Shane Collins, a 2011 graduate of the GHS Masters degree program, has been chosen as UCSF’s first Human Rights Fellow. The fellowship is a collaboration between Global Health Sciences and the Human Rights Center (HRC) at UC Berkeley.
Collins, who is currently a research analyst in the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) and a teaching assistant in the Masters program, will use the $4,500 fellowship to carry out fieldwork during the summer of 2012. He will be working with the Sexual Violence and Accountability Project at UC Berkeley to conduct an international study of safe shelters, focused on forced displacement settings in Haiti, Kenya, Colombia, and the Burmese border. The results of this study will be disseminated in country-specific assessment reports and in an overall comparative assessment, which will include formal recommendations for the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Collins first became interested in global health issues when he traveled to Guatemala and witnessed extensive poverty and suffering.
“I grew up in small town in upstate New York and I had never really seen poverty until I traveled to the mountains of Guatemala,” says Collins. “That experience really changed my world view. I realized that I wanted to have something to offer to help people.”
Collins went on to be an Ethnic Studies (with a focus on Latino culture) and pre-med major at SF State. He volunteered at Clínica Martín-Baró in San Francisco’s Mission District on the weekends, providing free healthcare services to underserved and uninsured patients from the local Latino immigrant community.
Although he plans to go to medical school, Collins decided to enroll in the GHS Masters program upon completion of his undergraduate studies. For his fieldwork project, he spent the spring quarter at UC San Diego studying HIV risks among formerly trafficked female sex workers in Tijuana, Mexico. This project increased his awareness of gender-based violence and its profound effect on health.
“My decision to use my Human Rights Fellowship to work on the safe shelters project was informed by my Masters fieldwork experience,” says Collins. “Violence was so pervasive in these women’s lives, from child abuse as children through adulthood with violence with intimate partners, clients, police. It got me interested in looking at sexual and gender-based violence as a global health and human rights issue, which in my opinion doesn’t get enough attention.”
Women who survive gender-based violence experience increased morbidity and mortality, including high rates of gynecological complications, sexually transmitted infections, psychological morbidities, substance abuse, and suicide. In many cases, Collins says, these crimes go unprosecuted and often survivors are left with little or no access to social support, medical care, legal justice, or protection from further abuse.
A man of many interests (including teaching skateboarding to San Francisco youth), Collins travelled to Jamaica last fall to volunteer on a youth literacy project and was recently awarded a UC-Cuba grant to travel to Havana this spring to research longitudinal care for pregnant women who test positive for HIV.
With his diverse interests in women’s health, HIV research, and migrant health, Collins says social justice is the common thread that ties these passions together. In pursuing his long-term goal of working as a physician in service to poor and marginalized communities, he aspires to better understand and confront the abuses that threaten the health and human rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
“Through working as a Human Rights Fellow with the Sexual Violence and Accountability Project,” says Collins, “I hope to further expand the interdisciplinary scope of my research and develop practical tools that will allow me to influence policy decisions and better advocate for the rights of the poor and underserved.”