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Emerging Human Rights Advocates Take Their Next Steps

May 15, 2019

The Human Rights Program would like to congratulate the newest Fraser Fellows: Tala Alfoqaha and Anthony (Tony) Burton!

The Fraser Fellowship program provides two undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota the opportunity to work with one of two leading human rights organizations, and become part of a strong network of Human Rights Defenders. The fellowship is named after Donald and Arvonne Fraser (two groundbreaking leaders in International Human Rights). With the profiles of both of this year’s recipients, we are excited to see the work that Tala and Tony complete during their internships this summer.

Tony Burton is a rising Senior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Communications. Tony has devoted his college years to service, with his most recent work being the End The Blood Ban Campaign where he served as the Campaign Coordinator of a grassroots effort to end the FDA ban against blood donation from gay men. He has also worked with the Minnesota Historical Society as a Social Media Intern and served on the team for Senator Amy Klobuchar for Minnesota.

Human Rights Program (HRP): What are you most excited about as you are about to start your fellowship?

Tony Burton (TB): I’m most excited about the research I will be doing to help combative attempts to shine light on and stop efforts of human trafficking and childhood abuse on social media — the work will be hard at times given the subject matter but somebody’s got to do it to help stop the abuse, and I’m prepared to do so!

HRP: How do you think this fellowship will supplement your goals and future work?

TB: This fellowship will contribute to a broader understanding of social media and how it’s ever changing, while also giving me a better understanding of the darker sides of the internet. Both of which will be vital to have knowledge of for my future work in public relations and communication.

HRP: What made human rights an important part of your life?

TB: Human rights, specifically protecting the rights of children and the oppressed, have always been at the forefront of my interests. My interest to protect children has become a fresh issue in my mind seeing the crisis at the US-Mexico border. I plan to study that conflict specifically to document as many human right violations as possible, as there’s bound to be many.

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Tala Alfoqaha is a rising Junior at the University of Minnesota, double majoring in Mathematics and Global Studies and minoring in French. Tala’s extensive resume includes working for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights in DC as a Grassroots Advocacy and Policy Intern, working for the City of Eden Prairie on the Human Rights and Diversity Commission, and is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of the student-run multimedia publication, The Wake Magazine.

Human Rights Program (HRP): What are you most excited about as you start your fellowship?

Tala Alfoqaha (TA): I'm looking forward to being able to work towards lasting, sustainable change in an organized environment with experienced and passionate individuals. Having the opportunity to research and monitor issues relating to International Justice only 20 minutes away from the place I grew up is really a dream come true.

HRP: How do you think this fellowship will supplement your goals and future work?

TA: As of now, my immediate goal after college is to go to law school. Afterward, I would like to work in human rights and global justice and towards enacting structural change domestically and internationally. This fellowship would be my first deep dive into human rights research,  monitoring, and international standards, and will allow me to better grasp how I can contribute to this line of work in the future.

HRP: What made human rights an important part of your life?

TA: As a Palestinian-American Muslim, I grew up acutely aware of the fact that my relatives in the West Bank did not have the same rights and privileges as myself. This structural inequality in one region prompted me to pay attention to structural inequalities elsewhere, and I eventually began to understand how I could use my relative privilege as a US citizen to draw attention to and work towards eliminating human rights abuses everywhere.

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.