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Graduate Student Spotlight: Deniza Mulaj

Graduate Student Spotlight: Deniza Mulaj
Deniza Mulaj, Ph.D. candidate in the Media Arts and Studies Program

In life there can be that one moment or experience that drives a person to want to fix the world's problems and change them for the better. Deniza Mulaj, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Media Arts and Studies program from Kosova, focuses on the intersectionality of media, political violence, and ethnicity.

Anytime there is a political demonstration on the news, we only see what is happening now. However, we do not look at how these events affect those around us. For example, how do media and politics create problems for other groups, and how do these media outlets portray violence that erupts during political uprisings from marginalized groups? What groupings are the main focus in the media's portrayal of violence?

"I refer to violence or events of political violence, as collective acts against sociopolitical or socioeconomic affairs instigated by formal or informal structures," Mulaj said about how she understands violent uprisings in her research.

Mulaj's passion and interest in researching media and political violence was sparked during her upbringing in Kosova in the nineties. During this time, the country went through a period of civil war and genocide. She was fortunate enough to escape with her family from Peja and then to Montenegro, returning to Kosova after the insurgencies were over.

"Since my childhood began in a warzone, I grew up with violence against Albanians. I grew up with my parents talking about escape—the very act of escaping genocide. So, from a very young age, I witnessed the use of violence for sociopolitical and socioeconomic goals," Mulaj said.

Has Mulaj always known that she wanted to get her tertiary education in media?

"I have changed fields a few times," she said. "I received my undergraduate degree in public policy and economics. However, I found out I needed something more, perhaps another field. So, I went to the University of Washington for a year and focused primarily on anthropology and philosophy, and I fell in love with it, and that is also when I started more closely working with violence. I then went back to America to North Carolina State University and received my master's in sociocultural anthropology, where I worked on issues of reconciliation and peacebuilding in territorially and ethnically divided societies. After receiving my master’s, I went back to Kosova and worked for the Balkan Investigative Reporting network for a year. During this year, my interest in media came back, and I knew I wanted a combination of these fields I had already taken on."

While Mulaj is working on her dissertation for her Ph.D., she also brings in other fields to combine with media studies.

"I consult work in political science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, post-colonial and de-colonial work, and ethnic and Balkan studies. That is because a crucial component of my work is ethnicity and the politicization in the media."

Doing a Ph.D. is no easy task and being an international student in the U.S. comes with its own unique set of challenges.

"The Ph.D. program comes with numerous difficulties, and I face new challenges every day,” Mulaj said. "But that does not mean it is not a good experience. It depends on who you are and where you come from. Suppose you are a citizen or an international student and so forth. All of these determine your hardships and experiences in the doctorate program. The one thing I do to cope with the stressors during my dissertation is being with my friends. I share a workspace, classroom, and other spaces with brilliant individuals from Cameroon, Botswana, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States and they are now my closest friends. The daily interactions, the simple conversations, the support, and the push we get from each other help us build our work. From daily talks about the stress we are going through down to sharing food and medicine."

With these in play, this helps Mulaj to flourish and grow her work in combining media and political violence and ethnicity in the hopes of bringing awareness and answers to some question she think are important regarding violence around the world.