2004 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Fellowship Site: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Minneapolis, Minnesota
By Pat McGroarty
Since her days as an undergraduate student at Indiana University, Robyn Linde
has known that her career would involve the social justice issues that
are personally and professionally integral to her adult life.
“I was raised in a very conservative setting. I was indoctrinated by those principles, and was really let down when I realized my parents didn’t see the injustice of the policies they supported. When I went to college I realized that one thing after another I had been taught was wrong. It wasn’t just being a lesbian that brought it on, because that had been a part of me before. It was learning that the way you see the world isn’t the way it should be and that there is something we can do to fix that,” explained Linde while explaining what drives her to work for human rights.
This drive has brought her from liberal arts studies at Indiana University and several years living and working in Europe to her current position as a doctoral candidate in the University of Minnesota’s Political Science department and an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. Linde’s work on an internet project in the Women’s Program at Minnesota Advocates is an example of her constant attempt to incorporate human rights advocacy, especially the rights of women, into her academic career.
Linde grew up in Ohio and Texas, the child of a fiscally conservative father and a Southern Baptist mother. As a student at Indiana University she began exploring her religious background as double major in Philosophy and Religious Studies: “I thought Religious Studies was what I wanted to do, but at the time I wasn’t spiritual. I had this fascination with religion from my fundamentalist upbringing, but I hated the Church. I was angry at the notion of being inferior as a woman and at the love the sinner, hate the sin mentality toward gay people.”
Studying her own and other religious traditions strengthened Linde’s desire to work against injustice and prejudice. She wanted to do something beyond academia and moved to Europe for several years before continuing her studies.
Linde lived in Finland, Lithuania, and Prague. She taught English as a second language and found other odd jobs to support her travels. It was an opportunity to explore Eastern Europe, broadening her perspective before returning to a master’s program in the United States.
One issue that specifically intrigued Linde was the plight of Europe’s Roma, or Gypsy, population. “I was interested in that population because it seemed like no one else was. I had lots of European friends who just hated the Gypsies. I couldn’t really get to the core of that, couldn’t understand that. I didn’t feel like Europe was a place where you could really discuss that. It frustrated me that I couldn’t learn anything about them except stereotypes. That’s why I wanted to come back and learn about them,” Linde explained.
Linde returned to the United States and received a scholarship to the University of Delaware, Newark, where she earned a master’s degree in international relations, “I wanted to study minority rights and chose political science and international relations to do that.”
After receiving her master’s degree she moved to the Twin Cities and began studies as a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Minnesota. After her first year of doctoral studies, Linde received a 2002 Macarthur Fellowship to return to Europe and work with the Roma population that had intrigued her during her travels: “I worked in Bosnia doing field work with the Roma population and looking at human rights violations against Roma peoples. They’re not one of the three major ethnic groups there, and are excluded from many aid programs.”
Linde continued her studies after returning from the Fellowship and began volunteering in the Women’s Program at Minnesota Advocates. After a year of volunteer work, she received a 2004 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship to focus more specifically on her work in the Women’s Program.
As a fellow at Minnesota Advocates, Linde is currently helping with the development of a website on violence against women in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent states. “We’re putting everything we can find that relates to women’s rights within these individual countries on the page. The idea is if you give people the tools they need, they can set up policies that work in their own government,” Linde explained. She two representatives from Minnesota Advocates are currently in the Republic of Georgia training people to use web site’s resources.
Another project that Linde is working on as a Fellow at Minnesota Advocates is the Battered Immigrant Women Report. The report examines how government agencies respond to the special needs of battered women immigrants, and how those needs are often not met. Linde discussed the importance of this project, “Battered immigrant women have special needs, such a language barrier. When you don’t speak English, it’s hard to convince the police that you were the one who was injured or that you were responding in defense. It can be hard to understand the court system when they don’t always provide proper interpreters.”
Linde will continue working as a Fellow at Minnesota Advocates until the fall semester, when she will begin writing her Ph.D. dissertation. All of my interests fall under the same category of human rights,” said Linde as she contemplated a dissertation topic. “There isn’t enough research to do a project on Roma women without doing some field work. Something in that area might interest me.”
Linde hopes to obtain a faculty position after finishing her doctorate, possibly at a college in the Twin Cities area. Wherever her post-doctorate career leads her, she knows that she will always be connected to the human rights issues that have come to define her own life and experience: “I want to be really strongly connected to the activist community. You have to have an end-goal, and believe in that goal. As a lesbian, I’m currently working against the federal marriage amendment. I don’t have a doubt that we’re going to win, but the struggle can be so disheartening sometimes. But, you have to be optimistic and believe that you can make a difference. Human rights boil down to dignity, and that’s what we have to work for.”
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