodology to the puzzle.” Alam said. “We learn how to ask the questions that really matter in interesting and unconventional ways, as opposed to adhering to a more formulaic approach.” This, she maintains, trains Yale political scientists to become more effective problem solvers within and beyond academia.
The range of opportunities at Yale available to students and scholars like Alam extends beyond the classroom. For example, she also serves as a Fellow at the Global Health Justice Partnership at the Yale Law School, joining a wide range of researchers and professionals— graduate students, professors, judges, and practicing lawyers—to tackle issues relating to global health justice. For Alam’s part, she focuses on understanding conflict-related sexual violence and gendered insecurities among displaced populations. Alam brings this expertise to raising awareness, whether through writing in outlets like The Washington Post, speaking at public events, or appearing on radio and television.
“Mayesha combines a deep concern for human rights with a terrific range of theoretical, language, interpersonal and practical skills. Her vision and drive just gets things done, whether it’s helping to create from scratch a world-class conference on peacekeeping, or managing all the difficulties of conducting interviews in conflict environments like the Rohingya refugee crisis,” said Steven Wilkinson, Nilekani Professor of Political Science and Professor in the Institute for Social and Policy Studies, one of Alam’s advisors and mentors at Yale. “The program is fortunate to have her, and others like her.”
For Alam, the importance of studying political phenomena around the world lies in understanding the root causes of how and why the world is the way it is, in order to change it more effectively. At Yale, she found a community which recognizes that political science is ultimately about the real world.
Mayesha Alam is co-editor of a new book, Women and Gender Perspectives in the Military, which will be published by Georgetown University Press in Fall 2018. Alam also recently gave a CNN interview on the Rohingya crisis (part one, part two).
By Sean Blink, Website and Social Media Fellow