Philosophy Professor Recognized for Anti-Violence Research

Elena Ruíz’s anti-violence research has attracted the interest and support of advocacy organizations and philanthropic groups world-wide, including the Me Too Movement Organization for which she was named principal researcher for gender-based violence in January 2020. 

An Assistant Professor in MSU’s Department of Philosophy, Ruíz identifies strategic interventions for sexual violence and social structuresthat harm and keep people from meeting their basic needs. Through cross-disciplinary research in the social sciences and humanities, she addresses the essential problems that affect the lives of women of color.

My research starts with very concrete community needs. It also starts with the idea that producing public goods is a basic responsibility for researchers.

“My research starts with very concrete community needs,” she said. “It also starts with the idea that producing public goods is a basic responsibility for researchers — not pie-in-the-sky puzzles about cultural hypotheticals that only exist in thought experiments. I innovate so as to not risk failing the publics we serve.”

For the Me Too Movement, Ruíz leads research initiatives and projects for the organization.

“For example, since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re focused on identifying existing survivor-specific resources and also the gaps in resources, so I’m running a national survey on the financial burden of COVID-19 expenses for survivors,” she said. “There’s different projects and initiatives, but all are focused on Me Too’s mission to end sexual violence and address these structural inequities for underrepresented populations.”

Woodrow Wilson Fellow

In 2019, Ruíz was selected by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation as one of only 10 junior faculty from universities across the United States for a career enhancement fellowship. Her colleague Tacuma Peters, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, also was among this select group. 

“Receiving this recognition made me feel confident in the strength of my research platform and ability to communicate my research effectively,” Ruíz said.

As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Ruíz received a six-month sabbatical stipend to serve as a visiting scholar and fellow in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University from August to December 2019. During that time, she wrote articles, facilitated seminars, worked on her upcoming book on structural violence, and traveled extensively to investigate growing trends in reproductive rights abuses in Latin America.

a women with long hair wearing a dress with a black blazer
Dr. Elena Ruíz

Ruíz said it was stimulating, productive, and career fortifying to spend six months at Harvard. The experience reinforced her belief that MSU Philosophy is on the leading edge of programs that promote scholar-advocacy for underserved communities.

“I can speak to the fact that our Philosophy Department is instrumental in creating an engaged scholar platform that brings incredible resources to MSU and in evaluating the institutional structures that affect outcomes for the under-represented people we serve,” she said. “There’s something very unique going on here in our College and philosophy area. It’s easier to create innovative work when you’re surrounded by it.”

Public Research, Public Good

Born and raised in Mexico, Ruíz said her research is inherently tied to the community she belongs to and serves. Before coming to MSU in 2016, she was a research fellow in Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked on international public policy and gender-based violence. She also worked as an advocate and researcher for national and international nonprofit organizations, particularly those focused on human trafficking. 

“Essentially, I was leading a double-shift life,” she said. “I had my formal research profile and had a working life, too. When I came to MSU, my two lives and careers converged.”

MSU’s Department of Philosophy provided the ideal framework for conducting public research for the public good, Ruíz said, adding that the university’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration contributed to the depth and effectiveness of collective research and to the breadth of what she could explore and accomplish. 

I’m a deeply interdisciplinary researcher,” she said. “MSU Philosophy has been instrumental in creating a public-facing engaged scholar program that enables rigorous inquiry and promotes community responsibility.

“I’m a deeply interdisciplinary researcher,” she said. “MSU Philosophy has been instrumental in creating a public-facing engaged scholar program that enables rigorous inquiry and promotes community responsibility.”

Ruíz actively engages with social epidemiologists, data scientists, lawyers, grassroot organizers, social workers, historians, sociologists, community psychologists, and legislative staffers to identify inequities and lay groundwork for long-term solutions to structural inequalities. She’s evaluated institutional structures that affect communities and examined success rates in health, education, and legal precedents that actively dispossess people of their rights and lives. 

In addition to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Ruíz’s work also has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and cross-institutional grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her many appointments at MSU include serving on the faculty in Philosophy, Global Studies, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, the Center for Gender in a Global Context, and the Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence.