Student Reflection: Learning about Human Rights in Oxford

This past March (2016), I traveled to Oxford University for a conference on Human Rights In and Out of Conflict. It was easily one of the most enriching experiences of my college career.
As I got off the bus, every cell in my body was captivated by the magic that is Oxford. The majestic architecture and sweet chilly breeze (unheard of in Texas) were so welcoming. Over the next week, I was put into a unique educational environment with peers from across the country whose career goals ranged from medicine to law to journalism. Within the ancient walls of Magdalen College, we sat side-by-side in classes throughout the day. The most incredible aspect of our classes was the opportunity we were given by our instructors to not only learn from their presentations but also to teach one another by speaking from our various backgrounds. Students passionate about environmental law introduced the importance of fighting against climate change in order to protect human rights. Socializing with peers interested in photojournalism reminded me of the enormous impact visuals can have on people’s empathy and willingness to act. I learned just as much from my peers that week as I did from my professors.
In fact, the week-long experience consisted of alternating between being mystified by the pure passion of my peers to being blown away by the intelligence of my instructors. Dr. Hugo Slim, Dr. Ibrahim Gassama, and Dr. Jim Astman, just to name a few, added new dimensions to the way I thought of human rights. Dr. Gassama, a law professor, challenged the level of importance we place on international law in protecting human rights. Dr. Astman, an educator and psychologist, introduced us to his ideas on instilling empathy through formal education. Dr. Slim, head of Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross, educated us on pertinent topics such as international laws in place to protect human rights and most importantly, he imparted an optimistic outlook on the future of human rights through his passion and positivity throughout the week. The trip ended with a wonderful dinner among new friends and new mentors in The Hall of Merton College.

To be in the same school where so many legendary people had studied, till that point, had just been a distant dream of mine. Even though I was only there to study for a week, the feeling of being so incredibly blessed did not leave me for even a moment. This fellowship was an opportunity to not only expand my understanding of the human rights field as it is today, but also to envision my place in it in the future. I will truly treasure the memories from this trip for the rest of my life.

—Yumna Ali


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