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Dr. James Chappel
Gilhuly Family Associate Professor of History

What research are you currently working on?

I’m working on a history of aging in America. This is absolutely a human rights issue. My own particular interest in human rights in recent years has involved disability: what do we owe to those who are “differently abled”? How can built environments and social policy create inclusion for them? Aging is fascinating to me because it is, in a sense, a form of disability that awaits many of us, even those of us who do not identify as disabled.

What classes do you teach this semester?

I am teaching History 286, on Twentieth Century Europe, and I am teaching the capstone for the Human Rights certificate. We are doing a project together with a local nonprofit called OurJourney. It was recently founded by a group of formerly incarcerated North Carolinians to work on prison re-entry. Their basic view is that the problem of mass incarceration is a problem of recidivism, and that the problem of recidivism is largely a problem of poor re-entry services. I’m excited to do this work with my students.

How do your current or past involvements intersect with human rights?

In all sorts of ways. One thing I did last semester: I taught at Butner Prison, through the Divinity School. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life, and fed my commitment to human rights for the incarcerated.

What made you want to be a part of the Duke Human Rights Center’s Faculty Advisory Board?

I think DHRC is the most important site on Duke’s campus for thinking about human rights issues, broadly construed, and it’s important to me to know what’s going on—and to have the chance to shape it, too.

What is something you are looking forward to for human rights work at Duke this year?

There is a group of faculty and students who are working on prison and mass incarceration issues at Duke, bringing together Divinity, Law, and other sites around campus. This strikes me as a very positive development.

What advice would you give to current Duke undergraduate students looking to get more involved with human rights on campus?

You should do it! Right now, at Duke, you are surrounded by people and institutions who care a great deal about climate justice, racial equity, and the other burning issues of the day. After you leave Duke, it is likely that these themes will be talked about much less frequently. Now is your chance to learn about those issues and, more importantly, to learn how to leverage your knowledge to create change. There are fewer opportunities to do this outside of universities than you might think.