Sam Sreeram is a senior at Duke University pursuing a major in Political Science, a minor in Public Policy, and a certificate in Human Rights.
What are the majors/minors/other certificates you are pursuing?
I am double majoring in Public Policy and Political Science with a concentration in Security, Peace, and Conflict studies. Along with the Human Rights certificate, I hope to pursue a career in the Foreign Service or in international development work.
Why did you choose to pursue the human rights certificate?
After taking the Intro to Human Rights and Human Rights and Legal Redress courses during my freshman year, I became interested in integrating the analytic tools from human rights coursework into my foreign policy coursework. I wanted to use frames of thinking built by the human rights classes I’ve taken to critically examine rhetoric surrounding national and international security and human rights derogations on the part of governments that disproportionately affect marginalized populations in a post-colonial world order. Another issue that I’ve been able to learn about is the global refugee crisis, and specifically refugee resettlement and preventing the problem from becoming politicized. These issues have grown important to me after my internship at the US Agency for International Development, and I would like to build on my experience to explore international issues related to humanitarian aid and development and their human rights nuances further.
What was the most transformative experience you had while studying human rights at Duke?
The human rights certificate led me to take one of my favorite classes at Duke, Political Nonviolence, with Professor Martin Miller. It was a transformative experience because we focused on learning about social and political movements that caused change in governments and policies without using violence. In the class, we examined movements that came out of Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Poland, and India, as well as domestic nonviolent protest movements. In addition to the course focus of nonviolence movements, I was also struck by the way we analyzed how violent movements that came before, after, or during these nonviolent cases complicate the narrative of attributing all change to the idea of principled nonviolence put forth by activists and thinkers such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Ultimately, this course helped me engage in an area that I did not know much about, while gaining analytic skills furthered through thought-provoking class discussions - an experience I would not have had without pursuing the human rights certificate.
How has the human rights certificate helped you grow both academically and personally?
The human rights certificate has concrete impacts on my academic development, as it has influenced my decision to pursue a Public Policy senior honors thesis that focuses on governmental repression of civil society organizations in Egypt. I am looking into human rights organizations that work to support freedom of expression and information in Egypt in spite of ongoing repression by President Sisi’s regime. Pursuing human rights courses and the certificate has deeply influenced my decision to focus on human rights dimensions in my thesis. Personally, the human rights certificate has put me in touch with classmates who have diverse and interesting backgrounds, pathways, and career aspirations, as well as faculty members who have been extremely open with sharing information about their career journeys and human rights experience. I deeply value that this certificate program has afforded me the opportunity to interact with and be inspired by fascinating individuals.
How do you plan to integrate human rights into your work in the future?
I am keen on pursuing work as a Foreign Service Officer and in international development policy, and I would like to use human rights dimensions to look into government derogations of rights and civil liberties in the context of the Middle East and North Africa region. I want to use human rights to maintain a focus on the impact of government and non-governmental actions on marginalized and intersectional groups of people so that development practices are sustainable and effective for all groups and not just those that are the most privileged.
Do you have any advice for students considering the human rights certificate?
The human rights certificate is easily customizable to diverse courses of study, so I would recommend it if you are interested in building human rights coursework into your major/minor pathway!