As organizations first posted ads about the Darfur genocide in New York subway tunnels, Northwestern alum Janessa Goldbeck (Medill ‘07) worked in the city, interning for a “hipster magazine.” When her friends invited her to a rally in D.C., she boarded the Chinatown bus in jeans and a T-shirt, with a skateboard tucked under her arm. What she found, however, was not chanting in the Park — but lobbying on the Hill.
“All these other kids were dressed up in suits and ties, they were all ready for the lobby day, and I was kind of looking like a scrub,” says Goldbeck. “I was super nervous. My hands were shaking.”
During her first three years at Northwestern, Goldbeck began dabbling in anti-genocide student activism while pursuing an African Studies minor; she had already studied abroad in Uganda. These experiences awakened her passion for human rights, and she began to promote genocide awareness, beginning unexpectedly in Washington during the summer of 2006.
Fellow lobbyists put Goldbeck in charge of delegation to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from her home state of California.
“We got Congress to appropriate seven hundred million dollars to the African Union, which at that time was the only peacekeeping force in Darfur,” says Goldbeck. “That was really the first time that I became aware that we had a government that is responsive to the people.”
Back in Evanston that fall, Goldbeck started working against genocide on a national scale. After graduation, Goldbeck sacrificed a job offer from VICE magazine and eventually became the field director of Genocide Intervention Network (GINet). She now oversees STAND, which has a chapter at Northwestern.
“I realized that this is really where my passion was at this moment,” says Goldbeck. “That I would rather be making the news than writing it.”
STAND provides individuals with the tools they need to prevent genocide, including a hotline for political advocacy, educational information and human resources.
“On this campus, probably the greatest thing STAND could achieve would be long term sustained awareness,” says Chelsea Glenn, Northwestern STAND chapter co-president and Weinberg sophomore. “That will last longer than the few images of kids with limbs chopped off that we see.”
“We really pride ourselves on not dumbing it down to the point that it’s meaningless,” says Goldbeck. “‘Just click this button and you’ll save Darfur.’ That’s not our message.”
Goldbeck, however, is moving farther forward. She begins Officer Candidate School with the U.S. Marine Corps in June and hopes to have a career focused on the intersection of human rights, national security and technology.
“You can look back and create a story about your own life,” says Goldbeck. “But really, the most important thing is to be where you feel like you’re having the most impact in that moment and just go from there.”