PhD in International Education

Alumni Profile: Rachel Wahl, PhD

Picture of Rachel Wahl

My current research examines how state actors who are accused of violating human rights understand their actions, and how their perceptions inform their responses to educational interventions and activism.

My dissertation is based on twelve months of fieldwork with police, paramilitary, and military officers who were participating in human rights education in India. I examine officers’ beliefs about why they use torture, the values and perceptions that inform their beliefs, and the meaning of these views for how they respond to human rights education and activism. I argue that without understanding violence from the moral perspective of the perpetrators, educational interventions are unlikely to succeed.

The theoretical literature in which I base my work is social constructivist scholarship in international relations on the dissemination of international norms. This theoretical perspective offers a lens through which to examine how principles and norms are taught and learned, and what happens to these ideas as they travel through education and advocacy.

I look specifically at how professional and political contexts and normative beliefs shape the way state actors interpret international norms. I focus on human rights norms, as the language of rights has become the dominant international discourse for efforts on behalf of social justice.

More generally, my teaching and research focus on human rights and international norm diffusion, theories of justice, criminal justice reform, and topics within international education such as education for social justice.

NYU has provided an ideal academic community for me. My adviser Dana Burde and other faculty such as Rene Arcilla and Jonathan Zimmerman are exemplars of dedication to teaching and scholarship. The chance to work with faculty such as Niobe Way from other departments at Steinhardt has also been important to my intellectual trajectory. I cherish as well my friendships and invigorating exchanges with the other doctoral students. I am lucky to have found such a talented and generous faculty and student body.

In Fall of 2014, I will begin a position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Policy in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia


Wahl, R. (2014 forthcoming). Justice, Context, and Violence: How Police Explain Torture. Law and Society Review. 48(4)

Wahl, R. (2013). Policing, Values, and Violence: Human Rights Education with Law Enforcers in India. Special Issue on Human Rights Education and Training: Taking Stock of Theory and Practice. Oxford Journal of Human Rights Practice. 5(2): 220 – 242.

Burde, D., Kapit-Spitalny, A., Wahl, R., Guven, O. (2011). Education and Conflict Mitigation: What the Aid Workers Say. Washington, DC: USAID.

Das, A., Mogford, E., Barbhuiya, R., Chandra, S., and Wahl, R. (2012). Reviewing Responsibilities and Renewing Relationships: An Intervention with Men on Violence Against Women in India. Culture, Health, and Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care.14(6): 659-75.

Wahl, R. (2013, March 15). Review of Critical Aesthetic Pedagogy: Toward a Theory of Self and Social Empowerment by Yolanda Medina. Teachers College Record.

Selected Working Papers:

Wahl, R. 2013. The Diffusion of Human Rights Norms among Law Enforcement Officers in India. International Studies Association Annual Meeting Paper. San Francisco: April 4, 2013.

Wahl, R. 2013. Learning Norms or Changing Them?: State Violence, State Actors, and Human Rights Education in India. Comparative and International Education Society Annual Meeting Paper. New Orleans: March 19, 2013.

Wahl, R. 2012. Protecting Rights Through Violating Them: Law Enforcement and Doubts About Democracy in India. American Political Science Association Annual Meeting Paper New Orleans: August 22, 2012. Available at:

Honors and Awards:

Junior Scholar Symposium, International Studies Association Annual Convention. (Selected to participate with a small group of junior scholars to receive in-depth feedback from a senior scholar). April 2013.

Travel Award, International Studies Association Annual Convention. (Funding to participate in the convention). April 2013. $250.00.

Best Paper. Peace Education Special Interest Group, Comparative and International Education Society Annual Meeting. March 2013.

Student Travel Award (Funding to participate in a symposium on “The Intersection of criminal and social justice” at the American Psychological Association annual meeting). August 2012. $400.00.

National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellowship. (Funding for fieldwork and Hindi language study in India). Institute of International Education. June 2011 – March 2012. $23,600.00.

Dean’s Grant for Student Research, New York University. May 2011. $1,000.00.

Alternate, Social Science Research Council Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship. Social Science Research Council.  March 2010.

Shearwater Grant, New York University. (Funding for fieldwork in India). June – August 2010 & April 2013. $1,500.00.

Steinhardt Doctoral Student Fellowship. New York University. September 2010 – June 2011. $15,000.00.

Rothman Scholarship. New York University. September 2010 – June 2011. $10,000.00

Doctoral Student Travel Grant. New York University. March 2009 & March 2013. $1000.00.

Twenty-first Century Fellowship. New York University. September 2008 – June 2010. $20,000.00.


Curriculum Vitae