Why the Human Rights Certificate? Interview with Sonali Mehta


This interview was conducted over email with Sonali Mehta, a senior undergraduate student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program majoring in Public Policy with a minor in Theater Studies, 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?

Sonali Mehta (SM): I took a class called Human Rights and World Politics during my first semester at Duke as part of the FOCUS program and really loved it. I thought the Human Rights framework was a really interesting one, if imperfect, to think about justice around the world.

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

SM: The certificate is really flexible in its specific requirements, while also offering you access to so many speakers and events and professionals doing this work in all sorts of different fields. I’ve really appreciated both of those aspects.

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

SM: I feel very grateful to the program for offering so many practical applications and examples as to what it means to have a career in human rights. The program has shown me career paths that I didn’t even know existed, and I am so much more confident that I otherwise would have been about putting my skills to use towards the pursuit of justice and human rights for all.
MG: How do you plan to use the information and experiences you’re gaining from the certificate? 
SM: I think I already have started using my experiences from the certificate. After returning from a human rights study abroad program, it was really important to me to get involved in my own communities: right now those are Duke and Durham. I’ve become a student activist working against sexual violence on campus, and a legal advocate in Durham, advocating on behalf of victims of domestic and sexual violence. I may not have pursued those opportunities without my human rights education.

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

SM: During my junior fall, I studied abroad with the SIT Human Rights program which traveled to Chile, Nepal, and Jordan. That was absolutely the most impactful semester in my human rights education and the way I’m hoping to approach my future career. It was such an incredible experience to learn from grassroots community organizers and activists in every country I visited. There is so much incredible human rights work happening all over the world, and the biggest lesson I took away from the semester was to do what you can for your own communities. That lesson has informed my last two years at Duke and I know it will continue to guide me as I move forward.