Columbia Alumni Reflect on HRAP: Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez

Monday, April 1, 2024
In honor of HRAP’s 35th anniversary, ISHR has asked Columbia University alumni to share their recollections of the program. The first alumnus to be featured is Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez who earned the HRSMA from ISHR in 2015. 
It would be difficult to overstate the impact that my time at Columbia had on my life trajectory. I arrived there in the fall of 2013 excited, anxious, and unsure of exactly who I was trying to become. One of the major formative elements of my time there that helped my sense of self come into focus was my involvement with the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP). 
I began working with HRAP in 2014 as a Program Assistant, and then served as Program Coordinator in 2015. First and foremost, I valued the connections I formed with my supervisor, Stephanie Grepo, and Irene Atamian both of whom taught me so much and gave me a sense of community at Columbia. My involvement in HRAP was a generative and edifying experience of building relationships with front-line human rights advocates from around the world. Through them, I became newly aware of various human rights issues impacting people in Greenland, Albania, Turkey, South Sudan, Australia, India, and the Congo, among other locations. I helped to arrange visits with various human rights institutions and organizations with the cohort in both New York and Washington, D.C., and to support them in building international networks and solidarities. These advocates embodied courage and commitment that showed me the meaning of enacting the principles of human rights I was learning about in my classes in their daily lives. It also emphasized the stakes of this kind of work, as many advocates took considerable risks to advance their causes in dangerous contexts. Encountering these advocates’ stories helped to foster one of my central areas of scholarly interest that continues to animate my research to this day: how people translate their visions of a better world into action and create their own forms of justice within their communities.
These lessons I was learning from the advocates themselves resonated with my academic studies at Columbia. I was lucky enough to take courses with Professors Elsa Stamatapoulou, Audra Simpson, and Lila Abu-Lughod, all of whom had a tremendous influence on my development as a critical thinker and ethnographic researcher. It was in these classes that I learned of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S) for the first time, catalyzing my subsequent graduate research. I conducted fieldwork in Nova Scotia and Winnipeg in 2015 for my M.A. thesis, “Already Disappeared: Interrogating the Right to Life of Indigenous Women in Canada.”  
I then went on to continue my graduate education at the University of Minnesota, under the guidance of my advisors and committee members Hoon Song, Jean O’Brien, Jean Langford, and Juliana Hu Pegues. Between 2017-2020, I conducted additional stints of ethnographic fieldwork in Winnipeg with MMIWG2S advocates, Indigenous doulas and midwives, water walkers, and artists. When my research was interrupted by the pandemic, I returned to the U.S. and, like many others in my graduate cohort, adapted to conducting “virtual ethnography” through online interviews and attending online events for the next two years. In June 2023, I defended my dissertation, “Carrying Water: Indigenous Women Reclaiming Birthing Sovereignty along the Red River” and graduated with my Ph.D. in anthropology with a graduate minor in American Indian and Indigenous Studies.
Only two weeks after defending my dissertation, my husband and I stuffed our car to the brim with boxes of books, clothes, a bouquet of lavender from our neighbor, a guitar, and our 1-year-old son Leo. We drove from New Hampshire, where we’d been based at Dartmouth College, to East Lansing, where we both began new jobs as professors at Michigan State University. I am currently teaching here in the Department of Anthropology and affiliated with the Center for Gender in Global Context. 
I am so grateful for my formative experience with HRAP and think of everyone there often. I hope to reconnect with the HRAP staff and 2015 advocates again one day soon.