Stanford senior Alexis Kallen has traveled the world for study and research

As a Stanford undergraduate, Alexis Kallen has traveled around the world, logging study and research trips to the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Rwanda, Spain, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Her next stop: England, where she will begin graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford in the fall.

Since Alexis Kallen has long hoped to become an international human rights lawyer, she approached her first visit to the International Criminal Court with some trepidation.

“I was worried that its court proceeding would just be a bunch of old white men talking about justice in countries they had never visited,” said Kallen, who visited the court last fall, just before the start of her senior year at Stanford.

The International Criminal Court, which is located in The Hague in The Netherlands, investigates and tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression.

Alexis Kallen

Alexis Kallen plans to pursue a master’s degree in international development at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Kallen found a seat in a balcony overlooking a courtroom in which a panel of three judges dressed in their signature robes – navy and royal blue with long white jabots – was hearing a case. She listened with rapt attention as the court’s prosecutor questioned a witness about the mass rapes of women in Uganda.

The visit reinforced Kallen’s regard for the court and its work – and her career choice.

“The lawyers and judges were very diverse, allowing room for people from many different backgrounds to bring their voices to the conversation on human rights violations in different contexts,” Kallen said during a recent interview in the garden terrace of Stanford Law School, where she is a teaching assistant for a winter quarter class on sexual assault.

Kallen, a political science major who will graduate in June, is an honors student in the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, a program of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford.

In her honors thesis, Kallen is analyzing how key cases – in the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – have strengthened laws regarding sexual assault as a tool of war.

Reflecting on life on the Farm

Last September, at the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, Kallen took the stage at the 127th Opening Convocation Ceremony to address new students and their families to Stanford, offering the student perspective on life at Stanford.

In her talk, Kallen said her initial fear that she would “never find her place” at Stanford, due to her speech limitations, quickly subsided as she made friends on campus.

“The awkward dining hall conversations during New Student Orientation turned into late night talks sitting around in dorm hallways eating buckets of mozzarella sticks,” she told the audience sitting in the courtyard of the Main Quad.

“Wherever I turned, people were eager to talk about solving some of the world’s deepest issues, as well as those who wanted to talk about the latest episode of “Gossip Girl.” Through slowly building relationships with people that I now cannot see my life without, I let go of the insecurities that were holding me back. I embraced the possibility that Stanford could be made for me, too.”

During her first few days on campus, Kallen also befriended a member of Stanford’s faculty, Luciana “Luci” Herman, a lecturer at Stanford Law and the resident fellow of her dorm.

“As I dove into my academic journey, Luci guided my studies, advised me about my on-campus pursuits, and eventually Skyped me daily when I pursued independent research in Rwanda – even though she would never approve of me riding on the back of motor scooters to get around Kigali, no matter how many helmets I wore,” Kallen told the audience. “Luci is not just faculty, she’s family.”

Conducting research around the world

During her first three years at Stanford, Kallen’s passport quickly filled with entry and exit stamps from around the world –  from the academic quarter she spent studying in Madrid through the Bing Overseas Studies Program, and from the summer she spent in Rwanda doing research on the sexual assault of female Burundian refugees, with financial support from Undergraduate Advising and Research.

She also conducted research on domestic violence in Nicaragua as part of a religious studies class, and traveled to the Guatemalan highlands under a research internship with the Guatemala Rural Child Health and Nutrition Program, a project of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Last summer, Kallen spent two months working as an intern at the Justice Centre Hong Kong, a law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees and survivors of human trafficking and forced labor. Kallen did research comparing the human trafficking laws in Hong Kong with similar laws in other Commonwealth countries, and also sat in on meetings during which refugees discussed asylum applications with lawyers.

“With the client’s permission, the lawyer would describe the case and then turn to me and say: ‘Okay, what’s the first question you would ask,’” Kallen said. “It was an awesome learning experience.”

Juggling many roles senior year

In addition to taking classes and putting the finishing touches on her honors thesis, Kallen is serving as a teaching assistant this year for three courses that reflect her wide-ranging academic interests.

This quarter, she is a TA for “Global Public Health” offered by the Human Biology Program, and “One in Five: The Law, Politics, and Policy of Campus Sexual Assault” offered by Stanford Law. Next quarter, she will be a TA for “Theories and Practices of Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Sector” offered by the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

As the chair of Stanford in Government a non-partisan student-run organization, Kallen is overseeing the annual process of awarding nearly 100 summer public policy fellowships and stipends.

Looking into the future

Kallen’s travels will resume in the fall when she moves to England, where she will pursue a master’s degree in international development at the University of Oxford as a 2018 Rhodes Scholar. She is one of five individuals with Stanford affiliations, including four seniors and one alumnus, who will begin graduate programs as Rhodes Scholars next fall.

“At Oxford, I hope to gain a contextual understanding of human rights abuses and how international law can contribute to preventing further human rights violations,” she said.

After Oxford, Kallen plans to return to the United States for law school, using the Truman Scholarship she was awarded last year to finance her dream of becoming an international human rights lawyer.

Kallen said she cannot imagine her life without her four years at Stanford.

“I am going to miss this place and the incredible people that I have met here, including friends and faculty members I consider family,” she said.

“Stanford has shaped my perspective in ways I never imagined, and I am forever grateful to have called this place my home.”