"I want to find a way to merge the research side and the people … to tell this story in a meaningful way that can change the lives of people who are currently impacted.”

One SIT alumna has chosen to work in a sector where persistent racism has wide-ranging implications for societies at large. Alia Nahra, a 2019 alumna of SIT Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender, published her SIT research as an article in the fall 2020 issue of Critical Theory and Social Justice. In it, Alia says she was drawn to The Netherlands to explore more equitable approaches to justice.

But although The Netherlands is known for low crime and incarceration rates, Alia found evidence that stood in contrast to “the white Dutch majority’s narratives about its nation’s supposed equity,” she writes her in paper.

After graduating, Alia moved to New York to work at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. She recently spoke to her former professor, SIT Netherlands Academic Director Jana Byars, about how research empowered Alia to believe she can make a difference.

“My research at SIT was a great way to show me that I can do things. I can just decide that something needs to happen and then find a way to do it.,” she told Byers.

Instead of focusing primarily on systemic problems, Alia says she wants to research solutions and how other places, “especially places that were also built on racist, classist systems,” are addressing the problems.

As a special assistant to the director at the Brennan Center, this year Alia helped produce a series of wide-ranging essays on punitive excess. The writers include well-known academics, sociologists, historians, criminologists, practitioners, and those directly affected by the criminal justice system, including one writer who was sentenced to life in prison as a teen.

“My research at SIT was a great way to show me that I can do things. I can just decide that something needs to happen and then find a way to do it."

Alia says the series is grounded in an essay focused on race by Brennan Fellows Director Theodore R. Johnson. He writes that the nation’s structures and policies spotlight an ugly truth: “The unwillingness to confront a history of racial oppression and the continued devaluation of people of color make full equality and justice in America unattainable.

“To establish a fair and unbiased justice system loosened from punitive excess and mass incarceration, we must reckon with the central role race plays in systemic outcomes,” Johnson continues.

Alia hopes the series will be read by those outside academic and expert circles to help members of the general public better understand the flaws in the nation’s justice systems. “If you take the big narrative, the broader story about why the system is messed up in a national way, and you tell people, they could see the problem. And that is something that has the potential to do some good,” she says.

Read our full interview with Alia on the SIT blog.

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