The Duke Human Rights Center conducts interviews with Duke alumni working in or completing further study in human rights. Read the interviews with our alumni below. If you are a Human Rights Certificate alumni, please join our Duke Alumni in Human Rights LinkedIn group or email us if you'd like to be interviewed by a current Duke student.
ALEXANDRA WISNER, class of '18
MEM Candidate at the Yale School of the Environment
“In environmental spheres, more effort needs to be made to deepen stakeholder engagement with broader conservation and climate goals. As has been seen across the globe, achieving environmental goals can result in human rights violations and the ultimate failure of the environmental projects themselves. Further, from the conflict/climate nexus, too often securitization narratives can perverse the necessary work that needs to be done to keep people safe and protect their rights.”
MARIA CARNOVALE, class of ’18
Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy of the Harvard Kennedy School
“I am very curious about trade-offs among values. For instance, as both individuals and a society, we value privacy, health, and safety. They are all important components of our wellbeing. However, what happens when those values collide? What happens if facial recognition can make us safer, but impinges on our privacy on a large scale? What happens if to protect our health and the health of our community we need to give up private information to public health institutions?”
MARIANA CALVO, class of ’17
Incoming Latin American PhD student at Stanford University
“I am so glad to see that we are finally having a long overdue reckoning about racism and sexism in the journalism field. However, I also think it’s important to have a reckoning about the costs of having a news media that is so US-centric. In my experience, all human rights issues are global and interconnected. The solutions and, therefore, the stories we tell must be international and intersectional. While there is still a lot of room to improve, I am humbled to see so many rising journalists who are going against the grain and telling stories that are more inclusive of our global community.”
ISABELLA SZABOLCS, class of ’14
Strategic Communications Consultant in UNAID’s Human Rights and Community Engagement Department
“However after reporting on countless abuses, I became painfully aware that all I could do as a journalist was raise awareness and hope for change. I wanted to have a greater role in ensuring that vulnerable individuals could access justice. In search of more advocacy and policy-oriented work, I interned at The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and then at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland, where I later became a consultant. At OHCHR, I developed advocacy strategies and content to publicize human rights reports and the work of the UN monitoring mechanisms.”
AAYAH EL-NAGGAR, class of ’10
Attorney practicing Immigration and Human Rights Law
“Because of my human rights education at Duke, it was hard to turn a blind eye to many of the issues I saw at larger, reputable organizations, such as lack of diverse representation across all levels and a disconnect between those in charge and those being helped. The racist remarks my colleagues and I would hear from those purporting to be human rights advocates were alarming. Of course not all organizations are like this, but this was one of the reasons I decided to start my own practice.”
KYLE KNIGHT, class of ’08
Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch
“It’s a thrilling and all-encompassing career path. I think the most satisfying part has been the people I get to work with—activists all over the world. At times it’s completely exhausting, in particular when I feel like I’ve spent a lot of energy arguing over the finer points of an editing process all day. But it’s a profoundly interesting job even on the most difficult of days. In terms of personal life, I was away from home for a lot of my 20s and my relationships with family and friends definitely changed during that time. That said, I made incredible friends wherever I was—largely through work—and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Briana Acosta, class of '17
Masters of Public Health student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
"I think there is always room for improvement in engaging with human rights issues. I think the field of public health, like many, needs to be better at recognizing that the personal is political and more explicitly call out human rights violations wherever (and by whomever) they are perpetrated, from Israeli apartheid in Palestine to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and even to the U.S.’s racist and classist system of prisons and cages for kids at the border. I also think public health can be better at employing people who have personal lived experience with diverse forms of marginalization, systemic oppression, and human rights violations in leadership positions that involve decision-making power."
Arpita Varghese, class of '15
Gender and Humanitarian Action Analyst, UN Women
"Gender equality is a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, … birth or other status.” Gender equality is absolutely critical for us to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was adopted United Nations Member States in 2015."
Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu, class of '98
Senior Researcher with Amnesty International USA
"It has made it challenging to do field research in some areas- but we still monitored human rights abuses and use of force by law enforcement against protestors, medics, legal observers and journalists during the summer of 2020 when Covid was in full swing. We wore masks and observed safety protocols, but we still showed up. What we could do remotely we did, but in some cases we had to be on the ground documenting first hand what was happening to people- like the conditions faced by migrants being detained at the border."
Grace Cai, class of '19
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student at Fuller Theological Seminary
"Be creative! An interest in human rights does not mean you have to go into law, humanitarian work, or politics. What does it mean to protect and honor the inherent dignity, agency, and sacredness of human life wherever you go? Wherever you find yourself personally and professionally, there will be a need for human rights expertise."
Cara Leigh Downy, class of '19
Refugee School Impact Coordinator at World Relief Durham
"My passion for human rights has greatly influenced both my professional and personal life. There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like I am working while at work. When I enter a client’s home for tea and discuss their education, I feel like it’s something I am made to do. As such, my work feels like an expression of my passion for human rights."
Trey Walk, class of '19
Program Manager at Groundwork Project
"I think the Human Rights certificate at Duke was helpful because it introduced me to a community of students, faculty, and people in Durham and North Carolina who were thinking about how to create more justice in the world. The program exposed me to the idea that you can pursue a career in that type of effort. "
Isabella Arbelaez, Class of '19
Strategy Leadership Fellow for The College Board
"My four years at Duke were framed by my work around refugees and studies in global literature. The field of human rights - of asking 'Why' of this world, of thinking critically but hopefully about inequity – has served as a formative lens through which I see my work in education."