SFS Alumna Jescinta Izevbigie (SFS’14) Translates Research Experience to Service in South Africa

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Jescinta Izevbigie, second from right, with fellow BSFS students on a study abroad trip to Tanzania in 2012.

October 24, 2016
by Matthew Raab

Inspired by her roots and sparked by her experiences at SFS, Jescinta Izevbigie (SFS’14) has set herself on a path of research and service in Africa. Her focus on gender issues in post-conflict African countries has taken her around the African continent, from Liberia and Nigeria to Rwanda and South Africa.  

Izevgibie at her 2014 SFS Graduation.

Izevbigie at her 2014 SFS Graduation.

“I stumbled upon my original SFS essay for my Georgetown application and realized that my essay topic was on the prevalence of domestic violence issues in Nigeria and it is striking to see that I’m currently engaging in that line of work right now in South Africa,” Izevbigie said. “Upon greater reflection, it brings me great joy to see that I’m now doing exactly what I originally set out to do before coming to the SFS.”

Izevbigie’s interests stem from her Nigerian heritage and experiences in Africa, which exposed her to the issues she continues to investigate today. Her drive to attend the Walsh School of Foreign Service arose from her desire to equip herself for success.

“My long-term goal was always rooted in a desire to go back to my continent and I saw the SFS as the best stepping stone to provide me with the academic footing to do so,” Izevbigie said. “As an African, I’ve recognized how blessed I’ve been to move to the U.S. and made a promise to place myself in the best environment that could support my goals and I saw Georgetown as exactly that place.”

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Izevbigie with African Studies Professor Lahra Smith.

At SFS, the African Studies Program was an integral part of Izevbigie’s experience, providing mentorship and opportunities to gain  research experience on-campus and abroad.

“I can earnestly say that I would not be where I am today if it was not from the support, mentorship, and guidance I received from the African Studies Program,” she said. “Professor Taylor, Professor Smith, and Professor Mikell took me under their wings while at Georgetown, imbued within me critical knowledge and insights and have since upon graduating, continued to guide me.

The African Studies Program gave Izevbigie the perspective on dynamics outside of Washington, D.C. that further encouraged her to return to Africa.

“My favorite memory during my time at the SFS was the summer study abroad to Tanzania offered by the African Studies Program,” Izevbigie said. “This particular opportunity triggered a regional interest in East and Southern Africa, which has been sustained since the trip, and was the first moment when I realized how much can be gained by being in the field.”

The African Studies Department was, and is still, my home away from home at the SFS.

Izevbibie with former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Izevbigie with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

From there, the transition to overseas study and work was intuitive. Izevbigie’s interests took her from Georgetown to the London School of Economics, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Gender, Development, and Globalization from the Gender Institute. She has worked in various human and gender rights related capacities around the African continent, including in Rwanda, Uganda and Liberia. These experiences afforded her contact with both government policy and local communities, including meetings with Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi where she shared her research.

“These experiences allowed me to move beyond theories, books, and research and truly witness firsthand and engage with women who were living the narratives and stories that I’d always written about,” Izevbigie said.

Her current work as a Gender-Based Violence Specialist and Program Manager for the Safety Lab, a social innovation agency tackling violence in South Africa encapsulates both her interests and research skills gained  at SFS, and draws on her drive to help African nations emerge from conflict.

Safety Lab helps provide "viable, fun alternatives" for youth in Gugulethu, or Gugs, with a poetry, comedy and hip-hop open mic night

Safety Lab helps provide “viable, fun alternatives” for youth in Gugulethu, or Gugs, with a poetry, comedy and hip-hop open mic night.

The Safety Lab helps provide “viable, fun alternatives” for youth in Gugulethu, a predominantly black township, through a poetry, comedy, and hip-hop open mic night.

“The gender-based violence portfolio currently consists of an investigative deep-dive into the nature, frequency, and forms of gender-based violence in Cape Town, assessing the impact of programmatic interventions currently on the ground and analyzing the macro-systemic roadblocks, which are doing more harm than good to solve the problem. This research will feed into a gender-based violence intervention, which I am responsible for designing and piloting.”

In the long term, Izevbigie hopes to see her career eventually bring her back to Georgetown.

“The one hope I do have for myself is to one-day return to Georgetown as a professor in the African Studies Program. That department is at the root of where I am today and I would love to be in a position to give back to students what was given to me during my time at Georgetown.”

While acknowledging the value of her educational experience, Izevbigie also noted important areas where she felt the institution needed to change.

“The greatest support I received was from the other minority, students of color within the SFS cohort. With such a small number, their support was really helpful in getting through difficult classes and it was reassuring to see students, like myself pursuing similar international interests,” she said. “As a black female, the representation of others like myself was strikingly low, however the space that we created within the SFS was one of support, strength, and encouragement.”

Izevbigie hopes to see the SFS diversify the composition of its student body as it rounds out its first 100 years of existence.

“I would strongly urge for the SFS to increase their call for diversity. As a student of color, I was very much aware of the fact that there was a limited representation of others like me in the SFS,” she said. “I believe there needs to be greater awareness of this gap and a recognizable desire to close the gap through initiatives that targets the minority population.”

For her future, Izevbigie hopes to continue to produce research in her field, working closer to the goals she discovered before and during her time at the School of Foreign Service.

“What makes me most proud of my work is that this is the first time in my life where I wake up every day knowing that I am doing meaningful work that is going to have a direct impact on a community that I care about.”