Rachel Colson

Three students share their experience interning at The Advocates for Human Rights, which regularly offers internships to Macalester students.

Professor Wendy Weber, Chair of Human Rights and Humanitarianism, says “One of the best things about the Advocates is the opportunity they provide for students to do real, meaningful human rights work. Students routinely research and write reports on human rights violations around the world that become part of the Advocates’ submissions to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review.  

“Students also receive strong mentoring from the incredible human rights experts that work at The Advocates, helping students to see themselves building careers in this field.”
—Professor Wendy Weber

Connecting with immigrants
Rachel Colson ’24
Denver, Colorado
International Studies, American Studies

Daily work
I spend most of my time interacting directly with immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. My principal responsibility at the Advocates is monitoring the Immigrant Client Line.  Working with other interns, staff, and lawyers, I assess callers’ needs by conducting interviews about personal immigration stories, connecting people with other local resources, and answering questions about the legal asylum process. I also help with Spanish translation and follow-up as needed as we accept clients for legal representation.

Lessons learned
I am continually surprised by the complexity of the legal system in the United States. With countless different forms, offices, visas, and processes, it is outrageous to consider the fact that asylum seekers and immigrants are expected to complete the process alone. 

Proud moments
This internship has instructed me in resilience, gratitude, and understanding. It is remarkable to work with people who survive immense violence, fear, and uncertainty, yet still find strength and kindness in their daily lives. I am continually inspired by the way my colleagues and supervisors empathize and communicate with all different types of people as well as their dedication to finding ways to combat unjust legal processes in the United States. Upon completing this internship, I know I will emerge with greater cultural competency, empathy, and respect.

Course instruction
Knowledge from my Introduction to International Human Rights course with James von Geldern is critical for this internship. In addition to introducing me to the Advocates, this class also gave me a basic understanding of international law. In projects throughout the semester, I have used coursework about UN legislation such as the Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture.


Map Making
Tenley Smith ’22
Williamstown, Mass.

Landing the position
Last fall, I worked at the Advocates in their Development Department and used GIS to make a story map for their donor base depicting how the Advocates might support an unaccompanied minor immigrating to the US. Alumna Michele Garnett McKenzie ’91 helped me on that project and later asked me to join a project creating resources for pro bono attorneys. I’m getting academic credit for this internship and working with my favorite geography professor!

Daily tasks
I make story maps and educate myself about the asylum process in the United States. I spent the first month of my internship reading, researching, and bombarding my (very patient!) boss with questions. I have looked into everything from the affirmative and defensive asylum processes, to the nascent field of domestic violence asylum law, to the United States’ involvement in the treaty law that helped create our asylum system. I’m currently making a map to help pro bono attorneys understand best practices, antiracist lawyering, and the resources available to them as they work with their clients through the asylum process.

Course instruction
In researching asylum law, I use the skills I need for every class (and frequently the DeWitt Wallace Library) to get the resources I need. The Advocates has shown me what my classes have been preparing me for: take all that you learn and create something that can really make a difference in the world. If one lawyer learns something from my story map that can give an immigrant asylum in the United States, my work might have saved a life.


Event Planning
Michelle Osiro ’24
Nairobi, Kenya
International Studies; Biology

Landing the position
I previously volunteered with the Advocates with help from the Civic Engagement Center. After volunteering I applied for an internship this semester.

Daily tasks
I help draft campaign updates that are sent out to donors, put together mail correspondence, update data entries, and make calls to our partners. We are currently planning for the Human Rights Awards Dinner in June so most of my tasks are focused on that.

Surprising insights
Even the simplest of tasks become more exciting when you are part of a supportive team. There is a lot that goes into event planning and fostering relationships with donors, which I have had the chance to learn through this internship.

Proud moments
Everyone that works at the Advocates is very passionate about the organization’s mission. Their passion is contagious, and I hope to develop a similar drive throughout the course of my career. I am proud of my flexibility and willingness to learn. There are often tasks that aren’t explicitly spelled out in the job description but still need to get done and I am glad that I put myself out there and contributed.

Course instruction
In my Community-based Participatory Research class, taught by Vanessa Voller, we focus on integrating and catering to the needs of the community at all stages of project development. This is something that I have found to be highly applicable and important to remember when thinking about those on the receiving end of the Advocates’ services.

Final words
I really want to remain engaged with the impactful work going on in the Twin Cities. Macalester has a ton of connections with different organizations that are changing lives and I want to contribute to that.

April 8 2022

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