Admissions Blog

Student Organization Spotlight: Human Rights Working Group

By Elliot Mur '24
Posted Dec 20 2023

Starting your journey at SIPA can be stressful, but one of the best ways to get involved in the SIPA community is by joining a student organization. In joining either, through the board or as a member, you will have the opportunity to engage on various issues, attend social events and meet fellow like-minded students that will enhance your overall graduate experience. There’s a long list of organizations on campus, ranging from the Columbia SIPA Veterans Association (CSVA), to Jassa (Japan Study Student Association), to SIPA Women In Leadership (SIPA WIl), ideally meeting everyone's interests! Although if you see a gap and would like to start your own student group, you can do so upon joining SIPA just like the recent First-Generation Student Union (FGSU).


The SIPA Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) seeks to promote, educate, and mobilize in support of international human rights and the study of human rights. During the Spring 2023 semester, the HRWG has brought attention to Transgender Rights with activists from Brazil, Ethiopia, and South Africa, part of the Human Rights Advocates Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Additionally, Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti who is an imprisoned Uyghur scholar and laureate of the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was invited to share her experiences as an activist working for the release of her father, and meeting leaders, including former Secretary of State John Kerry. Jewher also discussed the complicity of the fashion industry in the persecution of Uyghurs.  After a series of events, the HRWG wrapped up the semester with a social at Amity Hall – Seeple’s most popular Happy Hour spot!


In Fall 2023, the HRWG had some exciting plans, including a symposium featuring timely events on pressing issues faced in the human rights field. The first event of the semester welcomed new students and introduced them to the HRWG over coffee and donuts. New students were able to meet fellow students, while discussing the events HRWG would host over the coming term. They then hosted an event on Education in Conflict that explained why ensuring education in conflict settings is so critical, and heard about the work that various organizations are doing to protect this human right. It then hosted another event to help students exchange, discover classes, professors, cross-registration, and other opportunities to get involved with human rights at Columbia. Finally, the HRWG hosted an event as part of our HRWG Symposium, focusing on the impact of conflict on children’s rights. We were joined by three professionals in the field of children’s rights where they were able to share their experiences in programming and advocacy.

As the semester wraps up, the time of the current Human Rights Working Group executive board comes to an end. I asked some of our board members to describe in a few sentences why they joined this particular student organization/or what has been their favorite moment during this time. 

Lauren Stricker (Co-Events Coordinator): I joined HRWG because I wanted to play a part in shaping campus dialogue on human rights. Our readings and coursework are really valuable, but they’re not enough on their own, and I see student organizations like HRWG as an important complement. I wanted to help host events that challenged students’ assumptions, pushed us to learn more, and brought practitioners to campus to talk about what work in the human rights space really looks like. My favorite moment as a board member was during the Education in Conflict event. It was a special opportunity to bring a student and practitioner together to share their respective experiences and perspectives, and so many attendees shared that it was a rewarding and enlightening conversation.

Angel Ornelas (Co-Events Coordinator): I joined HRWG because I wanted to contribute to human rights advocacy on campus. HRWG was a great opportunity to build community with other SIPA students passionate about human rights and help organize events related to challenges in education, gender/sexuality, and religious freedom. I strongly recommend everyone to consider engaging with HRWG’s events and join the e-board!

Elliot Mur (Co-President): I joined the Human Rights Working Group as I saw it as an opportunity for students, both human rights and non-human rights concentrators, to engage with current issues. As human rights touches upon a broad range of matters, my goal was to bring speakers that catered to everyone. One of my favorite moments was being able to meet Jewher Ilham whose work and activism I’ve been following for several years, and engaging with, both as an undergraduate student and through my internship at European Parliament. It was interesting to discuss the human rights issues and have students learn from her experiences meeting with senior officials from around the world.