& History

Our mission

The University Network for Human Rights facilitates supervised undergraduate engagement in the practice of human rights at colleges and universities in the United States and across the globe. The University Network partners with advocacy organizations and communities affected or threatened by abusive state, corporate, or private conduct to advance human rights at home and abroad; trains undergraduate students in interdisciplinary human rights protection and advocacy; and collaborates with academics and human rights practitioners in other parts of the world to foster the creation of practical, interdisciplinary programs in human rights.


Our history

The idea for the University Network for Human Rights grew out of an informal collaboration between undergraduate students at Stanford University and the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic. Although undergraduate curricula in the United States generally include a range of courses on human rights, there are virtually no structured, supervised opportunities (as there are in law school clinics) for undergraduate students to engage in the practice of human rights. One course in the Stanford undergraduate curriculum, taught for several years by Professor James Cavallaro, director of the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, focused on human rights advocacy. Students in this seminar consistently expressed interest in participating in supervised advocacy through the Clinic.

Over the course of three academic years, undergraduates participated in some of the training sessions of the Law School Human Rights Clinic. In 2017-2018, the Human Rights Clinic began to incorporate undergraduate students on a volunteer basis in the work of the Clinic—mostly though supervised, desktop research.

In early 2018, the Human Rights Clinic developed a structured field research program as part of a project challenging environmental racism by multinational corporations in an area known as Cancer Alley in Louisiana. In response to a call for undergraduate applicants to spend their spring break on the project, the Clinic received an outpouring of interest and applications. The Clinic selected fourteen students, provided them specialized training in survey implementation, and supervised their implementation of a household health survey over ten days in March 2018.

Another dozen undergraduates volunteered over the course of the 2017-2018 year to work on a range of projects, in partnership with the law students and instructors of the Human Rights Clinic and a range of grassroots and advocacy organizations, both domestic and international.

Towards the end of the 2017-2018 academic year, Professor Cavallaro and Ruhan Nagra formed the University Network for Human Rights. The University Network is the formalization of an organic process that occurred at Stanford, through which Cavallaro and Nagra supervised undergraduates engaged in practical human rights work. Today, the University Network seeks to create a vehicle to facilitate supervised undergraduate engagement in human rights at universities across the country and beyond. The Network engages students and partners with communities and advocacy organizations promoting and defending human rights at home and abroad.