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2021 Fellows

2021 Robert J. Donia Graduate Student Fellows

Jeffrey Bilik, doctoral candidate in sociology, and David Helps, doctoral candidate in history, have been selected as the 2021 Robert J. Donia Graduate Student Fellows to permit their summer research projects. This fellowship supports graduate students engaged in research on human rights over the summer.

Jeffrey Bilik is working on a research project that looks at the dynamic role that housing, once articulated as a right of Soviet citizens, now plays in governing the inclusion or exclusion of migrants in Russia. Despite enduring popular opinion that the state should support broad access to housing, private actors in Russia’s growing housing and rental market control much of the limited supply of quality housing. Evidence suggests that realtors, brokers, and landlords afford significant weight to race/ethnicity and citizenship in evaluating who is deserving of housing and who is not. This may work to lock out non-Russian migrants from former Soviet republics in the fourth most popular immigrant destination in the world. How do private actors in the housing and rental market deploy these deservingness frames? Who do these frames encompass or exclude? How do contemporary deservingness frames relate to the still-popular Soviet-era understanding of housing as a right? This study aims to interview private actors within Moscow’s housing and rental market to understand how they mediate issues of civic status and national belonging.

Jeffrey Bilik is a doctoral candidate in sociology studying the political sociology of international migration, citizenship and law. His focus is on citizenship politics and welfare in the post-Soviet space. Jeffrey's work explores how powerful market and state actors deploy moral frames and classificatory schemes to manage citizenship and social welfare. His current project looks at the dynamic role that housing, once articulated as a right of Soviet citizens, now plays in governing the inclusion or exclusion of migrants in Russia. He holds an MA in Political Science from the University of Michigan and worked as a teaching fellow in New York City’s administration for public assistance. His doctoral research has been supported by grants from the Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies and the University of Michigan’s International Institute, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, and Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies.  

David Helps is working on a research project entitled Defending “The Basic Human Right to Work”: Policing, Economic Justice, and the Immigrant Sanctuary Movement in 1980s Los Angeles. This project explores how sanctuary activists in Los Angeles used the language of human rights to oppose the criminalization of immigrant workers. With the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, it became a felony for undocumented immigrants to work and for employers to hire them. By arguing for a universal right to work, these activists opposed the growing tendency to separate “economic migrants” and “refugees” in U.S. politics and immigration law. Instead, their activism and material support spanned Central Americans and Mexicanos while linking freedom of movement to economic justice and labor rights. Through archival research and oral history interviews, this project hopes to understand how local actors have pursued “human rights from below.”

David Helps is a doctoral candidate in History specializing in the twentieth-century United States. His dissertation is a history of policing, multicultural politics, and global economic change in Los Angeles between the early 1970s and the mid-1990s. Outside of urban politics, David’s teaching and research interests include migration, racial formation theory, social movements, political economy, carceral studies, and the U.S. in the world. At U-M, he leads the research project “Detroit as a Carceral Space,” as part of the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement public humanities initiative. Before beginning the PhD program, David completed an MA in History at the University of Toronto. His writing on economic and racial justice can be found in the LA Review of Books, Public Books, the Washington Post, and elsewhere.