Charlotte Peterson ’22 looks at global politics through two lenses during internships with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Nobel-nominated human rights group Mwatana.
Last spring, amid the ongoing crisis in Yemen, Charlotte Peterson ’22 was helping document human rights conditions from behind her computer screen in Geneva, N.Y. Peterson first began researching the country’s civil war during her 2020 political science capstone course for a project comparing the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. By the following semester, she was working with Mwatana, the independent Yemeni human rights organization that was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
As with many humanitarian groups focusing on documentation, Mwatana’s efforts revolve around accountability for perpetrators of abuses, Peterson says. “That’s where things tend to be focused most heavily,” she says, noting that at the UN and the International Criminal Court, “certain mechanisms exist solely to accumulate evidence for the potential of one day bringing people to court.”
In addition to documentation of human rights abuses and advocacy work, Mwatana helps raise global awareness of the nearly decade-long civil war. Peterson says geographical and political distances mean “conflicts like Syria and Yemen aren’t super tangible here,” but the internship helped her “see that distance in a different way,” she says.
This fall, Peterson combined her capstone project and internship experience in an independent study, analyzing how documentation efforts by groups like Mwatana can “impact people on the ground” and contribute to “peacebuilding efforts and opportunities for accountability.”
She also began an internship with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), whose goal is “to start a conversation in this country about the need for Americans to better understand the world.” There, Peterson has continued to “combine and draw on my coursework from history and political science, and apply that” to her assignments, though in a new context. As an intern for the CFR’s Director of Studies and the Vice President, she has been researching key historical events of the past 100 years and their role in U.S. foreign policy today.
Compared to the on-the-ground nature of Mwatana’s efforts, the scope of the work at CFR is more focused on the “higher politics” of diplomacy writ large. “When you’re working with a human rights organization, it’s more mission focused rather than subject focused,” she explains. “You’re thinking about the future — what you want to happen,” whereas with a think tank like CFR, “I’m thinking a lot about specific events” in historical context and how they’re linked to long-term diplomatic strategy.
Throughout this work, the highlight has been the “chance to take what I was reading about in the classroom and participate in it…to actually work with the issues I was studying,” she says. “My coursework at HWS has really shaped my critical thinking and analytical skills, which have been absolutely essential to my work in political research, no matter what organization I have been working for. I really owe a lot to my professors and peers at HWS who have challenged me to think in new ways and tackle complex problems.”