This interview was conducted over email with Gino Nuzzolillo, a senior undergraduate student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program completing a major in History, by Miranda Gershoni, a second-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?

Gino Nuzzolillo (GN): 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. I also love Robin Kirk and Emily Stewart and wanted the excuse to learn as much from them as I could.

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

GN: This certificate program emphasizes actual engagement with some of the most urgent human rights issues of our moment. The Human Rights Center staff are constantly organizing insightful events, building relationships with community partners across the country, and encouraging students to research, write, and think critically. This certificate is, perhaps, one of the few places at Duke which embodies “knowledge in service of society.”

MG: How has the multidisciplinary, experiential nature of the program affected your learning while in the certificate? How do you plan to use the information and experiences you’re gaining from the certificate? How do you plan to use the information and experiences you’re gaining from the certificate?

GN: My experiences in the certificate have dramatically shaped what I hope to do after I graduate. For example, I have been involved in projects like the ACRE-Duke partnership on wastewater infrastructure and environmental justice in Lowndes County, Alabama. Not only did I have the privilege to learn about the history of the Lowndes County and its work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, but I had the opportunity to work alongside truly inspirational people like Catherine Coleman Flowers in the ongoing struggle over environmental racism today. I learned from people in Lowndes, in eastern North Carolina, and others from Atlanta to the Bronx that my academic work only holds value if it supports grassroots-led efforts for radical change. I try to bring that understanding to every new project I start. I’m hoping to eventually work at the intersection of community organizing, law, and policy as a public defender and urban planner – my decision to take this path has been influenced, in large part, by my experience in this certificate program.

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

GN: In April 2018, as a member of the ACRE-Duke team, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. I got to spend time listening to and learning from people like Bryan Stevenson, Congressman John Lewis, Michelle Alexander, Ava DuVernay, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Al Gore, and so many others. I also spent a lot of time in the Museum and Memorial – I don’t have the words to describe just how transformative this experience was for me. You just have to make the pilgrimage to see and experience it yourself. I’ll also always remember this weekend fondly because of the time I got to spend with people I deeply admire – students like Bryce Cracknell and Katy Hansen, and staff and professors like Dr. Erika Weinthal, Dr. Betsy Albright, and Emily, who I hope to stay connected to long after I leave Duke.