Prof. Murphy Receives Research & Entrepreneurialism Award

Feb. 1, 2023
Kaitlin Murphy

A project to develop online training for police officers about the relationship between cultural memory, civil and human rights, and atrocity recovery and prevention has been awarded the Dorrance Dean’s Award for Research & Entrepreneurialism.

Kaitlin Murphy, Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, will lead a team combining academic and law enforcement expertise to create the course, drawing on her research and consulting work around the globe on the impact of memory sites, including museums, monuments and memorials. Part of the College of Humanities Fearless Inquiries Project, the Dorrance Dean’s Award for Research & Entrepreneurialism annually supports a faculty project with $20,000 in funding.

“Memory sites play a critical role in shaping historical narratives and cultural reckoning with violent racist pasts and their ongoing impact,” Murphy said. “While in many ways backward-facing, memory sites are also profoundly forward-looking in the values and narratives they articulate and the kinds of dialogues and community practices they have the potential to cultivate.”

Murphy’s research has included fieldwork in Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chile, Mexico, Rwanda and South Africa. Since 2019, she has worked on “Promoting and Protecting Civil and Human Rights,” a project co-led by Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights that seeks to prevent future U.S. atrocities by training law enforcement to detect relevant risk factors for rights abuses, identify appropriate and effective response tools and cultivate best practices.

So far, the project has conducted multiple six-week online courses, training law enforcement leaders nationwide on civil and human rights and atrocity recovery and prevention. Participant feedback and evaluation data showed significant learning from the sessions, enough to justify expanding the project to become required training for thousands of police officers across the nation.

“This project requires challenging and important conversations on issues that can be inflammatory and divisive and comprise some of the toughest human challenges facing our nation,” Murphy said. “Many participants have expressed interest in and will benefit from additional trainings that deepen and build from the first course.” 

While law enforcement training programs typically draw on disciplines like law and political science, Murphy explained that a humanities-based approach offers unique strengths.

“The humanities are uniquely positioned to play a particularly important role in this project due to their specialization in communication among people from diverse backgrounds and their inherent capacity to find profound connections between people, places, cultures and ideas,” Murphy said.

To develop course materials, Murphy will conduct field research at several key memory sites: the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C., the Memorial to Victims of Violence in Mexico City, and the Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation Center in Bogotá, Colombia. Then, she will join with experts—including memory scholars and practitioners, law enforcement leaders and trauma psychologists—to develop the curriculum. After teaching the course, Murphy will apply to present this project at the 2023 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference.

“The training will encourage participants to draw broader connections, reflect on the realities of their own communities and regions, and understand that everyone plays a part in preventing violence and protecting the rights of all people,” Murphy said.