Last week students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) program attended an engaging presentation by Dr. Mahesh Nalla, a professor in MSU’s School of Criminal Justice. The presentation was a great opportunity for students to see the sorts of statistical techniques they have been learning applied to research in international contexts on pressing social issues.
A serendipitous career
Dr. Nalla is from India. He obtained his Master of Social Work from Andhra University, one of the oldest universities in India. Nalla told MPP students he did not even know criminal justice existed as a field of study until by chance he came across a criminal justice textbook in his university’s library, and found his life’s calling. “Life is full of serendipity,” he told MPP students—perhaps a good reminder for second-year students starting to feel the pressure of the post-degree job hunt.
Perspectives on globalization
This year MPP students have had fantastic opportunities to interact with many individuals working in Lansing, but quite a few students in the program are international students or interested in international work; Dr. Nalla’s presentation was a good opportunity to engage with issues of globalization and international work.
Nalla introduced students to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory, an influential theory in sociology and the study of global politics that attempts to explain how wealthier and more powerful countries relate to less developed countries. He also shared some food for thought about the effects of globalization, from the whimsical—showing students a picture of the McDonald’s McAloo Tikki vegetarian burger that is very popular in India—to the much more serious issues of transnational arms trafficking and human trafficking.
Police corruption and gender-based violence in India
Dr. Nalla gave a detailed and fascinating description of research he carried out regarding street harassment and sexual violence against women in India, a topic that has gained attention throughout India and the world following a highly publicized gang rape case in a public bus in New Delhi in 2012.
Nalla designed a survey that was completed by 1,360 men and women in India asking them about the frequency and seriousness of many different types of harassment that women are often subjected to by complete strangers in public places. Not surprisingly, the survey found that the vast majority of women who suffered such harassment had to deal with lingering feelings of anger, depression, shame, and helplessness.
Nalla also found that men tended to be around 10% less likely than women to view a given harassing behavior as “serious.” He also found that street harassment often led to long-term changes in behavior in women: some took more offensive measures such as buying pepper spray and taking self-defense classes, but many also felt obliged to circumscribe their own lives more, by stopping using public transportation, never going out in public alone, leaving work early, or even quitting their jobs.
Nalla wrapped up his presentation with a description of a study in which, on a shoestring budget, he obtained nearly 1,000 responses to a survey on police corruption: he and his team boarded a train from Delhi, rode it for four hours to another major city, and then rode it back, surveying people all along the way. This was a good example of a “convenience sample”—a way of doing the best you can with limited time and resources, a situation many MPP students may find themselves in future jobs in the government, nonprofit, or consulting sectors.