KU graduate students earn Truman Foundation scholarships

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Marcela Paiva Veliz, a University of Kansas master’s student in Indigenous studies, and Pere DeRoy, KU doctoral candidate in women, gender and sexuality studies, have each earned a $5,000 scholarship that recognizes the late President Harry S. Truman’s goal of promoting public service and international peace.

Recipients of the Sherman and Irene Dreiseszun Scholarship from the Truman Foundation are graduate students pursuing studies in political science, international relations, history, diplomacy or a related field or discipline, according to a KU news release.

Paiva Veliz’s research focuses on self-determination within Indigenous communities and centers Indigenous perspectives across local and international spaces. Paiva Veliz’s civil service background in Chile has illustrated that rights of Indigenous people are a fundamental part of communities and international peace, but lack of knowledge by government agencies and society prevents people from understanding and respecting those rights, she said in the release.

“Learning about Indigenous peoples’ rights from the Native American perspective will contribute to my knowledge of these issues in Latin America and hopefully will allow me to be better prepared to pursue respect for Indigenous rights and honor my Indigenous ancestors,” Paiva Veliz said.

She previously served as a lawyer specializing in international trade issues for the Chilean government and has worked as an international advocate, legal counsel and administrator as Chile’s head of the World Trade Organization and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Paiva Veliz’s research also focuses on the ethics of ethnobotany and Native American uses of rosinweed — a native Kansas plant — as a food or medicine. She said her dissertation research and work with the Land Institute seeks to acknowledge the relationship Native Americans had with the land and allows her to honor Kansas, her current home, while gaining knowledge she can share with other countries, particularly those in South America, according to the release.

“I want to highlight concrete examples of self-determination applied to Indigenous knowledge and foster decolonization in academic contexts,” Paiva Veliz said. “I hope to contribute to the respect for tribal sovereignty and the self-governance of Indigenous peoples. I aim to build bridges and work more broadly for decolonization efforts in the Americas.”

Paiva Veliz earned a juris doctor and a bachelor’s degree in legal and social sciences from the University of Chile; a diploma in negotiation and mediation from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile; and a diploma in human rights and Indigenous peoples from Henry Dunant Foundation Latin America, according to the release.

DeRoy’s research focuses on policy and programs related to global women’s health and the development of equitable reproductive health policy, and also examines reproductive health policy in Guyana, her home country.

Guyana, in northern South America, has the highest maternal death ratio in the English-speaking Caribbean. DeRoy’s research suggests Guyana’s high morbidity “is largely influenced by uncertainty surrounding the effects of state-sanctioned and traditional health care systems on the pregnancies of Guyanese of different social identities,” including queer and transgender people of color, who are often overlooked in maternal morbidity discourse, DeRoy said in the news release.

“My dissertation research stems from an amalgamation of adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes and treatments I have had to navigate, and observations and mourning of many Guyanese I have known who died during childbirth or postpartum,” she said.

DeRoy has worked throughout her career with anti-trafficking organizations and community groups striving to end gender-based violence and labor exploitation, including International Planned Parenthood Federation as a national and regional sexual and reproductive health and rights volunteer; Guyanese Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport as projects officer and department manager; and Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights Research Project at York University in Canada as a graduate research assistant.

DeRoy said she’s motivated to combat structural and cultural violence by working toward advances in sexual and reproductive health, especially in more culturally responsive international policy and analysis of pregnancy-related deaths and injuries, the release said.

“I plan to utilize the findings of this research to contribute to knowledge and discourse that advocates for social structures that are equitable, reduces peoples’ vulnerability as they seek access to reproductive health care and that honors Guyanese’s right to health,” DeRoy said in the release. “My personal and professional goal around this research topic is to contribute to the removal of conditions where a female-sexed child doesn’t automatically consider that they are naturally and randomly susceptible to adverse reproductive outcomes as they envision their own futures.”

DeRoy earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Guyana; a postgraduate diploma in international studies from the University of Guyana; a master’s degree in development studies from York University; and a master’s degree in women, gender and sexuality studies from KU.

DeRoy also is the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays award and co-founder of Three-Faced Productions, which has produced a play about maternal health outcomes and morbidity, “On-Born Children and Ghosts.”

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