Today we have the mixed blessing of announcing that one of our favorite people is moving on: Deborah Popowski, JD ’08, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is bringing her considerable talents to New York University (NYU) School of Law as Executive Director of its Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

A young woman gestures with her hands as she stands in front of walls with quotes on the,.
Photo credit: Kris Snibbe

It comes as no surprise to us that she was chosen for this leadership role. For the past seven years, Deborah has proven herself to be a visionary inside the International Human Rights Clinic, carving out a critical niche for U.S.-based work. In her time here, she led clinical projects on issues ranging from protest and assembly rights to the right to heal for U.S. service members and Iraqis. She also created a clinical seminar, “Human Rights Advocacy and the United States,” with the Human Rights Program’s former executive director, Clinical Professor Jim Cavallaro.

In particular, Deborah distinguished herself in recent years as a national leader in the grassroots movement to hold U.S. health professionals accountable for torture in the national security sphere. Her approach was both innovative and in-depth: through professional misconduct complaints, legislative advocacy, media outreach and academic conferences, she worked with clients to highlight the actions of psychologists at Guantánamo.

That work helped build pressure and momentum for the American Psychological Association’s historic resolution last August to ban psychologists from national security interrogations. It was a moment many thought would never come.

Deborah’s commitment to human rights also focused inward, on the community at the Law School. Most recently, she became a strong ally to the Reclaim Harvard Law movement. She did it publicly, participating in campus protests, co-leading fireside chats in Belinda Hall, and engaging the clinical community in discussions about how to think critically about its role in student movements. She also supported the movement personally, through the strong relationships that she nurtured with its leaders, particularly students and staff of color.

Indeed, Deborah has always considered relationships to be a critical part of her work; for years, she was an advisor to Harvard Law Students Advocates for Human Rights, the student practice organization which she once co-led. In her role as advisor, she mentored dozens of students closely as they pursued initiatives of their own.

We will miss Deborah’s powerful voice here at the Program and the Clinic. Still, we are excited to see her take on this leadership role at NYU. It requires the kind of vision, creativity, inclusiveness, and drive that has always been the hallmark of Deborah’s work as a human rights advocate. She will be a gift to their community, just as she has been to ours.