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"I experienced here an intensity of discussion beyond anything I have known since, in 60 years of public life of public life."

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Resident Profile: Shahla Magzhi

Shahla Magzhi is a Ph.D. student in jurisprudence and social policy at Boalt Hall.

Shahla Magzhi, a graduate student in jurisprudence and social policy, was born and raised in a San Francisco family that held five generations in one house. Her father is from Iran and her mother is of German descent.

Shahla was delighted to discover the International House when she was exploring Berkeley as a graduate school option. "I just walked in and I looked at the mission statement. I read that part of the mission was 'to foster intercultural respect and understanding,' and also 'to stimulate diversity of thought among residents.' I thought that set of values was a very positive foundation, something I felt very at peace with."

Central to her family's existence is the Baha'i faith, a monotheistic religion which originated in Persia in the 19th century. Its fundamental belief is that humanity is one single race, and that the day has come for unification in a global society.

Her spiritual tradition also helped inspire her career interest in international environmental law and dispute resolution. "I'm fascinated by how people pursue justice in various forms, how justice and harmony can work together in development, and how both justice and harmony can be achieved without sacrificing the other."

As part of this pursuit, she spent more than two years in China, studying Chinese forms of conflict resolution. "In China, the word for mediation means 'to readjust to bring to a solution.' When I spoke with fifty neighborhood mediators, they described their goal as being to help the disputants readjust divided relationships and also use the legal system when necessary. At the same time, they expressed openness to seeking new approaches of resolution to address current needs."

Shahla also worked in a very different culture, in Peru, on a project that sought to resolve differences over natural resource issues. "The consultative approach was interesting especially because it aimed at helping women become more proactive in community resource decisions. Once the women contributed their perspectives, the orientation of the discussion shifted, and the group reached its goals much faster. They've found this to be true in Africa, as well."

Here at the I-House, Shahla continues to participate in the language tables, programs, and the daily life of her floor. Last semester her floor's residents held several meetings to share poetry, art, and writings on whatever themes moved them, from justice to family issues. They also created an informal space for women graduate students to discuss the challenges of transitioning back to academia.

For Shahla, International House also represents a return to the cooperative ideals of her youth. "When I was growing up in San Francisco, it became so natural to plan projects with a diverse community, I never questioned it. When I left, I realized, wow, that's not something that just naturally emerges. There has to be an intent to work towards it."

"I think any time people come together with a goal of promoting unity among diverse cultures, it's one of the most healthy environments to be in. It challenges each person to break out of the individualistic spheres of life and see we're really living in a very integrative world, and we have the opportunity to learn from each other."

Shahla plans to complete her Ph.D. in 2007 and hopes to work for a public interest development organization and to teach in a university.

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© 2003 International House