Elon alumna, associate professors publish research together

Elon alumna Leena Dahal and associate professors Mussa Idris and Vanessa Bravo collaborated on ethnographic research about post-disaster Nepal after the April 2015 earthquakes

Elon alumna and Lumen Scholar Leena Dahal ’17, from Nepal, with her Lumen Prize mentor, associate professor Mussa Idris, in a picture taken in 2017 at Elon’s Maynard House.

Alumna Leena Dahal ’17 has published, as first author, a peer-reviewed journal article developed in collaboration with two of her mentors at Elon: Associate Professor Mussa Idris from the department of Sociology and Anthropology and Associate Professor Vanessa Bravo from the Department of Strategic Communications.

“’It helped us, and it hurt us’: The role of social media in shaping agency and action among youth in post-disaster Nepal” was published Oct. 9 in its early-access version at the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, a peer-reviewed journal published by Wiley-Blackwell in the United Kingdom. The article will be assigned a volume number and page numbers by the end of the year. For now, it is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1468-5973.12329.

The article’s findings are based on data gathered through ethnographic fieldwork and 50 in-depth interviews conducted in Nepal in 2015 and 2016 with youth who got actively –and immediately- involved in relief efforts after the country was hit by several strong earthquakes in April 2015, when more than 9,000 people died. Nepal is Dahal´s country of origin.

The article describes the ways, as narrated by the study’s participants, in which social media and other digital platforms helped but also hindered the relief efforts of youth-led groups. The article also shows the creative capacity of the youth to rapidly organize relief responses, managing the situation efficiently and properly, without following the top-down approach that tends to dominate the descriptions of crisis management in the literature.

As the article’s abstract reads, the results of this case study can help “academics and practitioners gauge the effectiveness of social media platforms to respond to crises, understand their impact for people in distinct generations and evaluate the feasibility and inclusivity of using social media as a tool in national crises, especially in developing countries.”

Dahal, the first author of the article, graduated from Elon University in 2017 as an International Fellow with a double major in strategic communications and international studies. She was also a Lumen Scholar, with Idris serving as her mentor for that research. Also under Idris’ mentorship, Dahal was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a high honor given to only about 35 scholars in the United States from a pool of about 6,000 applicants.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship allowed Leena to obtain a master’s degree in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, where her master´s dissertation was awarded the C.A. Bayly Prize for the best dissertation in her department, and it was also awarded, nationwide, as best master`s dissertation by the British Association of South Asian Studies (BASAS).

After obtaining her master’s degree, Dahal worked in Nepal as opinions editor at the Kathmandu Post and later as a communications specialist at Nepal´s World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Without Dr. Idris’ deliberate emphasis on a student-led mentoring approach — where conversations are guided but not led, where critical analysis is supplemented but not shaped and self-reflection is relaxed and never inauthentic — I strongly believe that I would not have experienced the amount of personal growth and confidence in my research capacity,” Dahal said of her experience conducting undergraduate research at Elon under Idris’ guidance. “His mentoring not only shaped my research but always shaped my ethnographic lens and reflexivity as a researcher—two things that I continue to carry with me and develop since I graduated from Elon.”

Dahal said that Bravo “constantly encouraged me to think about issues affecting communities near and far through various perspectives and opened my eyes to ideas I had not previously considered. For that, she shaped me and many other students into more globally minded critical thinkers who are engaged in issues beyond those that affect their own demographics.”

The Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management is a Q2 (top 50 percent) journal in the fields of management information systems and management, monitoring, policy and law, according to the Scimago Journal and Country Rank (SJR). At the time of writing, it had an H index of 46, which showcases a high research-impact level.