The Human Rights Fellowship is a transformative experience for Trinity undergraduates.
Created in 1998, Trinity’s Human Rights Program
was the first of its kind at an American liberal arts college. Students who major or minor in human rights studies are immersed in a broadly interdisciplinary curriculum that draws from politics, philosophy, history, and even performing arts..
Although many students choose Trinity expressly for the Human Rights Program, Cleveland native Will Pollock was not one of them. The senior political science major was largely unaware of Trinity’s human rights reputation until he left the College for a semester to study abroad in Uruguay and Chile. That was when he first internalized the lasting devastation of large-scale human rights abuses.
“The ex-director of the Chile program was kidnapped and tortured by the [Pinochet regime] and he spoke very openly about that with us, sharing his personal experience,” says Pollock, whose host family also told harrowing tales of friends and teachers who were among the desaparecidos—those who were kidnapped and killed during the political reign of terror of the 1970s and 1980s.
Pollock returned to Trinity with a new focus. He took two courses from Sonia Cardenas, the director of the Human Rights Program, on “International Human Rights Law” and “Human Rights in Latin America.”
“Both of those gave an academic structure to something I was interested in on a personal level,” says Pollock, who added minors in human rights studies and Hispanic studies.
Professor Cardenas encouraged Pollock to apply for a Human Rights Fellowship, a Trinity-sponsored summer program that employs highly motivated students as paid interns with global human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the International Rescue Committee.
Pollock won the fellowship—along with six other Trinity students—and was soon living in Brooklyn, working full-time for WITNESS, a nonpropfit started by the musician Peter Gabriel that produces, promotes, and distributes human rights documentaries from around the world.
“The idea is that talking about human rights or showing reports isn’t as engaging or motivating as hearing testimony and seeing images,” says Pollock, who was tasked with creating effective and far-reaching social networking campaigns.
“I was working with small group of people, but WITNESS has this massive network of engaged, socially minded followers,” says the senior. “I was in charge of communicating with them directly.”
In the last two weeks of the fellowship, he and his colleagues—many of whom were in graduate school—worked late nights creating promotional video clips, YouTube pages, and Facebook groups to gather 1,000 signatures in support of an African documentary about violence against women. Through it all, Pollock never felt out of his element.
“I was amazed at how often I used my classroom knowledge during discussions at WITNESS in a way that drew respect from my peers and my bosses as well,” says Pollock, who was also one of the co-founders of The Mill, an alternative arts and social space on campus. “I really felt confident and comfortable talking about human rights issues because I had this academic background."