Students in the Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. recently met with Robert (Bobby) Herman, vice president for regional programs at Freedom House, for a discussion of the organization’s efforts to promote human rights and democratic change. Freedom House was founded in 1941 as an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.
Herman described one way in which Freedom House is somewhat unique in the democracy promotion community—in the breadth of its activities. It not only provides assistance to democracy and human rights activists on the ground, but is also engaged in advocacy work and analysis. Its indices, such as Freedom in the World, Freedom of the Press, and its newest index, Freedom on the Net, are widely-respected and used extensively by academics and policymakers.
He remarked that the current environment is a very challenging one for those working in the democracy promotion sphere. Authoritarian governments have been particularly active of late in placing restrictions on the rights of journalists and on the freedoms and capabilities of non-governmental and civic organizations.
Herman has more than 25 years of experience in democracy promotion and human rights, and is currently responsible for overseeing a range of programs in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Eurasia and Asia. He was joined at the talk by William (Billy) Ford ’10, who used his background as a religious studies major at Hamilton and as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Malaysia, to land an internship -- and later a job -- at Freedom House. Ford is now program officer for the Southeast Asia Program.
In addition to their insights on democracy promotion, both Herman and Ford offered the students helpful career advice. In particular, they stressed developing skills that are priorities at Hamilton—the ability to write well and to craft effective oral communication. They also recommended mastering a foreign language, residing overseas in order to be immersed in a foreign culture, taking a course in data analysis, and becoming conversant in the use of new technologies.
Alicia Rost ’15, a public policy major, commented, “I really appreciated hearing advice from a recent Hamilton alum, especially about the importance of getting experience abroad and taking time after graduation to consider different career path opportunities.”
The Spring 2014 session of the Hamilton College Program in Washington is being directed by Associate Professor of Government Sharon Werning Rivera. The program is offered every semester and is designed to supplement classroom and campus work by giving students the opportunity to study first-hand the operations and programs of the federal government.