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Student Profile: Rachel Hershberg, Lynch School of Education, Ph.D., Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology,


Rachel conducting dissertation fieldwork in Guatemala


Rachel M. Hershberg,
Lynch School of Education, Ph.D., Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology, 2012
Recipient of a 2011-2012 AAUW Fellowship


Louisville, KY.  Rachel loved growing up there with its warm southern feel.  It’s simultaneously politically active, liberal and artsy and it is very diverse for the region. 

Undergraduate School:
Hampshire College.  It’s not great for everyone because it requires independent-driven motivation and self-directed studies. Rachel studied psychoanalytic theory and Middle Eastern studies, and did a thesis on a psycho-historical analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Rachel says her Hampshire experience “molded me into an analytic thinker”

A few occupations/Activities prior to attending BC:
Rachel worked at Kentucky refugee ministries, a refugee resettlement agency through AmeriCops, which was the most formative experience for her current work.  She was the youth services coordinator and served as liaison between schools and families. She also ran a summer program for incoming students from Somalia, Sudan, Burma, Iraq, Republic of the Congo, and a small Cuban contingent, some of these students were coming in with no schooling.  She got to know how schools deal with incoming student refugees and most of the time Rachel was pleasantly surprised by the efforts that schools made. 

Rachel also did an Internship with MIRA as part of a class she took here at BC, discussing barriers to integrating into the Commonwealth of MA.  She worked with refugees and immigrants, teachers, and community members, to help them feel like they are part of the greater community.  She spent part of a semester working on New Americans Agenda where the goal is to create a greater community, limit discrimination, and make sure parents are getting the services they need.

How this experience ties in to what Rachel is doing now:
Rachel knew she wanted to work at the intersections of social justice, political conflict and psychology.  Specifically, Rachel chose BC because she wanted to work with the Center for the Human Rights and International Justice, and have opportunities to work with diverse families and communities in the US.  Rachel says “This center has been fundamental to my scholarly development. The professors and peers who are part of the Center consistently offered the right balance of guidance, support, and interdisciplinary thinking as I engaged in academic coursework and research projects.”  Many students don’t even know about the center, and all of the resources it offers to students, including interdisciplinary doctoral seminars and research grants. The center is co-directed by her advisor, Professor M. Brinton Lykes, who is a community cultural psychologist in the Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology/Counseling Psychology  Department. 

More about Rachel’s research and the Center for Human Rights and International Justice:
For her Ph.D work, Rachel joined forces with Dr. Lykes who had just initiated the ongoing Participatory and Action Research (PAR) Post-Deportation Human Rights Project, (PDHRP) The project was developed in the spring of 2007, bridging social science research, legal advocacy, and community-university partnerships between Boston College and immigrant community organizations, to find a way to systematically document and combat human rights violations experienced by immigrant groups in the northeast. Through this project, Rachel began working with different community organizations in Boston, New Bedford, and Providence, and learning from the organizations and their members about consequences of U.S. immigration and deportation policies for families and communities.  During this PAR project, Rachel has also engaged in different actions with community organizations and other BC professors and peers engaged in this work, including community meetings, “know your rights” workshops, and presentations to the BC community and beyond about experiences for immigrant families in the northeast who are threatened by U.S. deportation policies and practices. Rachel learned much about PAR processes from these collaborations, in addition to the interdisciplinary and graduate level PAR class taught by Dr. Lykes.

Dr. Lykes is one of the leaders in the field of PAR. PAR as a research ‘method’ emphasizes constructing knowledge, engaging in systematic research, and taking actions in partnership with the individuals, families, or communities experiencing the phenomenon or social problem under study. Dr. Lykes began teaching the PAR course several years ago. The course brings together a variety of professors and visiting scholars who are committed to human rights issues.  Together, they are hoping to encourage more community-university collaborations and PAR work around the campus, especially at the graduate level.

Rachel began her transnational dissertation research between the US and Guatemala, in Zacualpa, El Quiche, Guatemala in 2010.  She returned again in February of this year and is now planning to go back in January ‘12.  As part of Rachel’s ongoing participation in the PDHRP, and for her dissertation, she also engages in educational workshops with children and other relatives of migrants in the US whenever she is in Guatemala. The focus of her work is on the psycho-social consequences of immigration and deportation processes for families who are spread out between the US and Guatemala—a country that remains to be plagued by poor socioeconomic conditions and very little industry.

About the AAUW Fellowship:
This is awarded to doctoral students because the AAUW  believes recipients will actually become important female mentors to other women in academia.  Rachel says “the fellowship is a great honor and it puts more pressure on you to do a great job, but it’s really nice to be recognized for the work we are doing.”

Hobbies outside of Rachel’s studies/career path:
I don’t know how she finds the time, but Rachel taught herself to play the ukulele, and she also loves to read in her “free” time.

Post-graduation plans:
She will be looking for post-docs and potentially teaching positions that will allow her to teach courses in psychology, immigration issues and continue with her community based research.

Parting words/advice to those interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours:
This work is at the fringe of psychology because it’s about working on social issues first and foremost and using academia as a tool.  Rachel advises: “Don’t get discouraged in the process of trying to prove yourself as an academic in training and try to remember the face of the people/community/lives you’re trying to impact.  Try to remember the endeavor of teaching and opening up young students’ lives is much more worthwhile than focusing on your own pursuits.  If you have the opportunity, take advantage of this at the graduate level.”

Rachel is grateful to the Center for Human Rights and International Justice for supporting and engaging her work.  “They’ve been formative in my training as a human rights researcher.  I would not have received the AAUW Fellowship without them.”

For more information and to see how you could get involved in the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, visit the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project website:


The Post-Deportation Human Rights Project, based at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College, is a pilot program designed to address the harsh effects of current U.S. deportation policies. The Project aims to conceptualize an entirely new area of law, providing direct representation to individuals who have been deported and promoting the rights of deportees and their family members through research, policy analysis, human rights advocacy, and training programs. Through participatory action research carried out in close collaboration with community-based organizations, the Project addresses the psycho-social impact of deportation on individuals, families, and communities and provides legal and technical assistance to facilitate community responses.  The ultimate aim of the Project is to advocate, in collaboration with affected families and communities, for fundamental changes that will introduce proportionality, compassion, and respect for family unity into U.S. immigration laws and bring these laws into compliance with international human rights standards.