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International Studies, 2005
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Lives of Commitment, Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota
Lilly Senior Keystone
Lilly Classes: Work Ethics, and Vocation; Justice; Work and Ethics Across Traditions
The duality of his experiences is not lost on Chris Fletcher: The invaluable gifts and insight from traveling abroad and from personal encounters with injustice, nudged him in new directions even as they now provide bittersweet memories.
"Chris never shrank from probing the depth of situations with powerful questions. His clear mind and compassionate heart moved him to seek ways for justice for all he encountered. It is no surprise that Chris is in law school today." -Lucy Forster-Smith, Associate Dean and Chaplain
Fletcher interposed a year of work and some months of travel to Southeast Asia between finishing high school and starting at Macalester. He lived for a time with a Tibetan family in northern India, an immersion that sparked his interest in the plight of Tibet and its exile communities. That interest carried through to his studies and involvement in the Twin Cities community.
One very tangible result was that a planned major in psychology transformed to the work of a dedicated international scholar.
“That gap year abroad was the best decision I ever made,” he says. “My interest in international affairs is one direct consequence of that time.” The Lilly program helped Fletcher seek out and find individuals who had an international focus. “Even more, I found a set of people with whom I could reflect upon the why and how of the questions and ethics that surround work in that field,” he says.
Fletcher discovered that the Twin Cities had the second largest Tibetan population in the United States, second only to New York City. Working with the Civic Engagement Center and the Lilly Lives of Commitment program, he tutored Tibetan high school students and taught computer skills to Tibetan elders through a Phillips Scholarship. A key aspect of the latter project was recognizing the critical importance of adapting to a new culture while retaining a traditional cultural heritage. “I taught the Tibetans about computer skills and they taught me about themselves,” Fletcher reported to a Macalester audience in 2004. He subsequently traveled throughout the Tibetan diaspora on a Watson Fellowship, photographing and documenting how this displaced people preserve their own culture and traditions in the midst of adapting to new host nations.
More recently, Fletcher surprised himself by enrolling in law school at Northeastern University in Boston. “I never thought I’d be a lawyer,” he confesses—but a number of deeply personal experiences with injustice turned his path in that direction. The wrongful arrest of his brother in high school, his own arrest for protesting police brutality at the end of his senior year at Macalester, and the horror of having a Tibetan friend arrested and likely tortured for traveling with an American in Tibet all weigh heavily on Fletcher.
“I’ve thought a lot about the roles we take around issues of justice and injustice,” he says, “both the roles of individuals and institutions. It’s troubling to see those who turn their back on injustice when instead they should be offering assistance. By turning away they become enablers in prolonging the injustice.” Fletcher’s response—to become a lawyer focusing on corporate social responsibility—honors his commitment to international human rights. He recently completed three months of work in Cambodia with the United Nations tribunal, researching the roles of media in inciting genocide and the forced transfer of populations during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
On multiple levels, both international and individual, Fletcher deals with crimes against humanity. The weightiness of the issue clearly pushes his work, yet he also steers his own life toward a balance between the “professional capital” of repairing the world and carving out a sphere for personal space.
Finding that kind of balance can be elusive within a law student’s schedule. For now, Fletcher finds some quiet in the train ride to school. “The challenge is not only in finding the freedom for personal space and happiness,” he says, “it’s also in ensuring that the professional and personal spheres don’t hamper each other.”