Human Rights Research Award: Call for Applications

Thursday, November 10, 2022
The ISHR Human Rights Research Award will provide students with an opportunity to gain valuable research experience while supporting the work of Columbia faculty conducting human rights-related research. Students who receive the Prize are expected to complete approximately 80-120 hours of research assistance during the academic year. The research opportunities selected for the 2022-2023 academic year are available below. ISHR will award one research prize per opportunity in the amount of $1,500. Priority will be given to HRSMA and UHRP students, please note that only enrolled students may apply. Please contact us at with any questions.


Ethno-populism and Scandals: Evidence from Hungary and Poland
Professor Tsveta Petrova
  • Eligibility: undergraduate and graduate students 
  • Application materials: CV, short statement of purpose 
  • Deadline: November 30, 2022 
  • Contact: Tsveta Petrova (  
Project Description
Ethno-populists often come to power criticizing the establishment as being plagued by corruption; but after assuming office, they themselves frequently become implicated in corruption and political-process scandals. How immune or accountable are ethno-populists incumbents to political scandals? My co-author and I have put together an original scandal-event dataset compiled from traditional-media sources from Hungary and Poland from 2000 to 2020. Our statistical analysis finds little evidence that ethno-populists in power have been hurt by the scandals exposing their wrongdoing; instead, our research documents a significant immediate rally-around-the-flag effect in support of ethno-populists. Media pluralism, a robust opposition, and a good economy diminish this effect. We also find that ethno-populists use a two-pronged strategy to immunize themselves against scandals. First, they lash out against mainstream media as part of a corrupt establishment, seeking to discredit such media and thus delegitimize reports of their wrongdoing. Second, ethno-populists also use their access to the state and to public media to attack their opponents as the corrupt establishment, seeking to distract the citizenry from the ethno-populists’ own wrongdoing.
Research Assistance Needs
We are looking for an assistant who will help us research scandals in Hungary and Poland from 2000 to 2020 and write case studies about the unfolding and impact of scandals implicating ethno-populists and their rivals. The focus of these case studies is likely to be ethno-populists’ two-pronged strategy to immunize themselves against scandals. This work is a good fit for students whose research interests include populism, media freedom, and democratic backsliding. (Polish and/or Hungarian language proficiency is not necessary; neither is competence in statistics.)
Research Timeline
ASAP-May 2023 (or August 2023, if the research assistant is available and interested)
Designing an Early Warning System for Gender Academia in Latin America
Professor Yasmine Ergas 
  • Eligibility: graduate students only 
  • Application materials: CV, cover letter, writing sample 
  • Deadline: November 11, 2022 
  • Contact: Jazgul Kochkorova (
Project Description
Women and Gender in Global Affairs (WGGA) is an interdisciplinary, international network of academic scholars and centers focused on human rights and gender in global affairs. The WGGA was established in response to the attacks on academic gender studies that have accompanied the rise of illiberal movements and governments. These instances have undermined academic freedom and human rights relating to freedom of expression and equality in education and have taken a variety of forms, from the de-legitimation of gender programs to their outright closure, from the marginalization of scholars and researchers to their physical and psychological endangerment.
As a crisis mitigation strategy, WGGA is exploring the creation of an Early-Warning System to provide information, resources and support to gender scholars potentially facing illiberal attacks. We would like to launch our work with a pilot in Latin America, although ultimately, we intend to include other regions. The pilot in one of the Latin American countries will allow us to test some hypotheses of the Early-Warning System. Some possible candidates include México, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
WGGA team seeks two research assistants to help work on the designing of an Early Warning System project co-financed by the Open Society Foundations and the IIE-Scholars Rescue Fund. This is a fantastic introduction to the world of gender in academia and gender mainstreaming and application of quantitative and qualitative skills to the development of a scalable project.
1. Semi-structured interviews with a sample of scholars in the Latin American region to deepen the understanding of each country’s context and to arrive at a clear definition of the attacks to which the gender academy has been subject (cuts in funding, pressure leading to self-censorship, legal dispositions, closing or merging gender departments, etc.).
2. Track trends in the traditional and social media to identify possible early signs of attacks on gender studies in the pilot countries, governments' laws, regulations, and dispositions that could promote attacks on gender studies in universities.
3. Analyze the evolution of the curriculum in universities and published and working papers in the last several years (period TBD).
4. Identifying and coding the documents with key pre-defined and emerging codes to prepare the data points for the algorithm.
5. Analyzing the results of the AI algorithm and compiling research findings.
6. Writing analytical reports and recommendations for future research.
The research assistants are expected to start work as soon as they are hired, committing on average 12.5 hours per week for 2 months. After that, there will be a two month break in January and February, with the final part of the work to be completed in March of 2023.
  • Current student at Columbia University working toward a graduate degree in gender studies, human rights, data analytics or other related fields and residing in the United States
  • Proactive and highly organized with an aptitude for working in a high-paced, remote environment. This means being able to take on multiple projects, work independently, manage your time to meet deadlines
  • Detail-oriented, high sense of responsibility, and a good team player
  • Experience in conducting surveys and desk research
  • Great quantitative and qualitative skills (statistics, econometrics, research methods)
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Language: Fluency in Portuguese and/or Spanish is required
  • Programs and software: knowledge of SPSS or STATA is an advantage
  • Enthusiasm for the mission of WGGA Network.
Can Legislation Combat Race-based Hair Discrimination in New York City?
Professor Ami Zota 
  • Eligibility: undergraduate and graduate students 
  • Application materials: cover letter, CV, writing sample 
  • Deadline: December 1, 2022 
  • Contact: Ami Zota (
Project Description 
Anti-Black racism is an invidious and persistent form of discrimination across the nation and in New York City. Anti-Black racism can be explicit and implicit, individual and structural, and it can manifest through entrenched stereotypes and biases, conscious and unconscious. Anti-Black bias also includes discrimination based on characteristics and cultural practices associated with being Black, including prohibitions on natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people. Bans or restrictions on natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people are often rooted in Eurocentric standards of beauty and perpetuate racist stereotypes that Black hairstyles are unprofessional. Such policies exacerbate anti-Black bias in employment, at school, while playing sports, and in other areas of daily living.
In February 2019, the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) passed new guidelines which protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities. For Black people, this includes the right to maintain natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state. In these guidelines, the NYCHRL affirms that grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people generally violate the NYCHRL’s anti-discrimination provisions. Since 2019, about 20 states and municipalities have passed the CROWN act, which similarly bans race-based hair discrimination in schools and workplaces. (More information available at
Research Goals
The long-term goal of this research is to understand whether legislation banning race-based hair discrimination of Black people improves the mental and physical health of Black women and girls. The goals of this short-term research project are to better understand factors contributing to adoption, implementation, and enforcement of these new laws. The specific aims are to: 1) document states and municipalities that have banned race-based hair discrimination bans and classify them according to the political party in control of the legislature at the time the law was passed; 2) investigate measures that New York City and New York state have taken to implement and enforce this new guidance and legislation; and 3) identify any legal cases that have arisen because of these laws.
Expected Research Needs from the Student
The student is expected to work 8-10 hours a week on this project during the Spring 2023 semester. The student will need to use various databases and on-line sources to complete the aims of the research project listed above. To address Aim 2, the student may need to arrange and conduct informational interviews with stakeholders in the Department of Education and Department of Labor at both the city and state level. The student will be required to synthesize their research at the end of the semester  in a research report that includes summary tables and figures.   
The student will work under the supervision of Dr. Ami Zota, an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Zota’s research focuses on understanding social and structural determinants of environmental exposures and their consequent impacts to women's health outcomes across the life course. Dr. Zota was among the first to frame the disproportionate burden of toxic chemical exposures from beauty and personal care products among women of color as an environmental justice concern. She co-developed an intersectional framework called "the environmental injustice of beauty", which links systems of power and oppression, such as racism, sexism, and classism, to Eurocentric beauty norms, racialized beauty practices, and adverse environmental health outcomes (Please see Zota and Shamasunder 2017 for more context).
Timeline for the Project
The project will commence in January 2023 and should be completed before May 2023.