AN IDEALIST TAKING ACTION
Looking at the state of the world today, one can easily become discouraged. Yet I take the optimist's approach. My experience while a student at FIU gives me hope that the future will be in good hands so long as people with passion and love keep standing for their truth. Situations that often seem intractable can evolve.
Born in Venezuela of Indian parents, I have been driven to fight for women's rights and equality since the age of 12, when I visited the city of Ajmer in northern India and saw the stark oppression of women there. They lacked the most basic of human rights, among them education and freedom of expression. I have since made it my mission to work on their behalf.
During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, and with the financial support of FIU’s Ruth and Glenn Hamilton Scholarship, I was able to serve as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that helped expand my global perspective and taught me how to craft possible solutions to transnational problems. I had the chance to create a policy proposal that focuses on addressing domestic violence against women in South Asia. That work led to my dream internship at a human rights organization called Justice Revival, which aims to give a voice to marginalized communities within the United States.
These first steps have set me on a path through which I hope to inspire others. I want to cause a chain reaction that will produce positive change.
Prachi Lalwani is a senior international relations major. During the summer of 2022, she interned at Freedom House, a nonprofit organization in the nation’s capital that conducts research on and advocates for democracy, political freedom and human rights worldwide.
A HISTORIAN OPENING ONCE-HIDDEN DOORS
Much attention has been paid in recent years to disinformation in real time, but lack of access to historical information poses another problem that we, in the 21st century, have come to recognize. Fortunately, historians increasingly have an “in” to the past through the growth of digital archives and their own initiative.
As a history student at FIU, I have learned the importance of “digging deep” to uncover truths that might otherwise remain unknown. In one of my courses, I read about, and we discussed, the lawsuit of an attorney seeking public documents regarding decades-old police surveillance activity that were made available only after drawn-out court proceedings.
An understanding that research does not always come easily and that those who undertake it have a duty to follow the evidence, no matter the barriers, has informed my own work. As an Honors College student, I conducted a project that required examining records pertaining to the 20th-century military government of Juan Velasco in Peru. My goal was to highlight the marginalized, mostly women and indigenous people, who did not benefit from the lofty goals and implemented reforms of the revolutionary regime.
I shared my findings in presentations at two conferences, and I wrote an academic article that will be published in the inaugural issue of FIU’s undergraduate research journal.
I am confident that many more individuals will labor to shed light on important gaps in global knowledge. The drive of young scholars and the widening of access to information, particularly through digital archives, will push us toward a more just path.
Hayley Serpa is a 2022 alumna and a continuing member of FIU’s Model United Nations team, for which she serves as a head delegate. Currently working toward a master’s degree in history, she plans to write her thesis about the Peruvian rondas campesinas, peasant resistance groups that rose to prominence in response to communist guerillas in the 1980s.
FUTURE LAWYER EYEING SEA LEVELS
Living on Miami Beach, I have seen outside my door the frequent flooding wrought by the increasing heights of tides and storm surge.
Tackling the problem of sea level rise and its aftereffects cannot happen in isolation. I learned firsthand how and why countries must work together to plan for an eventuality that could forever change natural as well as human landscapes. This summer I traveled to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, to work as a research assistant for FIU College of Law Professor Charles Jalloh. He is a member of the International Law Commission (ILC), a body of experts from around the world who are elected by the UN General Assembly to develop and codify international law.
By consulting scientists and gathering wide input, the ILC is working to create legal and practical frameworks that address the loss of territory and displacement of populations that low-lying lands will face due to rising seas.
Among the questions the commission grappled with: Does a nation-state retain legal status once a portion of its land becomes submerged or a portion of its population relocates for safety to another country? The Montevideo Convention of 1934 defines a nation-state as necessarily meeting four criteria. What if two of them — a fixed territory and permanent population — no longer exist?
The commission also considered the legal status of the displaced. If people must move as their existing homeland falls prey to the ocean, do they retain their original citizenship? Or do they take on the citizenship of whichever country offers them protection? Such questions might come to a head, sooner rather than later, for several islands of the Pacific.
For me, the experience proved eye-opening in both how such an international body operates and how something that affects me personally might play out globally. In the end, sea level rise will impact us all.