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Student Research Grant Recipients - 2015


Kimberly Rightor

Major: Political science
Minor: Poverty, justice and human capabilities 

Project: “Female-only gyms and the promotion of physical activity in Amman, Jordan”

Obesity and diabetes are increasing rapidly in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly among women. Insufficient physical activity is a major risk factor for these chronic diseases. This project focused on social and financial barriers to female exercise and assessed how female-only gyms in Amman, Jordan, can promote physical activity amid these challenges. Ultimately, the researcher concluded that female-only gyms are more than just places for women to exercise — they are communities, safe spaces and places of empowerment. Although these gyms have been making headway in promoting exercise, they are often expensive and clustered in wealthier parts of Amman. In this sense, economic barriers to exercise remain quite strong for some women in Amman, Jordan, and more needs to be done to counter this. 

Kimberly Rightor is a senior at Rice University with a major in political science and a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities. A published undergraduate interested in global health diplomacy, she studied in Geneva, Switzerland, and researched risk factors for chronic diseases among MENA women at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C. Through interview-based research projects on health literacy in Morocco and exercise initiatives for women in Jordan, she met incredible women who strengthened her commitment to ensuring that all women have the knowledge they need to lead a long and healthy life.



Luai Allarakia
Ph.D. candidate, political science – University of Houston

Project: “The Dynamics of Legislatures in Popular Rentier Monarchies: Kuwait’s Majlis Al-Ummah”

This dissertation explores the dynamics of voting in Kuwait’s National Assembly (Majis Al-Ummah) using an original data set of roll call votes spanning the period 2006-2012. The aim is to unveil the dynamics of conflict in Kuwait’s political system and how they affect the stability of the country, especially as it pertains to the relationship between the unelected hereditary executive and the elected national assembly.

Luai Allarakia is Ph.D. candidate in comparative politics at the University of Houston. His research encompasses institutions, regime transition and nationalism/identity politics in the Arab world, with a particular focus on the Arabian Peninsula. Luai’s work has been presented at several conferences, including the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual meeting, the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting and, recently, the American Political Science Association’s Middle East and North Africa workshop in Doha, Qatar. He has previously worked as a researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy


Seyed Mohammad Reza Hashemitaba
Ph.D. candidate, cultural anthropology – Rice University

Project: “Managing Sectarianism: How does the Iranian State Attempt to Avoid Radicalization of Iranian Sunni Minorities?”

Bordering with some of the countries where radical Islam is significantly operative, Iran with its Sunni minorities is geographically prone to radicalization trends. This project seeks to study various state initiatives affecting the lives of Sunni minorities in Iran at the intersection of sectarian sensibilities, foreign financial and cultural influences and ties, and state welfare policies. I ask how the Iranian state has adjusted its welfare policies toward its Sunni minorities in light of intense sectarian conflicts in the Middle East — and how such policies are implemented, or fail to be implemented, and conceived by the Sunni minority.

Reza Hashemitaba is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at Rice University. He researches the Iranian state's development policies in the context of international sanction regimes and sectarian conflicts. Among his research interests are transnational governance regimes, religion and politics, South-South humanitarianism and international development, and the interactions of religious authority and ordinary religiosities in Shi'i contexts. He was trained in sociology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Tehran, the London School of Economics, and Aga Khan University before moving to the U.S.