Student Awards
17 June 2020

Alexa-Rae Burk Receives 2020 Student Leadership Award

Alexa-Rae Burk, from Seattle, Washington, USA, is currently pursuing a PhD in International History. During her time as President and founder of the Parent Initiative, which advocates for students with children and family-friendly policy on campus, she worked to make the campus more inclusive.

I am thankful and honoured to have been nominated by my peers for this award. My passion in life is advocacy towards the goal of making communities more inclusive, so to see that my message and work have been noticed by our members is a gift.

I had just moved from Denmark with my husband Bram and daughter Penelope (8 months old at the time) when I came to the Graduate Institute. I had a wake-up call that the family-friendly policies I recently enjoyed in Denmark were not present at the Institute. There are a lot of factors at play for this, but family-friendliness remains a challenge for Swiss systems generally. 

The reality is known: family-friendly policies can quickly close the achievement gap for students with children at universities. 

Providing parents with useful information, access to appropriate facilities (changing tables, breastfeeding rooms, play area) and childcare support improve student parents’ sense of inclusion. It was important to me to advocate for these things, and thus at the recommendation of the (now former) Co-presidents of the Welfare Committee, Tanya and Miriam, I founded the Parent Initiative.

The student body has so much to offer, and so when I decided to lean into our communal offerings, I found myself astounded by the sense of solidarity and unity we all shared. We’ve got an activist spirit running through our student initiatives to be proud of!  

I am proud of the work I achieved in using the Parent Initiative as a platform for advocacy, creating the first “IHEID student-parent guide”, which provides long-requested information to student parents. From that, sprung a website for Graduate Institute community members with children to get information and share with one another in forums, a baby/toddler carrier lending library, and I developed the findings of GISA’s microaggression survey from last year into the microaggression campaign for Gender and Diversity month. The series was engaged online by 8,000 people throughout Switzerland and the world.

Most recently, during the COVID-19 crisis and with the support of the Welfare Committee President Elizabeth Nakielny, we created the Solidarity Initiative to help and connect students during the confinement period. 

The Student Leadership Award was created through a proposal by GISA in 2018 to reward outstanding student engagement through participation in student committees, student initiatives or other activities related to the Graduate Institute’s student life.