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International affairs graduate Raisa Sheynberg ’04 shared the following thoughts on her education and involvement in issues relating to peace:

On Jan. 27, 1991, my family and I left Moldova (formerly within the USSR) under refugee status for the United States. The journey to U.S. citizenship and college was a difficult but ultimately successful one. Through learning a new language, working more than one job, and saving every penny, my parents showed me that hard work, risk taking, innovative thinking, and endless patience are essential for achieving one’s dreams.

Arriving as a 10-year-old, I spent my teenage years adjusting to a new language, culture, and society. My family emigrated to the United States rather than Israel because of the situation in the Middle East. Such moral, social, and political dilemmas have continued to fuel my interests in conflict resolution and public policy initiatives for attaining “human security” and social justice. I have experienced firsthand the effects of sectarian and ethnic conflict. I believe that peace, even if only peaceful co-existence, is possible. I have learned that we cannot hope for an all-encompassing overnight solution; rather, progress is a series of small steps that rests on the intricacies of individual situations.

I embrace the mission of such organizations as Future Voices and intend to use my knowledge of international affairs and conflict resolution to empower those living in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, or the Balkans, for example, with the practical knowledge and skills necessary to embark upon the road to civil society and human security.

I was introduced to Future Voices during a three-week intensive study period of peace and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland in March/April 2003 through the Washington Semester Program at American University. Based in Belfast, the group is dedicated to cross-community relations and teaching young Catholics and Protestants to contribute to political and social debates. Through workshops known as “residentials,” Future Voices has been remarkably successful. The longevity of peace anywhere is in jeopardy without an aware and engaged core of young citizens. Raised in a segregated and militarized environment, young people have participated in the conflict through civil disobedience, witnessed violence, and been subjected to punishment beatings from paramilitary and/or military organizations. For some, this leads to an allegiance with paramilitary groups and participation in divisive politics; for others, it leads to a disdain for the political process and eventual abstention.

My goal is twofold: (1) replace an apathetic young citizen with an aware and concerned constituent and make previously taboo issues, such as religion, race, ethnicity, and politics, accessible; and (2) establish a group of young men and women who will become catalysts to their peers to become positively involved in the political life of their society. The key is to empower the youth to transcend a history of sectarian violence through education on the practical aspects of peace building and citizenship.

My obsession with negotiation and resolution of international conflicts is daunting. There are no right or wrong answers; everything is subject to time — which, as my thesis research, the failure of the 2000 Camp David accords, and the implication for diplomacy in the Middle East (supervised by Ilan Peleg [Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law}) has taught me, can basically unravel the hard work of any negotiations. Nonetheless, I see nothing more important in the world than trying to alleviate senseless suffering.

From my first semester at LafayetteI wanted people to consider their own impact and the consequences of their actions not just upon their microworld but also within the greater sphere. The frustrations I experienced prompted me to join Student Government (January-December 2001). However, involvement with what should be the foremost student organization on campus revealed an even greater problem — Lafayette really had no forum for student activism. With a group of other concerned students, I worked to fill the void by creating a group called Students for Social Justice. Today, SSJ is one of the College’s most vocal groups along with LEAP and QuEST. My work with SSJ, LEAP, Student Government, and the Diversity Recruitment Committee has been aimed at changing apathy. But I have gone further, educating my peers both on and off campus about diversity issues, sex and hate crimes, AIDS, international affairs, human rights, nuclear arms, and environmental conservation initiatives.

As a PennEnvironment Intern (summer 2002) for Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group in Philadelphia, I engaged in various environmental conservation initiatives. During spring 2003, I completed independent research on U.S. foreign assistance to Israel and was an intern with the International Center in Washington, D.C., engaged in nuclear arms research, nuclear safety, and U.S.-Russia joint nuclear programs. As a Population Resource Center Intern (summer 2003) in Princeton, N.J., I prepared research on topics of demographic concern such as world health, immigration, international population growth, teen pregnancy, fatherhood in America, and aging.

In an increasingly integrated world, if we are to become the catalysts for productive civil society, social justice, and peace, we must all develop the skills to act with political efficacy and civic dutyI plan to work with nongovernmental organizations in order to continue developing infrastructure and education projects to foster understanding, cooperation, and the development of peaceful resolutions to conflict.

Presented at National Conference on Undergraduate Research, 2003, 2004
Intern, Population Resource Center, Princeton, N.J.
Student Government representative
Member, Students for Social Justice, LEAP, Diversity Recruitment Committee
Washington Semester, American University

Categorized in: Academic News