I-House Ones to Watch: Lizzie O’Shea ’17, Attorney, Activist and Author
International House Alumna Elizabeth “Lizzie” O’Shea moved to New York in August 2015 to begin her Masters program at Columbia University, studying Law. She had previously worked in New Orleans, volunteering with prisoners on death row who didn’t have legal representation, and was named a Fellow in the Columbia Law Human Rights Program.
She applied to I-House having heard from a friend in her native Melbourne, Australia, who had lived at the House in the 1980’s, that is was a wonderful place to live. “It made sense to want to live in a community that really valued things that I value, so it seemed like a place I would find very homely, and that was true,” she said.
Here she shares about some of the highlights of her I-House Experience, as well as the impact that experience has in her current pursuits.
”I absolutely loved living there. Obviously, I loved the Residents, but I also really loved the staff. I found working with the staff, which I did much more in the second year I was there, very rewarding.” An amateur operatic vocalist, Lizzie found opportunities to share this gift with the I-House community. “They were very encouraging of things we were doing and projects we wanted to pursue. They even gave me a bit of responsibility in helping out with one of their concerts for their fundraising program,”
“Living there with a bunch of people from many different countries, and many different programs and universities really made a difference in my experience in New York,” she said. She spoke of how within the Law School her fellow students were all of a very similar mindset: career orientated, and set in their mentality about the world around them. At I-House she found a wide spectrum of mindsets. She especially loved how the conversations she had in I-House, and the different perspective she discovered could be fed straight back into and enrich her own work. She jokes that she isn’t “a lawyer’s, lawyer,” so being able to interact with non-lawyers was a great relief. “It’s really exciting to hear about how people are doing different things to try to shape their careers, or shape the impact they have on the world. I love collecting those different experiences and learning from people in different ways.”
The Programs and Culture
Looking back at some of the most memorable programs she experienced at I-House, Lizzie recalls a talk by acclaimed filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer about his 2012 documentary “The Look of Silence” following a screening of the film at the House. “He has had a huge impact as a filmmaker and was nominated for an Oscar. Incredible that you get to see someone speak about their film, which had an enormous effect on political and public discussions in Indonesia about their past and future.” Another highlight was the Sunday Supper series. She was particularly moved by a talk given by Chinese physicist and Temple University professor Xiaoxing Xi, who had been arrested, detained and kept under suspicion of suspicion of espionage for months by the FBI.
Lizzie spoke of feeling her experience at I-House was especially unique as she lived there during the run-up to, and aftermath of, Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. “I think I-House made a real effort to try to understand the political climate in America at the time, and they also made huge efforts after the election to try to make everyone who was not American feel comfortable and welcome,” she explained. “I feel grateful to I-House on the one hand, but I’m not sure that whole period was American society as its best.”
“I-House gives you an instant family, but it’s a really interesting family where you are encouraged in all your pursuits and it’s got none of the stress and drama that sometimes people can have with their actual families. It’s like inheriting a whole bunch of relatives who are interesting and fun, and are always up for a chat and to learn more about what you’re doing, and you can learn a lot from them.”
“I think that diversity of experience is also really important.” She spoke of going down to breakfast and seeing classical musicians, journalists, visual artists, lawyers, as well as whole range of other interesting people dotted across the room. “How else would you get access to those people if you weren’t living in a place where there is a load of clever and interesting people in the same spot,” she mused. In addition to the diversity of subjects and interests, she also appreciated the diversity of ages, from children, newly graduated undergraduates, Masters and PhD students, as well as young professionals in their first jobs. People at all stages of life mixed together in a supportive, friendly environment.
“It’s a chance to give, as well as receive”, she spoke of loving being able to get advice from others in both her field, and other fields of interest, as well as being able to advise her fellow I-House Residents, especially those wanting to pursue a similar path to her own.
Lizzie recently signed a book deal with Verso and plans to publish a non-fiction work in early 2019 that explores technology, history and left-wing politics and theory around the digital revolution. She began the book during her time at I-House, and is currently finishing it while in London.
She has also submitted her final report on her 2017 Davis Project for a Peace Grant, which she received through I-House. Her project, CopWatch, is designed to empower Australia’s Aboriginal people to use mobile phone technology to document police harassment and violence. The program provided workshops aimed to provide local activists with guidance on the laws around video capture interactions, techniques for filming effectively, and sharing footage safely.
Looking to the future she looks forward to taking the things she has learned during her time in New York, both at the Law School and at International House, back to her home country and using those skills and ideas to help improve her country.
“Once you’ve had some of these experiences, to take that back to other people where you’re from, so that you can try to show other people what’s possible and broaden the horizons of politics and public discussion in that country, that would be my aim.”
When asked to describe I-House in three words Lizzie said:
Fun, Stimulating, and Supportive.