February 28, 2023

CGA Graduate Student Spotlight: MSGA in Peacebuilding’s Ali Foote

A student in the MS in Global Affairs program at the NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs (CGA), Ali Foote serves as a graduate assistant to Clinical Professor Thomas Hill, the director of  the NYU Peace Research and Education Program (PREP), which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this week. She manages social media and communications for PREP and helps organize PREP’s monthly seminar series on the growing need for peacebuilding in the United States. Her introduction to PREP was through the Joint and Advanced Joint Research Seminars, where students from the CGA travel to Colombia to conduct peacebuilding research with the Escuela Superior de Administración Pública (ESAP), a PREP partner. She spent last summer in Colombia and Uganda, working with grassroots organizations committed to building more peaceful communities.

Why do you think it is important for our students to be involved in PREP?

PREP fosters connections and provides opportunities not just internationally but within NYU and throughout the broader New York City community. Through PREP’s seminars, students can learn about the peacebuilding efforts in their own city and be inspired to get involved. We don’t have to wait, or even leave the city, to make the world a better place.

What has been your experience in the MSGA program?

I studied biology and sociology as an undergraduate and my professional experience was in healthcare consulting and technology, so prior to beginning the MSGA program I knew very little about the field of global affairs. I have learned so much through my classes and discussions with my classmates, whose insights have truly challenged the way I think about the world. I have grown a lot as a student, a thinker, a researcher, and a global citizen. I also cherish the access we have to our amazing professors—I think this is a unique aspect of the program and not something you can easily find elsewhere.

What are the opportunities you have taken advantage of?

One of my goals coming into the MSGA program was to engage in work and research abroad. Through the Workshop in Applied Peacebuilding and the Applied Joint Research Seminar, I spent last summer working with local peacebuilding organizations in Uganda and Colombia—two countries I’d never been to, and that I now hold dear to my heart. I have always believed that traveling is the best education, but being able to pair that experience with a professional opportunity was more enriching than I’d ever imagined.

Talk about your experiences at PREP and your research activities.

Through PREP and the CGA, I conducted participatory action research (PAR) with human rights defenders in the Huila and Cauca departments of Colombia, facilitating focus groups and in-depth interviews in Spanish in order to understand the motives behind their leadership, the dangers they face, and what structures can be put into place to protect their lives and their rights. In Lira, Uganda, I worked with the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) to develop a training manual for mental health professionals to support women and child survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies. I am also writing my thesis, which explores the impact of localization on gender equality in Northern Uganda.

What insights about peacebuilding have you gained from participating in the program?

I had never heard the term “peacebuilding” before I took Professor Hill’s introductory class, but now I see that peacebuilding is everywhere. The philosophies behind the practice—analyzing and addressing structural inequities, inviting all voices to the negotiating table, looking for points of connection, striving to “do no harm,” and reflective thinking—are so beautiful, and can be applied to many situations, both in one’s professional and personal life. Peacebuilding has helped me move away from dichotomous thinking, which is crucial to healing our society. America is so divided, and I often find myself getting caught up in seeing things as black or white, right or wrong. Peacebuilding encourages me to step into the gray and see the humanity and the reasoning behind every argument.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to move to London to search for job opportunities in research and advocacy. I would like to pursue a PhD one day, but am taking things one step at a time!

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