Fellowship Offers Human Rights Opportunities in Europe

April 28, 2014

A fourth-year student at the University of Virginia has received a Humanity in Action Fellowship that will allow him to travel to a European capital and study human rights.

Wonman Joseph Williams, 21, of Sterling, is a political and social thought major in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“This fellowship is extremely exciting for me because it combines two of my absolute favorite things: human rights and travel,” William said. “I will be going to one of five cities in Europe for about a month to learn about human rights issues throughout the globe and work with activists and organizers from around the world.”

Humanity in Action is a U.S.-based international educational organization that educates and connects a global network of students, young professionals and established leaders promoting human rights, diversity and active citizenship in communities around the world. Williams is one of 42 fellows selected from a pool of 550 applicants.

Williams’ destination – Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris or Warsaw – will be determined later. The fellowship covers the costs of food, lodging and programming activities, though the fellows must pay for their transportation to and from the host city and provide their own spending money for extracurricular activities.

“I am honored and humbled to have been chosen for the Humanity in Action Fellowship,” Williams said. “I look forward to seeing new places, meeting new people and learning new things about human rights, both domestically and internationally.”

Williams said the fellowship appealed to him because he is interested in human rights issues and wants to devote his life to creating a more just and equitable nation and world. The fellowship, he said, will give him an opportunity to learn from “student activists from other countries and discuss historical and modern struggles for human rights.”

Michael Joseph Smith, the incoming director of U.Va.’s Political and Social Thought program and William’s adviser, praised the student for “his deep commitment to social justice combined with his determination to excel.”

Smith said Williams is a regular contributor to classroom discussions and enjoys the give and take of political debate.

“Outside class, Joseph is delightful,” Smith said. “He’s deeply involved in worthwhile extracurricular pursuits – especially in his mentoring activities with Charlottesville’s less privileged youth, and always with time for friends in need. Joseph is a smart, engaged undergraduate committed to academic excellence and to the highest standards of personal integrity.” 

Williams, a graduate of Dominion High School in Sterling, has participated in a variety of activities while at U.Va. He is a member of the Zeta Eta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and Black Expressions, Awareness, and Thought Society (B.E.A.T.S.). He has been on the dean’s list, participated in Alternative Spring Break and the Virginia Student Power Network. He is a charter member of the Collegiate 100 Society at U.Va. and a defensive back on the Cavaliers football team. He has been on the U.Va. Athletics Honor Roll and the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Honor Roll.

He plans a career in community or labor organizing, possibly abroad, and potentially returning to academia.

“This fellowship means a lot to me, primarily for the opportunity to learn, grow, experience new things and meet new people,” Williams said. “It could possibly be extremely beneficial to my future. Meeting people from around the world who are active in the field of human rights, advocacy and/or organizing is both an opportunity to learn and improve myself as well as connect and collaborate with others.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications