Student Highlight

Varsha Vijayakumar
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Varsha Vijayakumar (she/they) shares her experience as a student in the Human Rights Studies M.A. Program so far.

In which program are you enrolled and when is your expected graduation date?

MA Human Rights Studies, Spring 2023

What is your research focus in the HRSMA program?
I'm exploring the intersections between gender-based violence nonprofit work, prison/police abolition, and LGBTQ+ rights. 
Which class would you recommend to other students interested in the same issues as you?
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Human Rights with Professor Paisley Currah.
Where did you grow up? 
I'm from New Jersey, born and raised. I lived in Middlebury, Vermont during my undergraduate years and spent semesters abroad in Santiago, Chile and Kolkata, India. 
What is a must-read for a human rights student?
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. But also, consider reading fiction in your free time! Creating space from the work is just as important as being steeped in it. Always happy to share recommendations! 
Can you describe any volunteer or extracurricular activities that you have been a part of during your time at Columbia and how this experience has impacted you?
I am a Staff Writer and Editor-in-training for RightsViews, Columbia's opinion and research blog for and by the human rights community. Working with this team has not only sharpened my writing and analytical skills, but also given me exposure to a wider scope of topics outside of my own academic research. I also am a Student Delegate through the GSAS Office of Academic Diversity & Inclusion (OADI). In this role, I support and organize student panels, speak at admissions and recruitment events, promote student activities, and lead discussions about topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. 
What has been your favorite moment in the program so far?
To show solidarity with striking student workers, all of my courses have shifted online. At one point in my most recent class, my cat and the cats of my peers and professor made special guest appearances on screen! 
What has been the most challenging part of the program?
Finding a balance between my full-time job and school is often difficult to navigate. And as a first-gen student, transitioning to graduate school has produced its own set of challenges! 
What is one thing that your peers would never guess about you or might find surprising?
I performed in the Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) halftime show featuring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers!
What is your hometown/area famous for?
The joke goes that New Jersey (my home state) is only good for its view of New York-- our bagels are superior, though.
If you were to start a bookclub, which book would be first on your list? Why?
I'm currently reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, so probably that! I find that genres like fantasy and sci-fi allow me to be more creative and imaginative in my day-to-day life. (I also run a foodsta/bookstagram called @varshalovesthis!)