Profile with Isra Bhatty

Isra Bhatty (Illinois & St Edmund Hall 2007) served as a multi-lingual translator for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Her research interests are in disability rights, criminal justice policy, and social interventions for at-risk youth. She is finishing her DPhil in Social Intervention and holds a Master’s degree in Evidence Based Social Intervention from the University of Oxford, a JD from Yale Law School, and a BA from the University of Chicago in Economics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Isra Bhatty: Chicago, Illinois.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Isra Bhatty: The Hunger Games. Once the movies started coming out, I was in a frenzy to read the books before I saw the movies, and I couldn’t put them down. 

Rhodes Project: What was the last holiday you celebrated, and how did you celebrate it?

Isra Bhatty: Father’s Day. I have two kids, so they got their father some presents and made a card for their grandfather. We made some homemade treats and did the whole Happy Father’s Day breakfast in bed thing. My kids are three and one and a half, so it was really cute.

Rhodes Project: I see that your work is consistently focused on justice. What inspires you to focus on these issues?

Isra Bhatty: My personal experiences and my faith. I derive a lot of my drive from my religious tradition. Islam has a very profound emphasis on the concept of justice and speaking out against injustice wherever you see it. I was living on Chicago’s south side and I came across one of the passages in the Qur’an about the concept of serving people who can ask for your help as well as people who can’t. I really wanted to explore the idea of people who can’t ask for help and those who don’t have a voice. These are people we push to the outskirts of our society – people don’t even know where they go. The US has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, so the justice system is a big part of our society.  As soon as I set foot in a prison, I got hooked on “justice” issues, on how to make the justice system fairer, more effective, and more efficient for all, and particularly how to prevent people from committing and re-committing crimes.  The same concept of reaching out to those without a voice inspires much of my work with the severely disabled. My family always instilled in me the concept of community service – engaging with all segments of society, treating everyone with respect and humanity. 

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?

Isra Bhatty: Don’t feel pressured by other people’s expectations and what other people want you to be. Make your own choices based on values that you believe in and the gifts that you’ve been blessed with.  And feel confident in and totally dedicated to achieving your own dreams, not what other people want for you.

Rhodes Project: What’s the best or most interesting thing that’s happened to you in the last year?

Isra Bhatty: I would definitely say the birth of my daughter. When you have children, just seeing their little accomplishments is so special. Those day-to-day joys of seeing them realize something new have been the best things over the past year. Especially with a three year old – their cognitive abilities just skyrocket. They say all these things and make all these deductions that you never thought they could make.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Isra Bhatty: I’ve always liked the idea of having the power to be invisible whenever you want. Not to prevent people from seeing you, but to be able to go places and not have people know. Just being able to go places where there’s a high risk of injustice and to see what really happens, and not have people cover it up, that would be really powerful.  For example, I’ve worked on issues related to prison rape, systems of care for individuals with disabilities, and the sexual abuse of children in foster care.  In all of these areas there’s a definite potential for abuse of power and very unfortunate things happening.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Isra Bhatty: I’m a pretty bad relaxer. I find myself pretty relaxed watching reality TV though. I relax when I watch Cupcake Wars or Cake Boss.

Rhodes Project: What’s something you’re looking forward to right now?

Isra Bhatty: The NFL season. I love football.

Rhodes Project: Who’s your team?

Isra Bhatty: The Chicago Bears!

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