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CoAS Students Present Research at UN Commission on the Status of Women

By Gina Myers

Portraits of Liz Pham and Zyrah Alvi


April 26, 2021

Each year the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets for two weeks to discuss issues that affect gender equality and women’s empowerment and to make recommendations on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. Typically held in New York City, this year’s virtual event included two College of Arts and Sciences students who presented their research on corruption and education.

Liz Pham and Zyrah Alvi both presented research they began as Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholars in Pennoni Honors College. The students each worked with Kristy Kelly, PhD, associate clinical professor in the College of Education, who is a member of the CSW community and invited the students to present their research at the forum.

Pham, a fourth-year student in the accelerated degree program pursuing both her BA and MS in Communication, focused her research on corruption in the education system in Vietnam, her parents’ native country. “The most interesting discovery I made was how most families and students viewed corruption as the norm,” she says. “The act of bribery was commonly practiced to help students get the best seats in high schools and higher education. In Vietnamese culture, gift-giving is a common tradition and practice, and ultimately it has transcended to the normalization of bribery.”

Alvi, a junior majoring in Political Science, extended the research Pham began and looked at corruption and gender, race and politics. Pham noted how meaningful it was to see research she began continued by Alvi and others. “It was very impactful to see my research applied to modern scenarios and broader implications as well as being connected to other bigger ideas,” she says.

Alvi’s research is ongoing, but she has been happy to be able to present it not just at the UN CSW Forum, but also at Harvard and Stanford. She says the most surprising part of her research was discovering how common corruption is. “Many people are victims of corrupt or ‘unfair’ acts without realizing it,” Alvi explains. “During interviews, participants had the chance to reflect on the questions that I asked, and then they understood that they had been victims of some sort of corrupt acts.”

As a first-generation student, Alvi did not initially know what research would mean to her. “Before this experience, I did not understand the importance of research work, but having the opportunity to have my voice heard and to make an impact makes me feel very grateful,” she says. “I want to be the change that I want to see in this world. I believe my research helps me make a positive impact.”

The research the students presented could help make a positive impact. Pham says, “I hope people in attendance left with a new perspective on how corruption pervades our everyday lives, either passively or actively. I also hope they took away how interconnected gender inequity is with many educational practices.”

Alvi echoes Pham’s hope. “I hope that people understand how important it is to acknowledge that corruption exists all around us and that the first step to reducing corrupt or ‘unfair’ acts is to acknowledge that they exist almost everywhere.”