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Student Spotlight

Read about this month’s International Studies Student Spotlight. Students were asked to share an influential experience they had that connected to their International Studies major or minor.

April 2019

Archana Prabhakar

BA International Studies (Global Environment and Health); BA Biopsychology, Cognition, & Neuroscience ’20

Hometown: Flower Mound, TX

Affiliations: Michigan Journal of International Affairs, the Michigan Daily, Michigan Mazaa, Project RISHI, Safehouse Center of Ann Arbor, Program in Refugee and Asylum Law

“My love for International Studies began to flourish at a young age. Although I was born and raised in the United States, I’ve been endlessly curious about the culture that my parents grew up in. I wanted to carry their heritage into my generation and apply it to my personal lifestyle as a way to stay connected to my roots. When I developed an interest in abstract concepts of religion and spirituality in high school, I found myself asking questions that not only challenged my preconceived notions, but also confronted traditional perspectives and provoked meaningful conversations about immateriality, political ideology, and cultural relativity. These discourses did not dissuade me from identifying with my roots; rather, they made me more curious about the world around me. If I discovered so many nuanced layers within my own culture, I could only imagine how much there was to learn about other cultures.

These boundless questions about my culture and identity imbued my desire to enhance my cultural competency as I entered college. I began conducting research through Professor James Hathaway’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law. I am currently working with him to track and document the global distribution of protracted refugees and analyze the reasons of their migration to certain host countries. Utilizing his vast database of important documents pertaining to refugee protection and international human rights, I am designing visual representations of the poorer countries that collectively host 90% of the world’s refugees. This research has opened my eyes to the vast disparities in populations that I would have never previously delved into, and it motivates me to campaign for the awareness of human rights issues, such as forced displacement, so that we can collectively work to improve human rights in an impactful way.

I had spent a lot of time learning about international human rights violations through academia and research, but I hadn’t yet made a tangible connection to issues happening in my own community. With this in mind, I was inspired to join the Safehouse Center of Ann Arbor, an organization that became particularly soul stirring after I realized how pervasive sexual assault is on college campuses. I pondered how to best address such a sensitive topic with the utmost respect. At Safehouse, where I volunteer as a sexual assault support group facilitator, I was reminded that the term ‘culture’ includes various identities that are not restricted to a person’s self-perception of ethnicity or religion: culture can comprise members of any shared experience. I discovered that in order to fully comprehend the struggles sexual assault survivors grapple with, I needed interactions with people who had endured similar injustices. As a group facilitator, the perspectives I glean on sexual violence each week floor me. I hear survivors’ heartbreaking struggles; their qualms are tragic and draw attention to difficulties that have historically been dismissed as non-issues. They have lost trust in policy enforcement and view the justice system as a toxic manipulation of their trust. They combat crippling depression and anxiety, despite their best attempts to cope, and their families are often uneducated, judgmental, and condescending. But despite their adversities, they are some of the most ambitious, compassionate, and courageous people I know. Their maltreatment piqued my motivation to study human rights policy and energized my advocacy for other voices that are unfairly silenced. It was my impetus to pursue a career in human rights law so that I could investigate the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural factors that contribute to the perpetuation of such egregious acts.

The reason I am so compelled to the International Studies major is because it applies itself to every aspect of my life. It educates me on worldwide afflictions and motivates me to target those problems in meaningful ways; it pushes me to broaden my worldview, but also inspires me to identify issues that plague my own community; most importantly, however, it has made me more confident in my cultural identity by allowing me to align with groups and people that I resonate so strongly with.”

Future plans: “Taking classes centered around human rights made me more cognizant about how I can affect change on an international scale. After graduating, I plan on applying to law school to study human rights law so that I can continue to work with refugee populations and take on public interest cases.”