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Let's Talk Human Rights

Abroad in Geneva Series: Part 2

By Claire Pawlecki ‘23 and Katie Hay ‘23

Through this series, we are reflecting on our experience abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, and offering insight into our travels, internships with an NGO and IGO, and the exposure to human rights within the classroom and professional settings.  

Interning in Geneva

In addition to taking classes in Geneva, we are both interning at international organizations, gaining first-hand experience with professional human rights work in the heart of the global human rights community. This has been an enriching experience for the both of us, as we are using what we have learned from our human rights classes at UD to undertake our internships.

Claire's Internship Placement

Claire: This semester, I have the pleasure of working with the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) as their Communications Intern. The ISHR works with human rights defenders all over the world, helping them to advocate  and raise awareness of the human rights inequities facing human rights defenders. With a mission “to support human rights defenders, strengthen human rights systems, as well as lead and participate in coalitions for human rights change”, I am grateful to witness this work in action on a daily basis.

In my position, I assist with graphic design, website updates and social media management. Some of my projects have been designing infographics for human rights campaigns in Nicaragua, and assisting with social media content and website updates (some even in Spanish and Chinese!). This has been an amazing learning experience; I am reminded every day that I am in the global center for human rights when I head into work and see the United Nations Headquarters. This experience keeps me inspired and motivated to keep learning and growing as a designer and human rights advocate.

I love the versatility of design and using that in a human rights context allows for my designs to carry more meaning. Designing in a human rights context raises interesting questions about what types of visuals translate human rights work best and inspire others to learn more. It is important for us as creators to be mindful of the ways our designs are either contributing to social change or further enhancing stereotypes and biases. As artists, I believe we have the duty to not only create change, but to visualize what change looks like in order to get people interested in learning more. My work for the ISHR has enabled me to see how critical a role design can play in human rights advocacy. I am eager to take what I have learned from this internship into my professional career moving forward!


Katie: Grateful is the perfect word to describe my intern experience in Geneva thus far. I am working for the South Centre, an intergovernmental organization that undertakes policy-oriented research on a set of issues relevant to the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More specifically, it supports the countries of the global south to effectively participate in international negotiating processes in order to reinforce a multilateral system that supports and does not undermine development efforts. In 2020, the South Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary of providing developing countries with policy recommendations and technical analysis in a range of issues from the global economy, to climate change, to global health, to intellectual property and human rights.

With the lifting of the work-from-home order in Switzerland, each Monday and Wednesday, I ride the tram (public transport is the best!) into the office and begin my work for the day. Since the South Centre is a research institute, there is never a shortage of publications to be edited. As a Human Rights Studies major, the best part of the job is getting to read the research and policy while editing. I am especially interested in the new research published relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. I recently edited a research paper analyzing whether Covid-19 vaccines should be considered global public goods by the World Health Organization. Every day, I am reminded that there is always more to learn in this field, and I appreciate doing so through the work of my colleagues at the South Centre.

Since the South Centre was created from the 1994 Agreement to Establish the South Centre, an agreement deposited with the United Nations (UN), the organization meets frequently with representatives of the UN agencies to discuss projects of the South Centre. Attending meetings and conferences with Member States of the UN has reminded me of the importance of experiential learning - as these are experiences can be found only beyond the classroom.

From this experience, my advice to students  pursuing a degree in Human Rights Studies or any related field is to engage in an experiential learning opportunity, like an internship. These experiences go beyond building your resume by providing invaluable insight into how your passions can transition into a professional setting. Whether this is getting engaged with the UD Human Rights Center, joining a club like Human Rights Advocacy Group, or working an internship with a human rights related organization, I cannot emphasize enough the value of experiential learning during college.

Reflection on Coursework

This semester, we are taking classes towards our degrees at a local university in Geneva, located just outside of the city center. While it is an American university, the campus welcomes full-time and study abroad students from all over the world. Currently, the university hosts upwards of 90 nationalities per year among the student community.

Claire: My favorite class this semester is called “Media, Diversity, and Society.” Not only do I get to take it with the lovely Katie Hay, but I am in a classroom with people from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, Columbia, and Lebanon. Having the opportunity to be surrounded by such diverse perspectives has made for an extremely enriching learning environment, further growing my realization of how important it is to provide safe spaces where diverse stories, experiences, and identities can be shared.

This course takes us through an in depth analysis of the many types of media, having discussions as a class about representation and lack thereof within film, music, advertising, production, and social media. We look into the stereotypes shown in the media, the bias behind them, and talk about the ways these stereotypes have been harmful in developing inclusivity within each of our countries. For instance, we watched a documentary last week called “Disclosure,” which is about the history of transgender representation in film. We saw how poor and offensive portrayals of the transgender community in film are full of false stereotypes, bias and discrimination, and we discussed after the film the ways these harmful portrayals are deeply rooted throughout many other forms of media. A line we explored from the film was “People cannot be what they cannot see,” which emphasizes how crucial it is for the media to be inclusive of everyone and not just certain identities.

As a designer, this class has encouraged me to think more in depth about my designing and the messages my designs send. Being intentional about the media you choose and the message you are sharing is one of great importance and seriousness, and learning from this class has grown my understanding of how impactful media messaging can be in creating change.

Katie: What makes a study abroad experience so important, in my opinion, is having the opportunity to enrich my cultural competency by living and learning among cultures beyond my own. For the first time in my education, I am learning from professors and amongst students that are not from the United States. In the course mentioned by Claire, we have engaged in discussions on bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, focusing specifically on how the media can impact these areas. As we all come from diverse backgrounds, our discussions were especially enlightening. For instance, discrimination within the United States that I have witnessed looks different than the discrimination witnessed by my classmate from Lebanon. The course covered a wide range of topics - from feminist movements to transgender representation in the media - which helped me understand how different cultures interpret different issues.

As a Human Rights Studies major, these discussions are invaluable to me. While human rights are a set of inalienable and universal standards, this class revealed that human rights practices may look different in each culture. Instead of assuming a Western implementation of human rights standards, these standards may adapt to meet cultural standards of a nation.

My time studying at an international university revealed the importance of seeking new perspectives, wherever you may be! Within the United States, this may look like having a conversation with a friend or family member who has different beliefs than you. During my time here, I have learned that when we are curious about other cultures, opinions, or whatever it may be, it is easier to empathize and find common ground. Despite our different backgrounds, I have made dear friends with students from around the world and hope to continue being this curious about other people and places when I return to the United States. 

Claire is a junior Graphic Design major with minors in Human Rights and Photography. She is passionate about human rights advocacy and wants to explore an intersection of design and advocacy after she graduates from UD. At the Human Rights Center, Claire is a part of the Marketing and Communications team, assisting with social media content creation and human rights engagement opportunities.

Katie is a junior Human Rights Studies major with minors in Business Administration and French. She is interested in the intersection of human rights and nonprofit business, especially in advancing the rights of children. At the Human Rights Center, Katie is part of the Student Engagement team, helping to advance human rights advocacy on campus and pursuing nonprofit research.

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