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Marie Berry Wins NSF CAREER Award for Justice and Human Rights Work

As Marie Berry sees it, the global community sits at a precarious intersection of three dangerous threats: catastrophic climate change, challenges to democracy and rampant inequality.

While everyone from politicians and policymakers to diplomats and business leaders is on the hunt for solutions, Berry, an associate professor at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, says they might be looking in the wrong places.

Marie Berry headshot

“All three of those crises do not have solutions currently found exclusively within global institutions,” she says. “The place in which we see the most energy directed at really challenging these crises is at the grassroots — in communities that are the most egregiously harmed by these crises.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) agrees. The noted organization endorsed Berry’s approach by awarding her its prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program award — CAREER for short. The award recognizes and supports early-career faculty who show great potential, both in intellectual merit and broader research impacts, and helps them build a strong foundation for future efforts.

Exploring and understanding the power of grassroots solutions has driven Berry’s recent work, including her leadership of the Women’s Rights After War project, which analyzes women’s empowerment after conflict to inform future advocacy and policy, and the Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative (IGLI), housed in DU’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy. IGLI combines research, education and programming to elevate and amplify the work of women in justice and human rights movements around the globe. The initiative’s renowned summer institute, temporarily paused due to COVID-19, provides fellowship and advanced training to the world’s leading women activists.

The grant will distribute $489,000 over five years, allowing Berry to help solidify the Korbel School as a leading global hub for work around building grassroots movements for social change. The funding, she says, will help integrate IGLI into Korbel’s curriculum so students have more opportunities to put learning into action, particularly through a new social justice certificate program.

“[The award funding] creates a structure for IGLI’s summer institute to be a training space for students to interact with activists and then to do a capstone project for the certificate that aims to support activists’ campaigns or agendas,” she explains. “So, anything from a strategic plan, to a media and advocacy plan, to a training module — something that is of direct service to the activists’ goals.”

IGLI 2019
Marie Berry and participants at the 2019 IGLI summer institute.

In addition, the award will allow IGLI to continue a practitioner in residence program that has brought such leaders as Togolese activist Farida Nabourema and Syrian radio personality Honey Al Sayed to teach in DU classrooms. What’s more, the grant will fund two postdoctorate positions and allow IGLI to host a winter workshop for activists, academics and artists, in collaboration with Berry’s research partner Milli Lake. Ultimately, Berry hopes to see the Korbel School extend its certificate program to activists across the globe.

These initiatives reflect Berry’s aim of diversifying voices in scholarship and democratizing knowledge to better lives and secure freedom outside the ivory tower — a premise, Berry says, considered downright novel in many academic settings.

“Education isn’t just learning for learning’s sake. It’s not about accreditation or degrees. It’s about doing justice work to build a more free world for more people,” she says. “I think one of the beautiful things about DU is that it allows for this reimagining of what traditional academic spaces look like because it is more open toward innovation and community-engaged scholarship — toward this idea of a private university dedicated to the public good."