“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.


Book Talk with Author and Professor of History, Dr. Benjamin Madley

Friday, February 23, 12:30pm
Miller Library, Brewster Reading Room

Please join the departments of History and American Studies, The Center for Arts and Humanities, The Oak Institute for Human Rights, and Dr. Benjamin Madley, for a presentation of his new book An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.

Oak Institute JanPlan Panel

Thursday, February 22, 4:30pm 
Parker Reed, SSWAC

Join us for a panel discussion with two students who spent their JanPlan doing human rights work in Peru. Ask questions about Oak JanPlan and Summer internship opportunities, as well. 

Civil Discourse Event Series

Monday, February 12 to Thursday, February 15
Colby College

The Oak Institute for Human Rights kicks-off the Spring 2024 semester with guest Karen Gross, JD.  Karen will be visiting with various student and faculty groups during her visit to share about creating safe, vulnerable space for civil discourse.

- 2023/24 Theme -

Health & Human Rights

The Oak Institute’s 2023-2024 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.

- Oak Fellow -

Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani

The 2023 Oak Human Rights Fellow is Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani. He is an Iranian journalist, activist and researcher. Currently, Isfahani writes for BBC Monitoring, the Atlantic Council, and ARTICLE 19, focusing especially on health and human rights violations.

- 2024/25 THEME -

Environment & Living Rights

The Oak Institute’s 2024-2025 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…

In The News

Staying informed is critical. Find quality articles from vetted news sources and learn what’s happening around our world related to human rights and this year’s theme, Indigenous 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.