Undergraduate Research Program

Rachel Suominen

Major: International Studies; Business Administration
Mentor: Jackson School of International Studies


Current research project: Written Into History? Solastalgia and Emotion Under the Western Gaze


Rachel is a senior majoring in International Studies and Business Administration. She became involved in research at the University of Washington through the Disability Inclusive Development Initiative (DIDI), where she did legal research on intersectionality, disability, indigeneity, and human rights in Winter and Spring of 2021. This past summer, she participated in the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities, where she did research on the neologism “solastalgia,” which refers to pain derived from the inability to find solace or comfort in one’s home in the face of the impacts of climate change. Currently, Rachel is attempting to develop a senior thesis in the environmental humanities using literature as a lens of analysis for climate change.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
The DIDI project became an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, arguing for advanced protections for the rights of indigenous children with disabilities in the case against the State of Peru. Decisions made by the IACtHR influence the protection of human rights throughout Latin America. For my research on solastalgia and climate change, I explored the academic conceptualization and usage of solastalgia to understand how language documents and preserves certain aspects of history. The clinical, pathologized language around solastalgia creates a sterile version of history as it relates to the emotions surrounding climate change and home. I then examined this pathologization through the lens of Western science and academia in an attempt to explore how Western ideas of science and theory influence how ‘subjective’ ideas like emotion are treated within the ‘objective’ arena of academic research.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved in undergraduate research Winter of my junior year through a Jackson School Global Research Group (GRG) that was working with DIDI. This specific group involved an application process (which I almost didn’t complete out of fear that I wasn’t qualified enough). Fortunately, I did submit the application and worked with this group until June of that year. I got involved in research because I wanted the opportunity to use what I was learning in class, and to have the chance to delve deep into specific ideas that interested me. I then continued in research through SIAH, which gave me the opportunity to work with fellow undergraduates and develop a research project of my own.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Don’t talk yourself out of it. If you think you’re not knowledgeable enough – you are. If you think you don’t have the skills – you do, or your mentors can teach you. If you think it’s too late in your academic career to get started – it never is. If you think the field you’re interested in doesn’t “do research” – it does. Being curious about something and attempting to fulfill that curiosity by answering questions (even unsuccessfully) is research. Find a program, professor, or mentor who will support you in that curiosity, and then pursue it!