About - Oak Institute


Our Mission

Our Mission

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.


Valerie Dionne

Valerie Dionne, Director

Valerie M. Dionne is an associate professor of French at Colby College. She received her PhD from Princeton and also participated in a seminar on “Torture and Dignity” with Jay Bernstein at Cornell University’s Summer School of Theory. Her first monograph, Montaigne, écrivain de la conciliation (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2014) explores the great French thinker’s advocacy for political conciliation during the Wars of Religion. She has also co-edited a volume, “Revelations of Character”: Ethos, Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy in Montaigne, with C. Noirot (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). She is the author of several articles on the theme of Justice, Law, and Tolerance, including an essay co-written with Yannik Büchi ’17 on the rights of intersex people in France from antiquity to the present. As an historian of ideas, she teaches a course on the Birth of Human Rights during the French Revolution, and a course on French Intellectuals and Social Justice.

Emory Burke

Emory Burke, Assistant Director

Emory Burke attended Northwest Nazarene University, where they received a BA in Intercultural Ministry, an interdisciplinary degree between Christian theology and cultural studies. Emory’s capstone paper explored the challenges of talking about God through a feminist and apophatic theological lens. They then attended Nazarene Theological Seminary, where they focused on the history of Christian theology and the intersection of social justice and faith. Emory has written and presented on the intersection of faith, mental health, and the transgender/gender non-conforming community. Their seminary capstone focused on the impact of racism on the category of sin in Christian theology. Emory is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary MA in Peace and Reconciliation through UMaine. They are looking forward to studying non-violence resistance and its role in various religions and in peace making efforts. Emory is passionate about facilitating opportunities for young people to learn about human rights and take on the role of activist.

Tiffany D. Creegan Miller, Associate Director

Tiffany D. Creegan Miller, Associate Director

Tiffany D. Creegan Miller is an assistant professor of Spanish 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. Her first book, The Maya Art of Speaking Writing: Remediating Indigenous Orality in the Digital Age (May 2022, University of Arizona Press), 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. Based on fieldwork in the Guatemalan Highlands 2010-2019, this research was supported by the Tinker Foundation, an NEH Summer Institute, and internal grants. Her other published work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Hispanic Studies Review, Label Me Latina/o, Studies in American Indian Literatures, and the MLA Teaching Series, among others. 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.


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 27 such activists — including our Fall 2022 Fellows Michelle Cook, from Arizona, USA, and Ana Lucía Ixchíu Hernández, from Guatemala. 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.