From gown to town: For Trinity student Arshia Hassani, public policy has been a real-world practice

June 18, 2021 by Cynthia Macdonald - A&S News

When Arshia Hassani entered Trinity One’s Public Policy stream in his first year, he was excited to start learning about the inner workings of government — especially how policy is made. Later, through his participation in a series of extraordinary initiatives, the Ethics, Society & Law and political science graduate got the chance to work in the community at large and see how policy directly affects the lives of real people. As he looks toward the beginning of law school at U of T this fall, Hassani brings with him four solid years of experience with leadership, mentorship and policymaking — garnered both on and off the Trinity campus.

How did you get started in public policy work?

In my first year, I took two seminar courses. We studied international human rights law and examined the impact it might have on our domestic policy; for example, I wrote a paper on the new marijuana bill and how it could affect the protection of children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other course looked strictly at domestic policy — we discussed public transit, the minimum wage and many other things. It was a small-class setting, in which I was surrounded by very interested, motivated people and really got to know my professors. In my second year, after the stream changed to Policy, Philosophy & Economics, I became a mentor for the first-year students.

Later, you got the opportunity to craft policy off-campus as well. I understand you worked at the City of Toronto’s office of the Integrity Commissioner?

In my fourth year of the Ethics, Society & Law program, I got to work within the municipal environment. With my fellow student, William Goddard, we examined how the Integrity Commissioner’s office approaches cases of sexual harassment among municipal officials, looking both at the complaint process and the powers of the office to impose penalties. We assessed whether these would be appropriate with respect to this serious type of misconduct. William and I made some policy recommendations to help improve the complaint process, including making it more accessible for anyone wanting to come forward. And we also presented some ideas to improve the penalty system so that those who commit these acts are better held to account. It was quite an enriching experience.

Trinity is also home to the G20 research group, of which you were a significant member. Tell me about your experience there.

The G20 Research Group helps illustrate what countries in the G20 have committed to doing policy-wise during their summits and whether they’ve followed through on those commitments. The Group’s reports do not convey opinions or a personal perspective — they just try to clearly articulate what countries have promised to do and what they’ve actually achieved in a given year.

I first worked as a compliance analyst, examining climate change policy. In my second year, I was promoted to a lead analyst, editing compliance reports and providing basic guidance. And in third year I was the compliance director on terrorism policy, looking at how different laws in the digital sphere are working to prevent terrorism.

In addition to acting as a mentor in your own program, you also had the opportunity to study alongside learners in the community outside of U of T. What was that like?

One of my classes was shared with students from the Community Healing Project (CHP) which is run by the city. We looked at ideas of choice and agency, and how much free will we really have. And the unique part about it was that half the students were from Ethics, Society & Law, and the other half were students from the broader community. So we had a lot more diversity in terms of the conversation and the work that we do than in other courses. Many of the people in CHP had interesting and sometimes complex backgrounds, and it added to the intellectual debate about how factors in society affect our choices.

In third year, I was also a Humanities for Humanity mentor. This is a Trinity program where disadvantaged community members can attend special university lectures/discussions on various topics. Once a week, we’d all have dinner together, then listen to a lecture on economics, literature, history or another subject. Then I helped facilitate discussion. But as much as I did that, I also learned a lot, because it was great to share ideas with people from all walks of life.

Looking at all these opportunities, you might say that your classrooms — and classmates — could often be found well beyond the boundaries of the campus itself.

Even in some of my academic experiences, like in Trinity One, I was able to speak with policy officials and see how it all actually works in the real world. Then in my internships, I was able to see the theory of what I learned in class.

All in all, my experience at Trinity went beyond the basic theoretical conversation to the practical and realistic: what it’s actually like in the real world with people who’ve experienced it, and what can we do to make things better and solve some vital issues.

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