Fellow Magali Duque on Structural Inequalities, Robust Research, and Student Organizing

By: Natalia Reyes

Natalia Reyes, a fellow working on Communications, interviewed Magali Duque, a fellow working on the Global Food System Project.

Natalia: How did you initially become interested in issues of inequality?


Magali: It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when you’re interested in something. I grew up in Venice, California, which is pretty diverse. Growing up in LA, you see a lot of income and wealth disparities. I was fortunate enough to go to a private school and I was in two different worlds between my community and my school environment. Growing up, I wanted to work for the United Nations. I still may want to. In college, I’ve been really lucky to take classes that have opened my eyes to the systematic, structural inequalities that I hadn’t looked at before. I took a class called the Global Drug Wars that looked at drug policy as a lens to analyze structural inequality in different countries from social, economic, and cultural perspectives. We read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, which is a must read for those interested in issues of incarceration and racialization.

What kind of student organizing have you been involved in?

I’m a part of a few different student organizations on campus. One of them is called Stanford Association for International Development. We look at international development issues and put on a conference every year. The Association is a good way for students to learn more about international development opportunities. I think the organization is starting to build traction on campus. Stanford culture is very tech-oriented; the social sciences are sometimes not associated with the Stanford name amongst the public.

Another group in which I’m active is WYSE, Women and Youth Supporting Each Other. We mentor seventh and eighth grade girls at an East Palo Alto school. We do activities and engage the girls in personal conversations that they’re usually not exposed to, and create bonds. It’s been really awesome to do that. I’ve been working with WYSE for two years and will be the 7th grade coordinator next year.

I was also involved with the Black Pre-Law Society, a student organization that puts on events that expand opportunities for minorities in the field of law. It creates a network for students interested in pursuing law.

What human rights and development issues are most compelling to you?

It’s hard to pick, especially because of the risk of building silos; I have more of a perspective-based approach. I like to look at things through a minority-perspective in order to understand the complexity of social issues. Human trafficking, for example, is a major international issue, and it is also interesting to see how gender plays into it. Seeing how certain racialized minorities are disproportionately pushed into human trafficking has been a recent interest. Also, I am interested in the incarceration system in the U.S. because of the racialized outcomes that it produces.

What are you working on for the Haas Institute?

I’m researching the role of corporations in the global food system, specifically looking at their web of influence, their scale of operations, and how that affects different populations.

What’s your research process for that?

I spend a lot of time looking at corporate websites and reading their different proxy statements, annual reports, and other documents that they make publicly available. That’s where I begin, to see what they say. I do secondary, background research pulling from different organizations, like GRAIN, which publishes great reports. I access a variety of academic scholarly sources, and gather and compare data and information. Recently, I’ve been dabbling in map-making, which is interesting and not my forte at all, but it’s been fun.

This is the first time that I have a robust, professional research opportunity other than research for classes. It’s been a great learning experience. This is my favorite type of classroom, where you get to engage in daily conversations and learn about others’ research and different ways of communicating that research. It makes me ask questions about other researchers’ interests, and expand my own knowledge.

What is the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network? How does your work for the Roosevelt Institute connect with what you do at the Haas Institute?

The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network is a national policy organization mostly run by students and young professionals. There are a lot of student-led campus organizations under the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, which seeks to involve young people in policy-making. For the Summer Academy, in which I am a participant, students intern at an organization doing work around relevant policy issues. The Roosevelt Institute is an opportunity for [Sharanya, another Haas Institute Fellow associated with the Roosevelt Institute, and I] to work on projects relevant to, but outside of, the Haas Institute. We get firsthand experience in policy-making.

On a weekly basis, we have programming after our work at Haas, which can be challenging to coordinate, but the programming is interesting. The Bay Area program focuses on gentrification and displacement in Oakland and San Francisco, so it doesn’t exactly connect with the research I do on global food system project.

How do you see yourself advancing social justice after your fellowship?

As I near my senior year, I’m thinking about post-grad life and how I want to carry this forward. I think one of the biggest things that I’m taking from this summer that I really want to apply later on in life and in whatever I do, is the idea of structural, system inequalities and inequities. I think seeing things through a structural lens has gotten me more interested in doing more policy work. It has made me consider continuing research project on some of these interests.


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