This interview was conducted over email with Madeleine Cochrane, a senior undergraduate student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program, completing a major in Public Policy, 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?

Madeleine Cochrane (MC): After getting involved with financial advocacy work at the Community Empowerment Fund of Durham in the fall of 2016, I became inspired to seek out curricular opportunities to learn more about the institutions that impact the well-being of human rights across minority and marginalized groups. Additionally, I hoped that my classroom interaction with local, state, national, and international law would allow me to draw conclusions and think critically about solutions for ongoing human rights abuses entrenched in our systems while drawing from relevant experience and historical context. A fire was lit within me and I had to seek out more information to build the tools I needed to (try to) make a real difference!

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

MC: The certificate’s diverse and interdisciplinary nature allows Human Rights students to explore ethical and legal implications that have real effects on real people within a variety of areas of society. As a result, I have gained a comprehensive perspective on human rights just from engaging with other students in the program that have taken courses in different topic areas. Additionally, I think the capstone is an effective format to synthesize the theory and context that is gained in class into a productive project that has the power to make a real impact in this much-needed field of advocacy.

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

MC: After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in immigration law. My coursework has well equipped me with the broad international and national context surrounding immigrant and refugee rights that is extremely beneficial to be well-versed in this field. Additionally, the writing skills I have gained have better prepared me for the argumentative and research-oriented work that is required in the field of law.

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

MC: Last spring, I worked on an opinion editorial that allowed me to tackle the human rights implications of judicial code in Virginia, where I am from. Specifically, I was looking at how fees and fines within the court system disproportionately impact people of lower socioeconomic status, and how this is another way that our justice system “polices the poor.” This op-ed subsequentially turned into my thesis!