When Lebanese journalist Jane El Hachem moved to Massachusetts to live with her future husband, a Lebanese American, she decided to study for a new profession.
“I love being a journalist, but here it’s harder because English is not my first language, and a journalist should have perfect English,” she says.
She had always been interested in international relations, and her husband, Elie El Hachem ’17, had earned his B.S. in management information systems here, so she looked into programs at UMass Lowell along with other universities. She found a home in UML’s master’s program in Peace and Conflict Studies.
“We lived the conflict in Lebanon, and I wanted to understand how the peace process works,” she says.
She loves the program so far, especially a class in diplomacy and cross-cultural negotiations with Deina Abdelkader, an associate professor of political science. She also loves the diversity of the students, many of whom are international.
“We get to discuss many points of view, and you learn a lot. Each one of us sees things from a different prospect,” El Hachem says.
Only one semester into the program, she applied for a summer 2020 Civic Action Project (CAP) Fellowship – and got it. The CAP program trains UMass graduate students in public policy-related fields to become civic leaders through internships, mentoring and classes in advocacy. The fellows, drawn from the four UMass campuses, receive a $5,000 stipend to intern for 10 weeks at a government agency, nonprofit or labor union in the Boston metro area.
El Hachem had initially sought an internship with a group working on elections because she wanted to learn more about the American system. But the leadership at CAP recommended she work with the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Her first assignment was to research the rights of young, undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” to work in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Shortly after she started, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not end DACA without sound legal justification. However, the Dreamers still have only temporary legal status.
“I asked, ‘Does it matter to continue my research?’ And they said, ‘Yes. It’s not over yet,’” she says. “Now we’re starting to work on a civic action plan.”
Although her internship is taking place remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CAP fellows are still meeting weekly for advocacy training. They also take part in two or three discussions each week with guest speakers, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
“The theme is how to win: how to run an election campaign, how to get a bill passed into law, how to change policies,” she says.
Ultimately, El Hachem hopes to use the political and diplomatic skills she’s learning to help bring peace to the Middle East.
“One day, I want to contribute to the peace process in Libya, in Yemen, and even in Lebanon, because there’s still conflict there. I always dreamed of being part of the United Nations, so hopefully, I will get there.”