Transitions and Reflections

During these strange and uncertain times, all conceptions of time have been thrown out of the window. Hours bleed into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. At any given moment, you could tell me it was a certain time and date and I would need to check my phone screen to confirm whether or not you were telling the truth.

For as slow and quiet the early months of quarantine may have seemed, the ten weeks of my summer internship with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) have passed in a blur. As I prepare for my return to William & Mary for the start of my 2L year, I’ve had some time to reflect on my incredible experience as a Visiting Research Assistant with USIP. 

My research work continued at a rapid pace through the final two weeks of the summer, as I aided with a variety of ongoing projects. I focused primarily on editing and revising my central assignment for the summer, a memo on the displacement and insurgency crises in Northeast Nigeria (for more information on this project, see my previous blog post). After meeting with my supervisor to discuss some general findings in my memo, I received helpful feedback on sections of my writing that could be built out, as well as areas for additional research.

I also spent time gathering background research on the presence and recognition of vigilante groups across Nigeria, particularly in Plateau State, for a report that USIP will be providing support for. The report focuses on plural policing in Nigeria, with informal vigilante groups not only offering protection services, but also receiving tacit (or, in some cases, explicit) recognition from local, state, and federal government officials. As my research has examined, relations between civilians and security forces in Nigeria are strained and distrustful at best. Within this context, vigilantes and other informal forces have often leveraged connections with their local communities to gain relevance and build trust. While there is no single clear solution for how to deal with these informal security providers moving forward, official government recognition and a legal framework for the groups’ operation could help to create mechanisms to hold human rights violators accountable.

In my final two weeks, I also aided with a number of smaller projects within the Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) team. For one assignment, I helped to translate contracts made between USIP and partners in Niger and Senegal. Although I did not focus on contract or property law this summer, it was still interesting to see concepts I learned in classes this past spring applied in my research work. Another project required me to gather information on the COVID-19 pandemic in the six countries JSD is currently working with – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. I examined official sources from these countries, as well as the U.S. Embassies in each nation, to gather key data such as the total number of cases, lockdown dates and procedures, and travel restrictions. Yet another assignment was to aid with formatting, editing, and proofreading the team’s latest quarterly report. As with the previous report I aided with last month, this project allowed me to gain insight into how JSD actors in each country have adapted their programming in response to the coronavirus. 

One particularly enjoyable aspect of my summer internship was the many calls I was able to have with other USIP staff members. My supervisor put me in contact with several experts and employees outside of the JSD team, and I was able to hear about their unique career paths and the exciting work they are doing at USIP. While nothing can perfectly replace an in-person, face-to-face conversation over coffee, these Microsoft Teams meetings were invaluable networking opportunities. These experts shared practical career advice, as well as a much-valued dose of inspiration, and I look forward to fostering these professional relationships in the near future.

On my second-to-last day of work, many colleagues organized a “Zoom Party” to celebrate my fellow research assistants and me as we prepared to head back to school. Despite the fact that we were all meeting through our individual computer screens, this party was an exciting and much appreciated time to reflect on my summer. I was humbled to hear my supervisor and co-workers thank me for my hard work over these ten weeks and share specific memories and highlights of success. It was also great to hear about the accomplishments of my fellow RAs and learn a bit more about the other USIP teams for which they worked.

While I was (and maybe still am a little…) disappointed that I would not get to work in USIP’s beautiful building and interact with my amazing colleagues in person this summer, I truly could not have asked for a better internship experience. Sure, days of waking up and crossing the room to sit down at the same desk may feel a bit monotonous, but my research was anything but uninteresting. I not only learned a lot this summer, but I also was given opportunities to engage in meaningful work that contributes to JSD’s ongoing projects in the Sahel and USIP’s larger peacebuilding mission. I am so grateful to Professor Warren for supporting me during the application process, in the lead-up to the summer, and during my internship. I am also grateful to my supervisors and colleagues who were so welcoming and trusted me with important assignments throughout the summer. I look forward to maintaining these contacts and finally visiting USIP’s campus when it is safe to do so. This internship has been a formative experience for me, and no matter where my career may lead, I am committed to USIP’s mission of pursuing sustainable justice and peace.