The Oak Institute for Human Rights champions the struggles for dignity, freedom and justice for people throughout the world. It provides the opportunity for a front-line human rights activist operating in difficult or dangerous circumstances to come to Colby College every fall for respite and reflection. Oak strives to educate the campus and extended community about the work being done by our Fellow. It also encourages members of the community, especially students, to participate in research, internships, and activism on behalf of human rights.
Tiffany D. Creegan Miller is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Colby College. Working across Hispanic and K’ichean (Kaqchikel, K’iche’, and Tz’utujil Maya) literary and cultural traditions, she focuses on contemporary Indigenous studies and decolonial critical theory, with an emphasis on new media, orality, and performance. Miller is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, and her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (2018), the Tinker Foundation (2010), and the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language Area Studies grants (2010, 2011).
Based on fieldwork in the Guatemalan Highlands (2010-2019), her first book, The Maya Art of Speaking Writing: Remediating Indigenous Orality in the Digital Age (University of Arizona Press, 2022), draws from the Maya concepts of tz’ib’(recorded knowledge) and tzij, choloj, and ch’owen (orality) to look at Guatemalan Indigenous cultural production across media and languages. Her current book project, Guatemalan Highland Spirituality and Transnational Indigenous Futurisms, shows how Maya authors and artists invoke traditional Maya spirituality to deterritorialize their cultural production and move beyond Guatemala to dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and their communities across the globe. She is also working on another book project, a trilingual (Kaqchikel Maya, Spanish, English) collection of translated poetry in collaboration with Kaqchikel Maya poet, ajq’ij (spiritual guide), and social scientist, Kawoq Baldomero Cuma Chávez. As a speaker of Kaqchikel Maya, she is also an advisor for Wuqu’ Kawoq: Maya Health Alliance, a medical NGO in Guatemala that provides health care and promotes Indigenous language rights.
Emory Burke attended Northwest Nazarene University, where they received a BA in Intercultural Ministry, an interdisciplinary degree between Christian theology and cultural studies. They then attended Nazarene Theological Seminary, where they focused on the history of Christian theology and the intersection of social justice and religion. Emory has written and presented on topics including religion, mental health, and the transgender/gender non-conforming community. Their seminary capstone focused on the impact of racism on the category of sin in Protestant theology. Emory is passionate about facilitating opportunities for young people to learn about human rights. They are currently seeking a masters degree at UMaine Orono, pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in peace and reconciliation studies.
Back in spring of 1997, college president Bill Cotter requested a large grant from the Oak Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland to permanently endow the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby. He hoped this new initiative would complement another Oak-funded program — a Colby scholarship for international students whose families have been subjected to torture or other forms of political oppression. The centerpiece of the new program was to be a fellowship for a human rights practitioner who would lead a seminar on a particular human rights problem but otherwise enjoy an opportunity to relax and recharge in beautiful, autumnal New England, away from the stresses of their dangerous or difficult fieldwork.
Happily, the Oak Foundation approved the request, and the institute began operating almost immediately. Since 1998, when Oak selected its first fellow, it has bestowed that honor on 28 such activists — including our Fall 2023 Fellow, Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani, from Iran. Our past fellows have come from countries all over the world, including Morocco, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Canada, Kosovo, Sudan, Palestine, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Israel, India, South Africa, Myanmar, and Uganda.
Oak has expanded dramatically since its inauguration in 1997. In addition to hosting the Fellow each fall, we now organize human rights programs (such as lectures and performances) throughout the year; we encourage faculty to include analysis of human rights problems in their courses; we award grants to students hoping to carry out internships with human rights organizations around the world. Indeed, students have become a central part of the Oak experience at Colby College; in recent years, the Oak Student Committee has significantly grown in size.