Cook Center Course on Gender and Development Inspires Rigorous Inquiry and Personal Growth

Students walk around to posters during the 2024 GIRI Capstone

By: Rachel Ruff

Durham, NC — This April at Duke University's Levine Science Research Center, students from the Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI) course presented their capstone projects, bringing to life their semester-long investigations into gender and development. This class, part of the broader educational programming from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, allows students to explore deep-rooted issues of inequality and develop comprehensive approaches to tackling them.

The GIRI Gender and Development seminar, a component of the Cook Center’s Inequality Studies minor, challenges students to understand and analyze the dynamic interplay between gender and socio-economic development globally. The course, taught this semester by Dr. Burca Kizilirmak Yakisir, provides a platform for investigating areas such as disparities in education, healthcare, and employment through a gendered lens.


The program for the GIRI capstone.
The program for the GIRI capstone.

Sam Hummel Jr., a master’s student, was among those presenting, with his project titled “The Impact of Money Creation on Gender Inequality.” "This class was particularly appealing because it supported my interest in monetary system design with a focus on social equity, and it offered a rare chance to write an academic journal article," Hummel explained.

Throughout the semester, students like Hummel grappled with the complexities of gender inequalities. The topics covered at the capstone demonstrated the breadth of areas of interdisciplinary research, with topics ranging from “Investigating Gender Differential Impacts of Spousal Bereavement on Health Outcomes” to “Gendered Challenges in Reintegrating Women Ex-Combatants.”


Students walk around to posters during the 2024 GIRI Capstone
GIRI students present posters to community members and Cook Center affiliates during the capstone event.

"The course was eye-opening, revealing how some inequalities can be beneficial or detrimental depending on context, which really broadened my perspective," Hummel remarked. This nuanced understanding was further deepened by discussions on the global disparities affecting women of different races and classes. Moreover, Hummel expressed a mix of admiration and sadness regarding the economic discipline's slow response to feminist critiques. "The resilience of feminist scholars in the face of exclusion and marginalization has been incredibly inspiring," he noted.

In addition, the course also served as a critical steppingstone for students aiming to sharpen their analysis and writing skills, particularly for an academic audience. "I learned the intricacies of academic publishing—a process that was once a complete mystery to me," Hummel shared, highlighting the benefits of this course as he completes his master's program and potentially pursues a Ph.D.

Looking ahead, the GIRI program continues to evolve, addressing different themes each semester. The upcoming Fall 2025 course, titled "Environmental Justice: Unearthing Disparities, Building Equity," will be taught by Dr. Kay Jowers, Director for Just Environments at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and it promises to further expand the dialogue on social inequities with a focus on environmental contexts.

For more information, please view the page for the Inequality Studies Minor on the Cook Center website.