A group of this year’s Advocates project members.

A group of this year’s Advocates project members.

By MacKennan Graziano, J.D. ’17

I came to law school with the express purpose of working in international human rights law. Immediately upon starting at HLS, I realized that this was not going to be a straightforward or easy career path. Flooded by corporate firm events and constant appeals to participate in the Early Interview Program (EIP), it became incredibly important for me to find a community of people dedicated to human rights advocacy. I wanted a group of peers with whom I could navigate an uncertain career path. I have found that community in HLS Advocates for Human Rights.

Advocates is a place for students to work on semester and year-long projects on various human rights topics. Our projects are designed and led by the students themselves under the supervision of an attorney from a partner organization who works in the field. These student-initiated projects give students a chance to work on the human rights issues they are most passionate about.

I joined Advocates as a 1L project member and continued 2L year as a project leader. With the help of six amazing students, I ran a project in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which looked at local laws across Massachusetts that affect homeless people. This project involved meticulously going through municipal codes and working with local governments to get their records on arrests and fines under those laws. Together we were able to engage with the local communities using international human rights as a framework. Advocates projects are a place where as early as 1L year you can start to develop practical human rights skills and learn what it is like to do human rights work on a day-to-day basis.

Now as Co-President, I have the honor and privilege of overseeing the work of our dedicated project teams. This year we have projects on a myriad of topics, all timely and important within the human rights world. These include corporate accountability in Israel/Palestine, sexual violence in South African prisons, engagement with the UN on business and human rights issues in Thailand, domestic non-consensual pornography legislation, international criminal law violations in Syria, and human rights compliance by non-state actors. In Advocates, I have found not only a space to develop my skills as a human rights advocate, but a community of people who care deeply about human rights and who have helped me navigate a more uncertain life path.