The internet can rarely be a joyful place, but in the midst of university graduations, people on Twitter have banded together to congratulate one student for completing her final dissertation.
Toju Adelaja, 21, is a final-year law student at the University of Glasgow and works at a nongovernmental organization dedicated to fundraising for refugee lawyers in Greek camps. So for her final paper for school, she wrote about the topic she felt was most important to herself and her work: refugees and rom-coms.
The essay is titled: "'In Conclusion, May I Remind You, It Does Not Say ‘RSVP’ on the Statue of Liberty': Is the Definition of the Refugee Provided in Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention Still Fit for Purpose?"
Adelaja’s dissertation focused on the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, a core legal document that defined key terms like “refugee” and “war criminal” as well as outlined the grounds for asylum.
“It agreed to the rights refugees would have and how refugee crises were to be handled,” she told BuzzFeed News. “My dissertation focused on whether these definitions are still relevant today and whether it works for today’s modern causes of forced migration.”
To emphasize that modernity, Adelaja pulled from her own love of romantic comedies. “I love rom-coms. My favorite movies are Clueless, Bridget Jones, and When Harry Met Sally,” she said. “I will watch them like I’m watching them for the first time, all the time. And I love the law, and I am going to be a lawyer. So I wanted to imbue a bit of my personality.”
The 1995 film Clueless, written by Amy Heckerling, features a scene where protagonist Cher attends a debate class on the definition and practice of American refugee protocol — “whether all oppressed peoples should be allowed refuge in America,” the teacher introduces. The scene was so widely loved that it has since developed its own iconography.
So Adelaja wrapped that into her college essay.
“I always wanted a very pop culture–influenced dissertation,” she said. “And it’s kind of nice to see when feminine things, things like rom-coms that aren’t taken seriously, can be included in things that are more serious or bookish, like the law.”
Since Adelaja posted her celebratory post on Twitter, it’s received over 21,000 likes, and many have congratulated her on her dissertation, asking if they could read it. It even caught the eye of Clueless writer Amy Heckerling’s daughter, who retweeted it and tagged her mother.
“I feel so overwhelmed — everyone’s saying congratulations and I want to say thank you to everyone, but it’s become impossible to say it to everyone,” Adelaja said. “Amy Heckerling’s daughter even saw it and said she’d tell her mom about it. I called my friend screaming. That’s why I love the internet; it made the pain of the whole dissertation worth it.”
The core argument of her piece concluded that ultimately, the definitions set forth in the convention could be too restrictive and lacking in its humanitarian focus as far as modern-day crises are concerned.
Adelaja said that this same subject has been explored in dissertations before, but it continues to remain a relevant discourse in the practice of law.
She had been a week from submission when news broke of the devastating Ukraine refugee crisis due to the Russian invasion. More than 4.1 million Ukrainians have been displaced, and the war has quickly become one of the largest crises facing Europe since World War II.
“I had to do a quick edit, so I have a chapter in there that talks about the Refugee Convention to provide more permanent protections rather than temporary,” she said. “For example, the US has put Ukrainian refugees on the temporary protected status list, which offers different rights in the US than full refugee status.”
Despite the clamoring by people online to read her dissertation, Adelaja isn’t sure if she’ll post it yet.
“It feels so personal,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t want someone to be like, ‘Oh, that’s not very good sentence structure.’ I don’t think I want that! But I have had a few people who work with refugees and efforts around refugees follow me, which has been very cool. I know they agree that the statute is very restrictive, which is very nice to see.”
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