This interview was conducted over email with Elina Rodriguez, a senior undergraduate student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program, completing a major in English at UNC through the Robertson Scholars program, by Miranda Gershoni, a first-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Miranda Gershoni (MG): Why did you decide to pursue the human rights certificate?

Elina Rodriguez (ER): I became interested in Human Rights the more I learned about prison abolition and the prisoners’ rights movement. I realized that understanding the history and legacy of the human rights movement is so critical in defending the rights and dignity of prisoners and others who have been abandoned by the American legal system. Part of the reason why I was interested in the Human Rights certificate is because UNC really doesn’t have a program that’s at all comparable. I was excited to find that Duke had so many classes all in different subject areas that were united by a human rights lens and were often related (or could be easily applied) to my interest in criminal justice.

MG: What makes this certificate unique from other programs at Duke?

ER: I’m interested in race, gender, politics, and culture, and the certificate program really supports a pretty well-rounded exploration of those areas.  I didn’t realize this when I  first joined in the program, but I really appreciate how interdisciplinary it is. I’ve been able to take classes in the Literature department, the Gender and Feminist Studies department, the African & African American Studies department, Sociology department, and Cultural Anthropology department. Such an interdisciplinary perspective has been integral to my college experience, and specifically my desire to work on a thesis. It’s helped condition me to more easily see the connections between subject areas, and the interrelated nature of all social phenomena.

MG: How has the multidisciplinary, experiential nature of the program affected your learning while in the certificate?

ER: Last semester I took a class in the AAAS department on Moral Panics with Dr. Wahneema Lubiano and a class in the GSF department called Money, Sex, Power with Dr. Kathi Weeks. Having the opportunity to approach very related subjects through different mediums and styles of analysis, helped me make sense of the way that patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, power, fear, and ideology are interrelated and fiercely codependent. 

MG: How do you plan to use the information and experiences you’re gaining from the certificate?

ER: I’m now writing my thesis on the way that ideology, deviance, and moral panics have shaped the American cultural perception of motherhood and how motherhood is surveilled, policed, and punished by the state. Working on my thesis has been one of the highlights of my college experience, and it’s been extremely meaningful to get to work with brilliant professors who are passionate about what I’m interested in,while being supported by Dr. Robin Kirk and Emily Stewart, who have encouraged me to pursue this project and have helped me with look for summer jobs and opportunities in pursuit of this interest. I intend to pursue a career in the field of public defense, and I want to connect people who have currently or formerly battled the criminal justice system to resources, services, and support. The HRC program has imbued me with a strong sense of justice, a meaningful understanding of global struggle, and a keen desire to work to protect peoples’ rights and dignity.

MG: What has been the most impactful moment (lecture, activity, reading, professor, etc) you’ve gained from the program?

ER: I really enjoyed being in a class called Israel/Palestine: Comparative Perspectives. I realized that what I had been taught about Israel was propagandized rhetoric, and that the country’s subordination and antagonism of Palestinian people mirrored so much of our American history of exploitation, violence, and prejudice. Dr. Stein and Dr. Rosenthal helped me find my own voice in understanding and explaining the conflict to my family and others, and Dr. Stein in particular worked with me to draft a final research project that reached beyond the parameters of what we had studied in class to investigate Israel’s military court system in Palestine. She helped me connect my research to the larger fabric of the class and my own interests, and she helped me push my own boundaries and explore the inequalities of the legal arena on a more global scale. Most importantly, all of the peers in my cohort are brilliant, amazing, and kind people who encourage and support me. I’ve gotten particularly close to a few students who have really made my time in the program more meaningful, and my learning more exciting.