45: Marisella Rodriguez


Political Science

Program and Year of Study

PhD, 6th year (International Relations, Political Methodology, and Comparative Politics)

Previous degrees and colleges

BA Political Science, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, with Minors in Women’s/Gender Studies and Sociology

MA Political Science, UC Davis

Where did you grow up?

San Luis Obispo, CA

Where do you live now?

Davis, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

The Dumpling House, downtown. I could eat there every day!

How do you relax?

By turning off my phone, buying a huge bag of popcorn, and watching the most ridiculous, action-packed movie playing at the movie theater

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, a captivating story with immensely complicated female characters and fantastic character development

What TV show are you currently binge-watching?

I am currently forcing my friends to binge The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with me twice a week.

Research interests

My research broadly focuses on human rights abuses during conflict, particularly the use of sexual violence against noncombatants. I study the conditions under which sexual violence occurs and evolves in international, civil, and security conflicts. In my dissertation, I examine how and when conflict conditions are conducive for two different types of sexual violence, namely opportunistic and strategic.

Dissertation title or topic

Women and Wartime Sexual Violence: Discerning Strategic from Opportunistic Abuses examines variation in the type and level of wartime sexual violence based on conflict conditions. I acknowledge that, to some extent, sexual violence during conflict is fundamentally opportunistic, or non-targeted. However, I argue that there are three conditions under which wartime sexual violence is targeted and strategic. First, sexual violence is an effective strategy during ethnic conflicts because sexual abuse terrorizes a community and, in theory, hinders a community’s reproductive capability. Second, sexual violence is also an effective state military strategy in asymmetrical warfare since it directly targets an opponent’s most vulnerable population: women and children. Lastly, armed groups are likely to practice sexual violence strategically when their own group or community has suffered such abuse. To test these arguments, I use a mixed method research design that includes case study analysis and a series of ordered logit regressions.

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

In "The Persistence of Gender (In)Equality: Using Peacetime Measures to Predict Wartime Sexual Violence,” I have found evidence to suggest that women’s success in the labor force during peacetime leads to the targeting of sexual violence against women during wartime, predominantly by rebel forces. However, strong institutional protections for women’s rights prior to conflict can mitigate the positive relationship between female labor force and the sexual violence against women during conflict.

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Although there are many instructors who have inspired me, I am particularly reminded of Dr. Maliha Zulfacar and Dr. Jean Williams from their time at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Both of these instructors created significant learning experiences for me by assigning collaborative projects, writing assignments that focused on current events, and promoting reflective exercises that helped me think about how I learn best.

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

The Logic of Violence in Civil War by Stathis N. Kalyvas. I appreciate how the author breaks down such nuanced details specific to civil conflict that leads to different types of violence against civilians and soldiers, ultimately claiming that such violence is in fact rational behavior given the actors and context of civil wars. I wish I had this author’s patience in analyzing and working through such challenging and complex details!

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Slande Erole in the Department of Political Science studies the effectiveness of minority legislators, including female representatives and representatives of color. At a recent talk given by Slande, I learned more about the barriers facing minority legislators than in any classroom before and I walked away thinking about the extent to which these individuals have to be the “cream of the crop” for days afterward.

Timothy Peterka, also in the Department of Political Science, studies the role of influential individuals in African elections. Timothy is currently developing a project that considers the influence of African chiefs on political violence that caught my attention in particular. It considers whether African chiefs can mitigate or increase the occurrence of political violence within tribal communities. I am looking forward to reading the finished product!

What's the best thing about being a grad student?

Being able to complete my work in coffee shops and sleep in on weekdays

What's the worst?

Feeling like success in academia is determined by luck and/or who you know, and being able to sleep in on weekdays

If you weren't a grad student, what would you be doing?

I would want to be a music critic for magazines like The WirePitchfork, or Vibe.

Finally, please ask yourself a question

How can we support graduate students from underrepresented and/or marginalized communities?

I think higher education can better support minority graduate students by educating faculty on how to become effective mentors and encouraging departments to evaluate whether graduate student assessments are inclusive, such as seminar assignments, comprehensive exams, and qualifying exams (to name a few).  I would also suggest encouraging collaborative research and seminar projects among graduate students and normalizing a sense of community within higher education.


—April 2018


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