Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative

About the Initiative

Human rights and global justice are under threat in nearly every part of the world. From human trafficking, to instability in post-conflict zones, to mass incarceration in the United States, striving for the human rights of global citizens remains one of our most pressing social, political, and economic issues. This initiative is the result of the hard work of a dedicated group of scholars and practitioners focusing on education and action with the goal of eradicating violations of human rights and securing justice worldwide.


This initiative makes George Mason University (GMU) – a campus dedicated to social justice and human rights issues in both word and action – its home. We are planning the following programs and welcome potential partners:

Upcoming Programs

  • Symposium/Workshops/Panel Discussions on Human Rights and Global Justice: to discuss the cutting-edge research on human rights and global justice and to address some of the world’s most pressing social problems
  • International Human Rights and Global Justice Conference: to bring academics, policy-makers and practitioners together to contribute to the innovative study of large-scale human rights and global justice issues
  • International Activist/Advocate Network: to establish a community dedicated to connecting and bolstering scholars, practitioners, and other stakeholders committed to justice work
  • An online platform or community for social justice and human rights activists and advocates around the world: to provide a clearinghouse for cutting edge research and evidence-based best practices
  • Continuing education and post-graduate CEU or credit-based courses/summer programs: to offer an opportunity for social justice and human rights activists and advocates to advance their careers

Past Events:

Human Rights Education: A Cross-Cultural Conversation (Oct. 2022)

Renewal and Resilience: A Community of Student Activists with the “Your Community is Your Biggest Resource” (Sept. 2022)

By Mireya Campuzano, M.A. Interdisciplinary Studies (Social Justice & Human Rights) 


On September 30th 2022, three Virginia colleges collaboratively hosted “Renewal and Resilience: A Community of Student Activists.” This virtual, cross-campus workshop was organized by George Mason University (GMU), James Madison University (JMU), and the College of William and Mary (W&M) and sponsored by School of Integrative Studies (SIS), GMU. The event was one outcome of a cross-institutional research study funded by 4-VA via which 60 student activists and advocates across Virginia were interviewed about their activism and well-being.  

Student speaker Alice Fox is in the Science, Technology, and Society Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech. In her words, Fox does not identify as an activist, but rather “someone who helps where she can.” Student speaker Kendall Cage enrolled in GMU’s Higher Education and Student Development master’s program shared that his activism focuses on empowering Black men and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Lastly, Natalie Luffman, a Ph.D. student in Human Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke to her activism passion with respect to intersectional feminism and reproductive justice.   

In a conversation about the “Journey of Activists,” the speakers shared their experiences with activism. All three became involved in activism without any training, and they encouraged the audience to do the same. Fox offered that “you don’t need training to care” and Cage explained that “community is your biggest resource.” The speakers shared how connecting with experienced activists and reaching out to other communities can be extremely helpful. One of the biggest challenges mentioned by the student activists was the lack of empathy from some in powerful positions. These challenges are out of activists’ control, but Cage reminded the audience that “the one thing you have control of every single day is your attitude.”   

Following the student activist panel, Dr. Taimi Castle, a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at JMU and director of the JMU Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence, focused on “Regenerating the Self” and encouraged participants to assess their well-being with the help of a self-care workbook. Castle expressed the importance of practicing mindfulness as preventative self-care, which will protect individuals from reaching burnout. Audience members were also encouraged to create their own maintenance plans to help in times of stress.   

Following the “Regenerating Self” session, Dr. Lisa Porter, an associate professor of Sociology at JMU, led a conversation focused on “Thinking about Community Within and Beyond.” Porter shared an interview with Crimson Solano, a community leader of Comité Salvadoreño Paisanos Unidos (COSPU) and pro-immigrant policy advocate. Solano noted his experience as an immigrant and how it influenced his activist work. He wanted to give back to the community and help others experiencing similar challenges. Acknowledging what is needed in your community can be the first step in starting your activism.  

“Renewal and Resilience: A Community of Student Activists” wrapped up with closing comments by Dr. Steve Grande, director of Community Services at JMU and Melody Porter, director of the Office of Community Engagement at W&M. They highlighted the importance of “connection” and “tenderness” not only toward others, but also toward ourselves. The event inspired hope, commitment, community, and empowerment. 


For questions, please contact: 

Cher Weixia Chen, Associate Professor, Ph.D., School of Integrative Studies, George Mason University,  

Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Integrative Studies, George Mason University, 

Steve Grande, Ph.D., Director, Community Service-Learning, James Madison University,  

Melody Porter, Director, Office of Community Engagement, College of William & Mary, 

Myanmar Indigenous Agency in Global Human Rights & Environment Discourses: Connecting Local Struggles with International Mechanisms (Apr. 2022)

April 07, 10:30-12pm

Prof. Jonathan Liljeblad, from College of Law, Australian National University, shared the findings of his field research on the efforts of Myanmar peoples to adopt global conceptions of indigeneity in the course of engaging international mechanisms of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The presentation discussed the instrumental nature of such strategies by Myanmar activists, who sought to use international mechanisms to address domestic grievances against the Myanmar state. It considered the implications of their experiences for notions of transnational non-state activism and indigenous agency in international law.

The Future of International Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts
(Mar. 2022)

Mar 28, 2022 04:30-6 PM

Professor Paul Hoffman, a prominent human rights lawyer, spoke about the past and future of international human rights claims in the U.S. Courts. In particular, he discussed the future of litigation under the Alien Tort Statute and efforts to use U.S. law to achieve corporate accountability for complicity in human rights violations.

A Comparative Analysis of Good Samaritan Laws: Toward a Global Duty to Rescue (Feb. 2022)

In a stimulating presentation, Prof. Renteln provided a comparative analysis of policies requiring individuals to render assistance to those in distress. Although the conventional wisdom is that civil law systems generally include this mandate and common law systems do not, there appears to be a trend toward greater legal compulsion for rescue in both. Prof. Renteln discussed the implications of finding a cross-cultural consensus supporting a legal duty to rescue for global justice, followed by a dynamic conversation with the audience.

“Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice: A Cross-Cultural Conversation” Panel Discussion (Oct. 2021)

Throughout the world, indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the climate crisis while also confronting colonialism, racism, and disenfranchisement. ISE and Mason’s Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative held a dynamic panel discussion: “Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice: A Cross-Cultural Conversation” on Oct 07, 2021. Academics, practitioners, and policy-makers from multiple countries shared their expertise and experience working in the nexus between indigenous rights and environmental justice. They explored the impacts of extractive capitalism, climate changes, and public health emergencies, as well as a range of strategies that native communities are utilizing to protect their lands and waters.


Cher Weixia Chen, George Mason University Chief Frank Adams, Upper Mattaponi Nation of Virginia

Gabrielle Tayac, George Mason University Lee Prouse, Australian Red Cross Jonathan Liljeblad, The Australian National University Marcos Vinício Chein Feres, Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil

Jeremy M Campbell, George Mason University

“The Work We Do Depends on Us Staying Committed” (Apr. 2021)

Mason Student Activists Highlight the Value of Well-Being and Community

By Elizabeth Schierbeek, BA Integrative Studies ’17

On April 8, 2021, the Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative hosted its virtual spring event, “Resistance and Resilience: Student Activism and Well-Being.” The event, held in partnership with the School of Integrative Studies, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Social Action and Integrated Learning, Leadership Education and Development, and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, saw Mason students lead a conversation exploring the intricate connections between activism and well-being. Carrie Hutnick, Deion M. Maith, Elijah Nichols, and Rafaela Gonzalez-Lucioni provided insight into their experiences as student activists, their struggles and strategies for maintaining well-being, and the power of community. With their activism spanning a variety of causes, in the United States and beyond, the event touched on the students’ involvement in the areas of racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, gun control, child hunger, and policing and prison reform.

The conversation was moderated by Hutnick, a Mason PhD student in sociology and the associate director of community-based learning at Drexel University. Her activism is centered around the issues of prison reform and restorative justice, and utilizes education and community-building as fundamental tools for change. Maith is an interdisciplinary studies master’s student studying social justice and human rights and serves as the advisor of Mason’s NAACP chapter and the president of Collegiate Black Men. His community engagement and organizing have been instrumental in furthering the Black Lives Matter movement at Mason. Nichols, a third-year Mason undergraduate student studying government and international politics, is the former policy and advocacy director for Not My Generation, a national gun violence prevention non-profit. An activist since the age of eight, he serves as the president of Pride Alliance, Mason’s largest and oldest LGBTQIA+ community. Gonzalez-Lucioni is a sophomore double majoring in global affairs and conflict analysis and resolution. At the age of 18, she founded a nonprofit to raise money to combat food insecurity in Brazil, through which she continues to advocate for an end to child hunger.

This is an especially critical discussion at this moment in time. As one audience member commented after the event, “it was inspirational, moving, thoughtful and thought-provoking, the best webinar by far that I had a chance to attend this whole past year.”

For student activists, it can be especially challenging to maintain well-being. They must manage a wide variety of activities in their personal and professional lives, many of which have been even more demanding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Juggling their dual roles as students and changemakers has led to activist burnout. To combat this, Nichols highlighted the importance of “active self-care practices,” emphasizing how “to-do lists, being organized, making sure there is a schedule, and having structure… acknowledging space for me as a person” have made life easier. It’s imperative for student activists to manage and value their time. “You have to take care of yourself first. You have to learn how to say no,” said Maith. They urged fellow student activists to remain hopeful. “We don’t have to wait for the world we’re working for,” commented Hutnick. “We burn out when we think we aren’t getting anywhere.”

The four panelists also emphasized the key role of community. As Maith remarked, “A one-man show will not run a movement. Don’t do it by yourself.” Nichols echoed, “democratizing movements and relying on folks in the community.” He further elaborated, “It’s important to be active in the community…you have to care about the community deeply beyond the

movement…When you have commitment to a community, you can work together to take care of one another – for liberation, to take on the system.” Going forward, other Mason students involved in activism should work to “break down individualism” and “build collective liberation for the community,” said Nichols. “Get a cup of coffee with others and build community. Building a better future requires localized work.”

For those students who may be new to activism and wondering where to begin, Gonzalez-Lucioni underscored, “The first step is always education. Question every system and power structure.” Maith affirmed this, saying, “Be a lifelong learner.” There are numerous ways students can get involved in social justice and human rights activism. “You don’t have to be in the streets,” said Maith. “Find your own way to participate.”

So get out into the Mason community, connect with your fellow student activists, maintain your well-being together, and make change happen.

June 02, 2021

In October 8, 2020, members of the George Mason University (GMU) community explored the role of race in the origin of the criminal legal system from Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. Her keynote address, part of the Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative’s inaugural symposium, “Race, the Origin Story of the Criminal Legal System, and the Future of Reform,” examined the “role race plays in the stories we tell about the criminal legal system…how so much of our narrative of crime is rooted in the deeply corrosive, deeply destructive, and deeply false myth of Black dangerousness.” Over 100 attendees took part in the virtual event held in partnership with the School of Integrative Studies, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Social Action and Integrated Learning (SAIL), Leadership Education and Development (LEAD), and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. A post-keynote question and answer session with Dehghani-Tafti and breakout groups moderated by members of the GMU community were held to further explore themes of the keynote address, including racial justice; legal reform and restorative justice; domestic and international activism; and change-making and well-being.

As pointed out by Dehghani-Tafti – “There is no logical reason other than explicit and implicit racial biases that would explain a system that incarcerates Black people at a rate that makes them six times more likely to end up in prison than their white counterparts.” She emphasized – “This bias, whether you call it unconscious or systemic, has deeply profound consequences because once people internalize this myth of Black criminality, once they’re caught in this bias feedback loop, they come to see any racially discriminatory action they undertake not as discriminatory, but as rational.” One alternative to the current legal system, as noted by Dehghani-Tafti, is a shift to restorative justice, which “creates empathy, it creates a space where people can see each other’s dignity.”

Community members should take steps right now to not only push for policy change, but, according to Dehghani-Tafti, to “identify every instance in which the false narrative of Black dangerousness is woven into the system, even in instances of progressive reform.” Dehghani-Tafti encouraged students to “honestly deconstruct the stories we’ve been told about race and to begin telling new ones.” Efforts such as this “will shape not just the future of criminal justice reform, but our entire country.” On what GMU students, specifically, can do to change the narrative, Dehghani-Tafti encouraged students to embrace their own “skills and interests.” She urged students to “protest, write, research, go into law enforcement with an anti-racism lens, educate yourself, talk to your friends. Every action we do has a ripple effect. Pick the three things that you think that you can handle doing and do those with gusto…Every single thing you do matters.”

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Cher Weixia Chen

Associate Professor, School of Integrative Studies College of Humanities and Social Sciences 703-993-4074 Enterprise Hall 430



Student Activism and Well-being

Thriving Together Series: College Student Activists, Resilience, and Well-Being

Thriving Together Series: College Student Activists, Resilience, and Well-Being

By: Cher Weixia Chen, Ph.D. and Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron, Ph.D., School of Integrative Studies, CWB Senior Scholars


“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

College students who are student activists are often underappreciated and underserved. It is vital for student activists at George Mason University and other universities to focus on their resilience and well-being, in order to prevent burnout. Here are the stories of four amazing Mason students who are working on social justice and human rights issues – and resources that can strengthen well-being for students who are working for positive social change. In 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, NPR published this article on five college student activists, a rare piece on this population. While both popular and scholarly focus on these formidable agents of change is growing, we still know very little about their journeys, their needs, and how they can best be supported in their work.

Earlier in the Spring 2021 semester, we organized a symposium titled “Resistance and Resilience: Student Activism and Well-Being.” Four Mason student activists – working on issues such as food security, prison reform, racial justice, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and gun control – shared their powerful stories of activism and activism’s intersections with their well-being:

· Student activist “Carl” grew up poor, struggled to find food to eat, find shelter, and pay bills. Because of their identity as a gay person, they were often bullied and made to feel small. But, they chose to stand up and launched their anti-bullying activism campaign at just 8 years of age. When Carl’s uncle tragically died as a result of gun violence when Carl was just 11, Carl acted once again. Given their life experiences, Carl is a true force – a lifelong activist now fighting for gun control and LGBTQ+ rights.

Student activist “Renee” organized her first protest in 6th grade, demanding that her private school lower its lunch prices so that her friends from lower income households could eat. In the years since, Renee has grown her activism into a national campaign. At the age of 18, she founded a nonprofit to raise money and effectively combat food insecurity in her native Brazil. Today, Renee works with local governments to feed the hungry.

· Student activist “Cam” has done tremendous work on prison reform and restorative justice. Her work focuses on education and community-building as fundamental tools for change – engaging directly with incarcerated and non-incarcerated educators and scholars to develop and teach curriculum covering issues including community, transformation, education, and liberation. Cam is reshaping the world.

· Student activist “Del”, a survivor of a traumatizing childhood, overcame depression and doubts to become a voice for real change and a student leader in the Black Lives Matter movement. Del has worked determinedly against voter suppression and pushes every day to uplift the larger community and fight for racial justice.

Burnout among Student Activists

Around the world, student activists like these Mason students have taken the lead in social movements such as those around climate change, Black Lives Matter, and voting rights. But this initiative comes with a catch. Despite student activists’ passion for activism, pressure and pitfalls are salient.

From our own data, after having interviewed over 60 college student activists, we found that burnout is prevalent among student activists. For some of these students, burnout is the biggest challenge to their activist work. They experienced anxiety, panic, depression, hopelessness, or guilt – feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The pressure to keep laboring, advocating, organizing, and marching despite their own needs or limits, the difficulty in balancing school, family, and activism, and the lack of perceived support for activist work and/or training to do the work at the institutional level all contributed to their burnout.

Let’s focus on the role of institutions in the well-being of student activists here.

A student activist has to learn to navigate the institutional system as a student and as an activist, which could be particularly challenging for activists at larger universities, activists with minoritized identities for whom the burden of labor is especially heavy, and activists whose work includes challenging university policies and norms. Further, in addition to negotiating the complexity of the student activist identity, student activists receive little institutional or formal training/mentoring/coaching with regard to how to preserve their well-being and combat burnout.

So, we urge our institutions to engage student activists and understand their needs; to learn from student activists by welcoming their challenges and sitting with the discomfort; and to craft a plan to assist this unique population who are agents of social change. At the very least, universities should engage in a broader discussion about student activist well-being and take an active role in supporting student activists as whole people. These Human Rights Resilience Project resources, as well as the additional resources listed below, can help. After all, student activist burnout is not just about the well-being of the activists – it affects the well-being of the communities they serve.

Additional Resources:

CWB’s Thriving Activist Toolkit can help people overcome activist burnout.

Mason’s Resilience Badge is a fully online, asynchronous learning opportunity that has been especially designed for students and is open to all Mason students, faculty, and staff.

Enjoy these famous quotes on student activism and well-being.



Dr. Cher Weixia Chen

Associate Professor, School of Integrative Studies,
College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Dr. Susan Hirsch

Professor, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution


Dr. Graziella Pagliarulo McCarron

Assistant Professor, School of Integrative Studies,
College of Humanities and Social Sciences