Camara’s research and advocacy centers on the rights of sex workers in Chicago, many of whom are LGBTQ+ community members.
Headshot of Aïcha Camara
Aïcha Camara

“Growing up in Benton Harbor, MI, shaped my entire identity. Coming from a city where over 80% of the population is Black and the poverty rate exceeds 40%, my opportunities with STEM were somewhat limited,” said Aïcha Camara, MSCAPP Class of 2024. “I was more interested in data and political science, but my small high school didn’t have the courses that would’ve allowed me to fully explore and realize my interest.” 

2016, however, changed that.

“In my senior year, I was nominated as the first outgoing Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Benton and spent my senior year of high school in Yokohama, Japan,” said Camara, “and that experience fueled my interest in political science. Watching the 2016 election playing out in every shop we visited while in Nagasaki—one of the two cities the US bombed in WWII—was surreal.”

Although they said their experience in Japan was transformative, Camara noted their interest in political science truly blossomed in 2018 when their hometown united to combat a dangerous water contamination crisis—eventually forming the Benton Harbor Water Council to elicit a federal EPA intervention after the governor failed for years to address pleas for clean water.

Camara subsequently pursued their undergraduate studies at the University of Central Florida. “I immersed myself in the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs, where I unified my interests in policy, human rights, and data analysis.”

As their undergraduate career drew to a close, Camara began researching graduate programs. The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy’s Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program, they said, was “both the amalgamation of my long-held interests and a crucial stepping stone in my path toward a career in civic technology.”

Upon arriving at Harris, Camara was encouraged by their then-computer science professor James Turk to email the Invisible Institute, a  nonprofit on the South Side of Chicago that focuses on combining technology and journalism to investigate injustices and advocate for change. “I served as a data science intern for the summer, and I’ve been there since. I’ve had the opportunity to work on Beneath the Surface, a project headed by Southside native and Harris alum Trina Reynolds-Tyler, MPP’20, that investigates gender-based violence at the hands of the police.”

Camara’s passion for working with organizations like Invisible Institute was also nurtured in a Harris course, Addressing Technology’s Wake: Emerging Risks and the Public Policy Imperative. “As part of the coursework, I wrote about AI’s impact on sex work. I am extremely interested in anything involving sexology—safe sex, educating about sex, and educating about the separation of sex work versus human trafficking,” Camara said. “I wrote a paper analyzing the impact of local, state, and national legislation; AI; and surveillance systems impacting sex workers.”

Camara also completed a literature analysis evaluating U.S. cities with similar loitering laws, including cities that repealed those laws on the basis that they were discriminatory. “I’d like to explore the role of government in continued police violence against sex workers. For example, how has the City of Chicago’s decision to let CPD take the lead on these matters impacted sex workers, victims of human trafficking, and trans women — especially in light of a CPD officer being found guilty of kidnapping and assaulting a Black trans woman in 2019 after he profiled her as a sex worker.”

After graduating, Camara intends to continue confronting injustices and advocating for change. “I want to focus on advocating for institutional change, ensuring that the government functions better for those often marginalized—anyone who’s a minority, who’s indigenous, who’s queer, who’s underrepresented.”