Victor Gout shares his experience during his time as a student in the Undergraduate program at the School of General Studies.
In which program are you enrolled and when is your expected graduation date?
Undergraduate Human Rights Major at the School of General Studies, graduated in May 2023.
What is your research focus? What drew you to this particular issue/set of issues?
I concentrated my research on the notion of human dignity, a subject that captivated me as I observed its pivotal role in underpinning the legal framework of international human rights law, despite lacking a universally agreed-upon definition. My curiosity led me to explore its application in discussions related to end-of-life decisions, particularly focusing on voluntary and medically assisted end-of-life choices, often known as euthanasia and assisted suicide. I chose this focal point as numerous individuals, advocating for the legalization of voluntary and medically assisted end-of-life decisions, emphasize the desire to ensure the right to die with dignity.
Which class would you recommend to other students interested in the same issues as you?
I highly recommend the course on International Human Rights Law taught by Cristian de Vos, as well as the Justice course instructed by David Johnston.
Where did you grow up? In which countries and/or cities have you lived?
I grew up in France. I lived 18 years in Versailles and spent 2 years in Paris before coming to New York.
What is a must-read for a human rights student?
Rechtman, Richard. Living in Death: Genocide and its Functionaries. New York: Fordham University Press, 2022.
Can you describe any volunteer or extracurricular activities that you have been a part of during your time at Columbia and how this experience has impacted you?
While studying at Columbia, I had the opportunity to work part-time at the UN during a semester at the UNGA. This experience was instrumental in shaping my career and life choices by granting me a deeper insight into the functioning of this institution. I was able to observe firsthand its limitations and the protracted nature of its proceedings. Nonetheless, I also witnessed the proactive steps it takes on the ground to mitigate human suffering. Finally, every day that I spent there reinforced my conviction that the unique nature of the discourse happening within its premises, showcasing a level of dialogue among humanity that is unprecedented and valuable, must be preserved.
If you were to start a book club, which book would be first on your list? Why?
The first book that springs to mind is "Allah is Not Obliged" by Ivorian novelist Ahmadou Kourouma. This book delivers both a touching narrative and an insightful exploration of the factors driving extreme violence, particularly from child soldiers. "Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth," is a reflection from the book’s young soldier, Birahima, whose journey we follow. This phrase should prompt those who use religion to justify violence to lay down their arms upon hearing it.
Anything else you wish to share about yourself or your experience in the program/Columbia?
Whenever people inquire about my experience at Columbia, I often share this pivotal aspect. Initially, I was enrolled as an economics major but made a last-minute switch to human rights, which has proven to be the most rewarding decision in my academic journey. This shift not only expanded my worldview but now empowers me to better prioritize issues and avoid overemphasizing matters that only seem significant to individuals who have narrowly focused their studies without exploring other fields.