Meet Sarah Kenny
Written by: Nadia Crevecoeur
“WIIS has opened my eyes to a career path that will enable me to combine my passions for gender, politics, and conflict resolution”
Sarah Kenny did not grow up far from the WIIS office in Washington DC. Sarah spent most of her childhood only a few miles away in Vienna, Virginia. The budding writer earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia (UVa) in 2018, majoring in Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law and minoring in Women and Gender studies. Some might recognize Sarah’s name as she was the Student Body President of UVA during the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally which resulted in a terrorist attack and death of Heather Heyer. Sarah also led the campus through the death of Otto Warmbier and another smaller White Nationalist Rally directed by alt-right leader Richard Spencer. Throughout this period, Sarah has distinguished herself as a fierce advocate for human rights.
Sarah’s political activism does not come as a surprise considering she spent most of her childhood dinners talking about politics late into the night with her family. Sarah’s familial sense of social justice and activism is heavily rooted in their Catholic faith. Her grandparents on her mother’s side introduced her to social activism based in Catholicism; they are constantly marching for a new cause, volunteering, and discussing current affairs. Her closeness with her family reinforces her interest in political activism and civic engagement.
Sarah introduces Sen. Shelly Moore Capito at UVA's Women's Global Leadership Forum in November 2017
Sarah’s profound sense of activism drove her to write a thesis on the role of women in the alt-right. Her dissertation focused on an intersectional analysis of gender identity and white supremacy. While writing her thesis, Sarah gained a breadth of exposure to female ideological extremism and expanded her undergraduate studies from political philosophy, policy, and law to conflict resolution.
During her time as Student Body President, Sarah continually fou
Sarah visits Beijing, China with the Zhi Xing China Fellowship in July 2017
nd herself acting as a mediator in conflict. UVA’s campus became a microcosm of the broader political landscape with a significantly divided student body after the election of President Donald J. Trump. Each white nationalist rally and event seemed to polarize the community more. Otto Warmbier’s death opened Sarah’s eyes to human rights violations from an authoritarian regime and how it became consequential to her community. Otto’s death shocked UVA’s campus and forced the community to realize the horror of foreign political violence under a dictatorship. Otto’s death, coupled with the three white nationalist rallies, one of which constituted a domestic terror attack, exposed Sarah to the importance of mediation and conflict resolution.
Sarah leads a March for Our Lives rally at UVA in March 2018
As the Student Body President, she was immediately thrown into the role as the spokesperson for more than 20,000 students. In March 2017, Sarah ran on a platform of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the midst of the uptick in hate speech on campus after the 2016 Presidential election. In that role, Sarah decided to make the position political. She aimed to strengthen the voice of those whom she disagreed with. She faced ongoing backlash for her decision to politicize the position and work with students across ideological divides. Especially in the aftermath of the August 2017 rally, students took issue when she chose to work with conservative students. The Presidential position took a toll on her personal health, but she remains firm in her decisions and continues as an advocate for human rights.
After an eventful academic year, Sarah decided to work with WIIS. Sarah was initially attracted to WIIS because it aligned with her interests in the intersection of gender, politics, and conflict. Sarah believes in WIIS’ mission to include a gender perspective in politics and security because it provides an inclusive and democratic framework. The position also allows Sarah to delve into a particular subject and conduct independent research.
Sarah at her Undergraduate Graduation from UVA in May, 2018
When Sarah is not writing blog posts, policy briefs, or planning events for WIIS, she is either writing her book about coming of age in Trump’s America or applying for graduate school. Sarah also enjoys running, hiking, and dancing. She was a competitive Irish dancer for over a decade. Ten years from now, WIIS may see Sarah at the State Department or running for office.
Women In International Security welcomes Sarah with open arms. Her two younger sisters, Megan and Katie, and her two cockapoos have a superb role-model.