Reining in Violence
|Maya Gupta pours available free time into various animal rescue volunteerisms, including a local “no kill” animal shelter. She also works with a group providing respite care to pets of victims of domestic violence. Gupta finds victims “often delay entry to shelters if they know they can’t bring pets.”|
Maya Gupta (PhD, ’06) is a Presidential Graduate Fellow and doctoral student in psychology. She was born into academe. Her mother has a doctorate in comparative literature and her father in statistics.
Gupta’s research has led her into the netherworld of psychoses and criminal impulse, yet she remains optimistic and resolute.
Gupta is neither a “horse whisperer” nor a “people whisperer,” but she is interested in the subtle ways that animals and humans interrelate. This interest influenced Gupta to seek out the experience of working with a prison population in her final year of data collection.
“A lot of people thought I was absolutely nuts,” Gupta smiles. By analyzing the overlays between cruelty to animals and abuse, she sought patterns that might help predict violent behaviors.
She completed a year’s training in a minimum-security camp in Atlanta last October. On her first day, an alarm rang out and the prison locked down. A staff member emerged splattered with blood, yet Gupta remained calm.
“I proved to myself it was something I could handle,” she relates.
Despite lockdowns, Gupta generally found the prison calm and orderly. She discovered Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in a prisoner’s locker. For Gupta, this signaled a desire to find humanity in inhumane circumstances.
When the internship ended, Gupta resumed animal rescue work. Today, Gupta decompresses along the drive to the farm near Bishop where she boards four rescued racehorses. The Bishop farm is only 20 minutes outside Athens, yet it is a world apart for Gupta – a refuge for both horse and rider.
At UGA, she is completing the remaining data analysis for her dissertation titled “Understanding the Links between Intimate Partner Violence and Animal Abuse: Prevalence, Nature, and Function.” At the farm, she sheds her scholarly self and grabs tack and saddle. Gupta soon gallops across an open field, her dark hair flying.
Parole boards always want to know how likely a person is to be violent again, Gupta mentions. Answers are always frustrating; prisoner recidivism rates remain high. “It seems so easy to point fingers at people as bad people… we achieve nothing as far as preventing future violence.
“Cruelty to animals is a marker for problematic later behavior; it’s a form of violence in and of itself…There’s a connection between cruelty to animals and psychopathy. You hear all the media reports of serial killers, who are found to have tortured animals,” she adds.
|Gupta is retraining four rescued race horses, teaching them dressage and cross country jumping.|
Gupta views violence as a form of control, relating it to familial relationships. During her studies, she met with the psychiatrist who testified during the trial of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Their exchange strengthened her insight into the dynamic between families and violence.
“We have a lack of understanding into why people are violent,” Gupta observes. Her research intends to shed new insight. In her observations, callousness to animals demonstrates signs of suffering by the perpetrator as well.
After completing her dissertation in May, Gupta will likely move to Atlanta. She remains interested in animal welfare and continues animal rescue work. She is involved with an organization that helps place and foster pets of those entering domestic violence shelters.
Ideally, Gupta hopes she will become a psychologist with an animal-related organization. She enjoys the empirical and scientific “flavor” of psychology, but adds this caveat: “I always thought the most important thing about research was to put a human face on it.
“In a program like mine, where research time must be balanced with the extensive clinical training and coursework required to become a clinical psychologist, the Presidential Graduate Fellowship has made it possible for me to accomplish considerably more than I otherwise could have,” Gupta says. “Additionally, being a Fellow has placed me in a unique community of scholars from across the university and has provided opportunities to give back to the university through service and mentoring.”
About Presidential Graduate Fellows
The Presidential Graduate Fellows Program was designed to attract exceptionally qualified and promising doctoral students to UGA. Each year, 12-14 students are selected from a field of departmental nominees to receive the award, which carries an annual stipend and tuition waiver.
The funding is guaranteed for up to five years. Fellows engage in full-time research and graduate studies, as well as other complementary activities. Opportunities for professional development are a component of this program.