As you can see, I have chosen a title for my column. Blurring aside, “The Silver Lining” represents the insights we can gain from our experiences and perceptions, and whether positive, neutral, or negative, we need to recognize the value of all those outcomes. My goal is not to limit myself – in terms of content or topics – but rather to provide some sort of parallel structure in my arguments and establish a basis for a consistent, linear theme throughout the semester. It may not be perfect, but in the end, what is it? We are all human, aren’t we?
I spent last summer as an intern for a New York-based human rights organization. My position was primarily advocacy-focused, but I feel like I’ve learned enough about the world of nonprofit human rights work to discuss what I’m going to present today as a concern.
Human rights lack diversity. University programs are dominated by white students and professors. The lack of financial support in the nonprofit field leads to professional opportunities being filled by individuals able to support themselves through their privileged financial backgrounds. The requirements for access to management positions assume one or more higher education diplomas, often from private establishments to which ungodly prices are attached. The field has become oversaturated with wealthy and privileged individuals who rarely fulfill more than one form of diversity, and when coupled with the fact that most of these organizations are located ininaccessible cities like NYC, I can’t help but wonder who this area is really for.
These issues are not unique to any particular human rights organization or body, nor are they present in all of them. However, thinking about which of these bodies are most often cited in my own experience as a student of human rights, my exposure to their teams over the past few months has only increased my grip of conscience – and my concerns – about the path that human rights have taken. on.
However, the biggest threat to the future of this field begins early in the process. Opportunities for students in undergraduate and graduate human rights programs are very limited as these experiences are often unpaid. The United Nations, its subsections such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International exist as the creme de la creme of agencies and government and non-profit organizations for internship opportunities. With the exception of Amnesty, all of these organizations require a bachelor’s degree for most of their internship programs, and all of them, including Amnesty, advertise these programs as unpaid opportunities.
The assumption that, after graduation, a student who has probably suffered dozens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt can afford to provide unpaid labor to these agencies is unfair. The nature of these opportunities and their lack of compensation does not achieve the purported goal of fostering a competitive and passionate pool of candidates, but rather limits the pool of candidates to those who have pools of their own. Poor puns aside, human rights groups need to change their hiring and funding procedures to ensure a fair and non-elitist approach to securing labor and student support.
Certainly, it is not entirely the fault of these organizations. States do little to support human rights movements and their promoters, let alone their often direct involvement in the violation of human rights to begin with. Nevertheless, it remains heartbreaking to see great minds opting for higher paying opportunities in generally less than virtuous fields of work, simply because human rights do not pay, and it remains equally heartbreaking to see those who can afford to defend human rights do so. with little accountability for their actions.
Plus, all of these issues – lack of diversity and compensation, elitist requirements for hiring, etc. – are further exacerbated by the Western nature of human rights themselves. I won’t get into the argument that human rights are western because such an argument is based on a factual assertion: human rights are indeed western. Rather, we must grapple with what these questions fail to do, namely the historical significance of colonialist actions that use human rights as a means to justify imperialist interventions or problematic anthropological expeditions.
The junction between unpaid internships and colonialism is smaller than it seems. Propelling a privileged demographic into a field at the entry level of postgraduate internships directly contributes to the lack of diversity in human rights organizations and governing bodies. Placing the task of helping oppressed groups on the children of the elite and upper class of society bears little fruit in the uphill battle that is human rights activism and inherently poisons the entire harvest. .
Am I contributing to the westernization of human rights? Can I participate ethically in this field? These questions plague the identity of UConn human rights students as they apply for internships with two emotions in mind: worry that they will not be able to afford to pursue the field they they study with so much passion, or shame, that they contribute to the colonization of global organizations and their nonprofit counterparts. None of these feelings are right, and the weight of such emotions can easily contribute to the downfall of some powerful and righteous minds.