Ramiro Hernandez ’23 has always had a knack for writing.
“I remember being in fourth grade, and we had to take this state exam,” says Hernandez, of Hidalgo, Texas. “We had to write essays for it and whatnot. They graded us from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. I remember I was the only kid in my class who got a 4. It was a big deal at the time.”
A decade later, Hernandez has been selected for the Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellowship, a program that provides funding, mentorship, and support for student journalists to report on global issues that are rarely covered in the national media. The fellowship is made possible by a three-year partnership between Swarthmore and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Hernandez’s writing is one of the things that set him apart for the fellowship.
“We were all moved by Ramiro’s writing samples,” says Katie Price, associate director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and a member of the selection committee. “He writes in a way that stays with you; it is haunting and beautiful.”
Anya Slepyan ’22, the recipient of last year’s fellowship and a member of this year’s selection committee, agreed. “He was a really strong writer throughout his application,” she says. “He used very powerful language.”
This achievement should come as no surprise to a student like Hernandez, a QuestBridge Scholar, Richard Rubin Scholar, and 2020 recipient of Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership summer grant. Already holding postsecondary degrees in medical Spanish and interdisciplinary studies, he is now an honors student with a special major in peace & conflict studies, educational studies, and medical anthropology.
“We put forward multiple outstanding candidates, and we’re thrilled that the Pulitzer Center has chosen to recognize Ramiro Hernandez,” says Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center. “His brilliance and passion will be put to good use,”
This summer, Hernandez will be reporting from his hometown of Hidalgo, which is located just five minutes away from the Mexican border. Under the mentorship of Pulitzer Center grantee journalists and staff, he will cover the stories of immigrant veterans in the U.S. who are either undocumented or have troubles with immigration.
These veterans “serve in the armed forces with the promise of citizenship, either for themselves or for their loved ones,” Hernandez says. “And then after their contract ends, they’re either deported or the promise that they were given is not fulfilled.”
The topic is deeply personal for Hernandez.
“Many of the people I care about, including many friends and loved ones, experience issues with immigration,” Hernandez says. He hopes that his reporting with the Pulitzer Center will help to inform future immigration policy and legislation.
“I want to be able to bring these issues to a national spotlight, and the Pulitzer Center has a big platform,” says Hernandez, whose final project will be featured on the Pulitzer Center website and, with the help of the center, pitched to other news outlets.
“In making the final selection, we agreed that Ramiro not only had the facility to tell the story well, but also that he had an important story to tell,” says Price. “While we hear news about immigration and military operations on an almost-daily basis, Ramiro’s project will address these topics in a way that is unique, underreported, and intersectional.”
A number of major civil rights organizations, including The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the SNCC Legacy Project, and the Highlander Center, came together this month to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 4, 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he for the first time publicly advocated for an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Dr. King was assassinated exactly one year later after delivering the speech. The nation-wide webinar, “Breaking the Silence: An Intergenerational Call for Unity” occurred on the anniversary of the speech and consisted of its public reading as well as a panelist discussion.
The event organizers also invited groups to host local readings of the King speech–a call readily taken up by the Swarthmore community. Professor Lee Smithey (Peace and Conflict Studies) in cooperation with Professor Edwin Mayorga (Educational Studies) coordinated Swarthmore College’s reading. The project included a full gamut of community voices, including students, faculty, administrators, alums, and more. The video recording of the college’s reading can be found below.
Cosponsors at Swarthmore College include: Educational Studies Department; Peace and Conflict Studies Program; Black Studies Program; Intercultural Center; Women’s Resource Center; The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility; Department of Sociology and Anthropology; TriCo Asian American Studies; Department of Religion; History Department; Beit Midrash; The Interfaith Center; Student Government Organization; ENLACE; Intercultural Center Interns; QuestBridge; Swarthmore Queer Union; Petey Greene Program.
Through impact investing, Swarthmoreans put their money where their values are
Morgan Simon ’04 wants you to know one thing about money: Investing it wisely can help bring about social change.
For almost 20 years, she’s done just that as a pioneer in impact investing, or the practice of investing not only for financial returns, but for social or environmental returns, as well. As a founding partner of the Bay Area-based Candide Group, a registered investment adviser, Simon and her team provide custom advice to families, foundations, athletes, and actors “who want their money working for justice,” she says.
It’s an ambitious endeavor that traces back to Simon’s Swarthmore days, when her shareholder activism led several Fortune 500 companies to amend their nondiscrimination policies. But Simon’s not alone in this burgeoning field, where monetary value meets Quaker values. Through impact investing, numerous Swarthmoreans are changing the world, one dollar at a time.
Purpose at the Center
Amit Bouri ’99 knew from a very young age that he wanted to do something that helped improve the lives of others. Raised by a single mother who put herself through school to bring the family to a basic level of middle-class stability, Bouri was keenly aware that most kids from similar backgrounds didn’t have access to the same kinds of educational opportunities that he had.
“I wanted to have purpose at the center of my career,” says Bouri, who holds an MBA from Northwestern and a master in public administration from Harvard. “But at the time I was in school, I did not have a very clear view of what that purpose would be.”
After working for a consulting firm and helping to author a report about investing for social and environmental impact, Bouri co-founded the nonprofit Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), “the global champion for impact investing,” he says. “We’re trying to develop a market that steers massive amounts of investment capital to address the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.”
And from Bouri’s experience, interest in impact investing is booming — in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and elsewhere.
“We see more and more investors who want to put their money to work to have a positive impact on the world,” he says. “This ranges from big institutional investors, pension funds, and university endowments, all the way down to individuals who want their money to be invested in the world that they want to live in.”
A Meaningful Difference
Tralance Addy ’69 has seen a similar trend. The Ghana native is in the process of launching Yaro Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm that will invest in African companies in fields like health care services, clean technology, renewable energy, and food and agriculture.
“One of the most effective ways of addressing the needs of the developing world, especially poverty, is by much stronger engagement with private enterprise and entrepreneurship,” says Addy, who holds an engineering Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For his present venture, he’s drawing from his past experience as executive director of Stanford University’s Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies and as CEO of WaterHealth International.
Addy is passionate about Yaro’s potential for using business solutions to solve social problems.
“Our thesis is, there should be no conflict between making a return and having an impact,” he says, explaining that once a problem is solved in a way that is profitable, the solution can be sustained even after project leaders or philanthropists leave the scene.
“For instance,” he says, “with clean water, what we had to do was say we have to find a way to provide clean water that is affordable for people who earn $2 a day. Once you can make that a sustainable business, you have solved the problem.”
Sampriti Ganguli ’95, CEO of Arabella Advisors, says philanthropists are increasingly looking to move beyond grant-making to invest in socially conscious businesses.
“It’s part of a broader trend in philanthropy,” says Ganguli, whose company advises individuals, corporations, and foundations on philanthropic giving and impact investing. “There’s a transition into the next generation of donors who want to be much more actively involved, and they want to think more creatively about their giving strategy.”
Ganguli — who was born in India, grew up in the Philippines, and speaks five languages — holds an M.A. in international affairs from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton. Before joining Arabella Advisors, she had roles in finance and consulting. But something was missing.
“The greatest value — and, in some ways, the greatest burden — of being a Swarthmore graduate is you always wrestle with that existential question of ‘How am I making a difference in this world?’” Ganguli says. “I always felt dissatisfied with where I was until I could answer that question: ‘Do I feel like the work that I’m doing is making a meaningful difference in the world?’ I now feel myself finally at peace from a career perspective.”
Making a Real Impact
Those existential questions are also at the center of the Candide Group, where “we’re able to invest in things like solar energy for low-income households in Louisiana, or direct-trade cacao that can give farmers three times the income,” says Simon, who in 2017 released Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change. Other investments made through Candide assisted a media production company in telling positive stories about people of color, or helped Black hairstylists increase their income by selling products directly to customers.
More than half of the companies and funds in Candide’s portfolio are led by women or people of color. That fact makes Simon particularly proud.
“Less than 2% of global assets are managed by firms owned by women or people of color,” she says. “Now, I’m managing a team that’s majority women of color, managing an investment portfolio that’s majority women and/or people-of-color led, and being able to exercise my values while deploying over $30 million a year.”
Among her teammates is Jasmine Rashid ’18, whose upbringing in a highly class-stratified community on Long Island sparked her interest in exploring economic inequality. Working with Simon, Rashid helped develop Candide’s Real Money Moves campaign to encourage divestment from private prisons. She also helped launch the $40 million Olamina Fund, focused on lending to “historically disinvested communities in rural America, the deep South, and Native country.”
Rashid named the fund after the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a novel she fell in love as a senior at Swarthmore.
“I actually started out Swarthmore as an economics major,” she says. “But I learned fairly quickly it was hard for me to stay focused just working with equations.” Instead, she wanted to talk about capital in the context of power, history, and society. “A special major in peace & conflict studies allowed a more nuanced exploration of that for me,” she adds, “and prepared me to begin drawing clear connections between money and justice — or lack thereof — in any social issue I encountered.”
For Simon, a similar connection was made in 2002, during her sophomore year in college. Troubled by the lack of protections offered to LGBTQ employees at Lockheed Martin, which was part of Swarthmore’s investment portfolio, Simon proposed that the College file a shareholder resolution with the aerospace and defense company. The resolution was hugely successful: Lockheed added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, and — through persuasion from Simon and other activists — three other large companies in the College’s portfolio made similar changes, as well.
“It was really because Swarthmore had faith in young people to not only think about how to make a difference but get real experience,” she says. “I was the first student since the apartheid era to have filed a shareholder resolution, and that led to students across the country reaching out and saying, ‘This is amazing. How can we do that?’”
The actions motivated Simon to found the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which at its height was on more than 100 U.S. college campuses influencing more than $150 billion. They also created a career path for Simon, “even if I wouldn’t have known it at the time,” she says.
“My objective was always strategic activism,” she adds, “and I learned that impact investing was an incredible way to do that.”
The selection committee honored both Lucy Jones ’20, who explored the experiences of Central American migrant women on the U.S.-Mexico border for her thesis, and Vanessa Meng ’20, who examined the debates surrounding colonialism in contemporary Chinese-African relations.
The students, who graduated in May with high honors, were honored at PJSA’s annual meeting, held virtually in November.
For Jones, it was an opportunity to properly celebrate her thesis, “Resistance, Resilience, and Survival: Central American Refugee Women Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which she completed while in quarantine during the pandemic.
“It was a huge honor, and very exciting to have my work recognized and to be able to talk about it with peace scholars from around the country,” says Jones, who majored in peace & conflict studies at Swarthmore and is now a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Philadelphia.
For Meng, it was particularly rewarding to be recognized for her thesis, “The Middle Kingdom Dreams: Understanding and Reframing China-African Relations,” at what she considered a time of heightened hostility from the Western media toward her native China.
“I hoped to show that there is an opportunity for peace between the U.S. and China, because the values and ideas that I was taught at Swarthmore, specifically the American revolutionary dream from activists in the United States, are in fact aligned with the dream of the country I grew up in,” says Meng, who majored in peace & conflict studies and has been writing a children’s book on environmental science.
Both students expressed gratitude for the faculty and students of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, citing its depth of collaboration and support. They follow PJSA thesis award winners from Swarthmore in 2013 and 2014.
“Research and writing are important in our program, so we are understandably thrilled when colleagues in our field recognize that our students are doing important and often cutting-edge work,” says Lee Smithey, professor and program coordinator. “Lucy and Vanessa exemplify student scholarship in peace & conflict studies.”
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06 advised both students on their thesis projects, and offered comments on their behalf at the awards ceremony.
“Lucy arrived in my office in August 2016 from Birmingham, Ala., where she was born and raised,” Atshan recalls. “In our very first meeting, she expressed palpable enthusiasm for peace & conflict studies, reflecting on her Irish heritage, and proved to be a brilliant student.”
Atshan says Meng joined the College community “with a very clear consciousness regarding peace and environmental justice, speaking eloquently about climate challenges she witnessed in her hometown of Beijing.”
Allison Oman Lawi ’91 is director, ad interim, for the Nutrition Division at WFP at headquarters in Rome, while Andrea Stoutland ’83 is special assistant to the director of human resources. The WFP was recognized Oct. 9 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for its efforts to combat hunger and contribute to improving conditions for peace, and for leading in efforts to prevent the weaponization of hunger in war and conflict.
The WFP helps to save lives in emergencies, build prosperity, and support a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and the impact of climate change. In 2019, the organization provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who were victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. According to Executive Director David Beasley, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the WFP is recognition of the work of the agency’s staffers who, under dangerous and unstable conditions, bring food and assistance to hungry children, women and men across the world.
“It would be difficult to express what this means to me, but given my major at Swarthmore was a self-designed Peace Studies (Sociology, Anthropology and Religion) you might get an idea,” says Oman Lawli. Now living in Rome, she had been based at the regional bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, since 2014 where she was a senior regional nutrition advisor including programs on social protection, school feeding, and HIV.
“I always have believed that how we attempt to distance ourselves from the suffering of others is the measure of our dislocation with ourselves, and service to others is the only way to close that distance,” says Oman Lawi, whose thesis was on the political use of a food as a weapon of war in the Eritrea–Ethiopia conflict. “I have a beautiful job, I love the work that I do, and to have it recognized by the Nobel committee is more than I ever dreamt possible.”
Stoutland recently moved to Rome in her new role as special assistant to the director of human resources; WFP has over 19,000 employees worldwide. “Before Cairo I spent two years in Juba, South Sudan, heading emergency operations,” she says. “Yemen is one of WFP’s biggest and most complex operations, and the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes the work it does there, together with non-governmental organizations and local authorities, providing food in very challenging contexts.”
According to the WFP, climate shocks and the global pandemic are pushing millions more to the brink of starvation. They continue to work with government organizations and private sector partners who share core values of integrity, humanity and inclusion.
“Humanitarian work is so rewarding because you have this privilege of trying to right the wrongs and support people and do what you can to bring the world back into balance,” says Oman Lawli. “I am humbled by this work — being able to provide food or running nutrition programs for those that have suffered a shock or crisis — it reminds me that all of us are only one major shock away from needing help from someone else and I am genuinely grateful for an opportunity to do my part. It is heartbreaking to know anyone will go to bed hungry, and to know this is a reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world is devastating. So many things cause hunger; our behavior, our greed, our distancing from one another. I believe that working to end hunger can help bring peace in the world and to end conflict.”
Grace Dumdaw ’21 aspires to one day steal scenes as an actor on television or film. This summer, she got a glimpse behind those scenes through the Television Academy Foundation’s prestigious Summer Fellows Program.
Sponsored by the charitable arm of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — best known as the organization behind the Emmy Awards — the program provides college students with exposure to the television production process. Although in-person internships were canceled this summer in response to COVID-19, Dumdaw and the other participants spent eight weeks attending online panels with TV executives, connecting virtually with agency representatives, and receiving guidance on interviewing and other professional skills.
As an alum of the program, Dumdaw — a double major in stage, screen, & new media and peace & conflict studies from Mandeville, La. — will also gain access to special networking opportunities as she builds her acting career.
“This has been an incredible fellowship for me,” says Dumdaw, who was a speaker during Swarthmore’s First Community Gathering earlier this month. “It got me in contact with actual professionals in the industry who are doing the work that I’d like to do. By hearing about their journey, I’ve learned a lot about what I want to do postgrad: work at an agency for at least a year because it’s a great place to start off if you want to get involved in entertainment.”
The fellowship also built upon the special major Dumdaw created with a film career in mind: stage, screen, & new media. By combining acting and performance classes from the Theater Department with production and technique courses from Film & Media Studies, Dumdaw says, she is able to receive the training that a large film school would afford while studying at a small liberal arts college.
Her goal is to become an actor, writer, director, and producer, as it’s important in the entertainment industry to be well-rounded, Dumdaw says. Thanks to this summer’s program, she’s well on her way.
“A lot of the knowledge that I gained from the internship, I’ve applied to my own acting career — and I actually got signed to two agencies over the summer,” she says. “It gave me a deeper understanding of what’s really going on.”
Zackary Lash ’19, who graduated with a special major in peace & conflict studies, is studying Russian in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; Carole Lee ’21, an English literature major from Vidalia, La., is studying Swahili in Arusha, Tanzania; and Anya Slepyan ’21, a history major from Lexington, Ky., is studying Russian in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Underwritten by the U.S. Department of State, the CLS Program offers “unparalleled opportunity to develop language skills and cultural fluency by a rigorous, eight-week immersive curriculum that includes language training, cultural activities, and site visits,” says Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Osman Balkan, who serves as Swarthmore faculty representative for the program.
“The CLS is one of the most prestigious and competitive language programs in the country,” adds Balkan. “It receives thousands of applications each year, and it’s a testament to the quality of our students that an institution as small as Swarthmore College has produced three CLS award winners this year.”
The program is part of a wider government effort to raise the number of American students studying and mastering foreign languages deemed critical to national security and economic prosperity, per the program website, playing “an important role in preparing students for the 21st century’s globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.”
Balkan, who was a resident director of the CLS Turkish program in Istanbul and Izmir, expects the Swarthmoreans “will have a wonderful, enriching experience this summer.” Their studies began in early to mid-June and will run through mid-August.
Lash, Lee, and Slepyan follow 16 Swarthmore students who have participated in the program since 2007, including Amalia Feld ’12. And that success should only grow, thanks to a recent addition to academic programming at the College.
“With the establishment of our new Global Studies minor, which offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of politics, language, and culture,” says Osman, “Swarthmore students are even better positioned to apply for the CLS.”
Murray-Thomas and Boozarjomehri will build upon their Lang Opportunity Scholarship projects this year and mentor current Lang Scholars and other Swarthmore student innovators.
“It is through the vision and generosity of Eugene M. Lang ’38, H’81 that communities facing significant challenges have come to know Swarthmore College students and alumni like A’Dorian and Fatima as social change-makers,” says Jennifer Magee, senior associate director of the Lang Center, who designed the Lang Social Impact Fellows program with input from Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center, and Salem Shuchman ’84, former Lang Scholar and current Board of Managers chair.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to innovate and build upon the success of the Lang Opportunity Scholarship Program with this pilot program in its second year,” Magee adds. “And we are motivated and inspired to work with A’Dorian and Fatima as they sustain and scale their initiatives.”
The fellowship will allow Murray-Thomas to scale up her SHE Wins project, which started as a Lang Scholar project working with 12–15-year-old girls in Newark, N.J., who had lost a parent or sibling to homicide. Since then, SHE Wins has expanded to an Engaged Scholarship project that works at “the intersection of educational studies, restorative justice, and adolescent psychology” to “empower the next generation of young women leaders.”
“I am thrilled about the opportunity to collaborate with various parts of the greater Swarthmore College community to further enhance the SHE Wins model, and to use my experience to give back to current Lang Scholars, like so many other Lang alumni have given to me,” says Thomas-Murray, who graduated from Swarthmore with a special major in political science and educational studies and, in 2016, was named College Woman of the Year by Glamour and a White House Champion of Change.
Boozarjomehri will expand her efforts with the Afghan refugee population of southern Tehran, designing projects to improve education access and quality for Afghan youth and diversifying economic opportunities for Afghan women. This year, she will broaden the scope of The Fanoos Project, a vocational training program for single mothers.
“I am most looking forward to continue building strong partnerships with local [nongovernmental organizations] and expanding the reach of the program to more mothers in new locations and with better facilities,” says Boozarjohmehri, who majored in Islamic studies and peace & conflict studies at Swarthmore, with support from the Project Pericles Fund. “I’m also really excited about developing a sustainable business model to ensure the continuation of the program for many years.”
Hazaineh, who was raised in a Palestinian refugee family in Amman, Jordan, was granted the award for the video blog (vlog) she started last year. The vlog features a series of videos challenging the unfair treatment of women in Arab societies, connecting with and encouraging women to express themselves. In the videos, Hazaineh shares her own struggles, such as the courage it took for her to remove her headscarf.
For Hazaineh, the Peacemaker award was motivation to keep reaching toward a peaceful and equitable society.
“Winning the award reminded me that despite the hardships and burdens of activism, there will always be communities in which we feel supported and empowered,” she says. “The support and appreciation I felt gave me hope and increased my determination to keep going.”
Associate Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies and Sociology Lee Smithey had the honor of presenting Hazaineh with the award. Smithey shared his excitement and pride in her accomplishment.
“In the midst of the debate over the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearing … issues of patriarchy and misogyny were on everybody’s mind,” says Smithey, “and so Layla receiving the award for the work that she’s done to challenge toxic masculinity seems timely.”
Hazaineh received the award at the PJSA Conference at Arcadia University last month. PJSA, affiliated with the International Peace Research Association, is a professional association that brings together activists, scholars, K–12 teachers, and professors throughout the United States and Canada to discuss peace-building and social change. The theme for this year’s conference, attended by 10 Swarthmore students and faculty, was “Revolutionary Nonviolence in Violent Times.”
Swarthmore was also well-represented at the conference by alumni and former professors, including former Lang Professor George Lakey, who spoke about revolutionary nonviolence, and Jim MacMillan, former journalist-in-residence for War News Radio who spoke about gun violence policy and reform.
For students, the conference was an opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives about social justice and learn directly from researchers and activists in the field. Killian McGinnis ’19, a peace & conflict studies and gender studies special major from Baltimore, Md., described how a workshop she attended granted her new insights for her senior thesis that would be hard to obtain in a classroom setting.
“The research of Ph.D. candidate Carol Daniel Kasbari on everyday acts of resistance in Palestine presented me with a grounded view of activism,” McGinnis says, “and an approach to theory using culturally informed understandings of people’s circumstance to define it rather than imposing external conceptualizations.”
Following the conference, Hazaineh felt most empowered by connecting with a community of change-makers, people who are also rebuilding peace within modern society.
“The people in the conference created a beautiful space where I felt solidarity and connection, despite not knowing everyone there,” she says. “I am greatly grateful for that recognition and experience.”