By Clancy Waite (’15)
A keen social conscience has led Rachel McNally to write an award-winning essay on the global refugee crisis. McNally, who is entering her fourth year at Acadia University, was recently recognized by the Atlantic Provinces Political Science Association (APPSA) as the winner of this year’s Larry Collins Prize, given to the best undergraduate essay in political science in the region.
McNally’s essay, “The Social Construction of Refugees”, was written for a second-year Global Politics course. “I wanted to examine how some refugee situations reach the status of crisis while others don’t,” she says. Using the international relations theory of social constructivism, McNally sought to deconstruct the meaning of international events and examine how the international refugee regime is based on norms, values and common understanding.
The award comes with a $50 Indigo gift card, an invitation to attend APPSA’s annual conference October 13-15 at the Université de Moncton, and the opportunity to present her paper at the conference. Honoured to receive the award, McNally appreciates being able to work with others of high academic standing. “It’s wonderful. It’s a great opportunity to submit work with high-achieving peers from other universities and to be assessed together. I’m very honoured,” she says.
McNally plans to attend the conference and is “excited to hear what the professors are researching in Atlantic Canada.” She had presented her paper previously at the Dalhousie Arts and Social Sciences Society (DASSS) Undergraduate Academic Conference this past March.
Andrew Biro, head of Acadia’s Department of Politics, says the department sets high expectations for its students and he is always impressed when they surpass them. Biro taught McNally in her introduction to politics course and says, “she stood out even in the intro class in terms of the caliber of her writing and the work she did. She’s thoughtful and conscientious.”
McNally’s passion for understanding the refugee crisis comes from personal experience. She is the vice-chair of a local refugee sponsorship committee, has sponsored a refugee family, and has worked for sponsorship agreement holders, allowing her to understand the crisis from both the refugee and the government side. Her sponsor family was from Kenya. “Our group sponsored a family who was originally from Somalia, but was in a refugee camp in Kenya for 20 years. They had six kids in the refugee camps. Hearing their stories really opened my eyes to issues not reported in the media,” she says.
Using her passion to learn, McNally is spending the summer conducting research for her honours thesis, examining refugee sponsorship and integration in rural communities in Canada. She was the winner of this year’s Colville Award and received the Webster Undergraduate Research Award. She is writing under the supervision of politics professor Dr. Can Mutlu, who has also studied refugee crises. “Dr. Mutlu has done research on refugees in Turkey. He has that experience and can guide me along with that,” she says.
Once McNally completes her degree at Acadia, she hopes to pursue a Masters in either politics or international relations. “I’d like to do something with refugee issues, whether as an extension of what I’m doing this summer or something related,” she says. McNally hopes that all of this work will help her achieve her dream of one day working with refugee policy domestically or abroad.