Humanitarian Focus


Originally from the Ivory Coast in Africa, Doris Behanzin '13 plans to combine her language skills with a desire to help and elevate others by pursuing a career in humanitarian law. Behanzin - a sociology, anthropology and criminal justice major - moved to the United States six years ago, at age 15, when she and her family relocated to Pittsfield, Mass.

Behanzin, whose parents did not have the opportunity to attend college, was encouraged by a high school guidance counselor to continue her education. Now, through her community service work at MCLA, she's paying it forward as she mentors North Adams youth, letting them know that college is indeed within their reach.

"A lot of them say they don't have the money and their parents can't afford it. We introduce them to a lot of different things that they can become part of, that can help them pay for their college. It's something they can obtain," Behanzin said.

She's become a role model that many of the youth she works with don't have at home.

"A lot of them come from families where their parents don't care about their schoolwork," she explained. "Having someone there, that can care for them, is very important. I believe that school is important."

Because she's closer to them in age than their parents, "I can connect with them and get down to their level."

College for Behanzin became possible not only through student loans, but because of a number of scholarships she's received, including those from MCLA, such as the Margaret A. Hart Scholarship.

Most recently, she was awarded the Lift Evr'y Voice Scholarship. That funding allowed her to take the summer off from working to earn tuition money, and freed her up to travel with the Semester at Sea program.

Along with Natanael Burgos '12 of Lawrence, Mass. (pictured with Behanzin, left), she traveled from the Bahamas, where the journey began, to Barcelona, Spain; Rome and Naples in Italy; as well as Croatia, Turkey, Greece, Morocco and Portugal.

The two-month-long experience, Behanzin said, was life-changing. In addition to providing an introduction to the people who live in Europe and how they live their lives as compared to those in the U.S. and Africa, the program gave her an opportunity to learn more about the histories of each country, their languages, and the sea.

But perhaps most importantly, one of the instructors on board the ship - an attorney - inspired Behanzin to focus her career on international law. Because of the opportunities he revealed to her, she's specifically interested in humanitarian law, and wants to become an attorney who works for the United Nations, where she can use her native language - French.

After she graduates this spring, Behanzin plans to enter the McNair Scholars Program, which provides funding to graduate students. Then, she'll work for AmeriCorps Vista, before heading to graduate school.  

Behazin said she made the right choice in MCLA because of the help she's received along the way from many on campus, including from Student Center staff and her professors. This assistance enabled her to maintain a strong grade point average.

"They've given me so much support. If I had a problem, they would help me," she said. "They knew English was my second language. I tried so hard, but I could only do so much, especially with my writing. They made sure I understood what the subjects were about."