Sparking a Human Rights Mission

Sometimes things happen because of hard work and planning; other times, they happen by mistake. Both of these took place for Sam Baron, a 2019 graduate of the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.

Baron, a political science major and Asian Pacific studies minor who grew up in Torrance, California, was in New York when he met a defector from North Korea. “My defector friend told me about the repression and human rights abuses that were occurring against the North Korean people,” Baron says now. “Particularly striking to me was the story of how he escaped North Korea, and now constantly lives in fear for his own safety, and that of his family,” who still live there.

This friendship sparked Baron’s interest in Asian politics, and launched him into a host of study topics: life under autocratic regimes, nuclear proliferation, and United States foreign policy. Baron was able to make sense of it all because of his years at LMU.

As a sophomore, he took a course on modern slavery, which began to focus his longstanding concern about international human rights. After his time in New York and other transformative experiences, including a meeting with his civil rights hero the late Rep. John Lewis, Baron returned to campus. He concluded his degree working as a research fellow in LMU’s Global Policy Institute, and writing a senior capstone on contemporary slavery and human trafficking.

“LMU was a fantastic place to work on and refine my research into human rights issues,” Baron says. “This was largely due to the excellent guidance and mentorship I received from BCLA faculty. As a university whose mission is the ‘service of faith and the promotion of justice,’ the academic environment at LMU was conducive to pursuing research in the human rights field.”

One of his key allies was political science professor Gene Park. “Gene really mentors his students,” Baron says. “He invests the time to ensure that promising students not only succeed in the academic realm, but also personally and professionally. He was (and continues to be) extremely proactive in recommending career or other academic opportunities to me, and tapping into his own network of contacts to help me gain an advantage in the application process. The majority of the time, he does this unprompted.”

Baron now works in Thailand as an intern for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office monitors and evaluates atrocities in Myanmar; due to opposition from the government there, Bangkok is about as close as U.N. workers can get.

“Ultimately, I would like to be an agent for change on human rights issues in Asia,” says Baron, who is well aware of the enormity of the challenge. “Making a significant impact at the individual level within mechanisms for collective action is possible. Those that control the levers of power within these organizations have the unique ability to foster the most positive change.”