Alumnus named prestigious human rights fellow

Last week Adam-Joseph Ropizar ’20 grabbed his lap top and launched into a virtual meeting with a cadre of international scholars hailing from places like Germany, Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within the next few weeks, he’ll also be attending virtual discussions with a number of leading international thinkers, scholars, artists and activists working in human rights and social justice.

These conversations are just one part of what’s slated to be an incredible experience for Ropizar. The recent graduate was selected for the prestigious Humanity in Action fellowship. He is one of less than 50 students chosen from the United States.

Humanity in Action is an international organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and connecting emerging and established leaders committed to human rights. Ropizar was selected for the organization’s Berlin fellowship.

The year-long program is focused on exploring historic and contemporary human rights issues in Germany, and how societies and individuals (both past and present) have resisted intolerance and embraced democratic values.

Ropizar was expecting to travel to Berlin for his fellowship before the pandemic struck. But with social distancing in place, Ropizar and the other fellows are now logging onto Zoom and jumping into the fellowship head-first virtually.

Ropizar will get to experience virtual tours of Berlin, interact with his colleagues through special break-out sessions and, of course, he’ll revel in meeting international movers and shakers in the social justice and human rights scene. In the spring, the program is planning on bringing the fellows together in-person, if possible.

It might be a different experience than he first imagined, but Ropizar says it’s one he’s sure will be extremely rewarding either way.

“It’s only been a few days [into the fellowship], and it’s already amazing,” he says. “We’ve already covered topics from colonialization and indigenous rights to black rights. It has 100 percent exceeded my expectations already.”

During Zoom lectures with guest speakers, Ropizar says, the fellows are getting to ask a number of questions in real-time through chat and the virtual tools, making the lecture a very authentic and organic conversation that may not have taken shape the same way if the fellows had to wait for a Q and A session at the end of an in-person lecture.

Ropizar is also impressed—and grateful for—the program’s dedication to creating a virtual community among the fellows.

“Every day starts with a coffeehouse chat,” he says. “We can all hop on Zoom 30 minutes before the day starts and drink coffee and talk to each other. It creates this sense of connection.”

This opportunity, he adds, is part of his lifelong mission: to help people.

“For me, just the concept of human rights and studying people has always been something of interest. The fellowship was really up there in terms of where I want to go professionally. It’s going to be worth it both for my personal and professional involvement.”

As a student at FIU, Ropizar served in numerous leadership roles. Just a few highlights: He became the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Biscayne Bay Campus; he landed jobs at FIU’s LGBTQA Initiatives both at BBC and MMC; and, in the summer of 2018, he flew to New York to speak as a delegate for the 22nd session of the United Nations Youth Assembly.

As part of the 2019 cohort of the Maven Leadership Collective, Ropizar also developed a training addressing sexual violence on college campuses. He’s begun implementing the online training and conducting test runs of the curriculum, working with students at FIU and across various universities including the University of Miami and the University of Central Florida.

He plans to create a nonprofit organization surrounding his training and to launch the nonprofit by the end of this summer.

Yenisleidy Simon Mengana, one of Ropizar’s mentors and the program manager for FIU’s Office of Global Learning, says the Humanity in Action fellowship is exactly the kind of experience that will enrich Ropizar’s future pursuits and projects.

Back in 2013 before arriving at FIU, Mengana herself participated in the program as a fellow in Denmark.

“It was a lifechanging opportunity,” she says. “This fellowship gives you the opportunity to enter an international network. Those connections are lifetime connections. I still talk, connect and am inspired by people I met in 2013. I wanted my students to experience that and particularly Adam to experience that. It’ll take his leadership skills to the next level.”

Mengana adds, “Adam is so talented. He has really made such an impact at FIU. I know that he’ll be an asset to Humanity in Action. He’s very willing to learn and listen to others, and at the same time he has a lot to contribute. I was so thrilled when he told me he’d been selected.”

As far as Mengana and her team know, Ropizar is the first FIU student to have been awarded this fellowship.

For Ropizar, the fellowship is the next step in his journey to be an even better ally for people in need.

“When I think about the different struggles of different people…no person is just one struggle,” he explains. “Everyone has different intersectional identities. If we are just focusing on one social issue, we’re never actually going to help people. We’re just looking at one facet of people. The biggest thing you can do for other people is to be the best ally you can be. Being an ally takes ally-ship, doing that intentional work, learning about other people and how you can best help them based on what they need.”

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