LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas graduate students have earned a national scholarship that supports studies in international relations and public service.
Marcela Paiva Veliz, master’s student in Indigenous studies, and Pere DeRoy, doctoral candidate in women, gender & sexuality studies, each received the Sherman and Irene Dreiseszun Scholarship from The Truman Foundation.
The $5,000 scholarships are awarded to graduate students in programs such as international relations, history, political science, diplomacy or a related field or discipline that reflects former President Harry Truman's dedication to promoting public service and international peace.
Marcela Paiva Veliz
Paiva Veliz’s work broadly concentrates on self-determination in Indigenous communities and centering Indigenous perspectives in local to international spaces. Paiva Veliz said it became evident through her background in civil service in Chile that the rights of Indigenous people are a fundamental element of communities and international peace. However, governmental agencies and society generally lack the knowledge to adequately understand and respect those rights.
“Learning about Indigenous peoples' rights from the Native American perspective will contribute to my knowledge of these issues in Latin America and hopefully will allow me to be better prepared to pursue respect for Indigenous rights and honor my Indigenous ancestors,” she said.
Paiva Veliz’s dissertation research more narrowly focuses on Native American uses of rosinweed, a native Kansas plant, as food or medicine, as well as the ethics surrounding ethnobotany. Working with the Land Institute, she said her research topic seeks to acknowledge the relationship Native Americans had with the land, and it is a way for her to honor her current home of Kansas while gaining knowledge she can share with other countries, particularly those in South America.
“I want to highlight concrete examples of self-determination applied to Indigenous knowledge and foster decolonization in academic contexts,” Paiva Veliz said. “I hope to contribute to the respect for tribal sovereignty and the self-governance of Indigenous peoples. I aim to build bridges and work more broadly for decolonization efforts in the Americas.”
Paiva Veliz has worked at an international level as an advocate, legal counsel and administrator, including serving as Chile’s head of the World Trade Organization and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development division in its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She also has served as a lawyer for the Chilean government, specializing in international trade issues.
Paiva Veliz earned a juris doctor and a bachelor’s degree in legal and social sciences from the University of Chile in Santiago, Chile; a diploma in negotiation and mediation from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile; and a diploma in human rights and indigenous peoples from the Henry Dunant Foundation Latin America.
DeRoy’s research focuses on understanding global women’s health policy and programs to develop equitable reproductive health policies. Her dissertation research particularly examines reproductive health policy in her home country of Guyana.
According to DeRoy, Guyana continues to have the highest maternal mortality ratio in the English-speaking Caribbean. Her preliminary research suggests this is largely influenced by uncertainty surrounding the effects of state-sanctioned and traditional health care systems on the pregnancies of Guyanese of different social identities. These include queer and transgender people of color, whose experiences are often overlooked in local discourse regarding maternal mortality.
“My dissertation research stems from an amalgamation of adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes and treatments I have had to navigate, and observations and mourning of many Guyanese I have known who died during childbirth or postpartum,” DeRoy said.
DeRoy said she is motivated through her work to combat structural and cultural violence by advancing approaches to sexual and reproductive health, especially in creating more culturally responsive international policy planning and analysis of pregnancy-related deaths and injuries.
“I plan to utilize the findings of this research to contribute to knowledge and discourse that advocates for social structures that are equitable, reduces peoples' vulnerability as they seek access to reproductive health care and that honors Guyanese's right to health,” she said. “My personal and professional goal around this research topic is to contribute to the removal of conditions where a female-sexed child doesn’t automatically consider that they are naturally and randomly susceptible to adverse reproductive outcomes as they envision their own futures.”
Throughout her career, DeRoy has worked with anti-trafficking organizations and community groups working to end gender-based violence and labor exploitation. Her previous appointments include being a national and regional sexual and reproductive health and rights volunteer for the International Planned Parenthood Federation; youth and sport projects officer and department manager for the Guyanese Ministry of Culture; and graduate research assistant for the Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights Research Project at York University in Canada.
DeRoy earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Guyana; a postgraduate diploma in international studies from the University of Guyana; a master’s degrees in development studies from York University; and a master’s degree in women, gender & sexuality studies from KU.
Photo: From left, Joe Brewer, director of the Indigenous Studies Program and associate professor in environmental studies; Jason Kander, Harry S. Truman 2023 Good Neighbor Award winner; Pere DeRoy, doctoral candidate in women, gender & sexuality studies; Marcela Paiva Veliz, master’s student in Indigenous studies; and Nicole Reiz, director of professional development and communications for the Office of Graduate Studies.