hero image
Kathryn Libal, Ph.D. - University of Connecticut. Storrs, CT, US

Kathryn Libal, Ph.D.

Director, Human Rights Institute and Professor, Social Work & Human Rights | University of Connecticut


Professor Libal researches human rights norms and practices, including the ability to secure adequate food and housing.



Professor Libal's work has focused on women’s and children’s rights movements, the advocacy of international non-governmental organizations on behalf of refugees in the U.S., American resettlement of refugees, and the localization of human rights norms and practices in the United States. She focuses on social mobilization for the right to adequate food and housing.

Areas of Expertise (7)

U.S. Resettlement of Refugees

Asylum Seekers

Women's Rights

Children's Rights

Migrant Children

Social Mobilization

Refugees in the U.S.

Education (1)

University of Washington: Ph.D., Cultural Anthropology





loading image loading image Beyond Borders (Cambridge University Press, 2021) loading image Strangers to Neighbours (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020) loading image


Bringing Economic and Social Rights ‘Home’ Making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a Reality: The Role of Higher Education


Media Appearances (2)

A new approach to social resilience through landscape architecture

PHYS Org  online


Beyond economic concerns about taking in refugees, some host countries worry about an increase in the crime rate, which she says is unfounded. Consulting with Kathryn Libal, director of the UConn Human Rights Institute, Wu found the opposite was true: Crime rates are in fact lower, and there is a desire by the refugees to integrate and not be isolated in their new communities...

view more

Famed Philanthropist, UConn Alum Donate $4 Million For UConn Human Rights

Hartford Courant  online


"This provides a stability and support to an institution that does things that you would normally see a private institution do," said Kathryn Libal, who directs the institute. "We are able to bring in extremely important and high-level speakers, experts, educators in the field of human rights, not only in the U.S., but globally. "Often you can see those things at a Harvard or a Columbia, but it's much less common to see that kind of activity happening at that caliber in a public institution," she said...

view more

Articles (11)

Tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees made it to the US – here’s how the resettlement process works

The Conversation

Kathryn Libal and Scott Harding


As of February 2022, some 65,000 Afghans evacuated during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan have settled in U.S. communities. Several hundred more remain on military bases in the U.S., while nearly 2,800 are still waiting on U.S. bases abroad. The Biden administration, which aims to have all Afghan evacuees off domestic military bases by the end of February 2022, has started the final push to place refugees with host communities.

view more

Will Biden’s Plan to Resettle Afghans Transform the U.S. Refugee Program?

Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

Kathryn Libal and Scott Harding


President Biden has expressed support for restoring US leadership on resettling refugees after the Trump administration nearly dismantled the refugee admissions program. Managing the large-scale, rapid evacuation of more than 60,000 Afghans has pushed the federal government and private sector to innovate by expanding community-based refugee resettlement and creating a private sponsorship program. This new civic initiative has the potential to dramatically reshape how refugees are resettled in the United States, but will need additional resources and new legislation to flourish.

view more

Human Rights of Forced Migrants During the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Opportunity for Mobilization and Solidarity

Journal of Human Rights and Social Work

Libal, K., Harding, S., Popescu, M., Berthold, S. M., & Felten, G.


The question of human mobility is inextricably tied to the COVID-19 pandemic that started in late 2019 and whose effects continue to unfold. Human mobility—especially with global advances in transportation and interconnectedness—is an important factor in the spread of the pandemic. Yet, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the millions of people forced to migrate for safety and economic reasons has received little attention. In this article, we provide an overview of human rights challenges that forced migrants currently face during this pandemic. While we do not address all dimensions of the impact COVID-19, we highlight several troubling situations that have emerged for refugees and asylum seekers. These include entry restrictions into some countries that had formerly welcomed asylum seekers, overt and covert forms of exclusion of migrants from labor markets due to rising unemployment and economic hardship, and implementing new deportation policies, as well as new exclusionary policies for immigrants who would have been authorized to work in past. Without concerted efforts to amplify solidarity with all forced migrants and ensure their human rights, discriminatory and restrictionist policies enacted in the Global North over the past decade will become entrenched. As a result, fewer refugees and asylum seekers will be accorded protection and continue to face violence and persecution in their home countries.

view more

Community sponsorship key to increasing refugee resettlement in the United States

CT Viewpoints

Kathryn Libal and Scott Harding


While focused on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and reviving the U.S. economy, President Joe Biden has also sought to restore U.S. leadership on a range of global issues. For example, Biden reversed the so-called “Muslim Ban” on his first day in office, along with several other executive orders related to immigration. The president also promised to admit up to 125,000 refugees into the United States this year and review the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). These efforts fulfill a series of campaign promises, and signal that the United States is a welcoming place for immigrants and others fleeing persecution.

view more

To save democracy, recommit to principles of the rule of law and human rights at home

CT Viewpoints

Glenn Mitoma and Kathryn Libal


The fascist riot at the U.S. Capitol is a fitting denouement of the Trump Presidency. His incitement of thousands of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and others caught in the thrall of his cult of personality demonstrated once and for all that there is nothing he won’t do to cling to power – -and nothing some won’t do to keep him there. Whether by the 25th Amendment, a second impeachment, or the inexorable approach of January 20, Trump’s presidency is ending. But for the United States to recover from this near miss with a Trump dictatorship, we must commit to rebuilding our democracy on a foundation of accountability, truth-telling, and human rights.

view more

Solidarity in times of crisis

Journal of Human Rights

Libal, K. & Kashwan, P.


The 2019 COVID-19 pandemic has amplified inequalities and human rights challenges; in some states, COVID-19 policies have been introduced that further curtail human rights. Although some limits may be justified in the time of a public health emergency, other rights are vital to secure precisely because of pandemic conditions. Following a discussion of the concept of political solidarity, we examine how COVID-19 has underscored democratic “deficits” and human rights failures within the United States and India. Emergency “stay-at-home” orders and social distancing measures make political dissent challenging, yet this extreme moment has created opportunities for solidarity, initially in restrained ways via the internet or local forms of collective support and protest, and later through mass mobilizations to end racial injustice (in the United States). Our assessment of the challenges and promises of solidarist action in two of the largest democracies offers reasons for guarded optimism.

view more

Human rights education in U.S. social work: Is the mandate reaching the field?

Journal of Human Rights

McPherson, J. & K. Libal.


Social work education in the United States takes place not only in classrooms but also in the many workplaces where students complete their mandatory internships. This practicum, known as “field education,” is social work’s “signature pedagogy.” Although efforts have been made to integrate human rights education (HRE) into US social work education and the Council on Social Work Education now mandates a human rights competency, little research has examined how and whether the HRE mandate is implemented in field education. This article examines the impact of HRE on social work field education by focusing on one state—Florida. For this study, we surveyed 158 Florida field educators about their human rights knowledge and practices and conducted telephone interviews with the staff members who coordinate student internships at six social work schools. The data paint a complex picture. Although strides to foster students’ ability to apply human rights understanding in field education have been made, sustained institutional support for integrating HRE in field is needed at the university and associational level. True integration of HRE into field education will only be achieved when all educators receive the support they need to become educated on social work as a human rights practice.

view more

Hunger in a “Land of Plenty”: A Renewed Call for Social Work Action

Social Work

2014 Over the past three decades levels of poverty in the United States have remained largely stagnant and various forms of social inequality have increased. Simultaneously, social welfare programs to ensure social protection have contracted through conservative political mobilization to “downsize big government.” When the economic recession hit in 2007, Food Stamps (renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Action Program, or SNAP, in 2009) became one of the most important social benefits available to affected individuals and families.

view more

Human rights in the United States: Beyond exceptionalism

Cambridge University Press

2011 This book brings to light emerging evidence of a shift toward a fuller engagement with international human rights norms and their application to domestic policy dilemmas in the United States. The volume offers a rich history, spanning close to three centuries, of the marginalization of human rights discourse in the United States.

view more

Paradoxes and possibilities: Domestic human rights policy in context

Human rights in the United States: Beyond exceptionalism

2011 The United States of America was founded on the principle of equality through law, even if this ideal has not always been realized. Indeed, the struggle to realize equality and full participation in society and governance is a perennial theme in US history. At various junctures, realizing this ideal has been challenging, especially in the face of war, economic crises, or social unrest.

view more

Reframing violence against women as a human rights violation: Evan Stark’s coercive control Authors

Violence Against Women

2009 Evan Stark claims that partner-perpetrated physical abuse and other forms of violence against women ought to be understood as a human rights violation. The authors engage Stark’s rhetorically powerful political and analytical innovation by outlining one theoretical and one practical challenge to shifting the paradigm that researchers, advocates, and policy makers use to describe, explain, and remedy the harms of coercive control from misdemeanor assault to human rights violation.

view more