Advocating Social Justice and Human Rights

May 30, 2021
Anurika Onyenso, Third Year General Management Major, University of Alberta, Augustana Campus

Congress 2021 blog edition 

The University of Alberta Career Corner’s “Careers in Social Justice and Human Rights'' webcast featured professionals working in areas of social justice and human rights, who shed light to the audience on new perspectives on their skills, knowledge, and abilities and how they can apply it to working in these areas.  

The panelists not only explored careers in the context of social justice and human rights, but also acknowledged the lack of justice for many today, including first peoples, people of colour, newcomers, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities and many more. 

Career Education Coordinator Chris Daber, who identifies as a queer, white, cisgender settler, introduced the discussion’s main focus towards exploring career options for working in the social justice and human rights fields before passing the mic to Soni Dasmohapatra, the interviewer. After briefly speaking on the Career Centre at the University of Alberta's career management strategies and its links to human rights, Dasmohapatra noted that traditional models of career development fail to account for unpredictability in life. She outlined the following career management strategies: 

  • Keep multiple options open 
  • Rest 
  • Take risks 
  • Build and maintain relationships 
  • Tell your story in different ways  
  • Define success to you  

Panel members included Aditya Rao, Kristopher Wells and Elliott Young. Other presenters were Chris Daberer and Soni Dasmohapatra. 

Rao, lawyer by trade and graduate from the University of Alberta with a BA, lives on Algonquin territory. After graduating, he went on to do his graduate degree at Carleton and JD at the University of Ottawa, Ottawa. Currently, he works at the Canadian Union of Public employees as a human rights representative. In this position, he works with members of the union on issues related to human rights accommodation and is involved in a fair amount of public advocacy. He mentioned that he constantly looks at his work around human rights and social justice activism with the lens of it essentially being an effort for collective action. 

Wells, a teacher who currently resides in Edmonton, a Treaty Six territory, attributes his career interest to the Youth Understanding Youth gay and lesbian youth group he joined as a young man. He felt the responsibility and obligation as an educator within the system to make safer schools for marginalized youth as he had a first-hand experience of how the system is prone to failure from his time as both a student and teacher. 

Kristopher Wells spoke on recognizing historical marginalization and structural discrimination by first understanding equity as a process and equality as its outcome. According to him, social justice and human rights are not an individual pursuit and need to be done within the collective end within communities. He highlighted the importance of labour unions, which have been instrumental in the fight for human rights and social justice, while still acknowledging that the work is still far from over and success can only be declared when every member of society is able to live authentically. 

Elliot Young, a native of the Cree nation, one of the four nations that make up the area 45 minutes south of Edmonton, grew up with Cree teachings. He got a BA in native studies and certificate in Indigenous Governance after falling in love with Indigenous governance, self-determination, and sovereignty.  

While addressing the audience, he implored them to acknowledge that it is impossible to guarantee the creation of a safe space in spaces that are inherently violent for marginalized groups including Indigenous people and people of colour.