Madeline Doane standing next to a sign that says \"Middlebury College.\"
Madeline Doane, who graduated from VCU in May 2020, is in the midst of a Spanish immersion program at Middlebury Language Schools in Middlebury, Vermont. (Contributed photo)

VCU graduate’s peace fellowship supports her commitment to human rights work

Madeline Doane, who spent a semester in Argentina and hopes to return to work with migrants and Indigenous peoples, is completing a Spanish immersion program as a Kathryn Davis Fellow for Peace.

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Madeline Doane’s summer in Vermont is turning out to be more intense than she anticipated. Doane, who graduated from VCU in May 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in political science and international studies from the College of Humanities and Sciences, is in the midst of a Spanish immersion program at Middlebury Language Schools in Middlebury, Vermont.

“One thing that is super important to know about Middlebury is that when someone tells you the program is really intense, that’s a vast understatement,” Doane said. “But, the stress is worth it. With the language pledge, even if we are taking a break and hanging out with friends, our minds are working overtime. We all have to take advantage of every minute, every hour, every conversation, every event, because it all adds values to our experience and learning.”

The summer program is an opportunity for Doane, who worked for Campus Vote Project as the Virginia state coordinator after graduation, to refresh the Spanish she used daily during a semester in Argentina.

“When I came back from my semester abroad, my Spanish was great, but unfortunately, I didn’t use it much during the pandemic. The end goal is to be fluent in Spanish, and I’d eventually like to learn Quechua (an Indigenous language spoken by the Quechua peoples in South America), French and maybe Portuguese,” she said. “Improving my Spanish opens up many doors for me in what I can do both professionally and personally.”

Doane loves learning languages because she can see and understand the world through a different lens, she said.

“It’s important to learn about the culture, history, society and politics of a place and community for their local perspective, and it’s ideal to do in the native language there to truly understand the message,” she said.

Doane wants to use Spanish to support human rights work

Doane’s participation in the summer Spanish program is being funded by a Kathryn Davis Fellows for Peace scholarship, which she received in February.

“The fellowship is highly competitive and a merit-based scholarship given to students who demonstrate a strong background in peace work or conflict resolution,” she said. “For the essay application, I had to describe my experiences in contributing to more peaceful relationships between people, institutions or communities and how improving my Spanish will help me mediate conflicts in the future.” VCU’s National Scholarship Office supported Doane throughout the application process.

She wants to use her Spanish to support human rights work both at the U.S. borders and abroad.

A portrait of Madeline Doane
Madeline Doane, enjoying the sunset in Middlebury, said, "It’s important to learn about the culture, history, society and politics of a place and community for their local perspective, and it’s ideal to do in the native language there to truly understand the message." (Contributed photo)

“Right now, I am especially interested in the intersection of immigrant and labor rights. Knowing Spanish can help me be an advocate for migrants who are in unfair working conditions or are being exploited,” she said. “I want to be able to create spaces for Spanish speakers that have been marginalized so they feel supported and cared for.”

During her semester in Argentina, Doane conducted research on the history of race relations with an emphasis on Afro-Argentine and African migrant experiences. She also studied how communities can be destabilized when police aren’t held accountable for committing violent acts against racial minorities.

After returning to the U.S., Doane used the peacekeeping methods she learned in Argentina during the 2020 protests in Richmond following the death of George Floyd.

“I was dismayed to witness my own community being torn apart by tear gas and rubber bullets amidst calls to end police violence against Black Americans. I shared resources to ensure protestors knew their rights, how to stay safe and what to do if arrested,” she said. “My involvement was a direct result of lessons learned in Argentina about the critical importance of disseminating accurate, actionable information, as well as the power of story in healing and reconciliation.”

Volunteering as a student at VCU helped Doane focus her interests

During her time at VCU, Doane, who was a student in the Honors College and VCU Globe, interned for Witness for Peace Southeast and the Highland Support Project. She was a Democracy fellow for the  Campus Vote Project and founder of the nonpartisan VCU Votes Student Coalition. She planned and moderated the International Perspectives on Politics and Elections panel, an event for Globe, with a panel of students from Yemen, Estonia, India, Lebanon, Togo and Tunisia.

She also volunteered with the Sacred Heart Center, an organization supporting Richmond’s Latino community through adult education programs, and was an Honors College Student Ambassador.

One of her mentors at VCU was the late Herbert Hirsch, Ph.D., a professor of political science, under whose guidance she completed an independent study in 2018. Doane credits Hirsch with encouraging her to seek out some of the unique opportunities she has pursued.

“I ended up doing the SIT Argentina: Human Rights and Social Movements program based in Buenos Aires, and it truly changed the course of my life and who I am today,” Doane said. “Had I not had the opportunity to work with him, I’m not sure if I would’ve taken the leap and done the program or continued to chase my dreams like I am now. He was an incredible mentor.”

Doane is currently looking at jobs in Latin America where she can focus on Indigenous and migrant rights.

“Ideally, I’d like to live and work abroad for at least a year, ideally two. Then, I want to come back to the U.S. and start my Ph.D. in probably ethnic studies or socio-cultural anthropology,” she said. “Since being here, I’ve realized I can really see myself being a professor later on down the road, but for now, a Ph.D. interests me the most because I love learning and research fascinates me.”

Students interested in applying for scholarship and fellowship opportunities to engage in language study are encouraged to reach out to the National Scholarship Office for support in exploring and applying for such opportunities.