InterVarsity Alumni - Jean Geran

Kristine Whitnable
July 17, 2006

We have read the news from around the world: religious believers are being imprisoned and tortured, women are being sexually assaulted and often denied an education. We read and are concerned but seem to have no real power to do anything about it. Public servants like Jean Geran, who are also people of faith, have the privilege and the opportunity to work for justice in some of these situations.

We have read the news from around the world: religious believers are being imprisoned and tortured, women are being sexually assaulted and often denied an education. We read and are concerned but seem to have no real power to do anything about it. Public servants like Jean Geran, who are also people of faith, have the privilege and the opportunity to work for justice in some of these situations.

Jean received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Georgetown University, her master’s degree in rural development from Michigan State University, and her doctorate in development studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was involved in InterVarsity throughout her academic career; however, it was an InterVarsity graduate student discussion group at Wisconsin that helped Jean to integrate her faith with the material she was studying and prepared her for the work ahead.

When Jean received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2001 in development studies, she planned to use her education working with non-governmental organizations, probably in Southeast Asia where she had done field work for her dissertation. But shortly after graduation, Jean received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was offered a position in the United States Department of State.

As part of her duties working for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, she traveled to the Thai-Burma border and interviewed women victims of sexual violence as they escaped Burma (renamed Myanmar by the current regime). She listened to the stories of these brave women, often staying late into the night. As a U.S. government official, she was able to corroborate reports written by non-governmental organizations about the widespread rape of ethnic minority women by the Burmese military. As a result of these reports and Jean’s interviews, the issue received increased international attention and the United Nations pressed for an international inquiry into the human rights violations of the Burmese military.

Jean has also met with religious leaders in Vietnam and China, offering the presence of the U.S. government and the encouragement of a fellow Christian. She has helped to gain the release of some Christians.

Jean has also worked to promote women’s rights. As a part of International Women’s Day, she helped organize a meeting with First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the women leaders from Muslim majority countries in the Middle East and Asia. This meeting and the publicity that followed has given support women who work for women’s rights in Arab countries.

In May of 2006 Jean received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Association. The photo with this article is from the video biography created for the award ceremony. Her acceptance speech, including a short testimony of God’s grace in her life, can also be viewed online.

God is concerned about the poor and the oppressed and desires that all people be free to worship him. He calls on his people to share this concern and work on behalf of those imprisoned for their faith. Throughout Scripture, we read of God’s desire for justice. He sometimes uses individuals like Jean to show the world what godly justice looks like.

UPDATE: Jean Geran is now a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, and is involved in the Each Campaign, “a global effort to ensure that EACH child grows up in a loving family.”