“It always seems impossible until it's done.”

Nelson Mandela, South African civil rights activist


The Oak Institute for Human Rights champions the struggles for dignity, freedom, and justice of people throughout the world. Every fall, we invite a front-line human rights activist operating in difficult or dangerous circumstances to come to Colby for respite and reflection as the Oak Human Rights Fellow. Through public lectures, classes, and other events, we educate the campus and extended community about the work being done by our Fellow. Beyond the Oak Human Rights Fellowship, we are committed to engaging students and community members in human rights work through civic engagement projects, internships, events, art, and activism.


MIFF: Maine International Film Festival

July 12-21, 2024
Maine Film Center and Waterville Opera House, Downtown Waterville

Founded in 1998, the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) is a project of the Maine Film Center. The 10 days of the festival showcase nearly 100 films, representing the best of American independent and international cinema, and spotlight some of Maine and New England’s most exciting and innovative filmmakers.

Israel and International Law Workshop with Professor Ken Rodman

Monday, April 29, 6:00pm 
Marchetti Room, SSWAC 

Join Professor Ken Rodman to discuss the impact of international law on the war in Israel-Palestine. Professor Rodman will guide students in examining the conflict through critical reading and interpretation of several bodies of international law, including human rights law and armed conflict law. 

Reproductive Justice Interactive Roundtable

Thursday, April 11, 7:00pm
Silberman Lounge, Cotter Student Union

Join guests from Maine Family Planning, Mabel Wadsworth Clinic, and Planned Parenthood for a Reproductive Justice Interactive Roundtable where participants learn about the state of reproductive justice in Maine, how to access abortion care resources, and ways to be involved in expanding access across the state. 

- 2024/25 Theme -

Health & Human Rights

The Oak Institute’s 2024-2025 theme is Health and Human Rights. Our goal is to identify a practitioner who works tirelessly in defending one of our most basic and essential rights as human beings. Although it can be hard to define, health is not, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reminds us, simply the absence of disease. Instead, health can be understood as a holistic and affirmative way of existing in the world. We can think of health at many different, interconnected scales: individual, family, community, society, and planetary. After all, the preamble of the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

- 2025/26 THEME -

Environment & Living Rights

The Oak Institute’s 2025-2026 theme is Environment and Living Rights. Protecting life inextricably binds human, animal, plant, water, and land lives together within fragile ecosystems. While human-centered environmental activism insists that we all depend upon, and should have the right to, a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment–we might further ask: what rights do waterways hold? What of mountains? The animals on whom the human species depend for labor, sustenance, and companionship? It is undeniable that the settler and capitalistic structures that have become increasingly global are causing harm: from warming waters and melting glaciers to the increasing frequency of catastrophic climate events, all life forms are suffering. For instance, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) predicts that by 2050 the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis will internally and externally displace millions of living beings. The living rights implications of climate change are staggering.


Student Internships

The Oak Institute for Human Rights offers summer internship funding to allow students to pursue internships at institutions that work on issues of human rights, broadly defined. Internship funding (up to $5,000) is available to continuing full-time Colby students over the…

Oak & the News

Read Colby articles about Oak Fellows and the work of human rights at Colby. Explore the work of faculty at Colby related to human rights and the annual theme, Health and Human Rights.

Previous Fellows

Since 1998 Colby has had 28 Oak Institute for Human Rights Fellows from 26 countries. Prior to being selected, they all had been working on various areas of human rights, from indigenous people’s rights to human trafficking to food sovereignty.