Mellon/ACLS Fellow Soniya Munshi Sheds Light on Institutional Responses to Domestic Violence Survivors

August 7, 2019

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Professor of Sociology Soniya Munshi has been selected for a Mellon/ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies) Community College Faculty Fellowship for her project, Cultural/Sane: Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors, Mental Health, and Logics of Citizenship. The fellowship is in effect from July 2019 through December 2020, with a stipend up to $40,000.

Munshi’s project will illuminate dynamics that have implications for migrant communities, particularly domestic violence survivors.

“The research will look closely at the legal cases of defendants who are survivors of domestic violence, and examine how mental health evaluations reflect institutional assumptions related to the survivor’s culture, race and gender,” she says. “Mental health is an urgent concern in the different community, campus and classroom spaces I occupy on a daily basis. My project is informed by this urgency, and asks questions that address mental health within a sociopolitical context, one that includes historical and ethnographic work.”

Placing immigrant domestic violence survivors at the center of her research, Munshi contends that the power of prosecution and sentencing, as it applies to immigrant domestic violence survivors, “is amplified by mental health systems that rely upon discourses of culture and nation to assess who deserves rehabilitation and punishment.”

She adds that studies examining what is referred to as the “cultural defense” and “battered women’s syndrome,” have found that those two frameworks “often reinforce reductive binary relationships such as Other/American, traditional/modern, and cultural/criminal or victim/criminal, thus requiring survivor-defendants to be positioned as wholly backward or passive in order to assert their innocence.”

Research outcomes will impact practice and create dialogue

During the course of her fellowship period, Munshi will conduct archival research at the National Archives of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington, D.C. and at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Denver. She will also work with digital resources including the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, and Casa de Esperanza.

“To analyze accounts of the mental health of immigrant domestic violence survivors within the law, I will closely examine a select group of civil, immigration and criminal legal cases culled from news reports, community-based reports, and other sources,” Munshi says.

She also plans to conduct ethnographic research in Queens, New York City, “where almost half of the borough’s population is foreign-born, mostly tracing their roots to Asia or Latin America. This research will include participant-observation at various sites that serve domestic violence survivors, and public community meetings, as well as interviews with mental health practitioners, social workers, advocates and community-based healers,” Munshi says. “It aims to understand the everyday implications of the relationships between health and legal systems in migrant communities of color that may themselves advocate for safety and wellbeing.”

As an outcome of the project, Munshi intends to present conference papers at annual meetings of the National Women’s Studies Association in Fall 2019 and the Association for Asian American Studies in Spring 2020.

Another outcome will be a public speaker series Munshi will curate at BMCC in Fall 2020. This event, open to the public and participants throughout CUNY, will facilitate dialogue between scholars, artists and community-based workers based in medicine and law, as well as those working to address domestic violence and mental health in immigrant communities.

In addition, she will propose a course about the intersection of law, medicine and gendered violence that could be cross-listed by women’s and gender Studies, ethnic studies, or criminal justice departments at BMCC.

“My hope is that this project can expand and deepen public understanding of these issues as it also moves forward both scholarship and practice,” says Munshi, who adds that she spent almost a decade working as an advocate for domestic violence survivors, “primarily Latinx and Asian/South Asian immigrant women and LGBTQ people of color.” She also worked with national groups such as INCITE!, a network of radical feminists of color who have organized to end state violence and violence in homes and communities.

“My research is informed by these experiences, and my hope is that this project can expand and deepen public understanding of these issues as it also moves forward both scholarship and practice,” Munshi says.


Faculty who may be interested in applying for the Mellon ACLS fellowship for next year, click here. The deadline is September 25.


  • Professor of Sociology Soniya Munshi has been selected for a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship for July 2019 through December 2020
  • Her research looks at the ways that public health systems and the law work together to address domestic violence and mental health in migrant communities
  • Outcomes will include a speaker series at BMCC and conference presentations and publications

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