Faculty Spotlight - Professor
"Study broadly, read widely, listen deeply." - Professor DeLaet
Professor DeLaet grew up in a very small town in Ohio and did not stray far to start her undergraduate studies. “I went to a public university really close to where I grew up, Miami University in Ohio.” she says. Professor DeLaet’s major was Political Science but from the beginning she was always very interested in multiple disciplines and interdisciplinary studies.
“I had a minor in English Literature, a minor in French, I studied abroad, I had a minor in American Studies too. I had pretty broad interests, so I didn’t declare my major in Political Science until my junior year.”
Her varied interests made her develop a passion for international studies and drove her to study abroad in Luxemburg her junior year. Professor DeLaet tells Drake, “I had had a lot of Political Science courses and I was especially drawn to the international element of the Political Science major and that coupled with my French minor and my study abroad experience made it kind of fall together”, Professor DeLaet thought she might want to work in journalism or communications but there was one moment when she realized what she really wanted.
“I just got into my senior year, was walking across campus, loved learning and college so much I said inside my own head I never want to leave and then I had an “Aha” moment that I didn’t have to, if I went into academics.”
Professor DeLaet’s love towards learning made her decide to keep studying and enroll in a graduate program, so she started looking for graduate programs that really spoke to her and what she was deeply interested in. Like every college student she went to her advisor to talk about options she had, but it did not go as planned.
“I had an advisor who once I decided to go to grad school was determined for me to apply to all these top notch programs and a lot of the fields were heavily quantitative, and I studied literature and French, so I was very resistant to his advice and stuck to my own convictions.”
After all, your passion is what will take you places and Professor DeLaet knew that.
“I came across an advertisement for the University of Notre Dame and they had a graduate program in Peace Studies. All of the other programs in International Relations were more like Security Studies so I was really drawn to this novel Peace Studies framework and thought ‘That’s the place for me’."
Professor DeLaet had an amazing experience that included great faculty and classmates from all over the world who were brought together by their common interests in Peace Studies and everything that that entails.
"I had a much broader and more interdisciplinary graduate education than most people in my field, less quantitative, which is what I wanted. Truly, it was probably the perfect place for me. So, I was right to ignore my advisor. I took some courses with Gil Loesher, who is a really well-known scholar of refugees and humanitarian aid, and taught courses about refugees, and refugee issues. There was a sociologist at Notre Dame, Jorge Bustamante, who taught about Global Migration Issues. So I learned a lot about migration, and refugees, and humanitarian issues, and I think Notre Dame was one of the few places in the country at that time that was really prioritizing those issues."
Something that Professor DeLaet is still very grateful for her years at Notre Dame University is the fact that she could be in a classroom where most of the students had a very different background from her own. International students bring richness to a classroom and in her courses deep discussions were had, which made her knowledge and view of the world broaden.
"I got to study with people from countries across the world... with people from so many different faiths and traditions, all studying global conflict. One of my peers my first year was a Palestinian refugee. [Notre Dame] provided a lot of funding to bring people from all socio-economic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds. So much diversity of experience."
Professor DeLaet has always worked around global issues like the ones she studied at Notre Dame, and most recently she became the part-time Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Association. In that role she helps lead the Iowa UNA's advocacy for constructive U.S. global engagement, especially related to advocacy for human rights, refugees, and climate action.
"It’s new, it’s been like a growth opportunity and a challenge at the same time because it is a very small nonprofit organization … I think that for a long time we took the role of the UN in the world for granted, but I think in this moment in our history we’re seeing all of these collective global problems that require collective solutions and we need to mobilize more support and advocacy for constructive collaborative problem solving rather than unilateral isolationist approaches, and so I see my role as helping to build some of that support in Iowa. … Part of my interest in this position is helping to, slowly but surely, reengage especially college students and younger people in a commitment to re-strengthen the need of these collective frameworks because we need them."
Professor DeLaet has always put a lot of effort into engaging her students above what is taught in the classroom. International Relations has to be addressed outside the classroom, as well as inside, in order to have a better understanding of how the issues studied affect our community.
“A lesson learned the hard way from my early years in teaching is that so much of what I study is actually really hard to study, it’s depressing. You study human rights violations, genocide, all of these things that if you only study them without thinking of ways to act on them it can leave you with a feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes the academic study of these topics stops at that. I think it is really important to teach students in a truthful way and not painting an overly idealistic or rosy or naïve picture of what the world is like. At the same time, I don’t want to leave them with a sense that they have no agency.”
The picture above from the Iowa delegation at the Global Leadership Summit in June 2019 showcases how committed Professor DeLaet is to involve her students in more than just the classroom lecture but outside of it as well. During the Summit, all the participants had opportunities to learn about global challenges that are priorities of the United Nations, including climate change, sustainable development, and human rights.
“We learned advocacy skills and participated in an Advocacy Day on the Hill with staff from the offices of Iowa congressional representatives, including the offices of Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, Representative Axne, and Representative Loebsack.”
When Drake asked Professor DeLaet why it was so personal to her, she gave an answer that went beyond the surface of the issue, saying that it does not only affect us but everyone.
"Caring about my students as human beings I don’t want to have a bunch of young people leaving my classroom feeling hopeless and disengaged, so partly it is about, how to balance what I’m hoping for my students, but also the world I want, the world I want to live in, the world I want my daughters to live in. Without being naïve or blindly idealistic, actually being quite realistic about the nature of the problems how can we try to take steps to leave the world a better place, even if it’s only marginally better."
Little steps can make big differences and Professor DeLaet is aware of that. She wants her students to have a better idea of how important acting in their own community is and this way apply, or put into action, what they learn in class.
"Why I emphasize so much local action is because I actually believe that in most cases that’s where we have the best opportunities to make a difference, and also where we’re ethically most bound to act. That it’s good to focus on the problems that are in your own backyard. Start there. It is kind of a moral imperative to be paying attention to how global problems play out in your own community. But also we, as a general rule, have more capacity to act in our own communities than we do in communities somewhere across the globe where we don’t know the culture, the language. Less barriers, less risk of hubris, less risk of cultural arrogance. That’s why I want some sort of civic engagement and why I tend to emphasize local, and I’m moving more and more in this direction as I advance in my career."
Drake asked Professor DeLaet for the advice that she would give Drake IR students looking to develop their multicultural understanding.
"Study broadly. By that I mean different disciplines, different faculty, study as many different perspectives as you can. Read widely, read novels by people that are outside of your tradition; so as an example, in the last several years I have made an intentional commitment to read stories by authors from other countries to get different perspectives. Watching films from other countries, reading stories and trying to get those emotional narratives. When you’re engaging with someone from a different cultural perspective, whether that’s a different culture outside of the United States or inside the United States, and especially, I mean for anyone to really try to listen deeply to those other cultural perspectives even if you disagree with the perspective being offered, to sort of claim the truths that are in it.”
Interview conducted by Leyla Salomón Saba, 2020