This interview was conducted over email with Isabel Shepard, a senior undergraduate student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program, completing a major in Cultural Anthropology, 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?

Isabel Shepard (IS): 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.

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

IS: The community! Learning about human rights takes an emotional toll…sometimes I’d just feel so exhausted and alone in my feelings of frustration. The certificate grants access to a community of people experiencing the same who you can relate to. More importantly, it’s a community that can lift you up and reminds you that progress is possible and happening all around us in little and big ways.

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

IS: The certificate reminds me to always ground my pursuits in reality, in what’s at stake. I can get caught up in the more indulgent sides of theory and abstract academic analyses, but the certificate pushes me to persist in making my work matter—whether through revealing injustice or providing material for celebration and hope.

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

IS: I’m drawn to the intersection of art and cultural anthropology, especially through the lens of exhibition. Today, one of the biggest challenges faced by human rights is impactful attention. Spaces like museums, galleries, or digital exhibition are becoming more and more important, so I want to work in that margin of creativity and lived experience(s).

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

IS: Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil” has always stuck with me. In Robin Kirk’s Introduction to Human Rights course, we dialogued Arendt’s piece “Eichmann in Jerusalem” with Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, and it’s one of those concepts that pop up everywhere and especially lends itself to understanding popular culpability in relation to the tragedies facing people in the US and abroad caused by trump and his administration.