Past Features

July 11, 2005 (Vol. 1, No. 10)

Lehman Student Working in Ghana on Human Rights Issues

Alice Michelle Augustine
Alice Michelle Augustine
Alice Michelle Augustine is entering her senior year at Lehman as a double major in English and political science and is one of three current Lehman students who have been awarded Jeannette K. Watson Fellowships. This summer, she is in Ghana, completing her third and final internship with the program, at the CHRAJ (Ghana Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice). Here she talks about the work she is doing with the CHRAJ and her experience in the fellowship program, as well as in the McNair Scholars program at Lehman.

When you first became a Watson Fellow two years ago, you said that your goal was to practice law. Is this still your goal?
Yes, my goal is to get a J.D. and Ph.D. in law and society. In other words, I will become a lawyer with a Ph.D. in political science. I'm not sure exactly what type of law I'd like to practice, but there are several roads that I am considering, such as civil rights law, public interest law or corporate law.

How did your trip to Ghana come about?
As a Watson Fellow, I have to do my last internship at an international site. I applied to a few sites and was accepted at more than one. I had to make a choice and I chose the CHRAJ (Ghana Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice).

What drew to the CHRAJ internship?
I was drawn to the chance of working with a commission mandated by a foreign government. I had previously done a course on politics and culture, which prepped me for the work I have been doing here.

Talk a little bit about the work you are doing with CHRAJ.
I am analyzing the Commission's report on Ghana's compliance with the conventions on the rights of the child. I am also working on the Commission's prisons report (a yearly assessment on the state of Ghana's prison and human rights violations found there). I am also working on a publication put together by the conflict of interest department at CHRAJ. To make a long story short, I am doing a lot of projects, and I am swamped with work at present. In my spare time, I am also preparing for the LSATs (the entrance exam to law school) and working on a novella for my English honors project.

What do you hope to get out of this internship?
A more rounded view of the world and how cultures and countries are coping with the global political climate of the global market place

Will you be conducting research there?
This is not yet established, but I'm thinking of doing something concerning poverty. I am really interested in the politics of poverty and the immigrant community.

Talk about your experience at your two previous internships with the NYS Supreme Court and at the New York City Council's Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services.
The two internships were priceless. I am much more prepared for life because of them. My confidence is much greater because I have been challenged and exceeded all expectations that I had of myself.

At the Supreme Court, I did legal research and contributed a decision to a motion for a criminal and civil case at the court, which the judge used. I have also had wonderful mentors in Alma Gomez, a court attorney at the Supreme Court. Working with Judge Yates, who is an outstanding and innovative judge, taught me the value of patience and listening.

Working at City Council was amazing as it taught me so much about local government and policy analysis. I had the opportunity to work on everything from putting a community hearing together to planning advocacy trips to Washington DC.

What are some of the things you've enjoyed about being a Watson Fellow? What are some of the perks?
The Watson Fellowship has given me a large network of mentors and friends. I have learned many skills through my internships, and the cultural exposure there is phenomenal.

I understand that you are also a McNair Scholar. Tell us a little bit about that program and your experience in it.
The McNair Scholars program has also been instrumental in shaping the strong determined, skillful, confident woman I am today. I have learned my importance as a woman of African descent in America doing research that could possibly impact my community. If we do not document our experience as people of African descent, who will? We are better able to articulate our needs or the issues that affect our survival. Thus, I have learned that a Ph.D. is a priceless tool for someone like me who wishes to produce work that will impact the community that I am a part of.

Tell us about your relationship with your mentor, Professor Donna Kirchheimer.
Dr. Kirchheimer (Associate Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department) has been a priceless part of my education at Lehman. She has guided me as I brainstormed through my McNair project. She has also been great at guiding me as I reflected on my long-term goals.

I have also enjoyed immense support from Professor Cheng of the English Department. He has helped me through my English honors project–the novella that I am presently working on– and has been great as the staff advisor for the Meridian, for which I serve as Editor-in-Chief.

I have also enjoyed much support from Dean Gottlieb, Professor Schwartz, Professor Blum, Professor Pirch and Professor Ackerman. Lehman is swimming with professors who are always ready to help. I have many mentors here, and I am very thankful for the education I received at Lehman.