Fellowship Information

The Oak Fellowship annually offers an opportunity for one prominent human rights activist to take leave from frontline work and spend the fall semester in residence at Colby.

The Oak Fellow’s responsibilities include regular meetings with students through a small seminar class and informal discussion groups. Additionally, the fellow works with Colby’s faculty to share a lecture series or symposium on their human rights interests. The fellow participates in intellectual life on campus, providing Colby students the opportunity to work with an internationally recognized human rights activist.

In addition to a $36,000 stipend, the fellowship includes health benefits, housing, a campus meal plan, and transportation. The fellowship also provides an office, access to the College’s computer and library resources, a student assistant to help with the seminar and research, and secretarial support. To ensure that the fellow fully benefits from the extended respite and safety of the fellowship experience, the program is designed to allow dependent family members to join the fellow in residence at Colby. A limited budget is allocated to help offset the cost of transportation, housing, and meals for family members who accompany the fellow.

Application Timeline

  • By early September: Online application submission is available
  • November 30, 2021: Nomination deadline
  • December 30, 2021:  Application deadline 
  • January, 2022:  Review of applications and research on candidates
  • February, 2022:  Selection committee meetings to select final candidates
  • Late February – Early March:  Phone interviews with finalists
  • April 15, 2022:  Decision notification to all applicants

2022 Theme: Indigenous Rights

The 2022-23 theme for the Oak Institute is Indigenous Rights. Indigenous people and communities reside in every corner of the world, maintaining their livelihood, traditions, and culture on their ancestral lands. Colonialism and the formation of modern nation-state borders have created mass human rights violations for indigenous peoples and made cultural survival increasingly difficult. Human rights abuses towards indigenous communities are extremely prevalent. The activist’s work may focus on exposing violations such as forced assimilation, systemic racism, criminalization of protest, disappearance of Indigenous rights defenders, ecological exploitation, militarization of Indigenous lands. The activist may support efforts against unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples, as well as promote indigenous sovereignty. 


Eligibility — For whom is the Oak Human Rights Fellowship targeted?

The Oak Human Rights Fellowship is designed for one human rights professional who is doing on-the-ground work at some level of personal risk.

Why look for practitioners doing on-the-ground work at personal risk?

This is our mandate from our donors, the Oak Foundation, which is based in Geneva. Their model was a Turkish woman trained at the International Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Copenhagen (which they also support) who lobbies against torture and other inhuman prison conditions despite death threats and harassment. Our first Oak Fellow was a Pakistani journalist who was jailed for his reporting on child bonded labor. Another was a Congolese activist who founded an NGO to protect civilians from political violence in one of the most war-torn parts of the eastern Congo near the Rwandan border. The rationale is that these are the people who most need a respite from difficult front-line duties for the purposes of reflection, writing, and communicating their work to the campus community.

What about candidates who did on-the-ground work at personal risk, but are not doing so currently, either because they are in exile or have moved on to other work?

That is a matter for the discretion for the Oak Selection Committee. It would depend upon how recently a candidate was working on the front lines and whether the candidate’s current work is still in the human rights field.

Does the Oak Fellowship provide a graduate degree program or post-graduate courses in international human rights?

No. The Oak Fellowship is not a training program for human rights practitioners. Colby College is an exclusively undergraduate institution and does not offer graduate or postgraduate training. The Oak Fellowship is a faculty position. While the Oak Fellow is free to take any courses offered at the College, his or her primary responsibility is to teach about human rights issues in his or her area. For academic human rights training programs, check our links page.

Does the Oak Fellowship provide training for human rights practitioners?

No. The Oak Institute does not provide any training programs. For those interested in training programs, the best known is at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights.

Does the Oak Fellowship provide grants for activists, scholars, or non-profit organizations in need?

No. The Oak Institute is not a grant-providing organization. For those interested in financial assistance, please reference the International Civil Society Network (ICAN).

Does the Oak Fellowship provide a scholarship for an undergraduate degree?

No. However, under a separate program, Colby College does provide a Colby-Oak International Scholarship for international undergraduate students, some of which are designated for students who individually or whose families have suffered political oppression, including torture. That program is run out of the Admissions Office, not the Oak Institute. For more information, see Diversity Scholarships.

Are there prerequisites for an Oak Fellowship?

Since the fellowship is designed for activists rather than scholars, there are no formal prerequisites.

Is there any age requirement?


Is there a citizenship requirement?


Are those working on human rights issues within the United States eligible?

The Fellowship is designed for people doing human rights work outside the United States. A U.S.-based candidate might be eligible if (a) his or her base of operations was in the U.S. while substantial work was done abroad, or (b) if she/he worked on an issue in the United States and other countries.

Do candidates have to come from the country in which they are working or can they be outsiders working for governmental and non-governmental organizations?

Both those indigenous to the area and outsiders are theoretically eligible as long as they meet the requirement of doing work on the ground at some level of risk.

Is there an English fluency or proficiency requirement?

The fellow must have a functional level of verbal ability in English. The fellow is required to lead a seminar class that meets once a week and the discussion will take place in English. So, while the fellow’s English proficiency need not be perfect or grammatically correct all the time, she/he would, at a minimum, need to be able to converse in such a way that she/he could illustrate points/topics to the class and be able to respond to questions, most of which will be posed in English. Our hope is that we will be able to use student research assistants to help facilitate the class and provide some translation support, but the fellow will need to play an active role and lead the class discussion. The fellow will also need to live independently in the community, where English is spoken.

Should an applicant send publications?

Not necessarily. This is not a research or traditional academic position. On the other hand, if the publications speak to the kind of work you have done or the likely contribution you might make on campus, the applicant should feel free to include them.

Can I provide web links in addition to or instead of paper publications?

Yes, please! In the application, there is a place you can provide electronic addresses to document your work. We are appreciative of as many electronic references to your work as you would like to provide.

Nominations- How do I nominate someone?

Nominations should be sent in online using the nominations page (preferred) or sent into the Director or Assistant Director of the program at [email protected] or via fax at 207-859-5229 or via postal mail to Assistant Director, Oak Institute for Human Rights, Colby College, Waterville, ME 04901. (NOTE: Please inform the Oak Institute of your nomination in time for the candidate to complete the necessary application forms by the deadline.)

What information should nominators provide?

At a minimum, nominators should provide contact information (e-mail and postal) in order to inform the candidate of his/her nomination and forward the application materials.
Should nominators provide a detailed letter explaining why she/he nominated a particular candidate?
Though strongly recommended, a detailed letter is optional. If the nomination letter provides sufficient details about the candidate and her/his human rights work, it can also serve as one of the letters of recommendation needed to complete the application.

Can someone nominate her/himself?

Yes, self-nomination is perfectly acceptable. A candidate can nominate her/himself simply by completing the application. No other paperwork is required.

What is the purpose of nominations?

Nominations help us identify outstanding practitioners in human rights. The nomination deadline in November gives us time to contact the candidate to suggest that she/he apply. Nomination letters become part of the set of recommendations required in the application. The fact that organizations or individuals working in the field of human rights recognize the contributions of a particular person is an important factor in evaluating the application. However, candidates may apply directly without having been nominated; organizations may provide support through recommendations in the application.

Applications- What application materials are required for a candidate’s dossier?

We require three items:
(i) A completed application form, which also requires a personal statement
(ii) Your most recent resume
(iii) Two letters of recommendation

How can I access the application form?

It is preferred that applicants fill out the web-based form on the application page on our website as available. If you have difficulty with the form, please contact the Oak Institute via e-mail: [email protected] or by phone: 207.859.5304.

What information should I provide in the essays?

The Oak Institute has a dual mission of providing a respite for practitioners doing important and difficult work and making a contribution to increasing awareness of human rights issues on campus. The essays provide you an opportunity to speak to the nature of your work and what you are likely to do when in residence.

Should I send other materials about my human rights work and the work of my organization?

Optional, but recommended. Anything that gives the selection committee a better idea regarding the kind of work in which you are involved is highly desirable.

Should an applicant send publications?

Not necessarily. This is not a research or traditional academic position. On the other hand, if the publications speak to the kind of work you have done or the likely contribution you might make on campus, the applicant should feel free to include them.

Can applications be sent via fax or e-mail?

Certainly. Please contact us for a Microsoft Word version of the form. Applications can be submitted by fax: 207-859-5229 or by e-mail, either as an attachment or in the body of the message.

Must the application be written in English?

Yes. The personal statement must be written in English, though you can provide materials written in another language.

How restrictive is the deadline?

The November deadline for nominations is not firm. A person may indeed apply directly without a nomination. The deadline for applications, however, is strict. If you come from a part of the world where mail to North America is slow, we strongly recommend that you submit an online application, e-mail or fax your application or send it by an international courier.

Terms of Residence- What is the term of the Oak Fellowship?

The Oak Fellow is in residence during our fall semester — the fellow term is September 1 through December 11. However, most fellows arrive in Maine in mid-August so that she/he can get situated prior to the beginning of classes.

Can a Fellow stay for a longer or shorter period, or for a period that does not correspond to a traditional academic semester?

It may be possible for the fellow to stay for a slightly longer period, depending on the situation. While we might be able to provide office space for a longer stay, we would only provide salary and benefits for the four-month period. To leverage the full experience of the fellowship, we require that the fellow is with us here at Colby from early September through mid-December; shorter stays do not allow for a respite for the fellow nor for a robust connection to the Colby community.

Responsibilities- What kind of teaching responsibilities are expected of the Oak Fellow?

We expect some kind of regular interaction with students. The Oak Fellow co-teaches a one-credit non-graded course that meets once per week with students focusing on the human rights issues with which the fellow is involved. To facilitate these meetings, students enroll in a one-credit, ungraded discussion section to be led by the Oak Fellow and a member of the Colby faculty; meetings and times are determined early in the fall semester. Interested fellows are encouraged (but are not required) to teach a formal course or to collaborate with College faculty members by team teaching. The fellow would also provide guest lectures in courses on subjects that relate to her or his work.

What other responsibilities does the Oak Fellow have?

The Oak Fellow is expected to give a talk to the campus community early in the semester. In addition, the fellow is expected to be an intellectual presence on campus, giving and attending human rights lectures, working with students, and giving talks in the community.

How is the Fellow involved in the Oak Lecture Series?

The Oak Fellow will assist the Oak Institute in inviting outside speakers for lectures, panels, debates, films, and other events highlighting human rights issues in the fellow’s area of expertise.

Stipends and Benefits- What is the stipend for the fellowship?

The College will provide a stipend of $36,000 (taxable) plus transportation, housing, health care coverage, and other fringe benefits. The fellow is encouraged to bring family, and Oak will provide limited financial support for their travel as well.

Is health care included?

Yes, the Oak Fellow will be on the Colby College health plan while in residence. We will work with the fellow to also provide coverage for dependent family members who accompany the fellow, although the fellow will be responsible for paying the cost of additional persons covered by the college’s insurance.

What about transportation from the Fellow’s base of operations?

The Fellowship includes round-trip transportation for the Oak Fellow, as well as a limited stipend that may be used to help offset the cost of dependent family members who accompany the fellow.

What about housing expenses?

The fellowship includes housing in close proximity to campus for the fellow during their semester in residence and an orientation period up to one month before the beginning of the semester.

What transportation is available in Waterville?

The Fellowship provides the use of a Colby-owned vehicle for the fellow while she/he is in residence, assuming that the fellow has an International Drivers License and good driving record.

Will meals be provided?

The College will provide the fellow with a pass so she/he can eat some meals in the dining halls free of charge. Kitchen facilities will be provided with the fellow’s housing and the fellow will be responsible for all meals taken off-campus.

What kind of support will the Oak Fellow have for teaching and research?

The College will provide the fellow with use of a computer, access to e-mail and the Internet, telephone, fax, secretarial support, library privileges, and an 8-hour per week student assistant.

Oak Fellowship Application 2022

  • Personal Data

  • Examples: director, producer, editor
  • Recommendations

    List the two persons you will ask to submit a recommendation on your behalf. Please note recommendations MUST be submitted by the recommender. PLEASE REMIND THE RECOMMENDERS OF THE APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 30, 2020. Submit recommendations at http://www.colby.edu/oakinstitute/?p=522.
  • Personal References

    Please provide the names and contact information for two individuals whom we can call or email as additional references to learn more about your work.
  • Indigenous Rights - Organization Affiliations

    Please list any organizations with which you are currently affiliated (if any) that address indigenous rights.
  • Human Rights Organization Affiliations

    Please list any human rights organizations with which you are affiliated.
  • Feel free to provide as many as you like. Please include the name of the website and the URL.
  • Personal Data

    Please answer the following questions (no more than 500 words for each).