Courtesy of Rabhya Mehrotra

Growing up near Washington D.C., Rabhya Mehrotra ’23 was intrigued by questions of political representation, democracy and policy from a young age. Next year, she will pursue those interests in Ireland as a George J. Mitchell Scholar.

Mehrotra, a computer science and political science major, was among 12 scholars nationwide selected for the Mitchell Scholar Class of 2024 and will begin her master’s in Political Communication at Dublin City University next September. 

The scholarship, administered by the US-Ireland Alliance, allows selected scholars to pursue a yearlong graduate degree on the island of Ireland. Named after U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell, who was instrumental in the adoption of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the scholarship aims to strengthen ties between American students and Ireland.

“I think that I have focused for the past four and a half years on how to make a life for myself at Yale and how to get the most of my time at Yale,” Mehrotra said. “It was really helpful to think concretely about what I wanted to do in the future and get excited about opportunities elsewhere.” 

Mehrotra added that the application process allowed her to think about her goals, including whether she wanted to pursue further graduate studies.

During her time at Yale, Mehrotra served as Opinion Editor of the News and co-director of the Yale Politics Initiative. She also competed for the Yale Debate Association and was a member of the Yale Program in Grand Strategy. 

According to Office of Fellowship Programs director Rebekah Westphal, students interested in applying for the Mitchell Scholarship during their senior year should consult with the Office of Fellowship Programs during their junior spring, in order to receive support such as one-on-one meetings with advisors, interview practice and application review. 

“Rabhya made a very strong application because she had a very specific plan for the scholarship and had thought through why this made sense for her to pursue now,” Westphal wrote to the News.

While students who apply to the Mitchell Scholarship during their senior year must receive Yale’s nomination, applicants who apply as alumni are not required to obtain nomination by Yale. 

In an interview with the News, Mehrotra emphasized her excitement about the various aspects of the program, including developing a familiarity with Ireland, getting to know her cohort, and pursuing her academic interests in participatory democracy.

As part of a project for the Program in Grand Strategy, Mehrotra researched the 2010-2013 Icelandic proposal for constitutional reform, an unsuccessful attempt to create a foundation for participatory democracy in Iceland. 

Mehrotra noted the value of “deeply experiencing the small details of another place,” referencing her time in Iceland. Living there allowed her to understand how dynamics such as the dominance of Iceland’s fishing industry shaped political decisions.

“Over the years, I’ve been surprised by how many people who are influential in American politics have spent significant time abroad and how that’s shaped their perspective on politics,” she said. “I think there’s a lot to be gained from living somewhere else.”

During her time in Ireland, Mehrotra hopes to research the nation’s Citizens’ Assembly. She was particularly interested in the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland as it is a successful implementation of a participatory democracy initiative.

Mehrotra noted that while some of these initiatives existed in the United States, such as the Washington state climate assembly and public opinion polling initiatives conducted by Stanford University, these initiatives were not particularly expansive. In contrast, the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland empowers citizens to develop policy on issues such as biodiversity loss, drug policy  and abortion.

At Dublin City University, Mehrotra will study with Jane Suiter, who has extensively researched and been involved with the Citizens’ Assembly. 

“We are delighted to have Rabhya as part of the 2024 Mitchell Scholars Class, and found her research on citizens assemblies quite timely and interesting,” Mitchell Scholarship director Serena Wilson wrote to the News.

Mehrotra says she developed an interest in politics in middle and high school, citing her participation in debate and her interest in the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign as drivers of this interest. After learning about the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, in which Citizens United, a conservative political action committee successfully undermined campaign finance restrictions, she became interested in “how moneyed interests affect politics.”

According to Mehrotra, her interest in citizens’ assemblies and participatory democracy was catalyzed by taking “Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century,” a course taught by professor Hélène Landemore in Spring 2021.

“It was the first time that I learned about alternative approaches to representative democracy,” Mehrotra said of the course, adding that she would like to bring participatory democracy to the United States during her career. “It was like a lightbulb went off.”

The Mitchell Scholarship was established in 1998.