Students for Human Rights Action empowers students to be global citizens

Founder’s Sri Lankan background showed him the power of mobilization 

A Smith alum spoke about expanding his human rights initiative.

This past year, Ovith Thiyagalingam, Comm ’22, founded Students for Human Rights Action (SFHRA), a policy and research website that builds awareness about global issues and provides calls to action for students who want to make a tangible impact.

The online human rights research hub highlights human rights topics and policy research in Canada and abroad, including the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the United States, and Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Through this initiative, I want to empower every student and individual to be a leader in tackling human rights and social impact issues,” Thiyagalingam told The Journal in an interview.

Beyond providing well researched information about human rights issues, SFHRA also provides succinct and curated calls to action, key steps, and resources to help students and government stakeholders act on the topic in question.

“If you go online, you can find places where you can donate or [find out] what Canada is doing at a national level to have an impact, but there wasn't a lot of information on [the] specific things that students can do either on an individual or collective level,” Thiyagalingam explained.

Through SFHRA, Thiyagalingam wants to highlight that everyone who wants to make an impact can indeed contribute, even if it’s through small actions.

The website has already reached 3000 readers since launching this summer. Thiyagalingam is hoping to exponentially expand SFHRA with plans to onboard students and volunteers and eventually spearhead SFHRA chapters at Queen’s and universities across Canada.

“I find being a part of student organizations has a really big impact on our own personal and professional development,” Thiyagalingam said.

“I want to be able to expand Students for Human Rights Action in a way that provides students with that same opportunity, and to get that kind of experience through this initiative.”

Thiyagalingam’s passion for social impact and human rights stems from being a part of the Tamil community in Canada.

“It's a long-standing history of me being able to see where my parents come from and the fellow people in the Tamil community […] The shared struggle that we experienced in being displaced from Sri Lanka through the civil war that took place […] and then having to migrate and find a new home.”

“As a kid, from being able to go to different events and protests where we peacefully would ask for the government to take action in helping to resolve the conflict, I learned a lot about the power of mobilizing people together and what kind of positive action that could instigate from the government.”

Thiyagalingam hopes the initiative’s strong foundation will help it expand to the Queen’s community and beyond.

“Something that I really believe in is that every little action really makes a difference. And that's something that I've always believed in, whether it's been through my non-profit work or my involvement in student clubs at Queens’s,” Thiyagalingam said.

“I really want to be able to contribute to having better global citizens who are passionate about [playing] their role in having this meaningful impact.”

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