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Marla Merchut


Major: IIM – “Conflict and Cooperation Studies “ (minor in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies)

What is your IIM about? - My IIM examines multiple kinds of conflict (socioeconomic, ethnic, international, etc) and the conditions that result because of them. The goal is to dissect the variables of the different conflicts to figure out patterns of when conflict persists and when it can be appeased. It is not a study of peace, but a study of understanding conflict in order to eliminate it.

When & how did you begin the IIM process? - I discovered a long time ago that I was interested in how different peoples of the world interact. However, I struggled with a passion that was very broad and very specific at the same time. When I was told about the IIM program I realized it was what I was searching for. An IIM allowed me to approach my academic curiosity about conflicts from a very interdisciplinary stand point, while still making it more focused than any major I had found. By looking at every class listed in the bulletin I was able to create a course load full of different perspectives, with the common link of how group relationships succeed or fail. Through my IIM I have been able to take classes that simultaneously disagree about why a conflict arose. I have also been able to study economic protests in one course while looking at the Iraq/Iran war in another.  I value the ability to use my IIM as a true expression of the liberal arts model.

How are you pursuing the IIM outside of the classroom? - Because my IIM is so focused on how people and groups of people interact, I find myself using all areas of my life as ways to examine theories of conflict and cooperation. I have worked on committees in the Student Union where I have found myself noting how people react to group work and common goals and what needs to be done to keep the committee or group cooperative. I have also been a part of amazing dance and theater productions that involve the expression of conflicts in different areas of the world. Outside of Brandeis, I have worked at Facing History and Ourselves, specifically working on a project about the Freedom Rides of the 1960s and found that work to parallel and enrich a lot of my academic studies. This past summer I worked at The Center for Legal Aid Education where I assisted in seminars that focused on the skills lawyers need to best represent their clients’ fundamental rights. This work helped excite my interest in how the law plays a role in fueling or mitigating conflict.  For my senior honors thesis I will be looking at how the evolution of social media has affected the ability of dissenting social opinion to mobilize beyond the grasp of a state censor.