Nelisha Silva is a sophomore at Notre Dame, an English major also pursuing the Keough School's supplementary major in global affairs. She was the first student in the program to focus her studies on civil and human rights with the Klau Center.
“While there have been many improvements to women's rights, there is still a ton of work to be done. I am passionate about fighting for the rights of all women..."
Where did you grow up, what were your early interests, and what led you to want to study at Notre Dame?
Both my parents are from Sri Lanka, and came to the United States because of the civil war there. I grew up in Las Vegas, and am so proud to be from Nevada. I was always interested in international relations and global affairs because most of my family lives in Sri Lanka, and that kind of morphed into an interest in international law. I wanted to study at Notre Dame because of the school's mission to be a force for good–it really reflected what I wanted out of a college experience.
How did you first become interested in human rights?
I attended Notre Dame's Summer Scholars program when I was a rising senior in high school, and took a law class with Dr. Christine Venter. Her session on human rights law and international law really interested me. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to be part of the fight for equal rights for everyone, and that I wanted to learn more about human rights in college.
When I started studying at the Keough School, and the took my first civil and human rights classes, I was really inspired by Dr. Diane Desierto. She was my teacher for both Introduction to Global Affairs and International Law and Human Rights, and these two classes really shaped my understanding of international law in the context of human rights. I was inspired by Dr. Desierto to think critically about the law and how it affects so many more people than it appears on the surface.
What opportunities have you found at the Keough School, and the Klau Center, to advance your interests?
I had the privilege of shadowing Dr. Diane Desierto at the United Nations headquarters when she was writing a new treaty on the right to development. It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life, and it opened my eyes to a whole world of international policy that I never realized that I was so interested in. I was able to meet experts on international law, and I learned more in those three days than I have ever learned in that amount of time before.
My association with the Klau Center is what allowed me to go to the UN with Dr. Desierto, and has allowed me to take classes that have really expanded my worldview. I never knew there was so much I didn't know, and I've grown to love the process of learning new things. I have learned so much from the courses I have taken through the Klau Center, and I am really looking forward to the classes I can take in the future.
What do you consider the most important global issues to address as you move forward in your career?
The most important global issue that needs to be addressed is climate change, as the effects are the most widely felt and least addressed. While climate change has become a hot-button topic, there's a lot of talk and not a lot of collective action, which needs to be changed. However, the issue that I feel the most strongly about grappling with is women's rights around the world. While there have been many improvements to women's rights, there is still a ton of work to be done. I am passionate about fighting for the rights of all women–whether it be reproductive rights, financial rights, educational rights, or voting rights–and I would love to be involved in writing policy to fight for equal rights for all women.
Do you have a vision of where you'd like to be after graduation?
I'd love to work for political campaigns for a couple years, and then go to law school to focus on international law and human rights. I've interned in both district offices and political communications, and I found that I have a strong passion for politics and especially electing women into office. I'd love to work in political communications for a few years to get some work experience and then go to law school, and follow that with an LL.M. focused on human rights!