The Fate of the Rohingya
The capstone collaborative policy document may be SEGL’s most challenging assignment. Each SEGL cohort must select a current international crisis, research that crisis and collaboratively craft a 40-page scholarly document, and then present and defend the document’s recommendations before real-world policymakers. All in about three weeks while also continuing with regular classes.
Our students are always up to the challenge.
This semester chose the Rohingya crisis in Burma/Myanmar as its topic. After making this decision, the students split into six groups: History/Current Status, the U.S., Burma/Myanmar, Bangladesh (which is confronting a related refugee crisis), NGOs, and the Rohingya. The last five of these groups were asked to draft specific recommendations for their area of specialization: How can the U.S. government incentivize positive action? How can the Rohingya more effectively represent themselves?
The groups then spent a day in the George Washington University main library, with full access to the University’s resources. David Ettinger (the top international relations/political science research librarian at GW), who has become a student favorite since our first semester, starts with an entertaining orientation session so that the students know how to use the myriad databases in the GW system, and then the students are off to the many corners of the building.
After compiling their research for several days, the students appear before the notorious “Review Panel” (ask a current student or graduate what the unofficial name for this is!), a faculty firing line that blisters the students with tough questions designed to ensure their research is consistent, logical, and well-sourced. (This proves especially useful when the students later present to high-ranking officials.)
The next step is rough drafts (each read by two faculty members), revisions, and additional research. This additional research often includes personal interviews with experts.
For example, to assist with their study, the students trekked to the Center for Strategic and International Studies to meet with Erol Yayboke, the Deputy Director of the Project on Prosperity and Development, Project on U.S. Leadership in Development at CSIS. Yayboke had just returned from a trip to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh (read his CSIS piece on it here), and his insights on past, present, and future proved invaluable in the days and weeks that followed.
And then, before we know it, it is time to present. Each semester we try to meet with on-the-ground policymakers who have the ability to incorporate our students’ ideas into actual policy. This semester we presented twice.
Our first trip was to the State Department to meet with Paul Colombini, Burma Desk Officer, and Marybeth Turner, Deputy Director of the Office of Mainland Southeast Asia, in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and Jessica Pfleiderer, Bangladesh Desk Officer, from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The meeting was thoughtful and collegial, and raised an important question the students had heard before: it is one thing to know the right thing to do, and quite another to find incentives to encourage to act accordingly.
The following week, former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar (Burma) Derek Mitchell came to SEGL to hear a second presentation. Mitchell, who met with students in Fall 2011 to hear another capstone policy document, was the first Ambassador to Burma in 22 years; he now works at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Mitchel proved a provocative and energetic discussant, pressing the students in a number of key areas before praising the students’ presentation and paper.
These experiences proved a satisfying end to one of our students’ most significant undertakings.
Want to see the document for yourself? You can download it here.