Student Highlight

Hannah Mary May
Thursday, February 3, 2022

Hannah Mary May shares her experience as a student in the Human Rights Studies M.A. Program so far.

In which program are you enrolled and when is your expected graduation date?

M.A. in Human Rights Studies; Expected to graduate in the fall of 2022

What is your research focus in the HRSMA program?
I am focusing my research on the HRSMA program on child sexual exploitation, specifically in the state of Madagascar. I was compelled to place my focus on the crisis of child sexual exploitation in Madagascar because I witnessed firsthand the mass rates of child prostitution occurring there while volunteering in Nosy Be. During my time in Madagascar, I spoke with mothers who admitted that they raise their daughters to be prostitutes to acquire higher incomes for their families; many mothers even argued that child prostitution would create a better life for their daughters. This experience shifted my career goals and outlooks, leading to my pursuit of a master’s degree in Human Rights Studies here at Columbia University. 
Which class would you recommend to other students interested in the same issues as you?
NGOs and the Human Rights Movement with Professor Louis Bickford
Where did you grow up? In which countries and/or cities have you lived?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I have lived in many cities, including Phoenix, Arizona, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Auriflama, São Paulo, Brazil. 
What is a must-read for a human rights student?
Campaigning for Children by Jo Becker
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?
Just in my first semester at Columbia University, I was elected as the Vice President of the Human Rights Graduate Group (HRGG). Within this position and alongside my fellow executive board members, we have organized both social and academic events to unite HRSMA students. I have also been elected as the Executive Chair of Masters Affairs for the Arts and Science Graduate Council. In this position, I oversee the experiences of master’s students and coordinate career-driven social events. Being a part of both of these boards has allowed me to become actively involved in my program and the university community as a whole–all while using my leadership skills to create a better experience for all GSAS students. 
What has been your favorite moment in the program so far?
My favorite moment in the program so far has been how I am continually introduced to professors who have held amazing and unique careers. Having the ability to hear their experiences and ask unlimited questions has been truly remarkable. 
What has been the most challenging part of the program?
The most challenging aspect of the program has been learning to properly manage my time to complete and comprehend all of the class readings. 
What are your goals (professional or academic) after graduation? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My first goal is to get accepted into law school and obtain a law degree. In 10 years, I see myself working as a Human Rights Attorney for an international organization like the Open Society Justice Foundation, working to hold both countries and corporations accountable for their human rights violations. 
What is your favorite spot to study or spend time on campus?
I love the courtyard in the International Affairs building.