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Rachel L. Wahl

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Rachel L. Wahl
Phone: 434-243-6445
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Location: Ruffner Hall 280
Curriculum vitae: Wahl_Rachel_L_CV_2016
Department: Leadership, Foundations and Policy
Mailing Address: PO Box 400265, Charlottesville, VA 22904

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Assistant Professor


  • Ph.D., New York University, 2013
  • B.F.A., Marymount Manhattan College, 2002

Academic Offerings

Personal Statement

I examine how ideas and ideals spread through education and advocacy, particularly in regard to state and civil society efforts to influence each other. My focus has been on how learners’ implicit philosophical beliefs about morality, justice, and human nature inform their responses to educators’ efforts to change their views and behavior.

Current Research Projects: 

I am currently engaged in two primary lines of research. In both projects, I examine how philosophical beliefs, in combination with perceptions of contextual constraints and incentives, inform the way people respond to educational efforts to change their attitudes and actions.

Human Rights, Violence, and Education
I am the PI of two studies related to rights, violence, and education.


In the first study, I examine how Indian police and military officers respond to human rights education regarding the use of torture. Focusing on officers’ moral beliefs, conceptions of justice, and perceptions of the circumstances in which they work, I investigate how they draw from these views to reconcile what they learn with their views on violence. The study is based on my twelve months of fieldwork in North India, during which I conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with thirty-three police and military officers as well as with fifty human rights educators, activists, and state officials.

These police and military officers hold deeply rooted beliefs about justice and human nature, and also work in environments that they perceive as chaotic, inefficient, and corrupt, which compounds their view that violence is sometimes necessary. Rather than rejecting educators’ messages, however, these officers deliberate on the legitimacy of these messages, ultimately adapting them to their own beliefs. They then draw on the language and logic of rights to articulate their own contending views.

My research reveals how educational messages can transform as they are interpreted and used by people with different roles, beliefs, and perceptions. Moreover, I question the common assumption that police use extrajudicial violence only for amoral reasons such as lack of training or immoral reasons such as to receive a bribe or vent aggression (though all of these reasons do contribute to police violence). Starting from this premise, educators often try to change police practices by providing information about human rights and by persuading officers to recognize that their actions are wrong.  But since these officers believe that the use of violence is necessary for maintaining a moral order, this approach is unlikely to succeed. I argue for a different approach to transforming views and behavior.

The study is funded by grants from the Shearwater Foundation and David L. Boren National Security Education Program Fellowship.

My recent book on this project is:

Wahl, R. 2017 Just Violence: Torture and Human Rights in the Eyes of the Police. Stanford Studies in Human Rights. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

United States

In the second and newest study, I am examining efforts to cultivate trust between the police and communities of color in the United States. This involves observing a series of dialogues that are occurring between these groups and interviewing participants to understand the tensions and opportunities such dialogues present. I aim to understand whether, how, and when educational approaches (as opposed to legal or other agonistic means) of changing state-community relations show promise and the unanticipated ways in which such aims may be constrained.

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