Allegheny Experience Shapes Pursuit for Prestigious Award

John Rooney ’14 one of 43 Americans to receive 2015 Humanity in Action Fellowship

“The issue of human rights has been an interest of mine,” says John Rooney ’14.

Rooney, who majored in political science and minored in black studies at Allegheny, will now be able to pursue that interest, as he has been named one of 43 American recipients of the prestigious 2015 Humanity in Action Fellowship.

Rooney and the rest of the 2015 American Fellows will join students and recent graduates from universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine to participate in the Humanity in Action Fellowship in Europe. The Fellowship will take place in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris and Warsaw from May 25 to June 28, 2015. Rooney, who resides in Austin, Texas, will travel to Copenhagen.

This is the first time Allegheny has had a Humanity in Action Fellow. The Fellows are selected on a highly competitive basis for their high academic standing, active civic participation in human rights issues and outstanding recommendations. Humanity in Action received a record 688 applications from 253 American colleges and universities for the 2015 Fellowship. Humanity in Action supports all Fellows financially for the duration of their programs, allowing for the merit-based selection of diverse applicants. Read more.

Rooney shared more about this opportunity and how Allegheny helped to develop his passion for human rights:

How did you learn about the HiA fellowship?
I learned about it through Professor Brian Harward, associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Political Participation. I had been talking with Patrick Jackson, nationally competitive awards adviser and visiting professor of religious studies and history, about applying for a different fellowship, so I went ahead and worked with him to apply for this one, too.

What about this fellowship appealed to you?
The issue of human rights has been an interest of mine. I was fortunate to take a number of classes at Allegheny where it was in my mind many times. What appealed to me about this fellowship in particular was the opportunity to get together with a very diverse group of people that brings together such heavy people in terms of intellectuals and activists and others leading in the field of human rights. Those interactions and discussions are something I’m looking forward to. I’ve never been significantly out of the country, so the opportunity to go to Europe with others my age to discuss these issues with such leading thinkers is so exciting.

What did you have to do to apply for the fellowship?
I had to write three essays, where brevity was required in each one. Two of them needed to be less than 500 words and one had to be less than 150. It was an exercise in clarity and conciseness; it was all about distilling what I had to say down to the bare bones. I feel that the process of writing, rewriting and revising my comp at Allegheny was really helpful when writing these essays. My writing definitely improved through my experience at Allegheny.

How did you learn that you had been chosen as an HiA fellow?
I got a call from the executive director and founder of HiA. I had just gotten on a bus to go see a film!

When do you leave for the fellowship experience?
I leave May 25 to go to a three-day orientation in Washington, D.C. Then I will fly to Copenhagen!

How did Allegheny play a role in inspiring you to apply for this fellowship?
One of the classes I took at Allegheny was a new course about exploring difference. It was a fascinating class that brought together people from a lot of different majors, as well as 12 or 16 faculty members from across the disciplinary range. That started me down the path that led to my black studies minor.

From my classes at Allegheny, one thing that keyed me into this interest is the idea that none of us is truly free unless all of us are truly free. Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” has stuck with me and has been engrained in me. It’s up to all of us to make sure everyone has that space to be safe and has equal opportunity to reach their potential. We shouldn’t have different opportunities because of the color of our skin or the family we’re born into. Those ideas resonated with me.

I have to give a shout-out to Allegheny for giving me the opportunity to pursue studies in such a broad area. That was one thing I loved at Allegheny; I wasn’t tied in one box. It gave me the opportunity to think of things from such a wide range of viewpoints.

I also need to thank several other people from Allegheny: Steven Farrelly-Jackson, associate professor of philosophy; Jackie Gehring, assistant professor of political science; Brian Harward; Kazi Joshua, former associate dean and director of the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success; Bill Bywater, emeritus professor of philosophy and religious studies; Bruce Smith, professor of political science; Patrick Jackson; Andy Bloeser, assistant professor of political science; Laura Quinn, professor emerita of English, and Kate Darby, former assistant professor of environmental science. They all influenced how I conceive of civic life, democracy and justice.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?
I hope to gain an expanded understanding and appreciation of the issues that come from being around a diverse group of students and thinkers. The other thing is an insight about how I want to take this passion of mine and use it in my life. I’m still discerning my own path, so I’m excited for the opportunity to meet new people and to see how they’ve used their interest in human rights in their lives.

I’m also thinking about graduate school. I’m looking at this experience to help me plan my trajectory.

Overall, I hope to learn how to use my voice in the movement to make the world a better place. That’s been all I’ve been after for a while now.