Student Activist Finds Professional Success
An MU alumnus’ passion for human rights led to a top post at Emory University.
In 2004, MIZZOU alumni magazine featured Silas Allard, then a senior in religious studies, in a story about up-and-coming MU students. Deeply involved in the activist community, Allard had won awards for his leadership and talked about finding “new ways of engaging the public and policymakers” on human rights issues.
Turns out, MIZZOU made a good pick.
Since graduating from Mizzou, Allard has worked at the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma in St. Louis, added a law degree and master’s degree in religion from Emory, and completed a clerkship with Chief Judge Donald C. Pogue at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York. He started Aug. 12 at the law and religion center.
A career in the human rights field wasn’t always his plan. The Neosho, Mo., native was first exposed to the human rights arena in his high school debate squad where he argued the policy implications of human rights issues and other current events.
But it wasn’t until he came to Mizzou that he discovered human rights was something he could be actively involved in. “The Amnesty International chapter on campus is where I found people who I resonated with and who inspired me … to take up [human rights] as something worth working for,” Allard says.
He also credits his religious studies professors for encouraging his involvement and honing his thinking. “One way or another, they were bringing social justice issues into their work in religion.”
It was at the urging of Sharon Welch, former chair of MU’s religious studies department, that Allard looked at the joint law and religion degree program at Emory.
As a student in the program, Allard earned the affection of Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, a professor in Emory’s law school, whom he worked for as a research assistant for three years. “I think Silas is remarkable — exceptional in every way,” An-Na’im says.
An-Na’im, a professor for 30 years, says Allard’s “maturity and humanity” distinguish him from all the students he has taught. “With his breadth of knowledge of theology — Christianity, Buddhism, Islam — and also human rights, he always added something to whatever class he was taking. He was the utmost hardworking student. I never wanted to call him a student when he was a student, really. He was a colleague.”
As associate director at the law and religion center, Allard will do administrative work, organize speakers and conferences, continue as managing editor of the Journal of Law and Religion and continue his own research program, which focuses on migration and religious ethics.
Allard says governments need to see migrants and asylum seekers as individuals practicing self-determination, rather than as groups shuffled about by large global forces.
Migration, a constant in human history, has accelerated with rapid transcontinental travel and likely will continue accelerating as climate-impacted migration escalates, Allard says. “Migration continually grows in the way it defines our political realities and also grows in how it defines our ethical and moral realities.”