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Staff Spotlight on Shaady Alavi

Thank You For Being Such A Vital Part Of Our Team, Shaady Alavi! We Look Forward To Sharing More About You So Others Can Get To Know You Better!

Tell us a bit about your backstory and what lead you down your current life path.

I am a Persian-American student who is a product of immigrants from the 1979 Revolution in Iran. I have always had an interest in politics and foreign affairs, and I got involved with human rights research and refugee work during my time as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. I was a member of the Digital Refugee Project where I tracked and traced refugee movements to inform NGOs where to direct resources to displaced persons. I was later a member of the UC Berkeley Human Rights lab where I conducted open-source investigations into war crimes in Syria and Yemen. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 and moved to Madrid, Spain in order to strengthen my language skills so that I could practice international law. This fall I am headed to law school in Southern California, and after I attain my law degree, I want to be a human rights attorney specializing in immigration law and refugee rights. I hope to someday work for a nongovernmental organization such as the International Refugee Assistance Project, Human Rights Watch, or the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

What or who inspired you to pursue your major/career?

My research projects in college alongside my classes in international relations lead me to pursue a career in international law. The first project I served on was named the Digital Refugee Project. My days consisted of scouring thousands of social media posts that were a chaos of photos, videos, and text. Through social media platforms, I discovered that refugees were often uninformed about their rights and resources, demonstrating they faced significant barriers to entry for gaining citizenship or asylum. I found refugees who were denied healthcare, deprived of their property, and deceived by smugglers. It was painstaking to watch these issues unfold without direct solutions; however, the process helped me gain an understanding of how refugee rights extend beyond immigration status to transnational justice, racial and ethnic justice, labor law, land rights, reproductive rights, and more broadly, human rights. When the project concluded, I was immensely interested in how refugees in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin American were being structurally disenfranchised by legal systems.

The following semester, I pursued a research team that provided concrete legal solutions to human rights issues. I was chosen to conduct an open-source investigation for the Human Rights Lab at UC Berkeley Law School. This work connected me directly to empirical cases related to human rights violations and predicaments that led people to become refugees in the Middle East. I collected data for the Syrian Archive and investigated war crimes in Yemen for the United Nations. It was difficult to facilitate concrete solutions in an ongoing war-time conflict, but I realized the data collection and detailed investigations into evidence were vital to ensure litigation for these human rights cases. It was enlightening to see my hours of open-source investigation contribute to evidence for a legal case. By the end of my senior year, I realized I needed to pursue a law degree to continue fighting human rights violations on a significant scale.

What keeps you motivated? What maintains your passion for and commitment to the work you are doing?

My philosophy about social justice and equity drives my passion for human rights work and keeps me motivated to pursue a path that will help serve refugee communities. Social justice is about equity and ensuring that everyone’s rights are valued. It involves creating access and resources for people, no matter where they are from. Social change is possible when human rights and justice are appropriately aligned: when the importance of humanity overcomes classifications and borders. Unfortunately, this is not the philosophy most of the world operates under today; however, I hope to help mitigate this issue through my career in law.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My teacher at UC Berkeley, Professor Ron Hassner, inspired me to pursue a path in international human rights law. He was a professor that taught a highly sought-after international relations course in the political science department. His policy was that every student had to come to office hours at least once. I was nervous about this because I wasn’t the type of student who openly sought out the professor’s attention or help; however, my experience with Professor Hassner changed this mentality. The day I was signed up for office hours I sat down in my professor’s office, pulled out my notebook, and prepared to impress him with my knowledge of international affairs. However, he interrupted the conversation and said, “If you don’t have pressing questions about the material, I would like to know more about you. Tell me about yourself.” I was stunned; none of my teachers or mentors had ever expressed interest in my background.

Because of my experiences growing up in a conservative town, I was hesitant to dive into my family’s story of immigrating to the United States. Yet, for the first time in my life, I was face-to-face with someone who was not only interested in my background but had the expertise to expand my understanding of my own Persian-American identity. I sat with him for an hour, discussing my family’s history of immigration to the United States and answering challenging questions, such as how U.S. foreign policy toward Iran would develop in the coming years and how it impacted my family members back home. My professor made me realize that my cultural identity allowed me to bring a fresh perspective to classrooms and work environments, but he also highlighted the gaps in my knowledge about my own background. This encouraged me to dig into my family’s history to find answers. My professor pushed me to discover more about myself, my family, and my future career goals. He ultimately led me to think deeply about what a career in law would look like and what kind of educational experience I would need in order to seriously pursue a career in international law.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I like to horseback ride, rock climb, practice yoga, and spend time outdoors with my dogs. I love going to National Parks in the United States to explore their beauty, and I also love to travel to foreign nations and learn about their culture. In the future, I would like to take up backpacking and explore more of the world with just a backpack in hand. I have a goal of visiting 30 countries by the time I am 30 years old, and I want to visit all the U.S. national parks in my lifetime.

Tell about an amazing trip you took. Where did you go and what did you enjoy most?

I took a weekend trip to Seville, Spain while I was living in Madrid and it was the most magical trip I have ever taken. The city was so charming and captivating, it was unlike anywhere I had ever been, yet it had a cozy feeling of home. I took this trip with an old friend from middle school and a new friend I met while living in Spain. It was special to me because I felt like two of my worlds were colliding while these two people, who I loved, were experiencing the magic of the food, culture, and people of Seville with me. I don’t think I had a bad moment the entire trip. We ate at fantastic restaurants, watched authentic Spanish flamenco dancing in the streets, and walked around the city to see all its landscape and monuments. It was also raining that weekend which we were initially upset about, but it made the streets of Seville glisten and invited us into different restaurants, coffee, shops, and flamenco bars that we probably wouldn’t have entered otherwise. This place was so special that my friends and I took an additional day off of work so we could stay for just a few more hours. We never wanted to go home.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? What is it and why did it resonate with you?

A book that has had a significant impact on me is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. In the nonfiction novel, Katherine Boo reports on families who live in the slums of Mumbai, following the trajectory of their lives as they struggle against issues of caste, power, sex, and money. The author succeeds in humanizing people who live in extreme poverty. This novel is a heavy read, but it expands the reader’s perspective beyond a Western point of view. The author shows us that is never appropriate to disregard someone’s story simply because it is painful to conceptualize. This book really resonated with me because it highlighted life outside of the western world. I believe the western world places too much importance on achievement and the pursuit of material goods. This book brings humbles you and makes you realize that all that is important in life is love.

Share one professional development goal and one personal goal you have for the upcoming year.

My professional development goal for this year is to strengthen my Spanish, French, and Farsi skills to help me pursue a career in international law. I also hope to achieve good grades in my first year of law school, so that I have the opportunity to participate in law journals and legal clinics in my second and third years. During my time in law school, I hope to work for a judge as a law clerk and also experience being an in-house council for a large company, such as Google or Disney. In my personal life, I would like to make an effort to get outdoors more and try to maintain a work-life balance as I embark on my law school journey.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch and why? He/she might just see this! 🙂

I would love to have a private lunch with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The fire and passion AOC brings to the political landscape are unmatched by anyone else I have seen in Congress. I always find her ideas compelling, thoughtful, and well-intentioned. I would love to pick her brain over lunch to get her take on how the United States can shift away from recent pollical gridlock in order to bolster progressive change. I aspire to be as eloquent and passionate as AOC. She is my role model and having lunch with her would be a dream come true.

Why did you choose to be a staff member of Educate. Radiate. Elevate.?

I choose to be a staff member of Educate. Radiate. Elevate. because I firmly believe that education is the baseline for all personal and societal growth. If there are gaps in the education system there will always be gaps in society because not everyone is reaching their fullest potential. Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s mission to close the achievement gap seeks to resolve this problem. I think Educate. Radiate. Elevate. fills a large gap in the American educational system and provides much needed academic support to underserved and underrepresented students. When underrepresented groups are elevated to achieve their fullest academic potential the possibilities are endless: the equity gap closes, tolerance increases and society becomes progressive in solving global issues such as climate change. Ultimately, I have chosen to work for Educate. Radiate. Elevate because their mission solves the education deficits that lead to social inequality within society.

What about the Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s Purpose, Mission, and Core Values speaks most to you and why?

Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s Mission to nurture children emotionally, as well as academically, really speaks to me. Boosting underserved youth’s confidence is key to increasing academic success. Underrepresented students are often overlooked which can make them feel inferior and perpetuate a series of failures that stem from a lack of confidence. Students that are not emotionally supported in their studies will often think that they are the root cause of their problems (whether that is failing grades, bad report with teachers, or a lack of understanding the material). Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s mission to build confidence in students increases their emotional security and allows them to become independent learners. Creating confident, independent leaders who can advocate for themselves is the best approach to making successful members of society.

Thanks, Shaady! We Are So Lucky To Have You On The Team!

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