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UD Summer Scholars Zarah Zurita (left) and Afrin Mirza helped with research about intimate partner violence.
Delaware sophomores Afrin Mirza and Zarah Zurita spent little time
lounging around this summer, but it’s clear that they wouldn’t have had
it any other way. The students were selected to be Summer Scholars, and
were part of a research team that is investigating intimate partner
violence among Delawareans, focusing, in particular, on persons of
color. The Summer Scholars program, which is now in its 13th year,
enables qualified students to perform in-depth research or creative work
in partnership with University faculty.
For Mirza and Zurita, this meant long days recording and observing
interviews with research participants, learning how to use software to
code qualitative data, preparing preliminary findings and analysis, and
presenting at an end-of-summer symposium. The Summer Scholars program is
both fulltime and intensive.
“I was responsible for transcribing every interview that was
conducted in English this summer,” said Mirza, a 19-year-old pursuing an
honors degree in biological sciences. “It was a lot of content.” Zurita
was charged with transcribing the interviews that were conducted in
But, as Zurita was quick to note, neither she nor Mirza had any
complaints about the workload. “Summer Scholars was an amazing
opportunity to do real-world research,” said Zurita. “I really enjoyed
The duo worked with a research team comprised of principal
investigators Angela Hattery, co-director of UD’s Center for the Study
and Prevention of Gender Based Violence; Earl Smith, a professor of
women and gender studies; and Patricia Sloane-White, chair of the
Department of Women and Gender Studies. The team also included Amanda
Levering, a UD alumna and senior administrator of the Delaware Domestic
Violence Coordinating Council.
“This project is exploring the factors that may be preventing abused
Black women in Delaware from seeking help from legal-system institutions
when they experience intimate partner violence,” Hattery said. “Thus
far, the team has interviewed 27 victims of intimate partner violence
and 10 who self-identify as perpetrators.
“We are trying to find out if victims experience higher rates of
surveillance after they seek help, including calling 911, seeking an
order of protection or testifying in court. For victims who have
children, are they more likely to be referred to the Department of Child
and Family Services after they seek help? These are the kinds of
important questions that our research hopes to answer.”
Zurita said she identifies as Latina.
“This is an issue in my community,” Zurita said. “The machismo
culture hides violence; it’s something that isn’t talked about. But if
you don’t talk about it, it’s not going to be stopped.”
The 19-year-old sociology major said that she took a class with Smith
last year and learned about the opportunity to engage in summer
“Based on Zarah’s and Afrin’s performance in class, I identified them
as strong candidates for the Summer Scholars program and encouraged
them both to apply,” Smith said. “They were a critical part of our
The team worked with community partners in and around Wilmington and
interviews were held at locations easily accessible to the study
participants, such as community centers and local libraries.
The nature of the work could be draining, but both students rose to the challenge.
“Conducting immersive, firsthand, and emotionally charged research
with survivors and perpetrators of violence requires both sensitivity
and resilience,” Sloane-White said. “Afrin and Zarah demonstrated
remarkable maturity and insight as they met with vulnerable
participants, exploring topics that are sensitive and difficult to talk
For Mirza, the research project opened up interesting conversations
with her dad, Khaled Mirza, a Dover-based psychiatrist. She, too, wants
to become a physician, but in her case, is leaning toward pediatrics.
“We talked in general terms, without infringing on research
participants’ confidentiality, about the implications of victims not
seeking help,” she said.
“I know this research project will inform my work as a physician,”
Mirza said. “I’ll remember the stories I heard and the experiences of
these victims. Intimate partner violence is often hidden. As a doctor,
I’ll need to ensure that my patients feel comfortable asking me for
At the end of the 10-week program, Mirza and Zurita participated with
other student/scholars in the 13th Undergraduate Research and Service
Scholar Celebratory Symposium. During their presentation, they shared
preliminary findings that indicate higher rates of negative maternal and
child outcomes for Latina and Black women who experience intimate
partner violence. The team’s research also indicates that Black and
Latina women face higher rates of lethal violence. Among the white women
interviewed, partner violence was only one of several issues they were
experiencing, along with substance abuse, sex work and homelessness.
“The symposium was a great opportunity to meet other scholars and
present our research to an audience unfamiliar with the topic,” Mirza
said. “Often research can get lost if not communicated properly. It
really made us step outside of our researcher shoes and understand how
to convey such information to the general public.”
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Article by Margo McDonough, photo courtesy of Angela Hattery
Originally published September 16, 2022