Interview with Adrienne van der Valk

Even as an undergraduate sociology major at Grinnell College, Adrienne van der Valk had a passionate interest in social justice, systems of power and oppression, and intersectionality, concerns that have continued to shaped her professional life.

After college Adrienne was attracted to the human services field, although she was still seeking to define just what that meant. She began in social work, advocating for homeless and runaway youth and survivors of sexual violence.

The roles she adopted early in her career –crisis responder, case manager, community outreach coordinator, adoption counselor, mediator – all required her to respond to community needs and helped her develop skills that have served her well throughout her subsequent career.

Her graduate study in political science and journalism at the University of Oregon led her to work for several years in an educational policy think tank. It was there, she says, “ I first began to learn about the interface between learning and social justice.”

Five years ago, this conjunction of interests made Teaching Tolerance a perfect fit. She currently serves as Deputy Director, directing an editorial team of six who write, curate, edit, and publish all outward-facing communications. Under her leadership, Teaching Tolerance magazine has won dozens of REVERE Awards from the Association of American Publishers, including Best Reporting, Best Overall Editorial, Best Overall Publication, and the Golden Lamp, the highest award in educational publishing.

Reflecting on the distinction between human rights and the more familiar concept of social justice, Adrienne describes the terms as related but not equivalent. “Because of different social systems and dynamics, social justice is more contextual. A value in one setting may be different in another.” She sees human rights as a broader term and human rights education as a more global kind of learning, but emphasizes that both social justice and human rights education are critical to teaching and learning today.

“Human rights are often perceived as connected to international issues and events, not the way Americans live their own lives—and that’s a mistake,” she says. “Understanding human rights has simply not been reinforced in this country.”

Adrienne was drawn to the work of HRE USA by a wish to have a better sense of how human rights education and social justice education fit together. “I want to promote seeing domestic issues through a human rights lens.” She brings rich experience and personal commitment as a new member of the HRE USA Steering Committee.