Wesleyan to Launch New Human Rights Advocacy Minor

Steve ScarpaSeptember 4, 20213min

Wesleyan University is preparing to launch in Fall 2022 a new Human Rights Advocacy minor, a first for the university.

This program, run by co-founders James Cavallaro and Ruhan Nagra of the University Network for Human Rights, seeks to train the next generation of advocates, giving a group of 16 Wesleyan undergraduates the opportunity to work alongside professionals in the field during the academic year. Sixteen students from universities across the country will come to Wesleyan to study in the program as well. The total of 32 students will be evenly divided into a Fall and Spring cohort.

The Wesleyan human rights program will be as robust as any law school human rights clinic.

Cavallaro said the human rights field has gotten “overly legalized,” with practical training only offered at law school programs. “We need a broader base and we need more people in the field,” he said. “We see a lot of students interested in social justice—there is a lot of energy here.”

The students will take an intensive seminar to learn the basics of human rights advocacy. They then participate in workshops and simulations to learn the practical aspects of the work, including interview techniques, looking for physical evidence, advocacy writing, and mapping out advocacy strategies.

Finally, students will have the opportunity to work on a situation of human rights abuse in partnership with directly affected communities. For example, Wesleyan students participating in the pilot program have already conducted fieldwork in Mossville, La., interviewing community members who have long suffered from the health and environmental impacts of neighboring polluting industries. Wesleyan students contributed to the final report.

The University Network for Human Rights has engaged students on projects opposing mass incarceration in Connecticut, promoting accountability in Mexico, and fighting environmental injustice in “Cancer Alley,” La., among other projects. The University Network will continue this work in the coming year, as well as begin working on the effects of incarceration on children, transitional justice in Bolivia, and advocacy with victims of rights abuse in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.