Maha Jweied graduated with a double JD/LLM degree from Columbia Law School and the University of London. That she chose to pursue a truly international legal education should come as no surprise: from the start, her life has involved the blending of places and cultures. The daughter of Jordanian Orthodox Christians, she was born in the United States, yet maintained a deep cultural connection to her parents' homeland.
Ms. Jweied grew up with a strong sense of devotion to her Arab-American heritage. She says that, thankfully, this interest stems from pride fostered in her own family, not from personal experience of discrimination. Indeed, she credits her immigrant parents with making her feel comfortable with her dual identity by encouraging both her participation in typical American activities and her attendance at an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, where services are conducted in Arabic and English. However, she has always been keenly aware of the discrimination that others faced, both domestically and internationally.
At George Washington University, from which she graduated magna cum laude in 1999, Ms. Jweied was president of the Arab Student Association, whose mission was to promote unity and understanding on campus. Later, as a second-year law student, while saddened by the increase in hate crimes directed towards Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans, she was comforted by the support she received at the Law School. "In the wake of the devastating events of 9/11, I was apprehensive of how I would be treated as an Arab American living in New York," she says, "My apprehension, however, quickly faded as the Law School community, including members of the administration and the student body, reached out to me during this difficult time."
Having long had a fascination with how the law empowers people, Ms. Jweied chose Columbia after visiting the campus and reading about the wide range of international programs the School offered. She has taken seminars on such diverse topics as transnational business and human rights, Islamic law, and equality and multicultural societies. During her first summer of law school, she completed a Human Rights Internship with the Mizan Law Group for Human Rights, an advocacy/pro bono group for people who cannot afford representation, located in Amman, Jordan. Although this organization had not been on Columbia's roster of available internships, the Law School accommodated her request to work there. A proficient Arabic speaker, she assisted women in child-custody disputes.
Ms. Jweied learned of the double-degree program with the University of London during Admitted Students' Day at the Law School. The most intriguing aspect of the program, she says, was the opportunity to take classes from any of the University of London's five colleges. While there, she took courses in international criminal law and in armed conflict, and wrote her dissertation on group rights. It was a momentous time to be studying international law, as professors brought discussions of war in Iraq and terrorism into the classroom. Studying in another country also enabled Ms. Jweied to see the world's reaction to U.S. policies, "which gave me a different perspective than one I could have gained in the United States at that time," she says. While in London, Ms. Jweied maintained her position as an articles editor on the Columbia Human Rights Law Review "thanks to the miracle of e-mail."
Ms. Jweied is now a litigation associate at Arent Fox in Washington, D.C., and she also dedicates time to pro bono work on issues such as race discrimination and the death penalty.