Duke Law student wins Alan R. and Barbara D. Finberg Fellowship

January 16, 2009Duke Law News

Jan. 16, 2009 — For someone who came to law school with the goal of becoming a human rights activist, receiving a fellowship from Human Rights Watch is certainly a confirming step in the right direction.

“I knew coming in what I wanted to do and it’s just been a matter of trying to follow that path since I got here,” says Amanda McRae ’09, this year’s recipient of the Finberg Fellowship. The paid fellowship, one of four awarded this year by Human Rights Watch, was established in honor of two of the organization’s early supporters, Alan R. and Barbara D. Finberg.

As a Human Rights Watch fellow, McRae says she will pursue a country- or topic-specific international human rights project for a year, which will be determined later in the spring. “I’m really excited, obviously, because this is exactly what I want to do with my life,” she says. “I think this will be a really good experience… to get even more field research experience, to use the legal skills I’ve learned here at the Law School, and to analyze human rights issues.”

McRae came to Duke Law after serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. She worked with the AIDS Legal Project at Duke Law School her 1L summer and spent her 2L summer investigating and documenting human rights violations with The Advocacy Forum, a nonprofit human rights organization in Nepal.

In her time at law school, McRae has been very active in the public interest community. She started the Immigration Education Project, a pro bono program, and co-founded the International Human Rights Law Society. She has also served as a co-chair of the university-wide Human Rights Working Group and co-chair of the Duke Law ACLU chapter, and is currently a co-chair of the Public Interest Law Foundation. Additionally, she serves as a 3L representative for the Duke Bar Association, the managing editor of the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy, and somehow finds time to play the French horn with the Duke Chamber Players and in a woodwind sextet.

McRae attributes her various leadership positions with both helping her to obtain the fellowship and preparing her for what lies ahead. “At a small law school, being able to take on leadership roles in so many things and make connections with professors and administrators who then invite you to take on more leadership roles, has been really valuable,” she says adding that the experiences have increased her self-confidence and developed her ability to lead others.

Reflecting on her many responsibilities and the role she has played to increase awareness of international human rights issues both at the law school and in the greater Duke community, McRae says she is excited about this year’s 1L class and the interest and initiative they have shown in the area. “I like to think that I’ve done something to contribute to that—if only to attract one or two of those people to come here,” she says, “but just the fact that human rights is becoming an even bigger deal in people’s every day lives here in the U.S. and is spurring more people to be interested in the topic, is great.”

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