Graduate Working Groups on Global Issues

Updates from the Graduate Working Groups on Global Issues

The graduate working groups on global issues are interdisciplinary, student-driven groups with a global focus. The Office of Global Affairs is pleased to support the following 15 working groups during the 2023-2024 Academic Year:

1.) Flood Damage Prediction Project   

This working group collaborates with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to enhance flood damage prediction. The USACE uses regional damage curves connecting water depths to building damage, essential for flood simulations. These curves inform flood mitigation cost benefit analysis and insurance rates, though their accuracy is questioned.

To improve this, we leverage historical data and machine learning to create sophisticated damage models, drawing from FEMA’s NFIP insurance dataset (1978-2023) and our additional data augmentation efforts. We test various machine learning models, introducing a hybrid method that melds depth-damage predictions with machine learning, integrating empirical data with expert insight. Our goals: identify the best performing flood damage prediction models and explore the potential compatibility between data-driven and expert methods, ultimately enhancing flood risk assessment and insurance processes.

Given climate change’s impact on flood risks, precise models are vital for flood mitigation analyses and vulnerability evaluations. Our work addresses this need and enriches the dataset with demographic data, aiding future equity research.

Contact: Jordan Woltjer  

2.) Political Theory Beyond the Anthropocene            

Climate change issues a host of novel and complex problems for both human and nonhuman life. Traditional political categories like “the state,” “borders,” and “economic systems” are all affected by a changing planet that seems to unleash destructive forces. This also poses problems for questions of global justice, a topic fruitful for theoretical reflection. This working group will raise these and similar questions through an engagement with historical and normative materials. More specially, we propose to present works-in-progress from early stage PhD students, who work in normative political theory, empirical political science, history, and public policy. We will give feedback to each other in a collaborative setting and hope to invite a speaker at the end of the year.    

Contact: Joseph Rodriguez  

3.) Climate Communication: Unraveling Disinformation and Crafting Powerful Narratives for Climate Change        

Climate Change is undeniably one of the most pressing global challenges we face today. Yet, as we strive to confront this monumental crisis through mitigation and adaptation efforts, the persistent presence of climate disinformation poses a formidable obstacle to meaningful action. Climate disinformation, characterized by the deliberate propagation of false/misleading information about climate change, seeks to undermine public understanding and action on climate change. 

As Ph.D. students deeply committed to climate change studies and aspiring future leaders in climate science, we bear a dual capacity and responsibility to unearth and counter insidious disinformation. Regrettably, there is a conspicuous gap between climate research and the broader public, largely attributable to ineffective communication practices. Effective climate communication transcends the mere presentation of data and facts; it necessitates the creation of compelling narratives that resonate with diverse audiences.

As such, the overarching purposes of our working group will be to:

a.) Unravel common climate disinformation through rigorous investigation, analysis, and comprehensive debunking efforts;

b.) Harness our collective expertise to craft narratives that vividly elucidate the urgency of climate change mitigation;

c.) Collaborate extensively with researchers, communicators, and advocates to combat climate disinformation and amplify voices calling for climate action.

Contact: Yiqun Tian

4.) Global Climate Justice         

We are facing the most complicated challenges—climate change with multiple facets: environmental, social, political, economic. This workshop addresses the social, political, legal, and environmental elements of climate problems through the framework of climate justice. We will study the latest findings of climate science and potential impacts, explore the global politics of climate change, investigate legal debates in the international law framework, in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

During the study, climate justice and its operationalization is the principal theme. We would like to explore questions such as: what the costs of climate change impacts are; how the costs could or should be distributed between rich and poor, global north and global south; what are the possible means to address such costs; and how to ensure the collective action at various levels: local, national, and global.

In this workshop, we aim to develop conceptions of climate justice through reading, engaging with, and discussing the ideas of leading thinkers and writers; further develop our knowledge of climate change: science, impacts, actors, politics, futures, and transformations; and gain deep insights to global climate politics and diplomacy. 

Contact: Ji Ma

5.) Planetary Health Club         

To foster the intellectual exploration of the various ways humans affect earth systems and how these systems impact human health. We bring together scholars focusing on water chemistry, geology, psychiatry, and anthropology to provide a forum for interdisciplinary breakthroughs. One such project involves measuring the water quality of a region in southeastern Madagascar using quantitative chemical analysis and understanding how humans affect this water system through semi-structured anthropological field methods, and how the changing climate impacts the water quality of this area over time. Another focus of our group involves researching how geothermal energy can play a pivotal role in the sustainable development of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.       

Contact: Ryan Parks

6.) Welfare and Environmental Studies (WES)          

Global development is a broad research and policy agenda that spans efforts from numerous disciplines. Welfare and Environmental Studies (WES) is a graduate student working group initially formed in September 2022 with an interest in uniting the fields of development and environmental studies around specific goals. WES pursues to (1) discuss the degree to which welfare and inequality are present within the literature of studies of (international) environmental initiatives and vice versa (environmental concerns present in literature on inequality); (2) generate critical and motivated discussion around environmental interventions that directly affect local welfare and inequality; (3) identify and evaluate the distributional impacts of environmental policies, (4) assess the effects of development programs on the environment and local ecosystems, and (5) foster new research among students whose interests relate to the interplay of climate, environment and development.  The group also aims to include professors in some of the discussions in order to identify pathways to raise grant funds for larger research projects that include professors and graduate students.      

Contact: Camilo de Los Rios Rueda

7.) Interdisciplinary Working Group: War and Environment in East Asia 

This working group aims to establish an ongoing collaborative platform for scholars in anthropology, art, history, and literature who are interested in the relationship between war and the environment in East Asia. As the world edges closer to a new Cold War, political tensions in East Asia manifest in disputes over historical memories and environmental security, reminiscent of the dynamics during the Asia-Pacific War, the Korean War, and the Cold War in the twentieth century. By complicating the boundaries of nationalist histories, this working group aims to nurture an interdisciplinary dialogue on warfare and ecosystems in the region, addressing topics such as disaster, occupation, trauma, pollution, and militarism. Through shared resources, mentoring workshops, and collaborative projects, we will explore the ethical and political implications that this region holds for justice, equity, and survival in navigating the current ecological and humanitarian crises.

Contact: Jieun Cho

8.) HYC Global Health Clinical Electives

This working group will be to support a newly developed Global Health curriculum for medical residents from across multiple specialties who will be participating in 8-week global health clinical electives during their residency training. The aim of the curriculum is to provide foundation around global health (and de-colonization), global burden of disease and epidemiologic transitions (including climate change), ethics of short-term clinical electives, cultural competency/shock, care provision in low-resourced settings, and global health career development, etc. to accompany their 8-week clinical rotation at various key partner sites (Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Indian Health Service). The sessions will provide an opportunity for trainees from across medical disciplines to connect outside of the hospital environment, and engage with one another about important aspects of health equity.

Contact: Rebecca Lumsden

9.) Technology Ethics in the Global South       

The purpose of our working group is to investigate how, in the age of digital ethics centred around the Global North, emerging technologies impact the Global South. Specifically, we aim to bring together scholars interested in the discussions around the ethics of emerging technologies as they are experienced in the Global South. We seek to cast a regional lens to consider issues such as data privacy, surveillance, big data, dual use, crypto, cybersecurity, misinformation, and AI. We consider that mobilisation and impact of these issues have place specificity, and as such dialogues beyond Western paradigms are crucial.

The group will springboard discussions from case-studies such as Agritech in South Africa to discuss AI and Robotics in food production; World Coin in Kenya and Indonesia to tackle crypto-colonialism; and Bitcoin in El Salvador to discuss alternative finance. These examples will provide the basis from which to engage with theoretical frameworks and ethics principles for critical-thinking on place specific logics of these technologies given both the unique challenges and opportunities of these regions.

Contact: Kasyoka Mwanzia 

10.) Middle East Studies Graduate Seminar     

The Duke Middle East Studies Graduate Seminar is a working group run by graduate students that first began in 2021, and was funded through the Graduate Working Groups on Global Issues in 2021–2022. While Duke has no Middle Eastern Studies program, there are many students focused on the region spread across the university’s colleges and programs. Our group seeks to create a scholarly and friendly community for these graduate students, bringing together interdisciplinary perspectives, approaches, and questions. In the past, we’ve invited early-career scholars to share in-progress work with us, held graduate student paper workshops, and hosted social gatherings to further the community bonds of those working on Middle East topics. We’ve also engaged in community-oriented work, such as screening a film to raise funds for those affected by the 2020 port explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. This year, we will host a reading group and paper workshops for graduate students. We are particularly focused on bringing together humanities, social science, and STEM scholars with those in our professional colleges. To do this, we will be organizing additional social events to further build a network of Middle East Studies scholars and experts at Duke. We will also be collaborating with the East Asian Diaspora Studies working group on a symposium on Orientalism next spring. 

Contact: Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan  

11.) Equitable Digital Governance: A Global Collaborative Approach to Ethical Technology and Security

We want to work on the idea of a global consortium aimed at promoting fair and equitable distribution of digital governance responsibilities to ensure fair and safe advancement in digital innovation and security. One of the major concerns is data privacy. The increasing amount of data generated daily makes protecting personal data more critical. Unfortunately, many countries lack stringent data protection laws, exposing billions of individuals to privacy breaches. The cryptocurrency market is notoriously volatile. For instance, Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency, experienced a drastic drop from nearly $64,000 in April 2021 to below $30,000 in June 2021.

Our approach involves integrating ethical considerations and enhancing capabilities in developing countries to provide practical recommendations for sustainable digital development. Through our discussions, we will answer: What are some obstacles to achieving global consensus on digital regulations? How can developed countries support developing nations in improving their digital capabilities? What actionable steps can be taken to advance equitable digital governance on a global scale?

Digital governance must be ethical, impartial, and secure to ensure technology benefits everyone while minimizing negative effects. It is the joint responsibility of individuals, organizations, and governments to collaborate on establishing such a structure.

Contact: Jiaming Zhong      

12.) Turtles, Tuna, and Treaties: Exploring the Burgeoning Field of Ocean Diplomacy at Duke University

In recent decades, a suite of emerging threats to the oceans — plastic pollution, underwater noise, seabed mining, and others — have threatened ocean conservation and sustainability. More research and collaboration across stakeholders are needed to meet the growing demands on the oceans. Scientists and policymakers have recognized this need for some time: at the backbone of ocean governance lies the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), negotiated and adopted in 1982 by over 100 nations. A recently adopted implementing agreement of UNCLOS — Biodiversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction — has spurred renewed international focus on the complex and necessary marriage of ocean science, biodiversity, and international relations. 

These two negotiated agreements are vital backbone agreements for the oceans, but they are infrequently studied in the context of the field of “ocean diplomacy.” While the fields of ocean science and policy are recognized as academic disciplines, the burgeoning field of ocean diplomacy exists in practice but is rarely explored as a formal discipline. Thus, considering a growing list of both stressors and agreements related to the oceans, this working group seeks to define the field of ocean diplomacy itself and explore pathways to better connect science to diplomacy.

Contact: Brianna Elliott

13.) India: Pathways for Impactful Contribution (IPIC)         

We are excited to propose the idea of the “India: Pathways for Impactful Contribution (IPIC)”” graduate working group with the Duke University Center for International & Global Studies (DUCIGS). This dynamic initiative aims to provide a platform for individuals keen on contributing to India’s growth story, including students, STEM professionals, and anyone passionate about making a positive impact.

IPIC will center its discussions on critical areas such as empowering women’s health, improving farmer livelihoods, and attracting foreign investments to India. Through conversations and exploration, the group will delve into the intricate interplay of these factors within India’s socio-economic landscape. Additionally, we will investigate the pivotal role of science in diplomacy and its potential influence on India’s development trajectory. This aligns well with the Office of Global Affairs’ strategic priorities for supporting work surrounding global justice and equity, especially in low and middle-income countries, as well as engaging with global partners.

By participating in IPIC, individuals will not only gain a deeper understanding of India’s multifaceted challenges but will also discern their distinctive roles in driving positive change. We also invite all interested parties to join us in this initiative on a journey towards informed choices and equitable development of India.

Contact: Anvita Kulshrestha           

14.) Conservation Student Working Group      

Conservation is a multi-disciplinary topic that involves all five of the listed OGA priorities. Duke PhD students are working on conservation-related work here in the US as well as in Gabon, Madagascar, China, and Thailand, among other places. Students working in these low- and middle-income countries engage with global partners as well as local communities across a spectrum of indigeneity, addressing a variety of threats to ecosystems and human communities. 

Yet despite the amazing work that many graduate students are doing in this field, there is no institution focusing on conservation within Duke. And so there is no larger community for students to join/draw from – conservation work is silo’d by lab and department. The purpose of the proposed student working group is to bring students from the many different disciplines that focus on conservation into a room to build community, to exchange ideas, transfer skills, and form collaborations. 

We see this working group as providing a complementary function to the Biodiversity Conservation Initiative being proposed by the group led by Prof. Anne Yoder.

Contact: Brandon Hays       

15.) The Intersection of Climate, Conflict, and Community in Migration Management and Humanitarian Aid 

In an era marked by profound global challenges, the “”Intersection of Climate, Conflict, and Community in Migration Management and Humanitarian Aid Working Group”” emerges as a dynamic and essential initiative on Duke’s campus to address and understand some of humanity’s most pressing concerns. This interdisciplinary consortium is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and proactively responding to the complex interplay between climate change, conflict dynamics, and community resilience within the context of migration management and humanitarian aid.

The primary mission of this working group is to foster collaboration among experts, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers from diverse backgrounds to broaden understanding of migration and the factors that impact movement. Our shared purpose is to develop innovative strategies and evidence-based recommendations that acknowledge the intricate relationships between climate-induced displacement, conflict dynamics, and the crucial role of local communities in mitigating the impact of these crises. This group will also explore the other dynamics at play like politics, the private sector, resettlement, etc.

Contact: Lum Tyler McLain           

16.) Conversation Starters

Religion has been and will continue to be influential in global conflicts. Therefore, it is essential to construct a dialogue between followers of different faiths for peace-building. Traditionally, Interfaith dialogue is centered around sacred texts and is most often carried out among religious leaders. Project Real Talk is an improvisation of the traditional interfaith dialogue by leading conversations focused on visual art. The discussions are open to anyone interested in engaging with oneself, others, and the past through their worldview. It is a way to promote cross-cultural interaction to cultivate agents of reconciliation. These goals are closely aligned with OGA’s global justice and equity strategic priorities. This project aims to provide a significant tool for peace-building through visual art. Real Talk is an opportunity to slow down – to listen, reflect, learn, and unlearn about oneself and the other person. Because of its focus on the artwork, believers are less concerned about defending their sacred texts and can openly engage in conversations over visual art. Real Talk invites those who may be loyal to their text but are not fully trained in studying their text and those with no sacred texts, only folklore, and art, to peace talks. Real Talk imagines a better world by furthering constructive, creative conversations that enhance collaboration among people of different faiths and cultures.

Contact: Sujatha Balasundaram