01 May 2019

In partnership with ACLED Data, The Strauss Center has begun a new project analyzing political violence events. Some of the UT Austin undergraduate student coders in the program have agreed to talk about their work for the project, in anticipation for the program's imminent report release.

Today we're checking in with Tatiana, and tomorrow with Kaidy!

What attracted you to applying for the data coding position at the Strauss Center?

"As a Government and Latin American Studies double major, research has been a significant aspect of my undergraduate career. I began work with UT’s Innovations for Peace and Development team during my second year and fell in love with analyzing and understanding data that contributes to policy recommendations globally. Though I had no experience or knowledge of the regions covered by ACLED under this project, I wanted to engage in data work and begin to understand political violence in a region outside of Latin America, which is where my studies primarily focus. While I was initially unaware that the purpose of this project was targeting political violence against women, this has been a quite welcome surprise to understanding that though we like to speak of “global development,” many countries remain limited their political incorporation of women and women groups."

What are some suprising insights you've run into during your work?

"The most surprising insight for me definitely came from my work on electoral laws and participation. This is more the research I am accustomed to—reading articles to find information. Countries like Israel, Turkey, and Iraq had over 2500 women candidates in their elections and almost 25% or more percent of women elected. And then you have countries like Iran with over 580 women candidates and only 17 elected (5%). Not surprisingly, the countries with high female candidates and elections are those that have electoral quotas for women. Numbers only tell part of the story, however, and perhaps the most impactful part of this project was reading through news articles and learning of the injustices against female candidates in some locations, the physical threats received, and threats via blackmail that demonstrate how largely unfair elections continue to be in the region.

What is it like day-to-day in your work, the main challenges, your favorite parts?

"Every file is unique and offers incredible insight into the happenings of these countries. I have found it quite interesting spending time reading through the actual events and at times understanding the context and making connections to political events that are shown on our news outlets here. I would say the main challenges come with the type of data that we work with and understanding that these are real events. I get files that have 8,000+ observations and I try to complete them in an efficient timeframe because of deadlines, and sometimes this makes it easy to sort of turn on autopilot and just scan through the events blank-face, even though I’m reading stories of human sacrifice, drone strikes killing thousands, the use of chemical weapons, and mutilation or dismembering just to name a few. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but for the sake of efficiency I can’t get too emotionally attached and this is a huge challenge. At the end of the day, these are real people in real situations that we could never dream about living in the United States."

How do you feel you’re specifically contributing to the program?

"I have had files that take me 12 to 17 hours to complete. While it can sometimes feel like a big load, I know data work is important to the larger reports and policy implications that will result. Though this role came with a large and truly never-ending learning curve, I am thankful to have been trusted with such sensitive and important information. I know that participating in coding work saves the ACLED team significant time, and hopefully the insight that we were able to provide as undergraduate students on the micro scale is valuable."

What do you hope will happen with the data and report, and do you see it affecting your career?

"I hope this data and report demonstrate to its users the reality of the scope of political violence as a whole. The influence of media and politics can often leave us with misconceptions of certain regions or populations, but I love that data speaks for itself. The policy implications and changes will always be up for debate; however, it is difficult to argue against a dataset that demonstrates heightened political violence against women under x conditions, or an increase in airstrikes in a certain region around x period. I cannot wait to see the data and report cited in future scholarly work contributing to change where it is needed and upholding or negating misconceptions where appropriate. This work has only reinforced my desire to one day obtain a Masters in Global Policy Studies or a similar field. Peace and conflict studies are fascinating and hold interesting implications for politics both domestic and abroad and I hope that I am able to continue contributing to similar projects in the future."

Please feel free to include anything else you’d like us to highlight that I didn’t cover in my questions

"I would just like to reiterate my appreciation to the Strauss Center and ACLED for providing this type of opportunity and making it available to undergraduates. Exposure to this sort of data and coding work is rare, and I think it speaks to the caliber of these two organizations in demonstrating the value they hold to exposing students to real global events. As a soon-graduate from the College of Liberal Arts I know all too well the stigma that surrounds our field of study, however, I think global awareness and understanding should be required of every graduate. The world is deeply interlinked and changing rapidly as borders blur, and we should be keenly aware of the impacts that events in one region can have on another, even across the globe."

Other interviews in the series:

Kaidy Li