The Human Rights Certificate offers students an in-depth and rigorous interdisciplinary study of human rights history, theory and practice, cultivating life-long learners and engaged citizens who have a deep and nuanced understanding of human rights. This year, 40 students are enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate program, and 19 are members of the Class of 2020! This years’ senior include: Libby Wheeler, Semhal Araya, Donovan Bendana, MacKenzi Simpson, Isabel Shepard, Cara Kim, Alicia Porile, Imani Hicks, Madeline Cochrane, Sonali Mehta, Stephanie Mayle, Tea Hughes, Camille Ampey, Spencer Bandeen, Daisy Almonte, Kevin Soloman, Gino Nuzzolillo, Tyler Kopp, and Sujeiry Jimenez. Read more about their experiences in the program below.

Isabel Shepard
Cultural Anthropology, ’20
“I decided to pursue the human rights certificate after participating in DukeImmerse’s program on Rights & Identities in the Americas. Taking that suite of classes showed me that learning about human rights is not simply taking classes on the topic, but learning a whole new mode of thinking that rejects and subverts the right/wrong binary we’re taught in other classes—instead, delving into the lived realities of peoples and communities.” Read the full interview with Isabel.

Gino Nuzzolillo
History, ’20
“I decided to pursue the human rights certificate because, fundamentally, I care deeply about reshaping our world. I want to live in the kind of society where no person faces housing insecurity, lack of access to food or quality healthcare, the violence of incarceration and policing, pollution and toxins, discrimination, or systemic poverty — and where each person has the freedom to live comfortably and unlock the best in themselves. And I felt I needed rigorous instruction to grapple seriously with how structural inequality – generated and enforced by the global intersection of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism – prevents this new society from coming into being. The human rights certificate is the home for that kind of education at Duke.” Read the full interview with Gino.

Semhal Araya
Political Science major and Computer Science minor, ’20
“I decided to declare the human rights certificate because I feel that it offers me a specific lens to perceive my political science major…I studied abroad in South Africa and was able to witness what I was learning in real life. I heard firsthand stories and was able to meet/explore different communities and regions to better understand the issues. I was also able to see how my peers and I fit into things as American scholars and our impact being there.” Read the full interview with Semhal.
Tyler Kopp
Public Policy and Spanish majors, ’20
“I had an interest in studying human rights since I first heard the term in high school, but I had very little idea what human rights looked like in the ‘real world.’ This certificate has provided me with a lot of ways to interpret, analyze, and critique human rights — from the international human rights documents we often laud at fancy conferences to the human rights violations of migrant families that I am researching right now as I write my senior thesis in public policy.” Read the full interview with Tyler.

Camille Ampey
Public Policy major and Education minor, ’20
“I decided to pursue the human rights certificate because it gives focus to my studies and allows me to learn more about how human rights and public policy are intertwined. Public policy and government actors not only have a substantial role in abusing human rights but also in protecting them and changing the national conversation around who should be considered human. This is the role I want to have throughout my future.” Read the full interview with Camille.
Madeleine Cochrane
Public Policy, ’20
“After getting involved with financial advocacy work at the Community Empowerment Fund of Durham in the fall of 2016, I became inspired to seek out curricular opportunities to learn more about the institutions that impact the well-being of human rights across minority and marginalized groups. Additionally, I hoped that my classroom interaction with local, state, national, and international law would allow me to draw conclusions and think critically about solutions for ongoing human rights abuses entrenched in our systems while drawing from relevant experience and historical context. A fire was lit within me and I had to seek out more information to build the tools I needed to (try to) make a real difference!” Read the full interview with Madeleine.
Alicia Porile
Public Policy major and Spanish minor, ’20
“The most impactful moment of my time in this certificate occurred in a class I took about sexual assault on college campuses.  One of the speakers who came was a poet who is a survivor of domestic violence. Hearing her read her poetry and recount her experiences was incredibly meaningful.  It can be easy to get lost in the academics of human rights and view it conceptually from such a broad perspective that the importance at the individual, human level can get lost. This experience was a very personal reminder of why the study and defense of human rights are so important.” Read the full interview with Alicia.
Sonali Mehta

Public Policy major and Theatre Studies minor, ’20
“I think I already have started using my experiences from the certificate. After returning from a human rights study abroad program, it was really important to me to get involved in my own communities: right now those are Duke and Durham. I’ve become a student activist working against sexual violence on campus, and a legal advocate in Durham, advocating on behalf of victims of domestic and sexual violence. I may not have pursued those opportunities without my human rights education.” Read the full interview with Sonali.

Stephanie Mayle
Political Science major and French minor, ’20
[The Certificate program] allows and actively encourages students to explore whatever human rights issue they’re most interested in…I’ve really loved all the classes I’ve taken. For instance, I took a journalism class, a sociology class, AAAS classes, all of which counted towards the completion of my certificate. I feel like I got to experience a lot of different Duke departments.” Read the full interview with Stephanie.
Donovan Bendana
Political Science and International Comparative Studies majors, ’20
“I love the very strong sense of community the certificate professors and students have…Human rights is always something to be discussed and acknowledged in almost any line of work someone may pursue. Its reach is limitless.” Read the full interview with Donovan.

Kevin Solomon
Political Science, ’20 
“The multidisciplinary nature of the Certificate helped me learn ways of thinking about and seeing power/oppression that I wouldn’t have learned or grasped in one single discipline. For example, understanding that power systems dynamically surround us at all times—even in the keyboard I’m typing on in terms of where my computer was produced, by whom, under what labor conditions, according to what global capital streams, etc.—is something that I learned partly from sociology, political science, international comparative studies, various ethnic studies, and other subjects, but is a lesson which the Certificate operationalizes as an initial framework for thinking about the world. ” Read the full interview with Kevin.

Daisy Almonte
Sociology major and Public Policy Minor, ’20
“I learned about the organization Otros Dreams en Accion, and I admire them for their grassroots approach to organizing and community-building. Their everyday work asserts the rights of returned migrants to Mexico and reveals the effects of deportation.”


Cara Kim
Public Policy major and Cultural Anthropology minor, ’20
“My capstone project, ‘The Hip-Hop Gospel’, looks through the lens of hip-hop’s expressional power and its political prophecies to outline commercial liberation and mass oppression. I plan to continue the purpose of my project by working in the hip-hop industry and using its platform to elevate and advocate for human rights, as it has done for decades.” 


Spencer Bandeen
Public Policy, ’20
“The Duke Immerse program I participated in greatly benefited from it’s multidisciplinary approach. The classes highlighted the importance of exploring human rights through a political science, international comparative studies and public policy lens. I would also consider the class experiential as it included travel and research in both South Africa and the American South. This aspect of the course allowed my class to gain a practical understanding of policy in practice and observe the issues we had studied.”

Tea Hughes
International Comparative Studies major with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean, ’20
“Robin Kirk has been the most notable human rights figure in my HR career. Her many years of experience and expertise in the field (Latin America – also my region of focus) are palpable in the classroom and in her individual relationships/conversations with students. She has enabled me to see the way human rights penetrate all aspects of our lives and offered me real outlets for defending them. Robin been instrumental in my own passion for human rights issues and my determination to practically apply my HR-based knowledge.”

Imani Hicks
Public Policy major and a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, ’20
“I plan to work in policy and law, and the information and experiences from this certificate will be extremely useful in both sectors. What you learn in this certificate has multiple applications making it a valuable educational lens more so than specialized knowledge.” 


MacKenzi Simpson
Computer Science major and Global Health minor, ’20
“My favorite human rights course that I’ve taken at Duke is Social Determinants of US Health Disparities. It’s easy within human rights to want to fix problems all over the world and not see the problems people face within your own spaces. I appreciate how this class deeply explored disparities in the health of US citizens and provided social explanations, as opposed to genetic or medical, that can be tackled with policy changes.” 

Sujeiry Jimenez
Public Policy major and Global Health minor, ’20
“The knowledge and experience I have gained through this certificate will continue to inform and guide my work in the future. In every future opportunity I will take into account the populations whose rights are often abused/neglected and advocate for those communities. My plans have not been changed as a result of the certificate, in fact, they have been solidified. As I learned about the countless abuses that occur daily, I realized that joining the fight for a more equitable world is what I need to do.”