Insight Article

The Baldy Center Magazine Spring 2022

New Scholars: Das, Khahaifa and Lebens-Higgins


Published May 11, 2022

The mission of the Baldy Center is to advance interdisciplinary research on law, legal institutions, and social policy. The Baldy Center is proud to highlight graduate students whose new research embodies an interdisciplinary approach to important issues in law and social policy.

Scholar Profiles

New Scholar Profile

Nikita Das, Department of Anthropology

Nikita Das.

Nikita Das

UB Student: Nikita Das

Degree Program: Department of Anthropology, PhD Candidate

Research Topic: Understanding social differentiation and democratizing processes through the energy transitions in rural West Bengal, India

Research Description: Energy security, energy access and climate crises action form the cornerstones of policy-making in India now. The issue of electricity poverty has always been relevant in India, even before gaining independence. Over the years, Indian governments have introduced a number of policies and schemes to further rural electrification. These policies have paved the way for the achievement of 100% village electrification in early 2018. The next considerable feat of 100% household electrification was achieved soon after in 2019. My research wishes to understand how the recent extension of rural electrification, which often relies on renewable energy, brings about new dreams of modernization, but also new cultural practices and new processes of social differentiation. I specifically ask how electrification policy implementations translate into varied practices. If they are translated into practices, do these practices become tools used in the national discourse of development in India? Finally, if these practices do reach national discourse, do they help in furthering transitions in energy practices?

The interactions between the prevalent development discourse and the impetus for energy transitions are complex and must be acknowledged in a postcolonial country like India. India’s Sustainable Development Goal Seven on ensuring modern energy access to all and Goal Thirteen on combating climate change should not be examined without context. As per capita electricity consumption has increased from 717.1 kWh to 1149 kWh in the last decade, alternatives to fossil fuel generated electricity, in the form of renewable energy-based generation systems must also be made a mainstay. India is already the world’s third largest carbon emitter. Thus, subsequent policies on energy access and energy security must take this into cognizance. Overarchingly, my research underscores the disconnections in notions of low carbon futures between local communities and governments in postcolonial countries like India. This disconnection thereby preempts the possible challenges in adapting to low carbon futures in the rural landscape globally.

Recent Awards:

  • Climate Change Graduate Fellowship, 2020
  • College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Scholarship, 2019

Recent Publication:

  • Das, Nikita. "Renewable Energy Management: An Analysis of the Status Quo." In Infrastructure Planning and Management in India, pp. 99-127. Springer, Singapore, 2022.

Keywords: Energy transitions, renewable energy, regulatory frameworks, environmental governance, critical agrarian studies, India


New Scholar Profile

Naiima Khahaifa, Department of Geography

Naiima Khahaifa.

Naiima Khahaifa

UB Student: Naiima Khahaifa

Degree Program: Department of Geography, PhD Candidate

Research Topic: Making Prisons Work — Black correctional officers and carceral geographies in Western New York

Research Description:  How did the mass incarceration of African Americans come to depend on the labor of Black correctional officers? This question is at the heart of my research. My dissertation argues that the day-to-day work of Black Correctional Officers (COs) cultivates consent and cooperation in a volatile, racialized prison environment. I situate the shifting composition of New York State’s correctional workforce within the context of neighborhood and occupational change in Buffalo, NY. My study begins in the 1970s, when there was a significant increase in Black COs in the US. Over the course of that decade, the proportion of Black correctional workers grew from 13.5 percent to 24 percent (by 1983). Archival reports on prison reform from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, along with oral histories conducted for this project, identify the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 in upstate New York as a watershed moment and major impetus for this change. The landmark McKay Commission Report of 1972 identified mounting tensions between the overwhelmingly white correctional workforce and the disproportionately Black and Latinx incarcerated population as a major contributing factor to the uprising. In response, correctional workforce integration became a focal point of subsequent reforms. Little policy or critical scholarly work has since been done to assess how this shift relates to prison spaces and the wider carceral geographies these prison spaces are a part of. To address this gap in the literature, my work examines the multifaceted relationships that emerge out of the contradictions, tensions, solidarities, and violence between Black COs and the prison system. With a focus on New York State prison reform, my dissertation shows how socio-spatial processes of correctional workforce integration have been central to reproducing the mass incarceration of African Americans.

Recent Awards:

Research Keywords: Mass incarceration, prison policy, labor geography, intersectionality.



New Scholar Profile

Gregory J. Lebens-Higgins, School of Law

Gregory J. Lebens-Higgins.

Gregory J. Lebens-Higgins

UB Student: Gregory J. Lebens-Higgins

Degree Program: UB School of Law, JD Candidate ’22

Research Topic: Withholding the Vote — The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage’s Boycott of the Democratic Party

Research Description: My research focuses on the Congressional Union’s 1914 campaign strategy in the United States. By the early 1900s, women had been granted suffrage in several Western states. How did they put their votes to use? In 1914, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage urged them to use it to hold the party in power accountable. Despite the Democratic Party’s hold on Congress and the Presidency, little progress had been made on passing a federal suffrage amendment. Although supported by some individual Congressman, it had been “smothered” by Democratic leaders.

The Congressional Union sought to organize the votes of women in the enfranchised states. Sending two women to each state in September 1914, they would spend the next six weeks on a speaking tour campaigning against the Democratic candidates. Doing so, they hoped to demonstrate that inaction on woman suffrage would be costly.

Although their efforts at unseating Congressmen are not considered particularly successful, the Congressional Union is credited with breaking into the traditionally male political arena, raising the consciousness of women voters, and establishing woman suffrage as a political issue. However, it would take six additional years and a diversity of tactics to make the Nineteenth Amendment a reality.

Using the campaign in Colorado as a lens through which to explore this topic, I hope to answer dynamics that have not been fully addressed by previous commentators: What did it mean to ask the women in the Western states to withhold their votes on behalf of their “sisters in the East”? Did the Congressional Union’s strategy fail to take into account other issues facing these voters, such as wages, working conditions, and marital rights? Exploring these issues will help with thinking about putting issues on the political agenda, organizing with limited resources, and challenging exclusionary spaces.

Research Keywords: Woman suffrage, voting, Congressional Union, gender, Democrats, Alice Paul