Maha Hassan, '22

January 5, 2022

Senior compares, contrasts U.S. and South Asian policies on gender, class, race, and nationalism

Maha Hassan, ’22, straddles two worlds, with one foot in South Asia, another in the United States.

She likes it that way.

“My interest in women’s rights prompted me to come to college in the United States to study various forms and interpretations of feminism,” said the native of Punjab, Pakistan. “The women’s rights movement is in full swing in Pakistan. It takes inspiration from the U.S. Black feminists of the 1960s."

Her leadership studies and sociology majors have given her a rigorous introduction to U.S. and Western history, politics, and policy on women’s rights and many other issues, Hassan said.

For example, she analyzed American institutions in her leadership studies class Justice and Civil Society. She explored race relations and the U.S. War on Terror in her sociology class Race and Crime. Through independent research with associate professor of history and American studies Nicole Sackley, she studied the impacts of colonialism and the Pakistani state on gender issues in Pakistan.  

These academic experiences prepared Hassan well for her summer 2021 Jepson internship with the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, one of the world’s top think tanks, she said. To support her work as a research intern in the Wilson Center’s Asia Department, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies awarded her a Burrus Fellowship.

“One of my projects involved helping organize a panel of Afghani women to talk about what their lives would be like after the U.S. withdrawal,” she said. “In organizing the event, we had to strike a balance concerning risking the women’s safety at such a difficult time.”

Other internship projects included researching casualties from the War on Terror in Afghanistan, India’s electric vehicle market, and U.S. policy on Kashmir.

“I wasn’t just talking to an elite bubble,” the University of Richmond senior said. “My Wilson Center mentor used my research in his weekly South Asia policy briefs disseminated to a general audience. Being able to see my research make a difference was tremendously rewarding.

“For another assignment, I researched the effects of climate change on South Asia and then simplified my findings to reach a common audience. Accelerated and unsupported migration from South Asia, higher rates of absolute poverty, and humanitarian devastation will become only more pressing problems unless we work collectively to mitigate climate change’s impacts.”

Back on campus, Hassan is furthering her understanding of U.S. governance and philosophy through her participation in the Gary L. McDowell Institute Student Fellows Program. The program is a cross-school collaborative housed in the Jepson School. Student fellows read about and discuss political, social, and economic thought across the political spectrum.

“Because I did not grow up in America, I am somewhat of an outlier in the program and much of the information is new to me,” she said. “The program has helped me think about what I do and don’t like about American governance.”  

In her free time, Hassan serves as the president of the University’s South Asian Student Alliance and vice president of the Bollywood Dance Group. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in imperial history or South Asia studies after her graduation in May.

“My liberal arts education has developed my critical-thinking skills and encouraged me to apply multiple lenses to issues, contributing to my understanding of social issues.”