Mehmet Yavuz, Peace and Conflict Studies
“In the classroom, people are from all around the world and you’re so amazed, you’re so inspired, because everyone has a different perspective.”
In high school in Turkey, Mehmet Yavuz ’17 won national and regional awards for his short stories and poetry.
For a more practical career—and a chance to study abroad—he decided to pursue journalism at a university in Cyprus. Near the end of his studies, he ran across an article by Assoc. Prof. Jenifer Whitten-Woodring of the Political Science Department: “Watchdog or Lapdog? Media Freedom, Regime Type and Government Respect for Human Rights.”
Noting that Whitten-Woodring was affiliated with the interdisciplinary Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Yavuz decided to pursue his master’s degree here so he could study with her. Now she’s his adviser, and he’s writing his thesis on changes in Turkey’s media policy since 2003.
“Studying abroad really helps make you a different and better person,” he says.
It has also made him aware of and active in broader social issues, from women’s and LGBTQ rights to racism and the plight of undocumented immigrants and refugees.
As a student in Cyprus, he reported on the lack of rights enjoyed by undocumented immigrants—Turks sent to colonize remote areas of northern Cyprus to cement Turkey’s control after the 1974 conflict with Greece. More recently, he’s witnessed the desperation of Syrian refugees pouring into Turkey. In both cases, he says, children suffer the most.
“Kids are on the streets, where anybody can do anything to them,” he says. “They are begging for money when they should be in school, working or at home with their families—but some have lost their families.”
During a short stint as a teacher in Turkey’s public schools, he also saw a need for building bridges between different ethnic groups, including Roma, Kurdish and Turkish peoples. At first, his pupils would only sit or talk with members of their own groups. He deliberately partnered them across ethnic lines—and watched as they enjoyed learning new games and ideas from each other.
“I eventually want to go back and help my people,” says Yavuz, who plans to continue in a peace and conflict studies Ph.D. program. “I want to teach, work in the field and empower people by sharing my expertise as a peace scholar.”
He loves his professors and says they have worked hard to support international students and make the program more diverse.
“In the classroom, people are from all around the world and you’re so amazed, you’re so inspired, because everyone has a different perspective,” he says. “You’re learning a lot of things from other people, and these become your strengths.”
Yavuz has found research opportunities—most recently, as a research assistant on a study of a UMass Lowell worker retraining program with Susan Winning, director of the Labor Studies Program—and financial support through his job as graduate program assistant for the Peace and Conflict Studies Program.
He’s also grateful for all the help he’s received from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), where he has served as an ambassador to other students arriving from countries around the world.
“When you go to ISSO, you feel like you’re at home,” he says. “And [Executive Director] Maria Conley is my hero. She never tires, she never gives up, and when she says something, she means it—and she does it immediately. She’s working really hard to make the international community at UMass Lowell more diverse and inclusive.”