Application Overview - Oak Institute

Application Overview


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.”

But reality falls far short of this declaration because of ever-changing climate and environmental factors, pandemics, politicization of health-related issues, lack of access to the social and structural factors that make health possible such as safe drinking water and adequate sanitation; nourishing and nutritious food and housing; healthy working and environmental conditions; health-related education and information; access to health care; and racial and gender equality. The activist’s work should focus either on exposing and organizing against health and human rights violations or on affirmatively working to build systems, structures, or initiatives that promote health and well-being.

- 2022 Theme -

Indigenous Rights

The 2022-23 theme for the Oak Institute is Indigenous Rights. Indigenous people and communities reside in every corner of the world, maintaining their livelihood, traditions, and culture on their ancestral lands. Colonialism and the formation of modern nation-state borders have created mass human rights violations…


The Oak Human Rights Fellowship is designed for one human rights professional who is doing on-the-ground work at some level of personal risk.

This is our mandate from our donors, the Oak Foundation, which is based in Geneva. Their model was a Turkish woman trained at the International Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Copenhagen (which they also support) who lobbies against torture and other inhuman prison conditions despite death threats and harassment. Our first Oak Fellow was a Pakistani journalist who was jailed for his reporting on child bonded labor. Another was a Congolese activist who founded an NGO to protect civilians from political violence in one of the most war-torn parts of the eastern Congo near the Rwandan border. The rationale is that these are the people who most need a respite from difficult front-line duties for the purposes of reflection, writing, and communicating their work to the campus community.

That is a matter for the discretion for the Oak Selection Committee. It would depend upon how recently a candidate was working on the front lines and whether the candidate’s current work is still in the human rights field.

No. The Oak Fellowship is not a training program for human rights practitioners. Colby College is an exclusively undergraduate institution and does not offer graduate or postgraduate training. The Oak Fellowship is a faculty position. While the Oak Fellow is free to take any courses offered at the College, his or her primary responsibility is to teach about human rights issues in his or her area. For academic human rights training programs, check our links page.

No. The Oak Institute does not provide any training programs. For those interested in training programs, the best known is at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights.

No. The Oak Institute is not a grant-providing organization. For those interested in financial assistance, please reference the International Civil Society Network (ICAN).

No. However, under a separate program, Colby College does provide a Colby-Oak International Scholarship for international undergraduate students, some of which are designated for students who individually or whose families have suffered political oppression, including torture. That program is run out of the Admissions Office, not the Oak Institute. For more information, see Diversity Scholarships.

Since the fellowship is designed for activists rather than scholars, there are no formal prerequisites.

The Fellowship is designed for people doing human rights work outside the United States. A U.S.-based candidate might be eligible if (a) his or her base of operations was in the U.S. while substantial work was done abroad, or (b) if she/he worked on an issue in the United States and other countries.

Both those indigenous to the area and outsiders are theoretically eligible as long as they meet the requirement of doing work on the ground at some level of risk.

The fellow must have a functional level of verbal ability in English. The fellow is required to lead a seminar class that meets once a week and the discussion will take place in English. So, while the fellow’s English proficiency need not be perfect or grammatically correct all the time, she/he would, at a minimum, need to be able to converse in such a way that she/he could illustrate points/topics to the class and be able to respond to questions, most of which will be posed in English. Our hope is that we will be able to use student research assistants to help facilitate the class and provide some translation support, but the fellow will need to play an active role and lead the class discussion. The fellow will also need to live independently in the community, where English is spoken.

Not necessarily. This is not a research or traditional academic position. On the other hand, if the publications speak to the kind of work you have done or the likely contribution you might make on campus, the applicant should feel free to include them.

Yes, please! In the application, there is a place you can provide electronic addresses to document your work. We are appreciative of as many electronic references to your work as you would like to provide.

Nominations should be sent in online using the nominations page (preferred) or sent into the Director or Assistant Director of the program at [email protected] or via fax at 207-859-5229 or via postal mail to Assistant Director, Oak Institute for Human Rights, Colby College, Waterville, ME 04901. (NOTE: Please inform the Oak Institute of your nomination in time for the candidate to complete the necessary application forms by the deadline.)

At a minimum, nominators should provide contact information (e-mail and postal) in order to inform the candidate of his/her nomination and forward the application materials.

Though strongly recommended, a detailed letter is optional. If the nomination letter provides sufficient details about the candidate and her/his human rights work, it can also serve as one of the letters of recommendation needed to complete the application.

Yes, self-nomination is perfectly acceptable. A candidate can nominate her/himself simply by completing the application. No other paperwork is required.

Nominations help us identify outstanding practitioners in human rights. The nomination deadline in November gives us time to contact the candidate to suggest that she/he apply. Nomination letters become part of the set of recommendations required in the application. The fact that organizations or individuals working in the field of human rights recognize the contributions of a particular person is an important factor in evaluating the application. However, candidates may apply directly without having been nominated; organizations may provide support through recommendations in the application.

We require three items:

  1. A completed application form, which also requires a personal statement
  2.  Your most recent resume
  3. Two letters of recommendation

It is preferred that applicants fill out the web-based form on the application page on our website as available. If you have difficulty with the form, please contact the Oak Institute via e-mail: [email protected] or by phone: 207.859.5304.

The Oak Institute has a dual mission of providing a respite for practitioners doing important and difficult work and making a contribution to increasing awareness of human rights issues on campus. The essays provide you an opportunity to speak to the nature of your work and what you are likely to do when in residence.

Optional, but recommended. Anything that gives the selection committee a better idea regarding the kind of work in which you are involved is highly desirable.

Not necessarily. This is not a research or traditional academic position. On the other hand, if the publications speak to the kind of work you have done or the likely contribution you might make on campus, the applicant should feel free to include them.

Certainly. Please contact us for a Microsoft Word version of the form. Applications can be submitted by fax: 207-859-5229 or by e-mail, either as an attachment or in the body of the message.

Yes. The personal statement must be written in English, though you can provide materials written in another language.

The November deadline for nominations is not firm. A person may indeed apply directly without a nomination. The deadline for applications, however, is strict. If you come from a part of the world where mail to North America is slow, we strongly recommend that you submit an online application, e-mail or fax your application or send it by an international courier.

The Oak Fellow is in residence during our fall semester — the fellow term is September 1 through December 11. However, most fellows arrive in Maine in mid-August so that she/he can get situated prior to the beginning of classes.

It may be possible for the fellow to stay for a slightly longer period, depending on the situation. While we might be able to provide office space for a longer stay, we would only provide salary and benefits for the four-month period. To leverage the full experience of the fellowship, we require that the fellow is with us here at Colby from early September through mid-December; shorter stays do not allow for a respite for the fellow nor for a robust connection to the Colby community.

We expect some kind of regular interaction with students. The Oak Fellow co-teaches a one-credit non-graded course that meets once per week with students focusing on the human rights issues with which the fellow is involved. To facilitate these meetings, students enroll in a one-credit, ungraded discussion section to be led by the Oak Fellow and a member of the Colby faculty; meetings and times are determined early in the fall semester. Interested fellows are encouraged (but are not required) to teach a formal course or to collaborate with College faculty members by team teaching. The fellow would also provide guest lectures in courses on subjects that relate to her or his work.

The Oak Fellow is expected to give a talk to the campus community early in the semester. In addition, the fellow is expected to be an intellectual presence on campus, giving and attending human rights lectures, working with students, and giving talks in the community.

The Oak Fellow will assist the Oak Institute in inviting outside speakers for lectures, panels, debates, films, and other events highlighting human rights issues in the fellow’s area of expertise.

The College will provide a stipend of $36,000 (taxable) plus transportation, housing, health care coverage, and other fringe benefits. The fellow is encouraged to bring family, and Oak will provide limited financial support for their travel as well.

Yes, the Oak Fellow will be on the Colby College health plan while in residence. We will work with the fellow to also provide coverage for dependent family members who accompany the fellow, although the fellow will be responsible for paying the cost of additional persons covered by the college’s insurance.

The Fellowship includes round-trip transportation for the Oak Fellow, as well as a limited stipend that may be used to help offset the cost of dependent family members who accompany the fellow.

The fellowship includes housing in close proximity to campus for the fellow during their semester in residence and an orientation period up to one month before the beginning of the semester.

The Fellowship provides the use of a Colby-owned vehicle for the fellow while she/he is in residence, assuming that the fellow has an International Drivers License and good driving record.

The College will provide the fellow with a pass so she/he can eat some meals in the dining halls free of charge. Kitchen facilities will be provided with the fellow’s housing and the fellow will be responsible for all meals taken off-campus.

The College will provide the fellow with use of a computer, access to e-mail and the Internet, telephone, fax, secretarial support, library privileges, and an 8-hour per week student assistant.