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Alumni Spotlight: James Allman-Gulino

Our series on alumni who served as Big Brothers in the earliest years of our Men's Leadership Project continues this week with James Allman-Gulino. James graduated from the College with a Foreign Affairs major in 2008 and earned his Masters in Public Policy from the Batten School in 2009. Today, as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State, James handles Political Affairs and is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. 


Whose work inspires you to aim higher or think differently?

I am a big movie fan, and I really appreciate those directors whose work elevates perspectives which are usually marginalized in film, and who challenge viewers to think outside the normal narratives and easy conclusions which we’re used to.  Especially since movies reach a huge audience and inspire a correspondingly large amount of conversations.  I’m thinking people like Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, and Barry Jenkins.


How have you found that you are able make a positive impact on the world?

The biggest way I make a positive impact on the world is simply by recognizing people on a daily basis - engaging with them, being friendly, and thanking them for whatever they do (particularly if they’re in an under-recognized type of position, like a driver or janitor).  It’s small, but everyone can do it.  The big things that when I was younger I thought I’d do – Helping other countries develop!  Negotiating peace deals!  Spreading democracy! – are about a thousand times more difficult and contingent on a thousand other things which you have no control over.  Systems are big and extraordinarily hard to change; focus on the small things and you’ll be less discouraged.


What’s something you learned in school/college that turned out to be useful later, in some way you didn’t expect?

How to think.  This sounds silly and reductionist at first, but gimme a chance - despite all of its flaws, the American education system can be extremely good at teaching students how to think about the world in creative and analytic ways.  That’s something incredibly hard to teach (or even nail down how to teach), and is something that can be missing from other countries’ education systems.  In the U.S. we don’t  just memorize facts or merely learn how to compute – we absorb information, analyze it in structures, and interpret it (in different, creative ways) to find solutions.  We are problem-solvers, which our country and the world needs.  So if you’re really frustrated with a class you care little about, try to focus less on the subject matter and more on learning how you approach it more effectively.  You’ll thank yourself later!


How has your view of feminism or yourself as a feminist changed over time?

I think my conception of feminism is constantly evolving, based on the people with whom I interact and the wisdom and experiences they share with me.  I’m particularly lucky to see this on a global level – feminist ideas might be different in the U.S., Asia, and Africa, all places in which I’ve lived.  The main conclusions I’ve come to from this are that a) “feminism” has many different perspectives and strategies within it, and is not just a singular concept; and b) there is healthy debate and disagreement within the feminist community about those contrasting ideological strands.


What is your favorite UVA memory?

This is easy for me.  My fifth year, when I was a grad student at the Batten school, I lived on the Range.  Our Master’s thesis was due right around the last week of school.  Working part-time, figuring out employment post-graduation, and…admittedly not a great time manager, I (and several other of my classmates) pulled several consecutive long nights in order to finish our theses.  The morning we finally turned them in, we  - despite being fuzzy with exhaustion - all gathered back at my Range room to celebrate.  About an hour in, we get a knock at my door, and it’s Mellow Mushroom delivery.  What gives?  We didn’t order any pizza?  Our half-awake selves struggle through the confusion, until the delivery guy finally gives the name on the order…and it’s one of our beloved Batten administrators.. The crowd goes wild.  We gorge on Mellow (the administrator and others from the Batten team later join us) and share in the post-thesis elation until I give in to my sleep deprivation sometime midday.  And that’s how I epically (okay, and nerdily) ended my time at UVA.

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