Rhitu Siddharth ’97

Rhitu SiddharthDEGREES: B.A. in political science and international studies: Asian studies; M.A. in political science, American University

JOB TITLE: Special assistant to the deputy head of mission in Libya, United Nations

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: My favorite memory was a piper who played his bagpipes early Sunday mornings by the Trinity Chapel. The sounds of the bagpipes echoed the beauty of the Trinity campus at that time. Also, my Trinity memories live on, as the friends I made are my family for life. I travel so much for work, but I can always pick up the phone or email my Trinity friends. I wish to add that I could not write this without remembering the lives that we lost from the Class of 1997: Scott Johnson, who lost his life in the second building of the Twin Towers during the horrific 9/11, and recently we lost Nicholas Morehead to cancer.

What path did you take to working with the U.N.? Internships, fellowships, and summer jobs are the best way to get your foot in the door. After Trinity, I was an intern on immigration and international adoption issues for the late Senator Edward Kennedy, based in his office in Boston. I received a scholarship from the Indian American Forum for Political Education of Massachusetts. I created the first resettlement program for children while a summer intern at the International Institute of Boston. During my master’s, I spent a summer with the Reebok Human Rights Department in Massachusetts and received a fellowship from the U.N. working on refugee issues based in Washington, D.C. While at Trinity, I interned at the Public Defender’s Office in Hartford, where I helped interview and observe courtroom procedures of juveniles charged with crimes.

What do you do in your current position? I am based in Libya working for the U.N. on humanitarian and development issues for people in need during a complex, active conflict since the fall of Gadhafi. I help prepare and implement the mission’s humanitarian and development agenda and on the delivery of aid, such as shelter, food, clean water, medical supplies (including those for COVID-19), education, and much more. It is an internal and external balancing act with all players, the good and the bad. It is supposed to be similar on paper to what I once did in Syria, but there is no one size fits all for the impact violence has on people’s lives.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I enjoy the people I meet. Just when I think I have seen it all, no two days are the same. In my work, you meet some of the most generous, resilient people to living devils across cultures and political, tribal, social, economic, and religious affiliations. It is what I studied, and I see it in reality.

What are your biggest challenges? My biggest challenge is merging my personal and professional goals. How much do I sacrifice and compromise myself and at what cost?

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work? Our work was compounded by conflict and COVID-19. But I have to say I was not affected by the loneliness or isolation because we never stopped working. It was crisis mode in Libya; we live in compounds with extreme security and safety measures that were adjusted for COVID, but we were still out and serving people.

How did your time at Trinity prepare you for your career? I loved it at Trinity. I am Indian in ethnicity, and I was lucky for my exposure to classmates from various races, cultures, and ethnicities, which also included international students. I did not stick to my graduating class. I was quiet in most of my classes, but the curricula, debates, and dialogues stayed with me and helped formulate my thinking, observations, and decision-making processes.

Did you have a professor who was particularly influential? My most influential professors were Ellison Findly and Vijay Prashad. Professor Findly opened my mind to the way I interpret various religions and arts, even when I travel today. Professor Prashad, with whom I was able to reunite a couple of years ago when he was a visiting professor at American University of Beirut (I was posted on the border between Israel and Lebanon), has me challenging sources of information and narratives. I also was able to spend some time with Professor Ranbir Vohra, who was chair of the Political Science Department, during his retirement in New Delhi; he taught me to respect history.

What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? Those classes that revolved around themes of the political development of citizenship from the earliest of times influenced me the most. Common Sense by Thomas Paine stuck out for me. And the readings and dialogues on citizenships, belongings, theories of inside/outside, and creating nationalism and enemies still construct my thinking skills.