Connecting national identities to policy

March 1, 2022
Griffin Trau, ’18, points to the role of national identities in shaping pandemic responses and other domestic and foreign policies

Whether reviewing the latest research at the office or listening to a radio broadcast while taking a shower at midnight, Griffin Trau, 18, is always on the lookout for breaking news and shifts in public sentiment on the pandemic.

A strategy analyst and policy lead in government and public services at Deloitte Consulting, Trau works on policy and briefings at the highest levels of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I cut my teeth in crisis management at the thrilling speed of current events,” the University of Richmond alumnus said.

In 2018, Trau received both his bachelor of arts in leadership studies and international studies from Richmond and his masters in liberal arts from the University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. He did all this while serving as the star kicker for the Spiders Football team.

Now, in his work at Deloitte, he said he calls upon his Richmond education daily.

“The pandemic is an interdisciplinary problem,” he said. “To kick COVID, we have to listen more carefully, build a shared community, and establish trust through compassionate leadership to help people meet their needs. That’s a central message I learned at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.”

He added that his exploration of national identities while at Richmond—where he studied abroad in New Zealand and the Czech Republic and wrote graduate school papers on Czech and Chinese national identities—also helped him understand the relative success of nationsresponses to the pandemic.

“The two greatest predictors of how countries have fared during the pandemic have been the age of their populations and citizens’ relationship with government policies,” Trau said. “Countries with older populations and less trust in leadership have not fared as well.”

Trau is eager to learn more about China’s unique response to the pandemic, particularly the shared experience of the Chinese in relation to their government’s policies. He noted that the country has handled the pandemic much differently relative to many Western nations. The way citizens and their leaders interact contributes to and results from national identity.

Soon Trau will have the chance to gain firsthand knowledge of Chinese national identity. As one of 151 Schwarzman Scholars selected from a pool of some 3,000 candidates, he will start a one-year, fully funded master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing in August. The Schwarzman Scholars program aims to build future leaders who will deepen understanding between China and the rest of the world.

“It’s clear to me that China is going to play the most central role in the next chapter of U.S. foreign relations,” he said. “I want to understand how China uses national identity to fuel momentum to create widespread public support for its leadersinitiatives.”

“Every nation state has an identity based both in fact and imagination. It’s not simply based on what happened—it’s more about people’s experiences of what happened and how they remember those experiences. Leadership styles and public narratives have a huge impact on national identity and worldwide politics.” 

Trau’s selection as a Schwarzman Scholar is not his first international honor. He received a prestigious Fulbright English teaching assistantship grant to teach in Rakovnik, Czech Republic, from August 2019 to March 2020. During his Fulbright, he was also accepted to a partnership program with National Geographic, gaining professional training in photography, multimedia, writing for impact, and public speaking.

Whether teaching in the Czech Republic, helping to guide the U.S. pandemic response, or doing research in China, Trau said an interdisciplinary education is invaluable.  

“Being a generalist is not a lazy excuse for a lack of hard skills—it is a hard skill. I love to translate highly technical language into common, accessible terms and reconcile entirely different fields.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are independent of and do not necessarily reflect the views of Deloitte Consulting LLP, any other Deloitte member firms, or their clients.