Serena Cruz

Degree: Ph.D. in International Relations

College/School: Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs

During 14 months spent researching the lives of female commercial sex workers in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, Serena Cruz faced challenges that might have deterred other students.

Her research assistant robbed her. Serena was hospitalized for a week after she contracted a parasitic infection. She was repeatedly threatened by pimps, former female sex workers, and even the local police. She experienced three car accidents. Finally, Serena had to leave the country twice: first due to an Ebola outbreak and secondly, when she was accused of being a sex trafficker.

Through her determination and compassion for the subjects of her study, Serena persisted, eventually gaining the trust of sex worker communities to complete groundbreaking research into how women’s daily risk management is accomplished through their social networks, for the many difficulties in their lives – including physical abuse, risk of HIV infection, severe depression, exploitation by the police and even victimization by other sex workers.

Serena’s work, which has major implications for the fight against AIDS in Africa, earned her a research fellowship at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations “Clingendael.” After graduation, she will embark upon a Global Health Equity Scholars postdoctoral fellowship managed by UC Berkeley, Yale, Stanford, and FIU.

Serena credits the support of her dissertation committee and the administrators and advisors in the Department of Politics and International Relations in her success, in particular department chair John F. Clark, a mentor and the chairman of her dissertation committee.