2020 Human Rights Internship Spotlight

Charlotte Soehner, AB’21 was studying abroad in Dakar, Senegal when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Initially there wasn’t time to worry about what her summer would look like; the most important thing was to get home.

Once safe at home and with summer drawing closer, Charlotte and 26 fellow students in the 2020 Human Rights Internship Program found themselves facing an unprecedented challenge: how to make their summers meaningful and productive, given all of the uncertainty. 

Yet the cohort’s summer experiences demonstrate that, even amidst a global pandemic, one rule of thumb still holds true: it’s never wise to bet against a Human Rights Intern!

Charlotte, for her part, interned remotely with Chicago Votes, a small nonprofit working to make democracy more accessible to young and marginalized communities across Illinois. “I helped with their efforts to phone bank young voters, contact state legislators, write reports on civic education in Chicago Public Schools, and launch social media campaigns related to voting in the upcoming election,” she says. “Overall, it was a phenomenal experience.”

While the pandemic undoubtedly made the interns’ work more difficult, it also highlighted how necessary their contributions truly are. 

“The moment we are all living in makes human rights work even more pressing,” says Denise Ruiz, AB’21. Denise spent her summer interning with the ACLU of Florida’s Criminal Justice Reform campaign, as they scrambled to raise awareness about the burgeoning COVID crisis in Florida prisons. 

In making the best of a difficult situation, Denise was able to seize a leadership opportunity that would typically be out of reach for a summer intern. “COVID-19 caused a hiring freeze at my organization,” she explains, “which provided me with the opportunity to work as a full-time organizer.”

Despite wins such as these, there’s no denying that remote internships come with unique challenges. Interns had to battle everything from internet connectivity issues to screen time fatigue to the allure of a cozy living room couch. 

“One of the most challenging aspects of the summer was coordinating group projects over video conference and email,” says Olivia Reeves, AB’21. “But this led to stronger communication amongst our team and greater awareness of needs and obstacles.” 

Olivia interned at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an experience she characterizes as “a wonderfully informative introduction to human rights law and advocacy.” Working both independently and collaboratively with other remote interns across the country, Olivia produced research projects, presentations, and interviews that contributed to ongoing equal rights lawsuits.

“Though the remote format was not ideal, I still felt I had a meaningful internship experience,” says Dominique Janvier, AB’21. “In fact, my time at VOW was probably the most meaningful internship experience I’ve had, in terms of both personal and professional growth.”

Anyone skeptical about the value of remote internships need look no further than Dominique’s experience. Her time as the Policy and Advocacy Research Intern with San Francisco-based oral history nonprofit Voice of Witness (VOW) was so successful that, at the organization’s request, she’ll be returning to VOW as a part-time intern in Winter and Spring 2021.

This makes Dominique the seventh intern from the 2020 cohort to continue working with their respective host organizations during the 2020-21 academic year, as part of a new internship extension initiative funded by the Pozen Center. Stay tuned for more on their yearlong experiences in 2021!

As the 2021 cohort begins its journey through the program, we look back and acknowledge the incredible accomplishments of last summer’s interns during an unprecedented time. Given their success—in the year that was 2020, no less—we can only imagine where these students will go next!