March 21, 2013
Starla Hargita ’11: Learner for Life
When University of Oregon School of Law alumna Starla Hargita graduated in 2011, she set up a ballot box and invited friends and professors to vote on her future. The votes would determine whether Hargita would become a legal practitioner, or whether she would continue her legal education and receive her Master of Laws degree, or LL.M. The results were mixed, but one of her friends polled insisted that Hargita was a “Professor” who belonged in front of a classroom.
“What I loved about law school wasn't reading the statutes or acts,” said Hargita. “It was the act of learning an entirely new world.”
With her heart set on earning her LL.M., Hargita enrolled at the University of Cambridge in England. One LL.M. later and Hargita was on her way to University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, (UTS) to receive her Ph.D. Midway into her first year at UTS as a doctoral scholar, Hargita is studying gender-equity measures in relation to Australia’s paid parental leave scheme.
Even before Cambridge, Hargita was no stranger to travel. Hargita grew up in Texas, watching episodes of the television game show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” The program, which challenged children to pinpoint the location of the show’s namesake nation-hopping criminal ring leader, sparked Hargita’s hunger for travel. She completed her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts before a brief stay in Chicago, Ill. She then went on to enroll at Oregon Law in 2007, receiving both her J.D. and her M.S. in Conflict and Dispute Resolution (CRES) in 2011. The rest is history.
Hargita didn’t expect to become fascinated by the legal world, and with it, higher education.
“I didn't come from a family of lawyers, my parents didn't have money or university degrees and I wasn't familiar with any idea of white collar professionalism,” said Hargita. “Higher education was a totally new world to me.”
Through a combination of scholarships, loans and paid work, she made her way through Wellesley, Oregon Law and Cambridge. Hargita is able to fund her Ph.D. through research, teaching work and the Quentin Bryce Law Doctoral Scholarship, named after Australia's first female Governor-General.
Hargita’s interest in exploring how government policies influence gender roles led her to her current research in paid parental leave laws. Prior to 2011, Australia and the U.S. were the only remaining Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries without any paid parental leave provisions. Australia has since implemented a paid parental leave scheme that provides up to 18 weeks of government funded pay for maternity leave, joining the large roster of countries throughout the world that have enacted similar laws.
“Paid parental leave is seen as one way to contribute toward the goals of gender equality, labor market activation, early childhood development and sustainable fertility rates,” said Hargita. “Australia's nascent approach to paid parental leave is a valuable study for Australians and non-Australians.”
In addition to legislative research, Hargita analyzed labor force statistics and home and family survey responses. As a feminist, it’s vital that her research incorporates both legal theory and philosophy while acknowledging women’s experiences of inequality and oppression. Prior to this project, Hargita worked for UTS Professor Jenni Millbank, who evaluated Australian laws on the storage of embryos created through in-vitro fertilization by examining the actual experiences of patients of assisted reproductive technologies.
Besides a few lingering time-zone challenges, Hargita has enjoyed a smooth transition into her new life in Sydney, where she regularly soaks up the three “S”’s: seafood, surfing and sun. Hargita still misses Oregon from time to time, noting that Oregon remains a leader in areas such as urban agriculture and local organic food production.
Hargita’s taken a few of her “Oregon” habits with her to Sydney, as well. She continues to spend much of her free time active and outdoors, filling her days with biking and hikes, or “bushwalking” as the locals call it. Her Australian friends have taken to referencing the hit show “Portlandia” whenever she finds herself asking whether the chicken she’s about to consume is “local.”
Even as Hargita lives an ocean away, she still keeps in touch with those whom she affectionately calls her “CRES crew,” as well as former professors and classmates using social media.
When Hargita eventually receives her Ph.D., she hopes to transition into a full-time academic post in “a great corner of the world,” engaging in international legal debates.
Where she wants to teach, however, remains to be seen. She’s currently in negotiations to complete a joint-Ph.D. in England and Australia, which may land her back in Europe for some portions of her doctoral studies. But that doesn’t mean she’ll stay there when she graduates.
“You'd think that after living and studying across the U.S., England and Australia, I'd be ready to find a spot and stop moving, but alas,” Hargita said.
Regardless of where she ends up, Hargita will remain committed to the pursuit of knowledge. As Carmen Sandiego once said, "The wiser you become, the more you have to learn."