This interview was conducted over email with Vanessa Real Williams, a student enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate Program, by Zac Johnson, a fourth-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. In addition to the Human Rights Certificate, Vanessa is earning a major in Public Policy.

Zac Johnson (ZJ): Why did you decide to pursue the human rights certificate?

Vanessa Real Williams (VRW): In high school, I watched a documentary on water companies opening plants around poor communities and dirtying the water downstream. It was then that I realized I wanted to work on ensuring that everyone has access to clean water. My goals changed in the 4 years I’ve been at Duke, but I ultimately wish to do work that furthers human rights.

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

VRW: The certificate has a diverse array of classes that allowed me to focus on my interests within human rights. I have been able to take classes focused on journalism, Apartheid, business, mass incarceration, and refugees! I’ve enjoyed the freedom the certificate provided me compared to my friends in STEM who’ve had minimal input in the classes they’ve taken.

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

VRW: I’ve been able to foster my curiosity on different human rights topics I never imagined I’d be able to learn about in college. Many of the most impactful moments of my Duke career happened thanks to a guest speaker, a field trip, or an extracurricular event related to the Franklin Center.

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

VRW: I hope to pursue a career that incorporates the overarching themes of the courses I’ve taken. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work on not only exposing wrongs within our society but also finding different solutions to human rights issues that impact the most vulnerable in our society.

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

VRW: Last Fall, I took Prof. Bill Adair’s course News as a Moral Battleground. Near the end of the semester, he mentioned wanting to attend law school until his senior year of college when he decided to enter journalism as a career with no experience. Hearing his experience made me realize that I didn’t have to attend law school to do work that furthers human rights.

ZJ: How has the Human Rights Certificate shaped your life outside of academic and professional settings?

VRW: The certificate allowed me to see that there is a human rights aspect to everything. Art, cemeteries, and music are just a few of the ways I’ve learned about human rights and I want to continue seeking out unconventional ways to learn about human rights.