Honors College Day 4: The Ins and Outs of Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law

Honors College Day 4: The Ins and Outs of Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts written by the Fisher Family Honors Program class of 2023 detailing their experiences in Washington, D.C. for CDDRL's annual Honors College.
CDDRL honors students at the Lincoln Memorial

Thursday morning began, for some members of the cohort, with a hasty coffee run before our first visit of the day. Our schedule commenced with a trip to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, located a short walk away from our hotel on a section of Massachusetts Avenue with no shortage of research organizations. Only in Washington might one find themselves at a think tank tucked between AEI and Brookings!

We took our seats in a lengthy conference room, facing three scholars who have devoted their careers to studying democracy, governance, and global institutions. After sharing our research topics with these experts — many of our introductions were met with small tidbits of wisdom and advice from the experienced practitioners — the conversation opened up. We heard the experts’ perspectives on a range of global issues. They discussed fieldwork in Afghanistan and ventured to discuss the United States political climate in the lead-up to midterm elections this fall. The panel was also joined by a junior researcher at Carnegie, who highlighted some of the opportunities we might have to continue policy research after graduation.

After a lunch break spent meandering (read: getting lost) around Dupont Circle, we regrouped and made our way down to the cavernous World Bank headquarters building. Conversations between WBG colleagues in a host of foreign languages dotted the lobby where we were met by Abigail Bacca, a Stanford graduate and Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist. Abigail shared with us a PowerPoint inspired (very briefly) by the squirrels she remembered from her time on campus. Our conversation quickly pivoted from Bay Area critters, as Abigail discussed her work on World Bank projects around the world and the cadence of life as a WBG employee. We also had the chance to speak with two World Bank economists, who discussed the research side of the institution and offered insight into how both arms of the Group come together on a daily basis. We heard from a co-leader of a WBG research project working to measure effective bureaucracy. As this visit drew to a close, we were even gifted some custom Keep Calm coasters bearing an on-theme message about bureaucratic reform. Again, only in Washington D.C.!

~ Warren Christopher

Lincoln Memorial

As we stroll up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun now lower in the sky, our fourth day draws to a close. I look over my shoulder to see the afternoon rays bouncing off the water in the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument towering over the National Mall in the distance. I feel a sense of awe at the beauty and tranquility around me, yet I also feel disbelief and a perplexing feeling I cannot quite name.

I was born and raised in Monteverde, a small town nestled in the tropical cloud forest of Costa Rica. Even within Costa Rica — a country with a relatively stable liberal democracy, no military, and tremendous biodiversity — my hometown is idyllic: a safe place tucked away from many of the world’s greatest woes. Despite growing up here, I was by no means ignorant to the challenges faced by individuals, communities, and countries around the globe.

From pre-K through 12th grade, I attended a Quaker school guided by the motto "Surrounded by nature, supported by love." The education I received was underpinned by values such as community, stewardship, and peace — always in service of understanding the greater context in which we were lucky enough to live, learn, and grow.

In elementary school, we learned about nonviolent communication, we learned to celebrate diversity, and we learned to care deeply for nature. In 7th grade, we studied endangered species, the WWF, and global conservation efforts. By the end of 8th grade, having just read I Am Malala and examined the continued barriers to education experienced by people around the world, it was clear to me that I would spend my life outside this town, dedicating myself to making this planet a better home for us all. Ultimately, this conviction brought me to Stanford, as I sought to learn the tools necessary for the work I was determined to do.

I spent this summer in Santiago, Chile, conducting interviews for my honors thesis, which aims to shed light on how low-income individuals conceptualize their citizenship and engage in politics. I devoted my days to listening to people, hearing stories of disillusionment with democracy and tales of commitment to changing systems of governance in service of those who have been so often left out of traditional discourses.

Today, as I contemplate the scene around me, I realize that I could not be in a more different setting than where I grew up and where I did my research. Here, I am surrounded by spaces of power, where the decisions that get made have direct and indirect impacts on the lives of millions far beyond the borders of this country. Many of the grievances and realities I have spent much of my life analyzing are being addressed right here. This trip with CDDRL has allowed me to see the inside of institutions whose work I had thus far only observed from the outside.

I stand on these steps, thinking of the people I spoke to this summer. I think of their frustration and their hope, of my own commitment to them and their stories. Through Stanford and CDDRL, I myself am beginning to move into spaces that bring with them tremendous responsibility; to me, that is what this week has illustrated. Yet as I do so, it is vital that where I come from, and the values I hold, continue to guide my work, and my life.

~ Tara Hein