Career Encounters: Anita Issacs

Anita Isaacs joined the Haverford political science department in 1988. Before coming to Haverford, she worked as a program officer for the Ford Foundation funding initiatives relating to international affairs, governance and human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. She earned her BA in political science at McGill University, and her D.Phil in politics at the University of Oxford. Anita’s teaching and research interests include Latin American politics, US -Latin American relations, and the domestic and global challenges of democratization and peace building. [Source: Haverford College]

Thinking about why I became a political scientist, the story goes back to an experience as a high school senior, in fact, when I went to Ecuador as an exchange student. It was an eye-opening experience for me, mainly because I discovered a set of racial differences with which I was unfamiliar. I discovered tremendous inequities in wealth and it’s those experiences I took with me and gravitated towards, of course, on Latin American politics thinking that if I took this course I would understand what I had seen and would be able to make sense of experiences that at that point were really very personal. I took that course and I was hooked, but the professor who taught Latin American politics offered me the opportunity to do research for him during the summer and the opportunity to work more extensively on Latin America.

After graduating with my political science degree, people expected me to go to law school and I agreed to do that, but decided to defer and still needed to get Latin American Political Science out of my system and went off to do a master’s degree which then became a PhD and law school was forgotten. And I went around, traveled really does every country in Latin America speaking with young scholars who had tried very hard to stay in their countries and to continue to pursue academic careers in the social sciences despite an authoritarian regime which was trying to make it impossible to study social sciences. And again, this confirmed in my view the importance of the academic study and the relationship between the world of the mind and the world of action.

I wanted to at least try and see if I could be a teacher and if I could shape the next generation of American students to care about Latin America – to both understand in the ways that I had learned to understand it and to then go out into the world and be responsible citizens. So I worked very hard at myself taking what they have to say seriously and at showing them at each step of the way how arguments that they make can in turn be made as a political scientist.

I started out wanting to change the world. No, I haven’t changed the world. I still think that I can make a contribution in the outside world. I’m now working on the challenges of building peace and democracy in Guatemala and I approach my research always the same way in which I go on I understand with the hopes the fears the aspirations are of the people in the places involved because I think it’s those stories and those hopes and those fears that are going to make a difference.

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The video clip above was taken from Career Encounters: Political Science which APSA released in 2000. The documentary-style video features people from across the US who studied political science and discuss how their political science backgrounds have been critical to their vocations, their avocations, and their general lives. Career Encounters feature careers that can be launched with undergraduate degrees as well as graduate degrees.