Beyond the Bluff: William Lighthart ’21

William Lighthart ’21

Major(s): International Relations, History

Next Step: MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA).

William Lighthart has embraced the key Jesuit values of an LMU education to promote human dignity, as well as social and environmental justice. Over the course of his undergraduate career, Lighthart has become well-rounded as a history and international relations double major, and has accrued many accolades and accomplishments along the way. He led LMU’s Climate Refugee Initiative, which received a United Nations Millennium Fellowship in 2020, and will no doubt continue his work to change society and the world for the better as he moves on to graduate school and a career focussed on the human rights implications of climate change.

Lighthart attended a Jesuit high school and recalls that LMU stood out to him because “the university offered an excellent opportunity to further cultivate my Jesuit values in the vibrant, dynamic city of Los Angeles.” So, Lighthart applied as an international relations major, and after getting accepted, he met Professor Jennifer Ramos of the Political Science and International Relations Department while on a campus tour in spring 2017. Professor Ramos introduced him to some of her graduating students who were getting ready to pursue post-graduate studies at Duke and the London School of Economics, and during the course of their conversation Lighthart was struck by Professor Ramos’ care for her students. After their meeting, he could “immediately tell the department would have a vested interest in my development as both a scholar and a person.” 

Lighthart originally applied as an international relations major because participating in Model United Nations, Mock Trial, and Student Government were experiences that he found enjoyable and valuable in high school . LMU’s Political Science and International Relations Department stood out because of its distinguished faculty, and “diverse variety of thematic and methodological specializations. As an international relations major, I felt confident that I could explore any of my interests and receive guidance from an expert in that field.” During his second semester at LMU, William took a class taught by Professor Al-Qattan on the modern history of the Middle East. Professor Qattan’s passion and ability to connect historical implications with current events inspired Lighthart to investigate, and then declare, history as a second major. Within that major Lighthart declared two concentrations (Gender, Race, and Culture; and Global Economies, Encounters, and Exchange) that have greatly contributed to his undergraduate independent research on refugee rights norms acceptance and integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Throughout his academic journey, Lighthart has been encouraged and supported by faculty mentors like Professor Ramos and Professor Elizabeth Drummond. He recalls, “They pushed me to apply for every scholarship and fellowship opportunity which interested me, provided an abundance of time and guidance as I navigated the packed schedule of a double-major, and went above and beyond to ensure I submitted competitive applications for post-graduate study.” Professor Tom Plate provided “unparalleled opportunities and shared an abundance of invaluable expertise which has shaped my research, professional experience, and mindset as a global citizen.” Lighthart is also grateful for the time he spent working with Professor Feryal Cherif, whose guidance was instrumental in developing an International Relations Honors thesis centered around human rights development.

A defining feature of Lighthart’s time at LMU has been his passion for addressing climate change and its impact on human rights. He credits an experience at the Clinton Global Initiative 2018 Conference for sparking this passion. While there, Lighthart was able to talk with Barbados Ambassador to the United Nations Liz Thompson, who explained to him that the worst effects of climate change have and will continue to disproportionately harm the most vulnerable communities. Out of this conversation he developed an interest “in how climate change exacerbates threats to livelihood and human rights security in the Pacific as natural disasters worsen and global temperatures and water levels rise.” Further investigation into this issue spurred Lighthart to develop a policy recommendation for his term paper in the class “Human Rights Global Perspective,” which Lighthart went on to present at the International Studies Association West 2020 conference, and which was selected as one of four papers in the fall 2020 issue of Southern California International Review. 

Lighthart’s international relations honors thesis addressed refugee rights norms acceptance and integration in ASEAN countries. The research done on this topic underscored how the interconnected, multi-faceted nature of climate change makes it a difficult issue to reckon with. Instead of letting that discourage him, Lighthart was inspired to create opportunities for the LMU community to address climate change through advocacy and collective action. He co-founded the LMU campus chapter of Amnesty International to enable students to get involved with humanitarian advocacy and awareness; he helped establish Divest LMU, a movement to push the university to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy; and he brought together “a diverse cohort of fellow student activists” to establish the LMU Climate Refugee Initiative. Out of 15,000 global applicants, Lighthart’s cohort was one of the six percent selected as United Nations Millennium Fellows because of their “action plan of education, fundraising, and advocacy related to climate migration.” 

Beyond his incredible work to address climate change, LMU has also supported William in exploring the countries and cultures of East Asia. Through the John P. Daly Scholarship provided by LMU’s Center for International Business Education, Lighthart had the opportunity to travel to Seoul, South Korea during the summer after his freshman year. While there he took a four-week intensive language class, and studied Korean history and contemporary culture. “My transformative summer in Seoul,” as Lighthart describes it, “broadened my horizons for the rest of my undergraduate studies and encouraged me to return to Seoul in Fall 2019 as an international exchange student.” On this second trip, he studied East Asian history, regional military and security strategy, and intensive Korean language instruction at LMU’s sister school, Sogang University. Lighthart’s final experience with international study came through the support of the History Department’s 2019 Ferdinand Verbiest Award and a summer internship grant from Career and Professional Development. These provided full funding for an internship at the World Wildlife Fund’s Beijing office, where William studied Mandarin and engaged in intercultural leadership training through The Beijing Center. Building on this experience, he followed up with an internship at the Wildlife Habitat Council through The Washington Center in the summer of 2020. 

Lighthart’s extensive academic and extracurricular experiences at LMU and beyond have all carried him to the next step in his academic/professional journey. He received offers from the London School of Economics to pursue a MSc in International Relations, and from Sciences Po in Paris to study for MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Sciences. He is also a semi-finalist for a Fulbright study grant, and awaiting the Fulbright committee’s final decision. The decision to apply for a Fulbright study grant was supported by Cassidy Alvarado at the Office of National and International Fellowships. Since his freshman year, she has helped William find worthwhile academic and professional opportunities beyond  LMU, including some programs that LMU students have never previously applied.

He credits his LMU education as influential in his acceptance to these programs: “Studying in BCLA, while cognizant of the Jesuit mission, has pushed me to integrate my research and classroom learning with my service through the Ignatians service organization, activism via various student-driven organizations, and professional experience in the US and abroad. LMU has enabled me to gain an invaluable blend of classroom and experiential learning, which is why I believe I was competitive for graduate admission to some of the top global universities for international relations.”

Recently, Lighthart decided to pursue the MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA).  He chose this program because Paris is an epicenter for human rights development and promotion, and the two-year program offers an abundance of opportunities to further refine and specialize in history and the social sciences. The program’s structure is also ideal for his career aspirations to enter the human rights field as a practitioner and policy advisor. “I am ecstatic to improve my French language skills through my extended immersion and to take advantage of invaluable professional experiences,” says Lighthart.

An education rooted in Jesuit values and traditions helped lay the foundation for Lighthart’s commitment to addressing climate change both now and in the future as a student, an activist, and a professional. “My research, professional experience, and activism while at LMU has made clear that an issue as monumental as climate change must be met with an equally large, united response. A cornerstone of the LMU Political Science and International Relations Department’s learning philosophy is global citizenship. I am excited to leave the Bluff guided by this mindset as I critically engage with my peers, my community, and both domestic and international structures to effect meaningful, just change.”