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Celebrating a Decade of Education, Advocacy, and Impact: Center Marks 10-Year Anniversary at Stanford

From left, Natalie Longmire-Kulis, Michael Eastman, Seiri Aragon, David Cohen, Penelope Van Tuyl, Kiyo Tsutsui, Jessie Brunner, Denise Fernández

On the heels of the global community marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone document in the history of human rights, Stanford’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice commemorates its own 10th anniversary during the 2023-2024 academic year. Over the past decade, the Center has grown into a dynamic hub for engaging students through courses and other academic programs, as well as for impactful community-engaged research, and events. Such activities include the popular Minor in Human Rights, competitive international summer fellowship program for students, and high-profile annual lectures – each a notable highlight of the Center’s ever-expanding portfolio.

"Reflecting on the 10 years since we moved our Center to Stanford I can only express my gratitude to the students, faculty, and staff that have enabled the  Center to flourish and expand the scope of its educational and research mission, "said Center founder and Faculty Co-Director David Cohen. "We have  developed new partnerships here on campus and globally that have created important opportunities for Stanford students to engage in important initiatives that advance their career goals in human rights, sustainability, and international justice."

Established in 1999 as the War Crimes Studies Center at UC Berkeley, the Center relocated  across the Bay in 2014 to Stanford University, where it found a welcoming home in Stanford Global Studies, within the School of Humanities and Sciences. Enthusiastic support from the Stanford community enabled the Center’s transformative growth from a single two-desk office to a vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, international partners, and benefactors. This year’s 10th anniversary celebration stands as a testament to a decade of growth, meaningful collaboration with students and  international partners in our programming, and deep investment in promoting human rights norms at Stanford and around the globe.

Interim University President Richard Saller, who was Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences when the Center launched at Stanford, has been an important supporter of its programs over the years.

"The Center for Human Rights and International Justice has made a welcome contribution to research and education at Stanford over the past decade," said Saller. "The readiness of Stanford students to work for more just societies at home and abroad is evident in their participation in the Center’s important programs and initiatives."

Over the years, the Center has forged numerous global partnerships, established impactful interdisciplinary research programs, and cultivated meaningful collaborations across campus. Through partnerships with Stanford Law School, Stanford University Libraries,  the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the Haas Center for Public Service, the Doerr School of Sustainability, and many others, the Center has been able to launch innovative, interdisciplinary initiatives such as its Virtual Tribunals, Human Trafficking Data Lab, and Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program.

"Stanford’s collaborative and generative environment has enabled our Center’s programs to grow tremendously over the past decade," said Jessie Brunner, the Center’s associate director for strategy and program development. "Our ability to draw on diverse academic expertise from across campus as well as highly motivated students means we can work with and in support of numerous communities around the globe on critical human rights issues of our day."

The evolution of the Minor in Human Rights is particularly notable. Graduating a modest three students in its inaugural class in 2016, the program has gone on to enroll 135 over the ensuing years, each of who is passionate about advocating for human rights. The university has signaled strong support for the program, recently renewing it  for another eight-year term.

Associate Director Penelope Van Tuyl, helped design the Minor, and has taught every single Human Rights Minor student in the required gateway class, HUMRTS 101. Reflecting on the occasion of the Center’s tenth anniversary, she observed, "This degree program has been such an important anchor for our programming on campus, and we could not be more proud and excited to see our alumni off in the world pursuing work and graduate degrees in diverse fields including law, medicine, economic development, public policy, engineering, computer science, philanthropy, public health, and earth systems. Human rights by its very nature is a cross-cutting topic that spans academic disciplines. We help students from across the university understand how the distinct methodologies, assumptions, and vocabulary of different disciplines affect the way scholars and practitioners trained in these fields approach, understand, and employ human rights concepts. It has been incredibly gratifying to see our amazing graduates forging careers that advance human rights through a range of professional pathways, including engineering/product design, politics/public policy, education, journalism, social work, social impact investing, law, medicine, and humanitarian aid work."

Those later careers in human rights are boosted through internships undertaken while the students are at Stanford. The Center funds around a dozen Stanford students each summer to collaborate with organizations worldwide to tackle pressing human rights challenges from climate change, to freedom of expression, to judicial reform, human trafficking, and refugee and migrant rights.  Since 2016, the Human Rights Fellowship has supported 79 students as fellows working in 21 countries across five continents, including 19  fellows in the United States.

Just as Stanford sends its students into the world, so it convenes the world on its campus. The Center has welcomed many distinguished guests to campus  to deliver the annual lectures in human rights and international justice, such as  former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, current Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan, famed human rights thinker Beth Simmons, and E. Tendayi Achiume, formerly the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism.

"The Human Rights Center at Stanford was absolutely foundational to my academic journey, providing a warm and nurturing academic space for me to explore and learn new ideas," said Alina Utrada, a Center alum from the first class of human rights minors, and now a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. "I have taken the values and knowledge they instilled throughout my career, and am so glad that they can continue to foster that strength for other students at Stanford."

The anniversary celebration serves as a welcome opportunity to reflect on the Center's achievements, reaffirm its commitment to advancing human rights, and set the stage for an impactful future. As it looks ahead, the Center remains dedicated to its mission of teaching and research for promoting justice, advocating for human rights, and nurturing the next generation of leaders in this critical field.