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PhD Candidate Nyari Chisaka, Graduate College Post-Comps Fellow


Nyaradzai Chisaka is spending her Spring 2021 semester on the Graduate College’s Post-Comprehensive Research Award Fellowship. And she’s using this time to research and prepare for writing her dissertation on women's experiences during the Second Chimurenga, a war of armed resistance against colonial rule between 1966 and 1980.

Nyaradzai, or Nyari as she is known to her friends and colleagues, hails from Harare, Zimbabwe. She first found her love of history in high school, where she enjoyed writing argumentative papers, and through the many historical questions she was given by her history teachers. Her love for history intensified because of the education she received in African history and the stories she heard about the brave women who fought in the war of independence in Zimbabwe against colonial rule. This passion for African history, as well as women’s history, led to her graduation with honors in history from the University of Zimbabwe.

In her first years as an MA student and now a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, she developed an intense interest in gender and sexuality studies, which helped develop her research interest in sexual violence. During this fellowship period, she learned how to talk to survivors of sexual violence by attending various workshops conducted by the University of Iowa’s Rape and Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP), and has subsequently become an advocate for RVAP. The workshops she attended “have proved beneficial in equipping me with the expertise to talk to victims of sexual violence.”

During previous years, Nyari first gained knowledge in conducting oral interviews by working with Artshare, a community engagement program division at the University of Iowa. Working with Artshare, she interviewed Sudanese men and women who experienced persecution in their home country because of religious reasons. The Sudanese men and women she interviewed were part of a group known as the Republican Brotherhood. According to Nyari...

“Interviewing this group of people gave me an appreciation of the importance of telling stories of ordinary people.”

This past month, she successfully defended her Prospectus, a document she presented to her dissertation committee outlining her dissertation proposal, including a topic, background, literature review, and proposed methodology of research. She has also used the fellowship period to contact several scholars and informants who can assist with her research while she is here in the United States and when she travels later this year to Zimbabwe.

She’s used this time of restricted travel during COVID to explore literature and archival material that will ultimately guide her dissertation. Although most archival documents are available in Harare, in Zimbabwe there are only a few primary documents accessible online. In her research, she was able to use missionary documents to write her work. Missionaries were heavily involved in the Second Chimurenga assisting guerilla soldiers, as many believed in independence for the people in Zimbabwe.

Her research thus far consists of oral interviews with men and women who fought in the Second Chimurenga in Murehwa district located in Zimbabwe, this being a major frontline of the war. She has chosen to focus that research and her dissertation on women's experiences because the historiography of the Second Chimurenga has left out important narratives of sexual violence and rape during the war. She will interview survivors of sexual violence during the war as well as their loved ones and utilize archival documentation from the National Archives in Zimbabwe.

She believes her research is essential "Because narratives of the Second Chimurenga often do not pay attention to traumatic experiences, especially those of women."

Nyari is ready to change that. As she continues towards completion of her dissertation, she hopes to graduate by the Fall of 2023. Her goals following graduation include pursuing anti-violence work with organizations that focus on sexual violence prevention and to find a faculty teaching position focusing on gender and sexuality.