Human Rights Lab Receives Funding Gift

The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights has received a gift from Richard and Ann Pozen that will extend the pilot period of the Human Rights Lab from three years to five. This generous gift includes a 1-1 matching challenge of up to $80,000 for gifts in support of the Lab, in order to help fund some of the innovative and exciting programs that have emerged over the past two years. This remarkable gift in such unsettling times comes as part of the Pozen family’s ongoing support of the Human Rights Lab and stands as a testament to its early success. The longer time horizon will allow the Lab to extend its current projects and begin new, longer-term initiatives.

“Ann and I have followed the great success the Human Rights Lab has had for the last two years and want to see this program continue indefinitely,” says Richard Pozen. “The students that have been involved in the Lab courses and programs have all expressed high regard for the program, the teaching, and the ability to integrate academics and actual human rights work. We hope that others will join us in the support of this unique and impressive program.”

Faculty Director Mark Bradley notes that the Lab, under the guidance of Lab Director Alice Kim, “has done groundbreaking work with our students, faculty, and community partners around the issues of mass incarceration and policing. The Pozen’s gift in this moment is a testimony to that work, and we are delighted that Alice will continue with us as we deepen and thicken the ongoing work of the Lab.”

Since its inception in 2018, the Human Rights Lab has actively engaged University of Chicago students and community members in solutions to human rights problems, advancing new questions around human rights theory and practice through the lens of deep research, experiential learning, and critical community-building. Lab Director Alice Kim has spearheaded numerous projects, including an Institute on Memory and Human Rights travel seminar to Alabama; the university’s first mixed enrollment course offering, which will bring together UChicago students and incarcerated students for a quarter of learning across the prison wall; a new Human Rights Lab BA Thesis Fellowship for rising fourth-years; and a new Mass Incarceration Working Group in partnership with the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture.

Alice notes that the Lab’s work has gained a new urgency in this unprecedented time. “As the COVID-19 crisis sweeps across the country and the world, it is colliding with the ongoing catastrophe of mass incarceration,” she says. “With severe outbreaks of the virus in our prisons and jails, this moment is asking us all to rethink our criminal punishment system. Richard and Ann Pozen’s matching challenge and generous support of the Human Rights Lab in this uniquely difficult time offers a bright beam of hope and renewed commitment to the work ahead.”

Second-year SSA student and Human Rights Lab Graduate Fellow Noelle Petrowski has been working with the Lab since its inception, on projects ranging from the creation of a human rights zine to support for a think tank at Stateville Prison comprised of incarcerated students who examine long-term sentencing policy in Illinois and nationally. Noelle credits her work with the Lab for heavily influencing her career trajectory as a social worker and sees the Lab as a unique resource at UChicago. 

“Extending the current projects in the Lab for two additional years will allow for more work inside prisons, more speakers, more events, more quilting, more zines, more oral history, and more community building,” she says. 

Human Rights Lab Program Assistant Harini Shah, a fourth-year majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Human Rights, has been deeply involved in the Lab’s work as well. Like Noelle, Harini participated in the Lab’s Institute on Memory and Human Rights and helped lead a book drive for incarcerated students at Stateville Prison. Among other projects, Harini has also worked on the community garden behind the Center for Identity + Inclusion that the Lab has revitalized in partnership with the Civic Knowledge Project.

She marvels at how much the Lab has accomplished in such a short time. “The Lab has, in just two years, brought into conversation members of the South Side community who have been directly impacted by Illinois’s carceral system and uplifted so many voices,” Harini says.

She envisions this gift and matching challenge allowing the Lab to do what it does best: “to push back on the status quo and inspire people who have never thought about the issues of human rights to step up, play an active role, and advocate for real change.”