Preventing Identity-Based Violence by Meera Rohera (A’22)

by PriyankaK
Nov 20

“Violence is fomented by the imposition of singular and belligerent identities on gullible people, championed by proficient artisans of terror.” ― Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny

We find ourselves at a dangerously unique point in history. We entered 2020 with the start of a pandemic, and we will exit it with a historic election that will shape the next four years of the country. As both of these events have amplified people’s identities, people have been retreating back into their own in-groups. Not only this—these identities are being weaponized for political and social reasons. This has exacerbated group-targeted harm. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work with Over Zero, an organization that tackled these exact issues and more broadly works to prevent identity-based violence.

Over Zero is an organization that harnesses the power of communication to prevent, resist, and rise above identity-based violence and other forms of group-targeted harm. They work directly with community leaders, civil society organizations, and researchers to develop and implement practical tools and launch effective interventions if necessary. They have an interdisciplinary and cross-sector approach because of the diversity of expertise and perspectives found in their team and partners, contributing to the broader field of identity-based violence prevention. I was first introduced to this organization through last year’s EPIIC class on Preventing Genocide and Mass Atrocities, when Rachel Brown (Tufts graduate, EPIIC’08, and founder of Over Zero) spoke with our class on her incredible work on violent conflict prevention. When I saw that this internship was offered through the IGL, I jumped at the opportunity. After having spent a year studying genocide and mass atrocities through EPIIC, I really wanted to take what I had learned outside the classroom.

I worked on two main projects with Over Zero over the summer; the first is related to countering dangerous narratives in the times of COVID-19 internationally, and the second is related to the upcoming US elections and possible violence. I worked closely with Laura Livington, the Regional Director for Europe, and Noah, the other (amazing) intern, on these projects. We researched and wrote case studies for the resources they were developing. We had bi-weekly zoom meetings where we discussed our progress and got phenomenal direction from Laura, who really inspired me with her passion and commitment to her work. Through this internship, I had the opportunity to develop existing research and writing skills and to learn new skills such as qualitative coding. Through these projects, I came across concepts and theories related to the field of identity-based violence, communication and rhetoric. Every week, we had a meeting with the entire Over Zero team where everyone shared what they were currently working on. Each meeting, I was in awe of the sheer number of concurrent projects taken up by the organization at the time. I really respect the dedication and work they put into extending themselves to do as much as they can in the field of violence prevention.

Over Zero adapted their internship program to COVID-19 really well. Even though we were not in an office working together, I got the chance to get to know and learn from everyone. The team organized ‘brown bag’ sessions where we got to speak with each member individually. Rachel Brown, Dr. Nichole Argo and Samantha Owens were all incredible mentors and I am thankful for the time they took to share their expertise and guide us with our work. We also had weekly coffee chats at the end of the week that I was always looking forward to. I am so grateful for this opportunity and am looking forward to the resources we worked on to be published!

Alumna Rachel Brown and colleagues Lauran Livingston, Dr. Nichole Argo Ben-Itzhak, and Samantha Owens provided this remote internship.

This internship was supported through the generosity of the Cummings Foundation.