Student Spotlight: SaraJane Renfroe, MA Candidate in Human Rights Studies

April 19, 2019
SaraJane Renfroe

Where did you grow up? 
Gulf Breeze, Florida, a small beach town along the Gulf Coast.

What drew you to your field? 
I was drawn to human rights studies after working with Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India, and with undocumented migrants in Central Florida and Barcelona, Spain. As an undergraduate student, I studied anthropology [and learned to apply the tools of the discipline to] advocacy and activism. I chose to study human rights at Columbia [through this framework because I want] to address systematic violations of immigrant and refugee rights in the United States.

How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field? 
I am working with refugees and caseworkers at resettlement agencies in New York City to examine the impact of current American refugee resettlement policies. My goal is to assess points of weakness in American legislation in which refugee rights in resettlement are not protected.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
I met recently with my thesis advisor, Cristina-Ioana Dragomir, on the steps of Low Library. The sun was in its golden hour, and the steps glowed in the afternoon light. As we discussed my research project, she stopped to point out the wonder of existing in a space of so much intellectual thought and learning. That moment represents what I love about being a student in GSAS: It is a vibrant world of different minds and unique ideas, and I'm privileged to be a part of it. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement has been placing myself in spaces with people I respect and admire. This is, I have learned, what most causes me to grow and have faith in life.

Who are your favorite writers?
I first picked up a Lois Lowry book when I was around 12, and I became completely absorbed in her created world, which caused me to think about my own reality. I was also recently in a phase of reading all of Paulo Coelho, whose writing both entrances and disturbs me. Finally, I adore Daniel Quinn and Robert Pirsig for their work challenging the status quo.

Who in your field do you consider to be a role model?
Jason de León ingeniously combines archaeology, anthropology, and activism. Truly, though, I have had the privilege of working with people who are my North Star in terms of who I want to become. These include [my professors at Rollins College] Rachel Newcomb and Nolan Kline, and Cristina-Ioana Dragomir

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I would love to be a tree. I am certainly romanticizing what it must be like, but I think that trees witness life in a slow, peaceful wayI imagine trees as wise. I'd just like to ensure that I am planted someplace mildly entertaining, but also safe from development and the paper industry. 

What music have you been listening to lately?
Jazz has been my go-to Spotify search, and cello music. I find that these are a good soundtrack for life regardless of where I am. I most recently have begun listening to Irish music as well, which makes me feel like dancing, and that’s perfect for the colder weather!

What is your favorite blog or website?
I have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the website for the Human Rights Graduate Group here at Columbia. We are working to build a space for discussing human rights issues and connecting as human rights researchers and thinkers, and we would love to include all interested GSAS students. 

Where is your favorite place to eat on or around campus?
The Hungarian Pastry Shop has my vote! You just can't beat the vibes, coffee, and pastries.