Major Insight Ep. 1: What It Really Means to Be a Global Citizen

Emily Tatum

A production of Miami University and the Reframe podcast, Major Insight showcases the stories behind successful college students, their promising new research and its relevance in our world.

On this debut episode, Major Insight host and Miami student Jacob Bruggeman speaks with Emily Tatum, who explains how her university experiences helped transform her passions into internships with the Pentagon and U.S. Department of State, what it really means to be a global citizen, and much more.

Featured Majors

International Studies, Political Science, Spanish, Latin American Studies

Featured Study Abroad

Cuba in Transition

Featured Internships

U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense at the Pentagon, U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador

Read the transcript

Major Insight is a production of Miami University and the reframe podcast. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research, and its relevance in our world.


American foreign policy can sometimes seem like a distant and abstract concept that affects faraway places. But what does it actually mean for the lives of those who are directly affected? For Miami University senior Emily Tatum, this is a difficult question to process until you’ve spent time in the places and with the people who live with these day-to-day political realities.

Emily Tatum is an international studies and political science major who has completed internships with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of State, as well as several study abroads. She’s also participated in UN foreign policy conferences in Thailand and Poland. 

And on this episode, Emily speaks with Miami student and major insight host Jacob Bruggeman about what it really means to be a global citizen, her research on the recent evolution of U.S. Cuba policy, and more.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Alright. Welcome to the podcast. So, Emily can you give us a little bit of an overview of what the research is that you're working on? And then, how you got to that place where you decided this is something that interests you?

Emily Tatum:

Well, thanks for having me on Jacob. So, I focus on Latin American politics in my studies here. I’m a senior. I study international studies, political science, and Latin American studies. And Cuba has always been a fascination for me. And so, I’m concluding my time at Miami by doing a dean scholars project with the College of Arts and Science, where I’m focusing on the evolution of Cuba policy. So I can talk a little bit more about that.

But, first, I want to talk about why Latin America the first place? During high school, I was really interested in Spanish, was the nerd in my Spanish class, always raising my hand, always wanting to participate, and I was a history nerd. However, I didn't really see myself fully in either subject, long term. And so, I was waiting to see where the overlap would be. My final semester in high school, I took an international relations course with a history teacher who had previously done work at the Pentagon, and it was the start of the rise of ISIS, and I just got to class every day and thought this is what I want to do. But the Latin America piece wouldn't really tie back in until, I’d say sophomore year at Miami when I kept going with Spanish. And then, I heard about this trip to Cuba with Melanie Ziegler and Walt Vanderbush, professors in international studies and Latin American studies. And I knew instantly, when I heard about this trip, that I had to go. I thought, wow, Miami is sending students to Cuba.

Jacob Bruggeman:

What was the curriculum, or the courses that were involved with that trip?

Emily Tatum:

The title and the trip is called “Cuba and Transition.” And so, the original intent behind the program -- and it was originally created by Latin American studies professor Juan Carlos Albarran -- who's a Cuban professor himself. And so, he and Melanie Ziegler designed the trip so that students can see the progression of Cuba before, in their opinion and their fears, that Cuba would become truly capitalistic, and just like another part of the Caribbean that's very catered to U.S. interests. So, when Obama started to open up relations, really, back starting in 2014-2015, they knew they had to act fast. And so, that's why they titled the trip “Cuba and Transition,” and away we went. 

I went my sophomore year and loved it. And was fascinated just to see the differences between my stereotypes of Cuba and the realities. It wasn't quite as tense as I had imagined it would be. The Cuban people are very lovely and open and musical and passionate, for sure. But you don't hear the same revolutionary rhetoric as you would have 40 years ago. And then, coupled with my political science studies, while we were there in Cuba, in his final weeks in office, President Obama announces the end of the Wet Foot Dry Foot Act.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Describe what that is for our listeners. 

Emily Tatum:

So back under the Clinton Administration, he changed the Cuban Adjustment Act, which basically was a negotiation between Cuba and the U.S., which when Cubans were traveling between Havana and Miami, they would be sent back to Cuba or sent to Guantanamo for a holding facility if they were apprehended in the water. But, if they reached the sandy beaches of Miami, on dry land, if their feet were truly dry, then they could stay in the U.S., and they would have these privileges that other immigrants from Latin America would not receive. They often had a pathway to a green card. Social security benefits. These were the provisions the U.S. government gave to Cuban migrants to say we don't support your government, but we want to support you. Welcome to the U.S. La-dee-da. 

Jacob Bruggeman:

A literal wet foot dry foot policy. It seems absurd. But . . . Ah . . .

Emily Tatum:

Yeah. But, in the …. I don't know … in the public sphere, at the time, and I guess it's sort of made sense. Because there was an uncontrollable amount of people coming, and the U.S. government really didn't know what to do. So, but, Obama, back in January 2017, when I was in Cuba, decided in his final weeks in office, he was going to end that policy. Thereby normalizing Cuban immigration to the U.S., so that Cuban migrants would have to come just like Mexican migrants. And Guatemalan migrants. And Salvadorian migrants. And they would not receive the same privileges as other migrants had. And so, this received a mixed opinion in Cuba. Some of our tour guides, and people we met, who were more in favor of the revolution, and in favor of the Castro Administration. And so, that was still in the public consciousness too. What was Fidel’s legacy going to be now that he's passed away? So, we had a mixed opinion on the policy change. And so, it was fascinating to have direct conversations with Cubans, some who were giving me high-fives because I was supportive of the policy change. And they're like, yes! But then, there are other people who were sad and conflicted. Because they viewed that exit point as sort of a dream in the U.S. And saying, you know, if all else fails, I have that.

So, I think that moment in Cuba gave me my first entry of how my studies of political science and my studies of international studies work in Latin America, and how I can use them in a direct way. I can be in conversations with people. I can see the policy change on the ground. And my studies of Spanish all just tied in and made that possible. 

Jacob Bruggeman:

It sort of makes the studies that you've come to enjoy at Miami a little bit more human.

Emily Tatum:

Absolutely. And I think especially studying U.S. foreign policy, which is the center of my studies, often, you know, you can be in these international relations theories. And I love the theories. But you can study these countries like they're distant. And that, oh, yes, this is the archetype of U.S. foreign policy, and this is the evolution of it. But what does that actually look like? What does that look like for the Cuban Americans who are visiting their Cuban relatives back in Havana? What does that mean for the new Administration in Cuba, and their thoughts on continuing to normalize relations? So many of these questions you can't truly understand by staying in the U.S.

And so, I realized, halfway through college, that in order for me to truly excel in U.S. foreign policy and my ambitions to work in the U.S. government, I needed to leave the U.S. And I believe in order to create truly just, smart policy, you need to spend time in the regions in which you're creating policy towards. 

Jacob Bruggeman:

Yeah. And there's a way in which staying in the books, so speak, keeping your head up in the clouds, if you will, with the theories also does sort of obscure the human action.

Emily Tatum:

Mm-hmm. At the beginning of college, I would have considered myself a global citizen, I think, as many lofty college students do. And so, at the beginning of college, I thought, I’m a global citizen. I truly respect, you know, all the world. And I want to just be, you know, the child of the UN, and live this happy globalized life. However, the more you travel abroad, the more you realize how you're not a global citizen. And how you’re a U.S., or an American, or whatever title you want to put on yourself. Because you carry the weight and the privileges of being an American abroad. And there would be conversations I would have with friends and other countries, who would just look at me and say, “Emily, you have no idea.” But you step outside the U.S., the more you realize your position, and our country’s and our government's position in the international system.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Excellent. So the other Miami a specific opportunity that I want to talk about is the College of Arts and Sciences dean scholars program, which you're currently involved with, producing an honors thesis. So could you tell us a little bit about how that research is going, especially in the face of an ever-evolving foreign policy under Donald Trump? And then, after that, perhaps we could talk about your mentor in that project, Dr. Haney, who is now in the dean's office. But let's hear about your current research.

Emily Tatum:

So, first to talk a little bit about the program itself. The College of Arts and Sciences dean scholars program is a program that encourages and provides funding for seniors at Miami in the college to create a senior thesis, or a faculty mentor project, that really hones in on what they study. It's a great opportunity to just structure, I’d say, a research project. Because often students think, oh, I want to do a research project. I want to do a thesis. But then it doesn't feel structured.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Who knows what that means until you really put the rubber to the road?

Emily Tatum:

Exactly. Until you start writing. So, my decision to do this was, in part, because I knew I should and I wanted to write something substantial at the end of college that showed sort of the culmination of what I have studied. And how I sort of came across the topic, and the reason why Dr. Haney is my mentor, is because of Cuba. Cuba is that fascinating overlay of political science, of foreign policy, of domestic politics, of my studies of Spanish. And so, the more I got to know Dr. Haney throughout college, and the more I began to pick his brain on his studies of Cuba policy. And so, once Trump was elected into office, and once I had that moment in Havana with the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy, I knew I wanted to keep studying the region and the country's politics.

And so, after the Cuba trip, I had seen the domestic Cuban side. But I hadn't really dived into the U.S. perspective. And so, now I’m evaluating the evolution of Cuba policy under the Trump Administration. Evaluating what are they changing? What are they not changing? And why? Because so often we've seen changes in Cuba policy happen right before the election … a midterm election. Or the presidential election. To win the Cuban-American vote. To win over Florida. But Trump is sort of changing that a little bit. And we'll see what happens. And this is, given your question of how is this working, as the world never stops changing, and neither does our foreign policy. It's been a bit challenging. Back in the fall, I was thinking, oh, well, Trump really hasn't done much. But then, back in, I believe, October or November, national security adviser John Bolton announces a troika of tyranny in the region, claiming that Cuba and Nicaragua and Venezuela are a troika - a great Russian word that says a group of three of tyranny.

And so, it's sort of it changed things for me. And I looked at Dr. Haney. I was meeting with him and said, yikes, okay, this sort of changes stuff. And really, after that speech, we've seen a change in Trump's Cuba policy. As right now, the Administration is evaluating whether to suspend, or not suspend, Title 3 of the Helms-Burton Law. The Helms-Burton Law was signed by the Clinton Administration in the 90s. And this act sort of strengthened the embargo and made it so that an Administration couldn't unilaterally strip the embargo. Or the executive branch could not. And so, that sort of codified the embargo into congress. And through that, Title 3 would allow U.S. citizens to launch lawsuits at foreign companies who took their land or property in Cuba. Every president has seen this as a very terrifying future possibility, and an international relations crisis between different countries, as we start to launch lawsuits against other countries’ top corporations. So every Administration has sort of set that aside, suspending it every six months, until now.

And we're currently in a 90-day review point announced by the Trump Administration as to whether or not they will suspend it. And so, if they don't suspend it, the lawsuits begin. And that would be the biggest change yet in Trump's Cuba policy, in comparison to Obama’s or Bush's or even Clinton’s foreign policy.

Jacob Bruggeman:

Simon Sinek, with the famous ted talk, says start with why. Why do you think that Trump is at least entertaining this change?

Emily Tatum:

The Trump foreign policy agenda is a bit confusing to sort through. And so, I think, first and foremost, I’d say it's Florida. And that's what everyone says, it's all about Florida. And that it's tied to elections in Florida. I’m not entirely convinced that that's the sole reason. With the recent events in Venezuela, with the separation between Nicolas Maduro, and then the newly declared president, Juan Guaidó, we're seeing a change in Latin American policy for the Trump Administration.

And so, as we're starting to pull out of Afghanistan, and out of Iraq, as the Trump Administration has laid out in the past weeks and month, we're seeing sort of an escalation in the western hemisphere region with all military options on the table. With Venezuela. With this heightened rhetoric towards Cuba. An ongoing scrutiny of Nicaragua. So, I think it may be part of a larger regional strategy, especially crafted by Marco Rubio and John Bolton, both of whom have the president's ear on Latin American policy. And so, I think Florida will always be the bastion of Cuban electoral politics as long as the Cuban communist party stays in power. Miguel Diaz-Cane has really been mentored -- the current Cuban president -- by Raul and by Fidel, when he was still living. And so, that relationship has remained largely unaltered. And so, Trump has spoken to the Cuban American lobbies in Miami. He's received the backing of a lot of the hardline leaders in the region. But, when we compared to Venezuela, things are changing for the Trump Administration. Things are changing in our overall trajectory of U.S. policy towards Latin America.

Jacob Bruggeman:

You've built this set of expertise on the subject, through your now three and a half years here. What have been, if you could identify them for our listeners, the core experiences at Miami, or core experiences sort of related to your Miami experience -- internships for example -- that have allowed you to build this expertise on the subject?

Emily Tatum:

Mm-hmm. First, I want to say, before I step into my internships, was a class that I took with the Spanish department. I think, one question people always have with languages is: How do you get to be proficient in language? I’m embarrassed. I get frustrated. I didn't have a great class in high school for Spanish. One, I’d say keep sticking with it. At the end of high school, I didn't really have the fluency in Spanish. But then I got to Miami, and I started just pushing myself in Spanish. And I found myself in this Spanish elective that's titled Spanish for community work.

And similarly, always politically timed, I was in this class fall 2016, during the presidential election. And we had placements in the local community, where we could interact with Spanish speakers. And so, I got placed in the Spanish-speaking church in Westchester, which was just a great overlap of my studies, in my faith, in my political understanding at the time. Because I was tasked to create an election preparation class. And so, this church had created some classes for attendees of the church to improve their English, or to help their kids with homework help. But then, there was this other class, that was for people who had recently become citizens to prep for the election. And the pastor of the church had told me, just be apolitical, and I just want you to talk about what is a referendum? And how do you find your polling station? And what should we be paying attention to in prepping for the elections? What dates are important? And really stepping back, and seeing the electoral system in that way, and in the eyes of recently naturalized citizens, was incredible.

And it really pushed me in my Spanish, and in my studies of Latin American politics, and of domestic politics, and all of that. So then, after that, I stepped more into the professional side by doing two internships with the government. One with the U.S. Department of State, and in Ecuador, where I later studied abroad. I did an internship with the U.S. Embassy in Quito in the public affairs section. And it really gave me the U.S. perspective on Ecuadorian politics and the life of diplomats of foreign service officers abroad. Growing up, you always hear about diplomats, and what they do.

Jacob Bruggeman:

The mysterious life of international luxury.

Emily Tatum:

Right. You don't really understand what their day-to-day life looks like. And getting to be with them, and sitting at the lunch tables with foreign service officers, hanging out with them on the weekends, going on trips, joking with them. I mean, it just gives you a completely different window into their lives, and into the profession. And that's what internships are supposed to do. The following summer, I wanted to get the D.C. perspective. And so, I ended up in an internship with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Long title. Basically, it's the secretary of defense's policy wing on Latin American policy and Canadian policy.

And so, throughout the summer, I was able to just meet lots of people, both in the department and outside the department. Miami alumni who are based in D.C. and start to understand what does the policy sphere look like in D.C.? What does it look like to be in the defense apparatus? And the defense side of Latin American policy, opposed to the more political diplomatic side of the state department? And it just gave me a window into what my life could be in D.C. we have so many friends in the political science department who are now based in D.C., either recent graduates or people who are there for summer internships. And returning there seems very natural. I know, in the near future, I’ll end up there. And in a great way with many other Miami students.

Jacob Bruggeman:

It's always an interesting time, as Dr. Haney says, to study foreign policy. Because, in part, it's fluid and, in part, it's developing. Things are developing for us, on the verge of graduation here at Miami University. So tell us what's on the horizon, or what may be on the horizon?

Emily Tatum:

So, I’m constantly thinking about this question. And I have a few things that I’ve applied for and I’m waiting to hear back on. One, primarily is with the Fulbright U.S. student program that's supported by the Department of Education in the U.S. that allows you to study, or serve as an English teaching assistant, or do a graduate program in another country. So I’ve applied to Columbia in South America. I would love to be placed as an English teaching assistant, helping out with University classrooms there, and serving as a resource, as a native English speaker.

So that's one option, and I hope the likely option. But if not Colombia, then I would love to return to D.C. I have applied to a few different jobs there, both in think tanks and private organizations. And after that, I would eventually like to do my masters in international affairs and enter into the State Department. 

Jacob Bruggeman:

Excellent. Well, thank you, Emily. It sounds like many an exciting opportunity are on the horizon.

Emily Tatum:

Yeah. Thanks for having me on.


Emily Tatum is a senior at Miami University, where she studies international studies, political science, and Latin American studies. She plans to graduate this May.

Major Insight a production of Miami University and the Reframe podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend. It’s available for free on Apple Podcasts, Sound cCoud, and on Google Play Music.

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Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase our students and how they transform academic subjects into lifelong passions. Join us wherever you listen to your podcasts and discover these students journeys.

Host Jacob Bruggeman

Jacob Bruggemam

The Major Insight podcast is hosted by Jacob Bruggeman. Bruggeman, a Miami Honors student and double-major in History and Political Science created the podcast to feature stories of students navigating 21st century academic life.

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