Hamilton Lugar School (HLS) doctoral candidate Tonya Kenny Dodez has been named a Minerva-funded Peace and Security Scholar. This prestigious award is part of the United States Institute of Peace 2022-2023 Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellow program which recognizes twenty applicants who “demonstrated the greatest potential to advance the peacebuilding field and the strongest likelihood to inform policy and practice.”
Dodez, a Ph.D. student in Political Science with an African Studies minor, said, “Receiving this award is so validating — to be named along with the Princeton, Harvard, and MIT students who have a lot of support for their careers.” The fellowship provides 10 months of financial support for dissertation research and writing, periodic virtual roundtable discussions and an in-person Peace Scholar Workshop in Washington D.C.
Dodez says the opportunity to engage with others who are studying similar issues is invaluable.
“It provides much needed validation that this is something worth studying,” she explained. “I’m one of only 4 or 5 people selected who are looking at election violence, and I’m not the only one studying Senegal. It’s very nice to be able to connect with others interested in the same topic.”
Path to IU
When she was seeking a doctoral program, Dodez knew she wanted a place where she could learn African languages and have support to travel to Africa. When she looked into the IU Political Science and African Studies programs she was hooked, “I wasn’t exactly sure yet where I wanted to focus, but I had so many options. It was really motivating to be at IU.”
Another sign that IU was the right fit for her was a name she saw on the Political Science faculty roster: Dr. Timothy Hellwig. As a master’s student at Louisiana State University, one of Hellwig’s papers had sparked her interest in voting behavior and incumbent accountability for policy performance, and she was a ‘huge fan’ of his work. As it turns out, when she was accepted to IU, Hellwig was the one to call and offer Dodez a position in the doctoral program, and he and Dr. Lauren MacLean now co-chair her dissertation committee.
FLAS award to study Wolof
During her time at IU, Dodez continues to be impressed with the opportunities provided here, particularly the option to learn Wolof. Although Wolof is the most widely spoken native language in Senegal and is spoken in a few other countries in western Africa, it is a far less commonly taught language in the U.S. “One of the amazing things about IU is the language experience that you can have. I think there is only one other university in the country that teaches Wolof,” Dodez explained.
After a year of studying Wolof at HLS, Dodez received a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) award to study the language in Dakar, Senegal for the summer of 2018. This allowed her to be immersed in the language while experiencing the culture and environment for herself. She then continued her Wolof studies with a second FLAS award during the 2018 – 2019 academic year as well. She credits the small class sizes and individualized attention with providing her an extraordinary opportunity to learn the language and culture.
Dodez said the FLAS awards altered the course of her research. Before she went to Senegal she says, “My original project was going to involve something to do with corruption. I quickly learned no one was going to talk with me about corruption scandals, but they would talk about why they think someone is corrupt or who they heard it from. I noticed a pattern of a ‘blame game’ in which the ruling party would spin a narrative of political corruption, and this often led to imprisonments that were suspected to be politically motivated. I wondered ‘Who believes this? Why?’ This led me to think about election violence in the form of intimidation and harassment of the opposition and private citizens.”
In exploring election violence, Dodez found that the international media and scholarly research tend to focus on large, dramatic events such as incidences in Kenya or Nigeria where hundreds of people have died. “In reality, these events are quite uncommon. More subtle forms of election violence involving smaller numbers of people are much more common,” she explained.
Dodez began wrestling with the ideas of how violence affects citizens, and what detrimental effects it may have on the strength of a democracy. Using the case of Senegal, Dodez is breaking down the different types of violence into categories based on the reactions they provoke such as anger, fear, or apathy. She wants to unpack the ‘black box’ concept of violence to understand it.
She says, “My research is basically motivated by the idea that we don’t know much about how election-related violence affects citizens. It gets into the physiological responses and how people process different types of violent events.”
Until now, she says there has been little ability to predict the effects on voters, “One might expect that instances of electoral violence cause voters to become alarmed and stay away from the polls. On the other hand, you could argue the opposite – that it sparks anger and provokes backlash, and people vote against the ruling party.” Through her research she hopes to be able to answer these questions.
Excellence in teaching
In addition to her passion for research, Dodez has an equal passion for teaching. She says, “I’ve taught my own courses three times at IU, and that is one of my favorite things – I love working with students!” She taught a course on human rights and state repression twice, then last summer developed a course from scratch which addressed the anxieties of elections across the Globe.
It seems that Dodez not only enjoys teaching, she also excels at it: In April 2021, she was named one of three recipients of the IU Department of Political Science Outstanding Instructor Award. The department said “We examined course syllabi and evaluations and other pertinent teaching-related information. All three winners have taught their own sections for the department and have done so with great success.”
During the fellowship, Dodez will focus on her dissertation, and any teaching will have to wait until she secures a post-graduate position. When asked what she anticipates for her future after the fellowship, she says, “I don’t know exactly. I could be happy as a practitioner in a non-academic job promoting democracy, but at the end of the day, I also love being an academic.”
Dodez exudes a true passion for both her research and teaching. She says that thanks to the incredible opportunities she’s had at IU through the FLAS awards and Peace Scholar Fellowship, she feels very well prepared for the next step in her life journey, wherever it may lead her.