Student Advocacy Sees Results, U.S. House of Representatives Passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act

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On December 4, the United States House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in response to allegations that the Chinese government has detained at least one million Muslim-majority Uyghurs in "re-education" camps in Xinjiang, the far western region of China. The bill marks the first time that concrete measures—including sanctions and bans on the sale of U.S.-made goods—are being recommended; it will now go to the Senate, where passage seems certain.

The toughest action yet taken by the U.S. to deal with what is seen as a humanitarian crisis, the bill is being celebrated as a victory by a group of students at Sarah Lawrence College who, for more than a year, have been actively petitioning Congress to enact such measures.

The students are enrolled in a course titled “Scholars at Risk: The Politics and Practice of Human-Rights Advocacy,” taught by Janet Reilly, and they are  following in the footsteps of last year’s class members, who chose the Uyghur crisis as the focus of their advocacy work. Specifically, the current students have taken up the cause of Dr. Tashpolat Tiyip, former president of Xianjing University and a renowned scholar, who is facing imminent execution on charges of “separatism.” 

Through their advocacy work, the students succeeded in having Rep. Eliot Engel (New York’s 16th District), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, write to Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell to urge intervention on behalf of Dr. Tayip. In addition, the students are scheduling a meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer to draw his attention to Dr. Tayip’s case and they have created a website,, to educate the public about the Uyghur crisis and Dr. Tayip’s case. 

As part of their educational efforts, the class members are hosting an awareness-raising event at Sarah Lawrence on Friday, December 13 from 6-8 pm at the Barbara Walters Campus Center, Room C. It will feature an interactive multimedia visual and performing arts exhibit to inform students, faculty, and members of the surrounding community about the Uyghur crisis and the work of the nongovernmental organization Scholars at Risk (SAR), comprising a network of more than 500 higher education institutions and thousands of individuals in 39 countries. The event is free and open to the public.

Like their predecessors, the current Scholars at Risk students will travel to Washington, DC in March to participate in the third annual Student Advocacy Days, sponsored by SAR, The trip will include a day of hands-on workshops highlighting human rights best practices, followed by a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill where the Sarah Lawrence students will meet with federal lawmakers to help secure the release of Dr. Tiyip. They will also engage with speakers and panelists, including government officials and NGO leaders.

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.