Haley Zovickian is a 2017 graduate of Columbia College with a double major in Human Rights and Political Science. Prior to graduating, Haley discussed her experience as a student in the Undergraduate Human Rights Program.
Why did you decide to pursue human rights for your academic and professional path?
I decided to pursue human rights because of my interest in the experience of marginalized groups in society and in defending such groups against harm, particularly through the use of law. I am interested in events of genocide, particularly the Armenian Genocide; colonization in the Americas and the effects of imperialism and settler colonialism; and sustained racial violence and discrimination against African Americans post-slavery.
How has the Undergraduate Human Rights Program supported you and enabled you to pursue your goals and interests?
My favorite aspect of the Human Rights major is the ability to “specialize” in a specific subfield within the major. This feature of the major uniquely allows students to deepen their study of the specific human rights issues that interest them. I have been able to take many classes in Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and count them towards my major in Human Rights. The Undergraduate Program also provides great funding for summer opportunities in human rights.
How would you describe your fellow human rights students?
My fellow human rights students have been one of my favorite parts of the Human Rights major. They are passionate students who are highly engaged in the human rights topics that they care about. They are a group of people who “walk the walk” with respect to meaningful involvement in critical issues. I also love that because we all have different “specializations,” we all bring specialized knowledge of different topics of study to the table when we are together in major-specific classes. I am always learning from them.
Can you discuss your internship experience working in a human rights organization this past summer?
Last summer, I worked as an intern for the California Superior Court of San Francisco as an intern for a Pitchess-Brady commissioner. I analyzed claims of police misconduct, helped with trial and pre-trial preparation, and presented my recommendations for courses of action to the commissioner. My research contributed to developing legal standards for addressing police brutality and abuses of power by public officials as well as to combatting the lack of criminal liability faced by transgressing officials.
What skills and knowledge were particularly important for your internship?
I really enjoyed this internship because of the firsthand exposure it gave me to the legal process, both in the courtroom and behind the scenes. I really benefited from witnessing trials and meetings happen in person, rather than simply learning about them by reading and studying. The ability to understand legal language was a particularly important skill for the internship, as I read various legal briefs, motions, and transcripts to conduct my research and to aid my superiors. The Human Rights department gave me a great background in understanding “legalese” as an undergraduate, as we read many domestic and international legal documents in my classes.
What aspects of this position did you find unexpected or challenging? How did you address these challenges?
Something that I have found challenging in the past with regards to public interest law internships is that interns are often expected to really advocate for themselves in terms of the assignments they are given, since your supervisors have more pressing issues to deal with than producing a minute-by-minute schedule for their interns. While challenging as an underclassman, I think that I really benefited from pushing myself to be assertive and to articulate what was working for me and what wasn’t to my boss when I deemed it necessary. This is a skill that has benefited me professionally and personally and, I believe, is one that Columbia stresses in its students across departments. A judge at the Superior Court and Columbia alumnae deemed being responsible for oneself as a young professional in this way being “Columbia assertive,” and that really rang true for me.
Can you describe your future professional goals?
In the future, I want to attend law school and pursue a career in domestic public interest law in hopes of addressing issues faced by vulnerable communities and holding perpetrators accountable for harm inflicted on oppressed groups. I am particularly interested in federal civil rights prosecution. I would also like to continue doing community service work in furtherance of ensuring human rights for marginalized groups.
Any other advice you would like to give to other students?
I think it is important to go into your opportunity with a positive and determined attitude, and to be confident that you will work hard to get the hang of the responsibilities you’re given, even if you are nervous at the beginning. I also think that in public interest law it is critical to be involved in tangible service work beyond your professional activities. Community service really humanizes the issues that are dealt with within the legal system and gives you a more nuanced and thoughtful perspective on the purpose of law and the functioning of the system. There are many community service activities you can get involved with through Columbia. Checking out the Columbia Community Impact organization is a great place to start.