In August, we spoke with Professor Adam Braver, Library Program Director and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Roger Williams University (RWU), about his leadership in supporting SAR’s Student Advocacy Seminars. In this spotlight, we check in with his team of Student Coordinators, who, under SAR, are working to support research, collaboration, and advocacy activities across eight seminars in North America and Europe. The student coordinators, Adrienne Wooster, Juliet Hulme, and Kyla Yates, share their reflections on the seminars, this year’s upcoming Student Advocacy Days in D.C., and their aspirations for the seminars and their careers.
Student Advocacy Seminars are faculty-led courses through which students learn about human rights and academic freedom, research the case of a wrongfully imprisoned scholar, and launch a strategic advocacy plan to support that scholar’s case. Juliet Hulme shares that through the seminars, students get a “real-life human rights experience while in school” and they get exposure to “a number of potential future careers.”
Adrienne Wooster, who has been involved with the seminars since 2016, sees the seminars “as a necessarily challenging and eye-opening experience.” She adds that the experiential learning aspect of the seminars “takes learning beyond the content of a textbook and helps us better understand our responsibilities to others in a larger, more compassionate context.”
The student coordinators are providing ongoing support to the seminars and using their positionality as students to discuss with peers the importance of academic freedom and related human rights, and the urgent need for higher education communities to speak out against attacks on the university space. In reflecting on her role as a student coordinator, Kyla Yates shares “I was able to meet these people miles away who I never would have talked to otherwise, and was able to see how their group worked together to tackle a case.” Yates worked closely with seminar students at Carleton University, Canada, as they conducted research and advocacy on behalf of Dr. Abbas Edalat, a British-Iranian scholar of computer science who was arrested in April 2018 while attending an academic workshop in Iran. Carleton seminar participants met with officials from Global Affairs Canada to discuss Dr. Edalat’s case. Not long after the Carleton students wrapped up their seminar in December 2018, Dr. Edalat was freed and has since returned to the UK.
“Knowing that my team of student coordinators at RWU was not alone in the fight against human rights abuses was so motivating,” Juliet Hulme adds. Juliet supported the seminars at both UC Santa Barbara and Carleton University in advocating for the release of Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi women’s rights activist and women’s history professor who has been detained incommunicado since June 2018. “It felt very rewarding to discuss Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi’s case with students around the country.”
In addition to supporting SAR’s network of seminars, the student coordinators are playing a leading role in organizing Student Advocacy Days, a two-day event in Washington, D.C. that trains seminar participants in best practices of human rights advocacy with government and NGO experts, and culminates with a day of action on Capitol Hill.
For Kyla, Student Advocacy Days is an opportunity to learn “how we can use our voices to advocate for those who have been silenced.” Drawing from her experience at previous Student Advocacy Days, Adrienne comments “meeting with members of Congress and the Senate can seem daunting – it certainly was for me my first couple of times – however, hearing other students’ experiences helped build my confidence.”
The student coordinators, along with Adam and SAR, are working to expand the seminars and launch Student Advocacy Days beyond the US. Adrienne adds that she hopes to expand the seminars’ reach “both domestically and internationally through webinars and weekly collaboration via email and Skype.” Along with facilitating communication, the coordinators and SAR are seeking out conferences, events, and other opportunities to garner excitement for the seminars. Growing the seminar network would not only extend support to more cases of imprisoned scholars, it would also open doors to more collaboration between students in different universities and countries.
Beyond advocating for scholars, the seminars push students “to learn more about their world and how they can impact it,” says Kyla. Moreover, they help foster the next generation of human rights defenders. In looking toward her own career aspirations, Kyla shares “writing is my passion and I hope to one day have my work published and read.” Juliet hopes to take her experiences as a student coordinator with her as she pursues a career within public relations. As someone passionate about advocacy, Adrienne hopes to continue to work directly in human rights. “We live in a time where actions of social, academic, and environmental justice are evermore crucial. Whether my drive to assist with these causes takes me to the front lines or behind a computer, I want to lend my support in any way that I can.”
SAR is grateful for the work Kyla, Juliet, and Adrienne put in this academic year as student coordinators, commend the teamwork and leadership they exemplify, and is excited to continue working with them to expand the seminars and advocate for imprisoned scholars.
Start a Student Advocacy Seminar on your campus, advocate on behalf of a wrongfully imprisoned scholar, and join us at Student Advocacy Days!
The SAR Spotlight is a monthly series highlighting SAR scholars, partners, and network activities.