Sarah Kelso is a senior at Duke University pursuing a major in Environmental Science and Policy with a certificate in Human Rights Studies.
Why did you choose to pursue the human rights certificate?
The summer before my first year at Duke I attended an environmental justice conference that showed me how interconnected environmental work is with social justice work. They are inseparable. When I started studying at Duke with my major in Environmental Science and Policy, I wanted a clear path to study both social justice and environmental justice. While most environmental classes at Duke that I have taken have done a good job of including social justice in the conversations, I knew I wanted to study social justice as a main theme too. I wasn't sure how to do this until I attended a lunch with UN Special Rapporteur John Knox who was working on getting a healthy environment established as a human right. It was there that I saw this connection between environmental work and human rights work.
What was the most transformative experience you had while studying human rights at Duke?
My favorite class at Duke was Robin Kirk's class "Imagining Human Rights". This class focused on science fiction literature through a lens of human rights. Books can be read in different ways to promote different understandings of them. Looking at science fiction books with human rights at the forefront of your mind really showed me how much of this writing is human rights focused. This has changed the way I read books, but it has also changed the way I listen to lectures or approach situations. This lens of viewing the world can be applied to everything and can make you see human rights issues or triumphs where you may have missed them before.
How has the human rights certificate helped you grow both academically and personally?
This certificate program has taught me a lot about community. I think more actively, during class or walking though Durham, about the discrimination entrenched in our society and I think this has made me consider my own privileges a lot more.
How do you plan to integrate human rights into your work in the future?
While I have shifted from wanting to work in law to wanting to work in environmental conservation, I know that I will always work to ensure that the impact on humans is considered in every aspect of my research or policy advocacy. The field of conservation can, and has done, a lot of damage to human populations. In my research, I will make sure that I never forget how connected people are to every aspect of the environment.
Do you have any advice for students considering the human rights certificate?
I highly recommend this program! Students of any major can benefit from learning to think about how their actions or governmental actions can impact people's lives. You don't have to commit to a career in human rights work, you just have to commit to understanding that human rights violations occur every day and that you can avoid perpetuating them in your work.