Abby Cordova

Faculty Fellow Abby Córdova is an associate professor of global affairs at the Keough School of Global Affairs who joined the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2020. Her affiliation with the Kellogg Institute for International Affairs, however, started several years earlier: She took part in a 2017 Kellogg panel on criminal violence and democracy in Latin America, then returned to Kellogg as a spring 2019 guest scholar to work on a book about women, gendered violence, and political participation in developing countries. She stayed on as a 2019 visiting fellow the following fall.

That time at Kellogg, Córdova said, was one of the happiest periods of her career and “after being at Kellogg for a year, I could not see myself anywhere else.”

She jumped at the chance to move to South Bend permanently as a professor in the Keough School, where she continues her research in the political roots of crime and violence, gender inequality, economic inequality and international migration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the El Salvador native – whose academic career was motivated in part by her family’s experience with political violence during the country’s civil war – is heavily involved in several Kellogg research initiatives. She also plays a key role in mentoring Kellogg-affiliated undergraduates and graduate students, including teaching a survey research methodology course made largely of Kellogg doctoral students. 

Learn more about Córdova and her work – including why she thinks networking opportunities for female scholars are critical – below.

How did your experiences as a Kellogg visiting fellow and guest scholar impact your work, and why did you want to return to Kellogg and Notre Dame?

My time as a Kellogg guest scholar and visiting fellow was one of the happiest and more productive periods of my academic career. My most recent and forthcoming publications are all products of the time and support I had at Kellogg. One thing that stood out to me about Kellogg was the genuine interest its faculty, students, and visiting scholars have in seeing everyone succeed. That mutual support is what makes the Kellogg community unique.

Here, you not only get to conduct your research in a supportive environment, but also work with scholars who share a commitment to social justice. The research of Kellogg scholars seeks to advance democracy and development worldwide, putting human dignity at the center.

After being at Kellogg for a year, I could not see myself anywhere else. I was already part of an amazing family of scholars concerned about some of the same issues I care the most about. When the Keough School, of which Kellogg is part, announced a job opening on the study of democracy, I did not hesitate for a second to apply. I am grateful to have returned to Notre Dame.

Your research focuses on Central America. How does this region fit into broader studies of democracy and inequality, and what trends do you see there?

Broadly defined, my research explores the consequences of inequality and marginalization for democracy, integrating topics related to crime and violence, gender inequality, economic inequality, and international migration. These are some of the most pressing issues that affect Central American countries today.

I was born and raised in El Salvador, in the city of Soyapango, in the middle of a civil war. With the celebration of the Peace Accords in 1992, the expectation was that democracy would flourish and remain strong for years to come. However, democracy is currently highly vulnerable, not only in El Salvador, but also in Guatemala and Honduras. And in Nicaragua, it has disappeared.

In a context of a declining democracy, such as in El Salvador, historically disadvantaged groups face even higher barriers to improving their lives. Part of my research focuses on studying how gender inequality and the resulting gender-based violence affects women’s social and political life in contexts of criminal governance, such as in El Salvador.

You co-taught the capstone course for Kellogg’s International Development Studies (IDS) minor last semester and will be the lead instructor for the course in the fall of 2021. How are you using your research background to help students with the kind of international projects they’re working on?

Last semester, I had the honor to co-teach the capstone course with Rev. Robert Dowd (the founding director of Kellogg’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity and now the assistant provost for internationalization with Notre Dame International) and work with brilliant students minoring in IDS. It was gratifying to see how their projects evolved during the semester and culminated in excellent capstone papers and research presentations.

I relied on my own methodological expertise and fieldwork experiences to accompany students in their research journey. Early in the semester, I met with students to discuss their research questions and instruments for data collection. My ample experience conducting public opinion surveys and in-depth interviews in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean came handy during those conversations. I helped put together questionnaires, and once the survey data were collected I provided guidance on how to conduct the statistical analysis. In class, I shared my own experiences conducting research in contexts of high criminal violence.

The course was not only a learning experience for students, but also for me. I learned a lot from the students’ projects and their own experiences conducting research. I look forward to teaching the capstone course again in the near future.

You’re part of Kellogg’s Research Cluster on Democratization Theory and the Notre Dame Violence and Transitional Justice (V-TJ) Lab. Why is the work of those two groups important and what have you gotten as a scholar from being part of them?

Kellogg’s Research Cluster on Democratization Theory provides a unique space to discuss state-of-the-art research on democratization with some of the very top scholars in the world who conduct research in this area. Just recently I received excellent feedback at one of the Cluster’s workshop on a paper that is currently awaiting a final decision for publication from a peer-reviewed journal. The excellent feedback I received at the workshop allowed my co-author and I to produce a much stronger paper. I look forward to participating in more workshops and meetings.

I am also excited to be part of the V-TJ Lab. Last semester, Faculty Fellow Guillermo Trejo, its director, invited me to serve as the Lab’s co-principal investigator. The Lab brings together a vibrant group of scholars and practitioners committed to defend the rights of victims of criminal violence and state repression. The Lab’s mission is to produce cutting-edge research on criminal violence and use that knowledge to accompany victims in their demand for justice. Being part of the Lab gives me the opportunity to work alongside brilliant Notre Dame students and faculty and collaborate with them in research projects.

In 2019, you co-organized the Kellogg-funded “New Research by Women Studying Violence” workshop, which addressed challenges specific to female scholars. What are some of those challenges, and how do you see the climate for women in academia changing?

Gender bias permeates the academia. One of the most visible ways in which that bias materializes is that women in general, and women of color in particular, are less likely to become full professors and play leadership roles. One of the ways academic institutions can reduce this bias is by supporting women’s scholarship. When we proposed the organization of the workshop, Lucía Tiscornia (a former dissertation year fellow) and I found this support from Kellogg and other institutes and departments on campus.

In 2019, the workshop brought together, for the second time, a group of women studying violence. Creating spaces for female scholars to network and discuss their research is extremely valuable for women’s success. We are thankful to Kellogg and all the institutes and departments on campus who have made the continuation of the workshop possible.

Although progress has been made for women and other disadvantaged groups in academia, the struggle is far from over. However, it is encouraging to see that academic institutions are taking important steps to improve diversity and inclusivity.