DLeo-Louuke Sophomore and Co-Chair of DHRC@FHI’s Student Advisory Board attended Northwestern University Community for Human Rights (NUCHR)’s 11th annual conference from 1/15-1/18/2015.  Leo’s reflection on her experience at the conference is below.

A month ago, I had the privilege to be one of forty undergraduate delegates from across the country attending the Northwestern University Community on Human Rights (NUCHR)’s 11th annual conference. It is the largest undergraduate student-run conference on human rights in the United States. The theme of the conference this year was Hursz_logoman Rights in A Digital Age.

Being one of the co-chairs of the Student Advisory Board of Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute this year, I am involved in an exciting process to make human rights a more present academic field and topic of interest for the Duke undergraduate population. The Student Advisory Board is organizing our first-ever Human Rights Awareness week and bringing in speakers engaging in human rights related fields and professions. We want to engage speakers, scholars, activists and undergraduates in the same way this conference does. Thus, I was intrigued by such a large-scale conference organized completely by undergraduate students from a peer university and wanted to learn not only about the topic of the conference itself, but also the organization and its engagement with the human rights community at Northwestern, in Chicago, and around the country.

The conference lasted for three days and consisted of three panel discussions, three keynotes, a documentary screening, and an experiential learning field trip to downtown Chicago. The focus of the conversations was how the Internet and improved technologies have both liberated and constrained our human rights at different times.


We explored a variety of issues, including activism (and slacktivism) through social media, cyber security, and mass surveillance. The panel discussions drew a group of prominent lawyers, government officials, scholars, and professors to present their research, work, and opinions. I was able to interact with them on a personal basis in and outside of the conference.

One of the highlights for this conference was the first panel on Re-Wiring Human Rights in the Digital World, which explored how the growth of the Internet and web-based technologies has affected the scope, relevance and effectiveness of human rights.

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Director for International Freedom and Expression discussed the use of Internet in ISIS’s recruitment of participants and the violation of human rights through surveillance.
  • A scholar on Chinese Internet technologies, politics and policies explored the role of physical bodies, art, and chat activism in the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.
  • The co-chair of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition at the UN Internet Governance Forum discussed the role state governments, especially that of the United States, in the construction of infrastructure of information abroad in South Sudan, Cuba, and other conflict regions.


Most interestingly, a professor with extensive research background in collective action, collaboration, and mobilization online stated that there is a gap between the vision and reality of equating equal and free access to information with universal rights of freedom and speech. The panel discussion left me thinking about the dynamics of states, individuals, and organizations in the human rights mechanisms around the world.

Another highlight of the conference was the fieldtrips. The delegates, along with the keynote speakers and panelists, were split into four groups. The groups visited the Center of Wrongful Convictions, Smart Chicago, Community Media Workshop, and Chicago Regional Computer Forensics Lab. All four community organizations use technologies such as big data, multimedia storytelling, and digital evidences to combat human rights violations. I went to the Community Media Workshop with a Columbia College Chicago professor of journalism. The workshops not only offered numerous skills of story investigation and presentation, but also provided us with a vast amount of resources through online platforms as well as physical communities like International Center for Journalists and Investigating Reporters and Editors.

On top of the actual conversations that were very intellectually stimulating for me to be a part of, I was also in conversations with delegates from schools around the country about the human rights curriculums in their schools and the accessibility of research, social platforms for conversations, human rights activism, and mentor figures. I observed the complex and meticulous functions of the NUCHR committees and paid particular attention to ways to keep each individual invested in the cause and accountable with responsibilities.

The conference was in general incredibly beneficial for me individually, and I hope to engage in continuous conversation with the Student and Faculty Advisory Boards of DHRC@FHI about the knowledge that I gained at this conference.

Read more about the conference