In 2021 Melbourne University established a new funding scheme to support Student Life Initiatives.Professor John Tobin, from the Melbourne Law School, was successful in securing some funding for a project titled, The Human Rights Portrait Gallery.The project is the first initiative to be undertaken as part of a broader human rights program being developed within the Law School. The aim of the project is to create an archive of graduates of Melbourne Law School who have or are currently working in the field of human rights.
This project is inspired by the Maori concept of whakapapa. This concept frames our connection to any group we belong to; it understands our place as part of a chain of people going back and forward in time; it requires us to connect to the past, to recognise our place in the present and lay a path for those who will be in the future. It is about recognising where we have come from, who we are and where we might go as individuals who are part of a tribe, part of a community. Own Eastwood, author of ‘Belonging: The Ancient Code of Togetherness’ explains that, ‘Whakapapa points a finger at us and tell us you will not be judged by your money or celebrity or sense of self pride … you will be judged by what you did for our tribe.’ This organising concept for the project is aligned with the Melbourne University student life graduate attribute of lasting connections. The Human Rights Portrait Gallery Project is a deliberate attempt to create a sense of belonging among law students with a commitment to human rights and social justice by connecting them with past students who have worked in the field of human rights through shared stories and discussions about future careers. It is designed to connect them to the past, to recognise and celebrate the achievements of those who have walked the corridors of the law school before them and to inspire students to create their own legacy and make their own contributions in the struggle for justice. It relies on imagery, story telling and human interaction to build a sense of community and belonging among past, current and future law school students. Photos the alumni are on display on level 2 of the Law School with a QR code that connects their image back to a written reflection which was prepared by the JD students who met and interviewed the alumnus.