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jessica trisko darden

Jessica Trisko Darden, Ph.D.

Job title: Assistant Professor
Affiliation: Department of Political Science

Dr. Darden's most recent work focuses on the role that women play in violent, armed conflict as combatants, rather than victims.

Jessica Trisko Darden, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service and a non-resident fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Beginning in January 2021, she will be an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. She was previously a Jeane Kirkpatrick Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a visiting scholar at Yale University’s Program on Order, Conflict and Violence. Darden is the author of “Aiding and Abetting: U.S. Foreign Assistance and State Violence” (Stanford University Press, 2020) and co-author of two books, “Women as War Criminals: Gender, Agency, and Justice” (Stanford University Press, 2020) and “Insurgent Women: Female Combatants in Civil Wars” (Georgetown University Press, 2019). She holds a Ph.D. in political science from McGill University.

Q&A with Dr. Darden

Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?

I was born in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. My mom and her family are from the Philippines and my father's family originated in Ukraine, so I was blessed to grow up surrounded by a mix of different cultures and perspectives. My family also has a mixed educational background. My maternal grandparents both attended college in the Philippines, as did my mom. But my father never had the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education as he needed to support his widowed mother and sisters. While my sister started a successful business after community college, I headed off to university at the age of 16 and received my Ph.D. in political science from McGill University when I was 29. Success means different things to different people and my family is a strong reflection of that.

When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?

I love researching and working in education because I think there is nothing more thrilling than searching for answers. Learning from those around us—our families, friends, communities—is empowering. I became a professor because I believe that the quest for knowledge should never end.

Can you explain the focus of your research?

My most recent work focuses on the role that women play in violent, armed conflict as combatants, rather than victims. It challenges many of society's assumptions about women and about war to shine a light on how failing to "see" women in conflicts has led to biased post-war outcomes and biased knowledge about conflict. Writing women into our histories of the ongoing war in Ukraine, for instance, or crimes against humanity can fundamentally reshape the way we see conflict and its effects on society. I also examine how external resources, such as foreign aid, shape conflict dynamics.

What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?

After several years at American University in Washington, D.C., I'm excited to return to a public university that reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth and the country. I am the product of a public education—from elementary school through college—and I know that VCU offers every single student a world of opportunity. I look forward to teaching students from a wide range of backgrounds and I hope that my own experiences as an immigrant, as a woman of color, as a parent, will help me connect in some little way with each and every student I teach.

Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?

My favorite thing about teaching is when a student asks a question that fundamentally shifts my own perspective on an issue and helps me see it in a different light. By seeing things from a new perspective or with a different nuance, students have the ability to shape the entire class's view of an issue.

Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?

I have a 15-year-old Pomeranian named Mishka that you may see perched on my desk (shhh! Don't tell anyone!).

As the international winner of the Miss Earth pageant (2007), I'm proud to join VCU's Camille Schrier (Miss America 2020) in showing the world that women can achieve anything they set their mind to.