Jacqueline Pérez ’21 Aspires to Advance the Dominican Republic’s Criminal Justice System

Jacqueline Pérez ’21 Aspires to Advance the Dominican Republic’s Criminal Justice System

Jacqueline Pérez ’21 Aspires to Advance the Dominican Republic’s Criminal Justice System

On the soccer field Jacqueline Pérez ’21, an International Criminal Justice major, works hard to protect her team’s goal. As an advisor to the Dominican Delegation at the United Nations (U.N.) she aims to defend the rights of Dominican people. And, here at John Jay, she eagerly attends class hoping to implement what she learns to advance the criminal justice system of the Dominican Republic (D.R.). “When I first started applying to colleges I didn’t know what I wanted to do. After going to a career counseling program, I realized I wanted to go into the Criminal Justice field and found out about John Jay,” she said. “The College is always pushing its students to think outside the box about issues affecting their community and the world. They strive to inspire their students to be unafraid in challenging the norm while showing them how to extend a hand. And when it comes to accomplishing their dreams, John Jay teaches their students that if they can see it, they can achieve it. It’s because of my experience at John Jay that I’ll be ready to return to D.R. after I graduate, and become a strong voice for change.”

“It’s because of my experience at John Jay that I’ll be ready to return to D.R. after I graduate, and become a strong voice for change.” —Jacqueline Pérez

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where I lived with my mother, father, and two siblings; I’m the youngest of my siblings. I came to the United States in 2017, when I decided to come to college here. Up until that point, I had always lived in D.R., but I had travelled to New York a couple of times as a tourist. My brother and sister both attended college in Georgia; my sister moved back to the D.R. afterwards, but my brother stayed and still lives there so seeing that they were able to leave home, successfully go to college, and establish their careers, made my decision to study in the United States easier, even though I do miss my parents.

What was it about John Jay that made you want to come here?
I honestly had never heard about John Jay before starting the college search process. In the D.R., I got used to seeing everyone I knew going into the “normal”  fields of study, such as law, marketing, architecture, engineering, education, psychology, etc. But I knew I wanted a different path. I remember speaking to my father and telling him that I wanted to be a writer. Then, one of my counselors suggested the Criminal Justice field; I never knew this field of study even existed until then. I thought about it and something just felt right about this idea of helping people. After the conversation, I started doing some research about the different majors that could lead to work in the law enforcement field. And that’s when I found out about John Jay and their Criminal Justice major. When I learned more about the College, I loved its mission and how diverse the student body was. I ended up speaking to my guidance counselor about the College, who spoke to friends she has here in New York City. They all said that John Jay was a great school and suggested that I come tour it. When I did, I immediately felt like I was right at home.

Perez at the United Nations
Pérez at the United Nations

What made you switch from Criminal Justice to International Criminal Justice?
What I really liked about the criminal justice field—I’m majoring in International Criminal Justice—is that it offers a wide range of opportunities to really help your community. Switching from Criminal Justice to International Criminal Justice allowed me to shift away from strictly studying the American justice system, and instead learn about a more broad spectrum of international and transnational issues that are in play in the global theatre, which is knowledge that I can better apply once I return to my home country. You could go into law enforcement, politics, become a lawyer, or do advocacy work. This is something that a lot of other fields don’t offer, and had I stayed in D.R. and followed the typical career path there, I don’t think I would have found my passion for human rights and international relations. This major teaches you how to have a different perspective on various issues.

“Had I stayed in D.R. and followed the typical career path there, I don’t think I would have found my passion for human rights and international relations.” —Jacqueline Pérez

What has been some of your favorite memories about being at John Jay?
I lived at the Educational Housing Services New Yorker Residence during my first two years at the College, and those have been two of my favorite years here. Coming from a different country, I didn’t have any friends. I wasn’t part of a cohort. But living in this dorm gave me a cohort experience. I was able to meet new people and create really strong bonds with the students that lived there. I even had classes with a few of them, and just being able to see those friendly faces in class, and knowing that I could reach out to them if I was struggling, was comforting. They welcomed me and became my support system here when I didn’t have anyone else around.

Being part of the soccer team has also given me that sense of a family unit. I didn’t join the team when I first came to the College, but once I did, I was automatically given this amazing group of friends. There’s such a small group of the student body here at the College who are student-athletes. Having friends who understand what it’s like to juggle classes and a sport is a great thing and makes my time here easier.

Perez on the soccer field (photo credit: Denis Gostev)
Pérez on the soccer field
(photo credit: Denis Gostev)

You’re part of the Women’s Soccer Team. What has being a student-athlete taught you?
Being a student-athlete has definitely taught me discipline. I’m a goalkeeper on the team, and I have to wake up every day at six in the morning to get to practice at seven. It’s not an easy thing to do, but being on the soccer team has given me all the ingredients I need for success—hard work, perseverance, and discipline—and I couldn’t be more grateful. I remember when I first joined, we would go around the room asking each other why we decided to join. Of course, we would all say that it was because we love the sport, but for me, a lot of it had to do with wanting to be part of a team. As an international student, I am far away from my family. The soccer team has become like family. They are my safety net and it’s nice knowing that when I’m walking around campus, there are familiar faces that I can find home in.

“The soccer team has become like family. They are my safety net and it’s nice knowing that when I’m walking around campus, there are familiar faces that I can find home in.” —Jacqueline Pérez

You’re currently interning as an advisor to the Dominican Delegation in the Security Council at the United Nations. What has this experience been like for you?
I first heard about this opportunity from a friend. He was actually supposed to be doing this internship but the timing didn’t work out for him. We met up one day and we were talking about my major and my interest in human rights and international crimes, and he told me about the opportunity to intern at the United Nations. He gave me the recruiters email; I reached out to them, and got the internship. I officially started during the fall 2018 semester. I was incredibly lucky to have a friend willingly help me advance in my career and pursue my interest.

My time in the U.N. has been amazing. As an advisor, we help delegates conduct research about current political situations in a country, and we also assist with briefings. Right now, I’m working with the Security Council on a Women, Peace and Security resolution. The goal is to preserve peace and security around the world. It also covers issues pertaining to women and their involvement in all parts of the peace process. It’s been proven that peace lasts longer if women are a part of the negotiation process. They’re 50 percent of the population, so if a peace agreement is aimed towards the needs of only half of the society, how long is it going to last? And the same can be said for involving youth in these agreements. If both these two groups are present for negotiations, it becomes a more holistic, well-rounded peace agreement. My time at the U.N. has given me a broader view on the international world and has made me more aware about the issues going on around me. It’s been an experience that I never would have gotten without John Jay and the help of my friend.

Perez’s soccer headshot
Pérez’s soccer headshot
(photo credit: Denis Gostev)

The Dominican Republic just became part of the Security Council in January 2019. Why is this important for the Country?
They are now part of the 10 rotating countries, and it’s the first time in history that the Dominican Republic is part of the Security Council. It’s great to see my country in the broader international spectrum because that’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time. When it comes to foreign policy, it’s amazing to see the country evolve and become a topic of interest and discussion, because they have flown under the radar for so long. I don’t think anyone was anticipating for D.R. to become part of the Security Council, but now they have. And being able to see my country become part of history, and being able to contribute to that even in a small way, makes this moment that much more special.

Why is it important to have student voices in the United Nations?
We are the next generation of leaders. We have different viewpoints on various issues, and even though we are young, we are very knowledgeable about what is going on around us. It’s our future that is going to be affected by the decisions that are being made here, so why not have us involved in the process? Opportunities like interning at the U.N. offers students the chance to learn more about issues affecting the world. And, it really helps speak to the value of diversity, and not just of race and gender, but of age. The Youth Envoy for the African Union is a 19-year-old girl. She recently spoke to the Security Council, and seeing how young she was and the title she has, is empowering. It shows other young people that they can achieve anything. And it shows them that they are being heard regardless of their age.

“Opportunities like interning at the U.N. offers students the chance to learn more about issues affecting the world.” —Jacqueline Pérez

In an ideal world, 10 years from now, where do you see yourself?
I would love to be a consultant for a government organization because I want to help reform the criminal justice system and fight crime. But what I really want to do is go back to the Dominican Republic and be a leading voice when it comes to criminal justice reform. The country is my home, and I see a lot of the corruption and ways that the government may not be acting in the best interest of the Dominican people, but I have a lot of hope for my country. And, I have a lot of hope for the younger generation there. They are becoming more aware of what is going on and more aware of their voice and the role that they play. My ultimate goal is to go back to the Dominican Republic and use my John Jay education, to lead the charge in criminal justice reform.

To learn more about Jacqueline Pérez’s story, watch the video below: