The Challenges and Rewards of being a Humphrey Student Research Advisor

Shuangqi (Joy) Wang
May 23, 2016

Being a student adviser for the Humphrey Human Rights Fellows has given me an opportunity to experience what it could be like to work as a human rights educator in an international context. On one hand, my job was easy. I edited Fellows’ papers and resumes, helped them prepare presentations, introduced them to different resources, and offered whatever else support they needed, including making presentation flyers and finding summer subletters. On the other hand, my job was more difficult than any academic work, because I had to work across different cultural backgrounds, age gaps, language barriers, distinct working styles, and diverse understandings of the concept of human rights. Therefore, even though I was doing seemingly simple work, I learned, grew, and was able to better understand myself as well as the meaning behind human rights education.

Joy Bose

Joy Wang and Fellow Abosede Oyeleye from Nigeria

One of these learning moments happened when I worked with Aimee on her presentation titled Navigating the Treacherous Waters of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Aimee is a judge from the Philippines. The presentation concerned the complicated maritime dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. As Aimee’s student adviser, I was responsible for advertising the event in the public and recruiting as big of a Chinese audience as possible. However, to me, a Chinese national studying in the US, this was not necessarily the easiest job. I love my country, but I also recognize there is still a lot it should do to ensure the rights of its people. Nevertheless, nationalism takes on a different shape in China than in the US. Criticizing one’s own country in front of people from other countries is a more acceptable behavior in American culture than in Chinese culture. So yes, I wanted to be professional and helpful, and do the best job I could to support Aimee, because I believed in the need of having this presentation and providing an opportunity for Chinese and non-Chinese audience to learn about and discuss this issue. But at the same time, I was scared of being condemned by my Chinese peers for promoting an event that may expose China to criticism and being judged as not loving my country anymore. I was under a lot of stress before and during the event, and when the event finally ended, I was so relieved that I cried before Kristi, who is an incredible educator and the most empathetic and understanding person ever. I opened up to both Aimee and Kristi, sharing my inner struggles as to what I thought I should do and what I was afraid of. I gained a deeper understanding of who I am as a complex individual growing up and being educated in both China and the US.  I also recognized how difficult it could be to work with human rights activists from other countries and reconcile competing ideologies. Thankfully, I realized, with courage and dedication, it is possible for human rights educators to make the world a better place.

Experiences like this make me humble but also hopeful. I recognize many challenges exist in international human rights education, but they can be overcome. Towards the end of this semester, I asked Kristi what were some of the moments when she thought it was worthwhile to be a human rights educator. After sharing a few personal stories, Kristi said that, in fact, everything that I and other Humphrey Student Advisers had been doing during this past year was an important contribution to human rights education because we had made people’s lives easier, supported some meaningful work, and allowed many Fellows to have the confidence and courage to present important messages to others. Her words enlightened me. I realized that human rights education could be as simple as listening to someone practicing her presentation or helping her advertise an event, and yet, it still makes a difference.