When Trevor J. Bakker ’10 shares the intimate details of his extensive work on human rights, he often speaks with his hands, never once breaking eye contact. He attributes his eloquence to his previous experience in theater and competitive speech.
“I feel like that’s a part of my life that has given me self-confidence and presentation ability,” he says.
On campus, he’s active in the Harvard College Human Rights Advocates, co-president of the Harvard College Defense Against Genocide, and he directed the Soldier Testimony Project. Bakker says he discovered his interest in human rights during high school while participating in extemporaneous speech contests, of which he was the Michigan state champion three times. Every round, Bakker would have to choose one of three topics, and he found himself gravitating towards human rights issues. “When the Darfur question came up I would always pick that,” he says.
“I remember coming to Harvard and thinking about getting involved in speech and debate,” says Bakker, but he ultimately chose a different direction.
“This is performance, and these are good skills to know,” he says, referring to competitive speech. “But if you’re really concerned about the things you read in the news, you have to stand up and do something.”
A social studies concentrator focusing on human rights and conflict, Bakker spent the past two summers abroad conducting research for his senior thesis. In 2008 he observed the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and in 2009 he studied the Special Court for Sierra Leone. His research focuses on the benefits of making international criminal law more accessible to the communities actually affected by rights abuses, noting that this was the case in Sierra Leone, but not with the ICC.
Although Bakker is uncertain about his future—he is currently considering obtaining a law degree or a Ph.D. in economics or political science—he seems sure that he wants to integrate academic research with solving problems in human rights.
“I worry that the academic side can lose sight of ever implementing the ideas it generates and that the activist side doesn’t always have the same research capacity,” he says. “So I’d want to find something that’s at the center of these.”
Despite his accomplishments and his ambitions, Bakker is also quick to deflect credit from himself, and he often drops the names of others involved in these organizations. “I think the best work is done collaboratively, and the college environment doesn’t always teach us to work collaboratively,” he says. “Extracurricular activities have been so meaningful to me during my time here. There’s definitely an element of competition at Harvard that dissolves when you start working on human rights issues.”'
An earlier version of the Dec. 11 magazine article "15 Most Interesting Seniors 2010: Trevor J. Bakker" incorrectly stated that Bakker founded the Solider Testimony Project. In fact, Bakker did not found the project, though he was its first director.