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GSN Alumni Spotlight, Rok Hamze MA '17

Peace & Conflict Studies

Tolu Lanrewaju

Rutgers Graduate School-Newark
Office of the Dean

Visit: 185 University Avenue

John Cotton Dana Library, Suite 306

Newark, New Jersey 07102

Phone: (973) 353-5834

"My studies trained me to use conflict to improve policies"

As a compliance and risk management analyst, Rok Hamze tackles problems at the confluence of healthcare, migration, gender, and human rights. His personal story testifies to the intersection of these issues, and his studies at the Graduate School-Newark (GSN) provided him with the context and critical skills to navigate the challenging world of healthcare.


Hamze was born with a rare medical condition in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War. The only hospital that could treat him was under attack, so his family moved to New York.


They didn't return to Lebanon until Hamze was 15, and Hamze took advantage of the international transfer to attempt a switch – to try abandoning longstanding tomboy tendencies for a more feminine persona. It didn’t last long. Age 18 was the first time Hamze learned of transgenderism through television.


“I didn’t have the label transgender, I didn’t know this was something that existed outside of my own body,” he recalled.


After college, Hamze returned to the U.S. and began his medical transition. A year later, he took a patient intake job at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the same LGBTQ health center where he’d started treatment.  “I came to [this clinic] as a patient. I wasn’t able to start my transition overseas so I came here and this was my “safe space.”


Starting out, Hamze often worked with people intimidated by their insurance. They didn’t know their rights, nor what to expect.


Hamze empathized: “I came from a country where I never had insurance. I never wanted to see a doctor because of the stigma that came with being trans, so I avoided doctors in general,” he said.


Hamze went looking for a two-week conflict resolution training that he hoped might help him work with patients better. That’s how he stumbled on the GSN Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) program. He called the program the “missing piece” in his quest to build a career out of multiple passions: healthcare, immigration, social justice and post-conflict growth and recovery.


“We are federally funded, and I think we are more directly impacted over the years depending on how much money they end up putting into community health care. Community healthcare centers are the ones that need that attention and that financial support from the gov’t because we’re helping the populations that either don’t qualify for insurance, or they don’t have any or they can’t afford insurance through the marketplace. There are people that are living with HIV, that have other chronic diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, you name it, they’re not able to get simple screening tests. Or they’re afraid to go and find good health care somewhere.”


“The PCS program gave me the background I needed to effectively manage a situation by understanding the history, contributing factors, planning for change, and finally implementing processes that will improve the current situation (with group involvement - understanding that resolution and "peace" is not a one-person job).” 


Hamze has been at Callen-Lorde for seven years now. He credits the Peace and Conflict Studies program with honing his ability to work within conflict — crucial for the expanded responsibilities of his current role.


"Prior to my studies, I saw conflict as a negative," Hamze said. Even at a progressive institution, where workers have shared goals and values, problems related to a difference in focus or approach still arise. "My studies trained me to not just be tolerant of conflict but to use conflict to improve policies," he said. "I learned to listen to understand rather than listen just to respond."


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