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A deep interest in human rights

May 2, 2019
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Eve Hillman shows her school spirit abroad. Photo credit: Eve Hillman

ANN ARBOR—Eve Hillman was among the first University of Michigan students to travel to Rwanda and Uganda last summer as part of the Peace and Conflict Studies program.

She lived with two different host families and spent three immersive weeks in each country.

“I was very excited about the program,” said Hillman, a senior majoring in political science and African studies. “I’m not African, but I am graduating with African studies. I felt it was important to study in Africa and get that experience.”

Hillman didn’t have much exposure to African studies before college. To fulfill her first-year writing requirement, she signed up for a class about colonialism and humanitarian efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was there that she learned about the Belgian colonization of the Congo, which contributed to one of the worst forced labor systems in African history.

“Six million people died in the few years of forced cultivation of rubber,” Hillman said. “I was so mad—how did I get through 18 years of my life without learning about this huge violation of human rights?”

After that, Hillman wanted to take more classes in the African studies department. She felt that her education had not prioritized African history to the same extent as American and European history.

For her senior thesis in political science, Hillman focused on the lingering effects of forced labor systems under colonialism and the ways the effects lead to political violence. She used Rwanda as a case study for her research.

“In Rwanda, I read about the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. I used some interviews with my host family in Rwanda in my thesis, so the project has really come full circle,” Hillman said.

Hillman has also stayed in touch with her host mom in Uganda. Her host mom, she explained, combats the lingering effects of Uganda’s Resistance Army insurgency by teaching artisan skills to young adults who’ve been forced to miss years of their education due to political conflict.

“I’ve been doing some fundraising to help her buy the materials,” Hillman said. “She’s incredible.”

In the fall, Hillman will begin her graduate studies at the Michigan Law School. She was drawn to the program because of the high number of graduates who go into public service work.

“I’m interested in progressive prosecution and criminal justice reform,” she said. “And there’s no better place in the country to do that than at U-M.”

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