As part of her plan to become a human rights lawyer, Chi Tran ’23 is interning with The Advocates for Human Rights, an internationally acclaimed organization based in Minneapolis.
She is getting hands-on experience working in the International Justice program, helping prepare reports used by government and U.N. officials.
“I like that they actually allow us to do the research,” Tran said. “I’ve really learned a lot about the process of how NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] advocate for human rights, like how they submit a document the state is going to review to suggest a human rights policy.”
Tran, a political science and mathematics double major from Hanoi, Vietnam, was drawn to pursue this line of work after reading about violations and witnessing them in her world travels despite widespread declarations that support human rights.
“I have been to an area with a terrible situation after a conflict,” she said. “People could not find food or water. Their kids don’t have access to a good education to change their lives in the future. When I saw people like that, it pushed me to want to help, and I think this is a very good opportunity for me to do that.”
There are two Concordia graduates currently working for The Advocates, Elizabeth Montgomery ’14 and Stefani Conyers ’82.
Conyers is the administrative director for The Advocates and is responsible for finances, payroll, human resources, technology, and office management for the organization.
“I have always been drawn to mission-driven organizations and looking at my part in helping them succeed in any way I can,” Conyers said. “I ensure staff members, volunteers, interns, and board members have what they need to do their work.”
Montgomery is a staff attorney in the Women’s Rights program. She oversees a program that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Minnesota’s Ramsey, Washington and Hennepin counties. She also works with international partners — preparing submissions for and presenting to the U.N. and treaty bodies, as well as consulting on domestic violence laws.
“We constantly face great challenges, but we also have great opportunities to improve human rights,” Montgomery said. “As a multi-issue human rights organization, we’re able to see connections, work at the intersections, and help individuals while working for systemic change.”
Last year more than 1,500 volunteers joined The Advocates in the human rights movement. Together, they helped close legal loopholes to improve protections for survivors of sexual violence and brought visibility to the growing opposition to the Istanbul Convention and women's rights across Central and Eastern Europe. They helped Afghan evacuees navigate the immigration legal system and reported on human rights abuses faced by immigrants detained in Minnesota jails.
With the crisis in Ukraine, the organization is doing what it can to help.
“The tragic reality is that human rights violations are endemic to armed conflict,” said Montgomery. “The Advocates has worked with women’s human rights defenders in Ukraine and throughout the region for decades, and our Women’s Human Rights team has been in constant contact with our colleagues there throughout recent days. As the situation stabilizes, we’ll be working with our partners to document and prevent abuses.”
On March 8, The Advocates hosted International Women’s Day 2022: One Woman, One Country, One World, a virtual fundraiser and learning event.
“In a world where an estimated one in three women has been subjected to physical or sexual violence, this work remains urgent, but we also see victories,” Conyers said. “Our International Women’s Day Celebration will help us raise much-needed funds for our program and highlight the power of advocacy on individual lives and systemic changes.”
The three Cobbers at The Advocates say their time at Concordia has helped them to be able to make changes in the world. Tran says she has learned strong research skills and the small environment has encouraged her to engage in classroom discussions. Montgomery says taking constitutional law in college sparked her interest to pursue a law degree.
“My professors encouraged me to think critically about current events and remain educated on global news,” Montgomery said. “It is through them that I was able to solidify my passion for advocating for others and my interest in international politics.”
Conyers says her education allowed her to pivot in a global recession and learn new skills.
“I definitely feel that my four-year liberal arts degree prepared me to be ready for anything,” she said. “It taught me the value of being flexible, being a good listener, and being kind.”
Concordia’s Board of Regents Chair Mary Ranum ’78 has served on the board of directors for The Advocates.