Tenzin Seldon Profile
Tenzin Seldon (California & St. John’s, 2012) is the first Tibetan-American to win the Rhodes Scholarship, having grown up in Dharamsala, India and, later, California. While at Stanford, she majored in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and minored in Feminist Studies. She has served as a regional coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet and a student coordinator of President Obama’s Interfaith Challenge, and for her service was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar in 2011. The documentary film she has co-produced - entitled State of Control – will debut in 2015. She recently completed the MPhil in Comparative Social Policy at the University of Oxford and is currently located in Bangkok, Thailand, where she works as a Consultant for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Rhodes Project: What does your current work in Thailand involve?
Tenzin Seldon: I am working with United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, trying to make a difference in the field of sustainable living/futures. I work on policy evaluation and analysis for various regional frameworks and sub-regions in the Asia-Pacific. In addition, I work with the youth (24 and below) of the region to facilitate and coordinate their participation in the local activities of the United Nations.
Rhodes Project: Much of your work has focused on Tibet. What do you think needs to happen for the Free Tibet movement to succeed?
Tenzin Seldon: Time and perspective. China is evolving and changing each day, and what happens in China will unequivocally dictate what happens in Tibet. For Tibetans to restore peace in the country, I see no other way than dialogue and negotiations. Peace will not be handed to us, we must advocate for it and constantly demand it.
Rhodes Project: You are co-producing the documentary State of Control to be premiered at the United Nations Film Festival. What motivated you to produce the documentary, and how does it feel to share that story at such an international venue?
Tenzin Seldon: In today's age, we often are saturated with too much mindless entertainment, and yet, there is a body of work that could be shared with audiences who would find it relevant and moving. When I saw this widening gap in the business, I wanted to produce material that would close this gap, and it entailed a feature film that was compelling and current. The movie follows, over the course of 5 years, the journey of activists around the world who are dealing with a new dimension of pressure – technological censorship – which affects us all.
Rhodes Project: You have also worked extensively on interfaith issues, including dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Where in the world do you think could benefit from more interfaith dialogue at the moment, and why?
Tenzin Seldon: Yes, faith is core to my growth and it serves as anchor. Faith knows no barrier. I believe that every corner of the world could use more interfaith conversation and understanding. Both diverse and homogenous countries need greater interfaith discourse.
Rhodes Project: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Tenzin Seldon: The best piece of advice I received was from Cory Booker who encountered an important lesson from the streets of Newark, New Jersey by an activist. He said:
"You need to understand something, that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And, if you see only problems and darkness and despair, that's all there's ever gonna be. But, if you're one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes, you see hope, opportunity, possibility, love – even the face of God – then you can help me make a change."
Rhodes Project: What did your MPhil in Comparative Social Policy thesis focus on, and are there other academic questions you’d like to explore in the future?
Tenzin Seldon: My thesis focused on forced migration, specifically looking at displaced persons and the impact displacement has on preserving identity. I have always been curious about the question of identity, how malleable it is and whether one can truly retain multiple identities. Identity is often tied to the place in which we are born in and this thesis gave me a framework to delve into and comprehend “third culture” youth, who have spent much of their lives in countries where they do not hold their primary citizenship.
In the future, I would like to explore how faith affects building legal institutions and the ethical framework of pedagogy. As well, I want to learn more about domestic violence and the culture of impunity of violence against women.
Rhodes Project: What book(s) have been most transformative for you?
Tenzin Seldon: I’ve been particularly moved by Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Tolle’s The Power of Now and Gandhi's The Story of My Experiments with Truth.
Rhodes Project: What do you think the next 10 years of your life will look like, professionally and personally?
Tenzin Seldon: In 10 years, I cannot for certain say what my position(s) will look like but I hope to cultivate my life around advocating for women and children. I hope that by this time, I will have travelled and interacted first-hand with many cultures and systems, and better understood how to effectively change regressive paradigms. Personally, I aspire to be balanced, encourage more of my friends to reach their full potential and always practice compassion in my dealings with others.
Rhodes Project: You spent some time in Feminist Studies during your undergraduate at Stanford. What does feminism mean to you? What feminist issues are most important to you right now?
Tenzin Seldon: Being a feminist is a concept that sparked later on in my life. In India, my identity first and foremost was my ethnicity. But in America, my identity soon encompassed my gender. Being a feminist means both supporting women and supporting men to respect and empower women. Some of the most important feminist issues are what I see prevalent in Southern Asia such as female infanticide, systemic violence against women and the lack of women in schools.
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