Watson Institute at Brown University
International Relations

Margot Cohen '18

How did you use the IR Research and Travel Grant this past summer or winter break, and what did your project entail?

Over the summer and winter break, I used the IR Research and Travel grant to travel to Santiago, Chile to conduct fieldwork for my honors thesis project. My thesis focuses on the issue of femicide or feminicide, when women are killed because of their gender, and how these deaths are related to other forms of structural and cultural violence that women around the world experience every day. Because violence against women is so normalized in society, a lot of the quantitative data on these topics is unreliable. Underreporting of femicide and other forms of violence is one of the greatest challenges to understanding how these forms of violence are related, and how to respond with more comprehensive and effective policies. While developing my research design, I knew I needed to include a significant amount of qualitative data to provide the necessary cultural, historical, and political context to better understand these national statistics. Thanks to the IR Research and Travel Grant, the Enid Wilson Undergraduate Travel Grant, and the CLACS Undergraduate Research Award, I was able to travel to Chile in August and January to conduct interviews and gather primary sources. The interviews I conducted with state officials, NGO directors and staff, and media reporters are an essential component of my research, as well as the records I collected from the national archives and the Public Ministry.

How has this experience shaped your learning as an IR concentrator, and/or how has your experience as an IR concentator informed or contextualized this work?

This project and experience completely reshaped my learning trajectory at Brown, and was largely informed by my classes in IR. In the core courses I took as a freshman and sophomore, including A 20th Century History of Refugees and Globalization and Social Conflict, I was encouraged to question how larger systems of power and historical exploitation of marginalized groups exacerbates global inequalities. Both in and outside of the classroom, I pursued learning experiences to challenge traditional notions of race, class, and gender, and how these socially constructed identities are shaped by historical, cultural, and sociopolitical contexts. I chose to focus on Latin America to explore how these power structures, and specifically the influence of the U.S., have manifested in economic inequality and structural violence. (Also, because of my love for Latin American cultural traditions, like dancing salsa and reggaeton). IR students are highly encouraged to study abroad, so based on these learning experiences I chose to study abroad in Santiago, Chile during the fall of my junior year. While in Chile, I started thinking more critically about privilege, power, and identity, especially my own as a white student at Brown, and reflecting on these questions in my academic work and involvement with social justice groups. I became immersed in the feminist movement happening in Santiago, and marched with #NiUnaMenos, a transnational movement against femicide and violence against women. Upon returning to Brown, I found myself constantly referring to these experiences and my desire to work within the intersection of academia and activism on women’s rights and gender-based violence. I’m now writing my thesis on what I’m most passionate about, and am hoping to continue this work post-grad with a similar research project next year in Quito, Ecuador.

How does this experience relate to your involvement with the Brown community, the Providence community, and/or any other communities you are engaged with?

This project was inspired by the incredible feminist activists I met while living in Santiago, who enthusiastically welcomed me into their various communities. Specifically, Paola Santolices Molina, a feminist author and activist, introduced me to her extensive network of activists, academics, and professionals organizing for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights. I was also supported by El Observatorio Contra el Acoso Callejero (The Observatory Against Street Harassment) and La Red Chilena Contra la Violencia Hacia las Mujeres (The Chilean Network Against Violence Towards Women) and have been able to continue my involvement with these organizations while conducting my field work in Santiago, and even after returning to Brown. At Brown and in Providence, I’ve become involved with SHAPE (Sexual Health through Peer Education) and Planned Parenthood by teaching sexual education at The Met High School downtown, which has been one of the best experiences throughout my four years here. As a fellow at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and dancer with Mezcla, I’ve also been welcomed into Latinx communities at Brown that have shaped my undergraduate experience and understanding of white privilege and feminine power. While this project was partly shaped by my academic interests, it was also inspired by own experiences with violence against women that have been extremely difficult to process and overcome. I’ve received so much love and support from feminist, queer, and Latinx communities both in Providence and Santiago, as well as my family and friends, throughout this project, and am constantly inspired by their work to continue learning from and engaging with the communities I’m a part of.