Next spring, undergraduates will have the opportunity to enroll in a special academic program in human rights.
The new Human Rights program was modeled on other special academic programs at Yale, such as Energy Studies and Education Studies, and will not offer a degree or certificate. Instead, according to director and Yale Law School professor Jim Silk LAW ’89, the program will provide a structure to bring together students and faculty members interested in human rights. The program was approved at a faculty meeting last April.
“We don’t view this as a training program for human rights advocates,” Silk said. “This is going to be a program that teaches students a critical perspective on human rights.”
Silk said he sees the program as a realization of the original mandate of Yale Law School’s Schell Center for International Human Rights, which is to create a human rights center for the entire University. Silk said that while in the past the Schell Center has been geared almost entirely towards law students, the new program is part of the center’s broader outreach effort to provide undergraduates with academic and career advising.
The special academic program is the culmination of nearly eight years of student advocacy, Silk said. The administration originally struck down efforts to create a human rights major some years ago, but two student advocates successfully pushed the new program through this year. Talya Lockman-Fine ’15 and Paul Linden-Retek LAW ’12 GRD ’18, along with Silk, spent six months carrying a petition through the Provost’s Office, the Committee on Majors and eventually the Yale College faculty.
“Part of the hope is that creating this program is part of an effort — much broader than just Yale — to legitimize human rights as a field of study,” Lockman-Fine said.
The program joins some undergraduate human rights programs that already exist at other schools, including Bard College, the University of California at Berkeley, Barnard College and Columbia University.
Students selected for the program will take an introductory gateway course and a capstone seminar and project, along with a choice of four electives drawn from a series of pre-existing courses across different subject areas. The program, directed by Silk, will be overseen and taught by faculty from both YLS and Yale College. Students will also be encouraged to take on internships related to human rights, and five $2,000 fellowships will be offered by the Schell Center.
Linden-Retek, who sits on the program’s advisory board along with Lockman-Fine, said a critical advantage of the new program is that it will build community around the study of human rights.
“There are wonderful faculty who can provide advising one-on-one, but it becomes a different experience when you can learn together as a group of Human Rights Scholars engaging with these issues together,” he said.
The interdisciplinary nature of the program was sparked the interest of many undergraduates.
Audrey Luo ’17, a staff reporter for the News, said she would like to use the program as a way of studying different approaches to mental health policy, while Christina Alvarado ’17 said she wants to focus her studies on the topic of genocide and ethnic conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Alvarado said she thinks the goal of program is to create a dialogue on human rights between people from different disciplines and perspectives who all share a common worldview and scope.
But although creating a diverse community of students would be ideal, there is always a risk — at least for the first couple of years — of having a predominance of students from few specific majors, she said.
“It would be really great to get the diversity, but of course it may only be half Political Science and half [Ethics, Politics and Economics] majors,” she said. “I hope the people who are making the selection make sure that there is a [variety] of interests and intersections.”
Applications for the program will be due this November.