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The Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights recently selected 13 students to participate in the inaugural Human Rights Studies Working Group, which will expose students to resources at Harvard and beyond that focus on human rights work, according to EMR administrative director Tessa L. Desmond.
Of the 13 students, 10 are undergraduates and three are graduate students. While Desmond said she is often approached by freshmen who are interested in human rights studies, few of the University’s scholars in the field teach at the College.
“I’m a social studies concentrator and my focus field is on human rights in Latin America, and I think that there’s very few classes that actually cover human rights,” working group member Giovanna D. Robledo ’17 said.
According to Desmond, the group's main objectives are providing networking opportunities for members, helping members identify next steps for human rights training, and planning a public event in the spring. For example, the group will participate in workshops on finding and applying to human rights internships.
Law student and working group member Michael Jung said he hopes to use his experience at the Law School to help undergraduate members of the group in their human rights studies pursuits and to interact with a broad range of Harvard affiliates.
“I wanted to meet groups of students and faculty members from all around Harvard that were interested in human rights,” he said.
In its desire to provide students with human rights-related opportunities, the working group bears some similarity to the former Committee on Human Rights Studies, which was disbanded in 2010. The Committee’s dissolution led to the Ethnic Studies program’s absorption of Human Rights Studies, creating EMR. However, Desmond said the new working group is different from the old committee, which was run through the Provost’s office.
Since the committee’s termination, Desmond said she’s noticed a decline in student organizations focused on human rights as a broad topic, rather than specific human rights abuses. She hopes the working group will be useful in reinvigorating the extracurricular human rights landscape.
“During that time, the understanding among undergraduates about human rights studies was really rich,” she said, referring to the period when the committee was still active.
Unlike the EMR-sponsored working groups on Asian American Studies and Latino Studies, acceptance to the Human Rights Studies Working Group is application-based and requires a steady commitment from members. While Desmond said she was originally planning to accept a group of six to 10 students, she decided to admit all 13 applicants to the group.
The working group’s first event was a lecture on Monday by University of California, Berkeley associate professor Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, and future events will include trips to Harvard’s various human rights centers, such as the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School, Desmond said.
“I think what really drew me was the opportunity to talk to undergraduates, graduates, and especially professors who have [human rights] as their specialty,” Robledo said.
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