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Julia Epplin-Zapf headshot

In Brief

  • Epplin-Zapf works at the Cook County Department of Human Rights and Ethics, helping to develop possible changes to local human rights ordinance.
  • Her path to this job began in 2015, as a Pozen Center human rights intern.
  • Human rights coursework helped her see human rights as a powerful framework for connecting the global and the local.

Almost a decade out from her experience as an undergrad studying human rights at UChicago, Julia Epplin-Zapf (AB‘16) looks back and sees a direct connection between her experiences at the Pozen Center and the career she’s built since.

For her 2015 Human Rights Internship Epplin-Zapf worked at Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), a Chicago non-profit that creates affordable and accessible housing options while fighting gentrification. One of her primary responsibilities was holding tenant organizing meetings that helped Chicago renters know their rights, work out their shared demands, and make their voices heard.

Today Epplin-Zapf works as a policy analyst in the Cook County Department of Human Rights and Ethics. Much like at LUCHA, her job involves seeking out residents’ perspectives on how government policy might improve their lives. She then researches the possible role of amendments to the county’s human rights ordinance, and synthesizes her findings into legislative recommendations for county commissioners. 

“There’s a lot of similarities between my work as an intern and what I’m doing now,” says Epplin-Zapf. “The Pozen Center really put me on a good path.”


Epplin-Zapf’s experience at LUCHA inspired her to stay in Chicago. As an international relations major, she had often assumed that doing justice work meant picking between international or local frameworks for analysis and action. Her LUCHA internship, combined with the perspectives she encountered in her Pozen Center courses, showed her this didn’t have to be the case.

“Human rights work is a real connecting bridge between the global and the local,” she says. There’s a foundation of universal ideals, but you still have to figure out local implementation place by place and community by community.” 

After graduation Epplin-Zapf worked at Chicago-area organizations like the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, where she focused again on the right to housing, and Friends of the Parks, where she worked to advance the right to public space. In both cases, her work involved engaging directly with community members and looking for ways their needs intersected with different human rights frameworks. 

Today, in her work for Cook County, the connection between local lives and human rights as a global undertaking is front and center. Because her job involves drafting possible new legislation, she is often tasked with reviewing human rights laws from around the world, looking for valuable points of comparison.


Last year, Epplin-Zapf’s work contributed to multiple successful amendments to Cook County’s human rights ordinance. Informed by her and her colleagues’ research and draft legislation, the ordinance now includes protections for bodily autonomy, support for gender-affirming healthcare, and prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of caste and traits associated with race.

“Local and global, life and policy: these are exactly the types of connections I was hoping to make, back when I was an undergrad,” says Epplin-Zapf. “So it’s very rewarding and exciting.”

At the Department of Human Rights and Ethics, Epplin-Zapf supervises Pozen Center interns in her department, helping them launch their own journeys into the professional world of human rights. Last November she appeared at the Center’s annual Human Rights Internship Symposium, networking with students and sharing the story of how her internship prepared her for professional human rights work. 

She’s enjoyed reconnecting with the Center after many years away. “The human rights program was such a cool and unique aspect of UChicago during my time there,” she says. “And it’s still the case today.”