Two University undergraduates receive awards for human rights work

The scholarship was established last year by a University of Minnesota alumna who went on a 25-day hunger strike in the '80s.

Nickalas Tabbert

Two undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota received notable human rights scholarships Friday.

Anna Kaminski received the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award and Tenzin Pelkyi received the Sullivan Ballou Award in a ceremony among family, friends and University faculty.

The Inna Meiman Award is given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet-era Jewish woman who was denied a visa to seek medical treatment in the United States, and Lisa Paul, a University graduate who went on a 25-day hunger strike to promote a movement for Inna’s freedom.

The Sullivan Ballou Award is named after Major Sullivan Ballou, an Army soldier killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.  His heartfelt letter to his wife before the battle provided the purpose of the award to continue today through the recognition of a student who displays “heartfelt energy.”

Kaminksi, a junior, was recognized for her work teaching English while abroad in Iraq.  She was quick to thank other members of the ceremony for her accomplishments.

“I know I couldn’t have done this without my peers and the people in my life,” she said.  “There is no comparison to being inspired by the people in your life.”

Paul, who took a stand against human rights at the University three decades ago and established the award last year, said in a speech she was impressed with Kaminski’s persistence to make a difference.

“When wanting to make change, there are more roadblocks than passages,” Paul said.  “This is important because it takes what I did in the ’80s and makes it relevant today.”

In her acceptance speech, Kaminski said her experience in Iraq has made her look more critically at what can be done as activists to change the world.

“There is not enough time for us to become experts on everything,” she said.  “But we do have time for empathy and to stay informed.”

Pelkyi received the Sullivan Ballou Award for her work to expose the struggles in Tibet.  She worked to help pass a bill in March calling for the Chinese government to end repressive policies targeting Tibetans.

“I’m happy that the Tibetan struggle is being recognized,” she said.  “This is an issue that hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves.”

The political science and global studies senior said it was inspiring to hear the human rights stories of others.

“I’m really proud of what we have been able to achieve together,” Pelkyi said.

Both Kaminski and Pelkyi received $1,000 scholarships for their awards at the ceremony held in Heller Hall. 

Sharing the spotlight of the event was the announcement of the first Human Rights Student Advisory Board.  The 10-member committee will plan human rights programming and projects in addition to being student ambassadors to the University’s human rights program.

Kaminski has a “ball of string” theory to addressing human rights.

“There are many knots in the string, each representing a global problem,” she said.  “But we have to remember that we’re all part of the same string.”