Serena Biondi

Serena Biondi is a senior at Duke University pursuing a major in Sociology with a minor in Education with a certificate in Human Rights Studies.

Why did you choose to pursue the human rights certificate? 

The human rights certificate has been an ideal choice for me. I have a longstanding interest in international relations, immigration policy and refugee resettlement. Prior to Duke, I worked at the International Rescue Committee’s Newcomer Youth Summer Academy, preparing refugee students for the NYC public school system. At Duke, I applied for the Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship Focus Program and took two outstanding courses on human rights: Human Rights & World Politics and Refugees, Rights & Resettlement. In addition to pursuing a certificate in human rights, I have mentored students from Afghanistan for the last four years through the Kenan Institute’s Citizenship Lab. Given my academic focus and hands-on experience working with refugees, the human rights certificate has been an excellent complement to my sociology major and education minor.

What was the most transformative experience you had while studying human rights at Duke? 

My most transformative academic experience at Duke has been a human rights course on Migration & Human Trafficking. The course highlighted the intersection between the global refugee crisis and human trafficking and gave me a much deeper understanding of how developed nations’ policies affect migrants across the globe. Governments including the United States, the European Union and Australia are all key signatories to international agreements designed to protect migrants, yet these policies and procedures are often not enforced or disregarded. There is both an opportunity and an urgent need to uphold the standards for resettlement and asylum that already exist. This course has made me a more effective and passionate advocate for international accountability to alleviate the suffering of refugee and migrant populations.

How has the human rights certificate helped you grow both academically and personally? 

Given the millions of vulnerable people being displaced each year by war, violence, climate change and political persecution, I can’t think of a more relevant area of study at Duke than human rights. The certificate courses have aligned with my academic interests, as well as opened my eyes to the magnitude of the global challenges and need for new policy initiatives and better policy enforcement. The breadth of courses has also expanded my understanding of critical topics ranging from the history of South Africa and Apartheid to the troubling rise of re-segregation within our U.S. education system. The perspectives I have gained through my certificate have made me a better contributor to my Duke courses and my work outside of college. 

How do you plan to integrate human rights into your work in the future? 

Throughout my time at Duke, I have pursued internships that integrate my focus on human rights. I have interned for the last two summers at the International Rescue Committee and am continuing to work part time for IRC this fall. In 2021, I helped design a new co-sponsorship resettlement program to better integrate Afghan and other refugees into the United States in the wake of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan. This past summer and fall, I have served as an immigration intern, working on refugee and asylee green card, citizenship and work permit applications. Both internships have affirmed my commitment to a career in the not-for-profit or NGO sector after graduation.

Do you have any advice for students considering the human rights certificate? 

I would strongly encourage students to pursue a certificate in human rights. The certificate is an invaluable opportunity to deepen your understanding of global issues through the essential lens of human rights.