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Power has always fascinated me. As far back as I can remember, I have struggled to understand what it is, how it is assumed, and the ways in which it is wielded. My first years at Barnard College were spent in trying to change the power imbalances I saw around me. I immersed myself in a variety of activities both on and off campus. I helped to found the first women-of-color house on campus; helped to organize black Barnard women's participation in the Million Woman March, the Jericho Movement for political prisoners, and the campus campaign to end the embargo against Cuba, as well as working as a mentor and tutor with children in the Harlem community. My involvement in campus and community politics forced me to see the political nature of the difference between the luxury of my Ivy League institution and the dissipation of the surrounding Harlem community. My courses tended to interpret these differences in solely racial terms, relying heavily on the experiences of African Americans in the United States as the basis of a generalized worldview.
A year abroad at the University of Ghana during my junior year dramatically altered my understanding of power relations. It had been easy to accept oppression as a racialized experience while in the United States. However, faced with the overwhelming poverty of the majority of Ghanainas, a tiny black elite, and a political system engineered to keep that small minority in power, I could no longer buy simplistic arguments that pitted race against race. I began to understand that societal divisions were fundamentally based on access to resources, and that race was only one potential factor in determining access. While I have experienced discrimination as a black woman, for the first time I could not dent that my American passport alone afforded me access to spheres beyond the reach of most Ghanaians, such as free primary and secondary education. As I studied the economic history and development of Ghana, I learned more about the roles international forces had played in shaping national economic and political policies. Up until that point, my understanding of the power of international bodies to effect national policy formation had been relatively limited. As an American citizen, I had never experienced the harsh realities of structural adjustment plans handed down by extranational bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank. A brutal example of this during my stay was the University of Ghana ending its free tuition program for Ghanaian students. Watching the student protests against the Ghanaian Government, I was unable to choose sides, as it became clear that the restructuring of the university system was not in the hands of the national leaders. Rather, it was a directive of International agencies that, as a condition to guaranteeing the aid and trade so critical to Ghana's economic survival, demanded the implementation of their development agendas.
Learning about the politics of international relations helped me to understand the frustration I had often felt as a student organizer at Barnard, where I rarely saw the tangible change that I was struggling for. While grassroots movements are effective on a local level, without the force of an international body behind them, they cannot move the international political and economic mechanisms by which wealth and rights are allocated. It is now clear to me that, as the world becomes increasingly globalized, those who are able to lobby for and effectuate policy change from an international level will be the most critical in determining the direction of national change and in establishing it. To this end, I am interested in studying law. I would like to study, and to one day have a hand in shaping, the policies that govern the interaction of international bodies with national governments. Going away helped me to understand that my commitment to equalizing the power imbalance- of international bodies and national governments; of human rights prerogatives and economic agendas- must be coupled with the ability to move within and understand the workings of the global structures that determine it.