Through Graduate Studies at American Univ., Kiki Speights ’20 seeks to “make sure communities’ voices are heard”
Alumnae, Research, Sciences
July 29, 2020
Uniquely blending ethics with international studies, American University’s Master of Arts in Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights focuses on “preparing students to be ethically informed thinkers and practitioners in the analysis, development, and application of policy responses to contemporary global issues.” With her impressive aspirations, it is understandable why Kiki Speights ’20 would be drawn to a program that prides itself on producing graduates “who go on to find and facilitate peaceful and ethical solutions to the world’s most daunting international challenges.” “I hope to gain more knowledge in international issues, the progression of human rights, and environmental degradation,” she explains. “I also hope to be able to take advantage of research and study abroad opportunities. I want to make memorable connections within the program and with the people I meet around the world.” The environmental science major/social justice minor from Gaston, South Carolina, says she has been especially inspired by her study abroad experiences through Hollins. “When I traveled to Tanzania through the School for Field Studies program, I originally wanted to study zoology. However, after going on a couple of expeditions, I realized that studying large wildlife was not something I wanted to do all my life. I also learned some controversial factors concerning large wildlife conservation practices that didn’t sit right with me.” Having taken classes such as “Socioeconomics and Policy,” Speights was drawn instead to the study of communities in the East African nation on a micro level. “I was able to obtain information through one-on-one interviews, taking part in community meetings, and just connecting with people on a human level. I learned that just because certain conservation practices can be sustainable for animals to survive doesn’t always mean they are sustainable for human life, especially for people who are native to those regions.” Speights performed directed research on the “Impact of Habitat Degradation on Butterfly Status in Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem in Northern Tanzania.” She says she discovered that “it is important to employ sustainable practices so that ecosystems are not degraded, but at the same time make sure that there are many sustainable alternatives so native people who live within those ecosystems are able to survive as well. Through this research I realized that I wanted to address environmental justice in marginalized communities.” Another powerful experience for Speights was a summer internship she completed through Pre-College University, a program that gives students of color opportunities in fields in which they are demographically underrepresented such as environmental sciences. She worked as an outreach intern for the Department of Energy in Grand Junction, Colorado. “During the internship, I assessed the effectiveness of uranium workshops that were being conducted in Navajo Nation. I sat in on chapter house meetings and federal government meetings and focused on how to communicate scientific information in a way that’s understandable. Listening to traumatic stories of the effects of uranium mining and contamination was not an easy task.” Subsequently, Speights presented her findings to the Department of Energy and offered suggestions on improving the workshops to accommodate the needs of the Navajo people. While she admits that “doing this type of work is not for the weak-hearted,” Speights says she “loves being beside communities fighting for human rights, sustainability practices, gender rights, and public health issues to make sure their voices are heard.” After she finishes her Master’s program, she plans on living abroad for a couple of years working in the human rights career field.