Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):
The Center was founded on 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1988 by Kristi Rudelius Palmer and David Weissbrodt, now co-directors of the center. The Center provides fellowships to students of the University and members of the Upper Midwest community to fund research and human rights advocacies both domestically and in over sixty countries across the globe.
Departments/Programs in the Organization:
I was working as a Fellow at the Human Rights Center’s main office, coordinating the 15th Anniversary Reflection Project.
Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:
My Fellowship responsibility was to design and coordinate the 15th Anniversary Reflection Project, a journalistic initiative aimed at highlighting the anniversary of the Center’s creation. I contacted and interviewed close to thirty people who had received HRC Fellowships during the Center’s fifteen-year history. From these interviews I wrote articles and collected pictures for display on the Center’s web page at: www1.umn.edu/humanrts/center/impact.html
The project is designed as both a celebration of the accomplishments people have made in the field of human rights as a result of an HRC Fellowship and also as a tool for prospective Fellows and human rights advocates to explore possible Fellowship sites, issues of interest, and careers in the human rights arena.
During my three months at the Human Rights Center, I was able to execute the interview and online portions of the 15th Anniversary Project from start to finish. With significant and much-appreciated guidance from Kristi Rudelius Palmer and Mary Heller I identified the focus of the project and began contacting past fellows for interviews. After interviewing these Fellows, who had worked in countries across the globe and during a span of 15 years, I wrote a feature article on their individual experience. I also touched on what that person was doing now in the field of human rights and how their Fellowship influenced their current work. The variety of careers, lives, and ways of being involved in the human rights community was really astounding. After writing the articles, I created a 15th Anniversary Web page linked from the HRC’s main library page. This page, designed to display the collected articles, could not have been created without the incredible support of Bridget Marks and Ben Harris, HRC employees.
I learned a great deal from my Fellowship at the HRC, and many of these lessons came from the challenges I faced. My first obstacle was the difficulty in contacting fellows, many of whom had not been heard from in years. Using the Internet and what information I could gather from their old files, I managed to get in touch with over forty past fellows and create a data base with their current contact information.
Another challenge was actively asking interesting, thought provoking, and original questions at each interview. I tried to give each article an individual appeal, and the key was to draw this focus from the personality of the interview subject. I learned that it is better to ask too many questions than walk away from an interview with a lack of information.
I also learned to pay attention to detail as a writer. The helpful suggestions from Fellow HRC employees who were kind enough to proof-read my work and past Fellows who fact checked the articles I wrote about them showed me the importance of accuracy and discipline when working as a writer.
In June I helped the HRC co-sponsor a conference on African Women Living in the Diaspora.
Other projects/works started or completed:
I worked minimally with the Training of Trainers program and the K-12 curriculum, and coordinated future plans for the 15th Anniversary Project with Christina Clusiau, another past-Fellow and current HRC volunteer.
How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?
I didn’t know what to expect from my fellowship, but I could not be more pleased about the way it turned out. I was able to work on a project almost entirely independently. While this made for a great deal of responsibility, it also allowed me to do a great amount of writing, which is important as I look for opportunities to work as a journalist. I also could not have anticipated the knowledge I would gain about human rights issues across the globe, and opportunities to work in a human right career that would allow me to work for change in those issues.
How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the
Human rights issues and social justice were incredible important to me before my fellowship and I knew I wanted them to play a role in any career I would pursue in the future. Working at the HRC helped me uncover a way in which I could combine those human rights concerns with a viable career in journalism. My project was a perfect opportunity to combine those two interests, and through my work I was exposed to a number of organizations who either are involved in human rights journalism or could benefit from projects such as the one I did this summer for the HRC. My project gave me hope that I will be able to combine a commitment to human rights advocacy with a viable career in international journalism.
Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?
The people who had the greatest effect on me during my time at the HRC were most certainly the past fellows I had the privilege to speak with. Whether the subject of my interview was Gabriel Solomon, a Sudanese “lost boy” who has dedicated his life to telling the story of the human rights abuses he has seen, or Farhana Sultana, a University of Minnesota doctorate student who studies the effects that heavy flooding has on the treatment of women in Bangladesh, I was perpetually blown away by the dedication that these and all the other fellows I spoke with had towards their individual work and the importance of human rights advocacy in general. Their influence inspired me to continue to be involved in the human rights community, both professionally and as a volunteer.
How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/
international human rights organization?
As mentioned above, my perspective was altered significantly by each past fellow I had the opportunity to interview. Their work stretched over the world’s ever-inhabited continent and covered a myriad of human rights issues. With each new conversation I had an article I wrote, I learned more about the human rights issues that need to be addressed in our society, and more about the brave people who are working for change. As I said before, their influence inspired me to always attempt to connect my career and life to human rights advocacy.
What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your
“Human rights are those rights which you enjoy simply because you are a human being. They are not a privilege. They are a responsibility.” - Dr. Andrew Conteh, Moorhead State University
This quote is one of hundreds of incredible statements I gathered from past fellows about their work and their passion for human rights advocacy, but it was especially influential on me personally and on the project because my interview with Dr. Conteh was the first one I conducted. His incredible life story and passion to work for human rights equality in each community he has been a part of in Africa, Eastern Europe, and in Minnesota was an inspiration to me. Such inspiration is what drove me to work hard as a journalist, relating the stories of advocates such as Dr. Conteh through my articles in a way that would best relate the incredible work they have done, and the incredible people they are.
After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship
experience back home to your local community?
As I have returned to my life as a student at Boston College, I see the effects of my summer Fellowship everyday. I often talk of the incredible people I had the opportunity to interview, and the experience I gained as a journalist and concerned citizen has had a great impact on my academic work and my focus as I look for another job next summer. Hopefully I will be able to find another position that allows me to integrate human rights advocacy and journalism as successfully as my position at the HRC.
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