Livia Karoui advocates for international development and equity through politics major

Pictured: Livia Karoui (C’20). Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).

By Sydney Leibfritz
Executive Staff

Livia Karoui (C’20) does not like to remain still.

Though originally from Milan, Italy, she spent her childhood exploring European nations, and attended boarding school in England throughout her entire high school career. By the time she graduated high school, she had seen much more of the world than others see in a lifetime.

On her love for travelling, Karoui said, “You learn a lot about yourself while talking to others and that there’s not just one way to live. It bursts you out of your own little bubble and raises your self-awareness.”

In an attempt to settle down and find a home for her college career, she decided to take a gap year, in which time her career counselor suggested she look into American universities. After sifting through U.S. News and Report’s list of top 50 liberal arts universities, she stumbled across Sewanee, located in small town Tennessee, and felt that it was the place she needed to be.

Three years later, Karoui has certainly carved out a place for herself within the community. As a politics major, history minor, and member of the Global and Civic Leadership certificate program, her studies revolve around people and the ways she can work to better other’s lives domestically and abroad.

Within the politics department specifically, she seems to do it all. Her roles include: serving as a research assistant to Dr. Amy Patterson, representing the University as the 2019-20 Newman Civic fellow, working as politics tutor, and anticipating her upcoming induction into Pi Sigma Alpha political science national honor society.

However, this path was not always what she envisioned for her Sewanee career. As an incoming freshman, all she knew was that she wanted to work abroad in the global south, and she considered majoring in anthropology, which she felt was the most straightforward path to working in Africa.

She recalled, “I always thought the politics department was just for people who wanted to run for office someday or become a lawyer, and I knew that wasn’t for me.”

Fortunately, her first semester schedule placed her into Patterson’s “Politics of Development and Foreign Aid” course. This class, which examines the influences that drive or inhibit development within the Global South, opened her eyes to the world of nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits. Seeing opportunities outside of formal institutions to impact others’ lives for the better “blew her mind” and soon after, she declared the major with concentrations in Global Institutions and Development.

The politics major requires 11 courses in political science within two concentrations, so for Karoui, this means the majority of her courses revolve around formal international government institutions, the theories in place to understand nations’ development, or a hybrid of either.

Karoui noted, “I think what sets our department apart from many other universities is that the professors try to promote cooperation among the students instead of competition. It always feels like we are supporting one another whenever one of us succeeds. The professors expect a lot from us, but it comes from their own passion for their subject. Their excitement is contagious, so it never feels like an obligation to go to class.”

Though engaged with her coursework in Sewanee, it was not until she studied abroad and had the opportunity to work with organizations in person that she fully understood what her future would entail.

“In those first two years, I took many classes about the Global South, but when I went abroad, I was able to experience everything I had been learning about in the classroom environment.” Karoui said, “It gave me a new perspective and understanding of how complicated politics can be.”

She spent the second semester of her sophomore year taking courses in Accra, Ghana and interning at USAID AfricaLeads, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity throughout Africa. Immediately after the semester’s conclusion, she arrived in Uganda for an internship with the John Hopkins University Research Collaboration. Here, she worked with Young Generations Alive, an organization that unites children and young adults affected by HIV/AIDs, to produce communications materials to raise awareness toward the organization’s cause.

“It was not what I expected,” she laughed. “Development is not quite as easy as I thought it would be, but I know if it really was straightforward, we would have solved it by now.”

This summer, Karoui plans to return to Ghana as a Biehl fellow. Her research project investigates the framing around proposed legislation for a mandated 30 percent gender quota within Ghanaian parliament. Because many of the neighboring countries have already enacted such policies, she hypothesizes the bill’s stagnancy is a result of issue framing.

Much of her inspiration came from her work with her advisor Dr. Patterson on how Ghana has framed issues of mental health. The two will travel to Canada the week following spring break to present their conference paper on the research.

She admitted that while she is nervous, she remains extremely excited to meet professionals within the global health governance field, which she hopes to someday find herself working for.

Reflecting back over the years, she breathed out a sigh and smiled.

“Three years ago, I would not have thought that I would be the person I am now and most of my experience here has been shaped by my friends, professors, and family.” Karoui said, “I could not have done it on my own and I am glad to have found a home in the politics department.”

Although unsure of exactly what lies ahead, Karoui plans to spend her final year at Sewanee continuing to defend her ever-growing love for acronyms, cookie skillets at the Sewanee Inn, and advocating for causes that have grown close to her heart.