Student Spotlight: Yelena Dzhanova’s Research Reveals That the Police Officers Who Killed 50 Black Women Weren’t Convicted

Yelena Dzhanova (Photo courtesy of Dzhanova)

By Lida Tunesi

Women’s and Gender Studies master’s student Yelena Dzhanova recently put together a report for Insider that begins with a grim statistic: “50 Black women have been killed by US police since 2015. Not one of the officers has been convicted.”

The report, published June 9, features a database listing the women’s ages, the date and location of the incident, and a synopsis of their stories. Dzhanova and her Insider colleagues traced the aftermath for 100 officers involved in the killings and found only 14 who had been fired or charged.

“I knew, partly from my studies at the Graduate Center and elsewhere, that Black women are among the most targeted and vulnerable groups of people in the country,” Dzhanova told the Graduate Center. “That knowledge is what drove this report.”

The #SayHerName campaign first drew widespread attention to killing and harming of Black women by police officers in 2014. The Insider report is an investigative follow-up that answers questions about how law enforcement has responded to killings since then. 

Dzhanova, a two-time CUNY student, started her reporting career as a triple-major at Baruch College, where she studied journalism, English, and political science. The decision to come to the Graduate Center for her master’s was almost inevitable.

“I love CUNY and can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Dzhanova said. “Throughout undergrad, one of the activities I was heavily involved in was the Futures Initiative, a program that advocates for greater equity and accessibility within higher education. Accessibility in higher ed is important to me, which is why I’m forever drawn to CUNY.”

Around the same time that Dzhanova began her master’s program in 2020, she started working for Insider as a news reporter. Though she began working on the report on police killings of Black women by herself, she assembled a team of co-workers after she realized how big the project would be.

“With this team we conducted research, which entailed speaking with family members of the women who were killed, digging through hundreds of pages of court documents, and filing dozens of records requests with municipal and state police departments,” Dzhanova said. “There were a lot of challenges along the way.”

Dzhanova built up her reporting chops through work experience at NBC News, BuzzFeed, New York Magazine, and CNN. She opted not to go the route of journalism graduate school, but her master’s studies still inform her work.

“We need journalists who are specialized in different areas to make sure news coverage is fair, balanced, and representative,” Dzhanova said. “My reporting focuses a lot on power imbalances, inequality, and social and cultural politics. Women’s and Gender Studies touches on and intersects with a lot of these ideas.”

Even so, the balance of having a full-time job and being a part-time student is a careful one. Dzhanova said she takes two classes per semester and can’t always take the ones she would prefer because they don’t fit her work schedule. To avoid making more sacrifices than necessary, she relies on planning, strict boundaries — such as clocking out of work at the same time every day — and asking for what she wants.

“My editor knows I'm a grad student, and she's fully supportive of my goals outside of work,” Dzhanova said. “I always tell people that they should share their goals openly and widely. You are your biggest advocate, and you know best what it is you want or need. If you let people in on these inner thoughts and feelings, you might receive support in ways you've never expected.”

On a similar note: 

Char Adams, a Graduate Center alum who now reports on race issues for NBC News, also chose the Women’s and Gender Studies program to inform her work as a journalist. Read her story

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: JUL 26, 2021

Category: GCstories | General GC News | Student News | Voices of the GC | Women's and Gender Studies