Although this marks my first year of attendance, I know that moving forward Global Ideas, Local Impact will be one of my favorite academic events at Duke. I learned about research papers and video projects of fellow students, each focusing on distinct social justice issues ranging from disability rights to Serbian pop music and ethic hate.  In addition to our fellow students, a panel of Duke alumni currently working in human rights fields came to offer their personal insights on what lead them to the cause they work on today.

I particularly enjoyed the story of Jaclyn Grace, a Senior Associate at Chemonics International that works on international development within West and Central Africa. During her time at Duke, Jaclyn spent two years within the Pratt School of Engineering before traveling to Belfast for a DukeEngage project with the co-director for the Human Rights Center, Robin Kirk. Jaclyn’s time there made her realize the importance of ethical international aid. Upon returning to Duke, she switched her major to International Comparative Studies and French, conducting research in Cameroon for an honors thesis in community socioeconomic development, leading her to the type of work she does now.

I believe that within Duke, stories such as Jaclyn’s are rare to come by, or are often left unspoken. There is a common perception that STEM majors have a clear path ahead of them; their rigid course structures seem to set them up for internships and jobs right out of school. To see the transition away from this certainty into a broader humanities major was inspiring, especially considering the success Grace has already achieved. However, while the humanities may have more flexibility in the pursuit of human rights paths, STEM and pre-professional tracks are equally as vital to social justice initiatives. One can always consider tailoring their studies and future work, no matter the major, to fight for human rights.

What was inspiring about these panelists is that they took careers within law and consulting, and transformed them into human rights causes. Aayah El-Neggar assists her low-income clients pro bono, and Joy Lampkin Foster assesses social impacts and equity issues when companies attempt to unravel new products or expand markets overseas. Their years of learning and training has led them to aiding individuals without similar access to opportunities and resources, and each panelist was incredibly happy with the work they have done. They were wonderful examples of both non-traditional Duke pathways and typical pre-professional pathways that became influential figures in social justice. Their stories are worth listening to and considering, for they can change the path you wish to take yourself.

Jair Oballe (Trinity ’19)