Farewell to a Pioneering Leader

By Melissa Castan and Joanna Kyriakakis

Rarely in academic life are we fortunate to have a colleague whose sustained intellectual and impactful contribution to the life of the Law Faculty leaves an indelible mark that has changed the way students, colleagues and the community at large have engaged with human rights law.

Professor Sarah Joseph has been such a person. 

From 1 January 2020, Sarah will be stepping down as Director of the Castan Centre after 15 years at the helm. This moment constitutes the end of an era. Under her pioneering leadership, the Centre has grown to a place of national and international recognition, renowned for its work in human rights law, advocacy and education. 

Sarah was one of the founders of the Castan Centre and became its second Director in 2005. She and the Centre’s co-founders recognised the need for a dedicated human rights law centre in Australia to educate future human rights leaders, to produce research on the major human rights challenges of our times and to inform public debates about how Australia could, and should, fulfil its human rights duties in its domestic and international affairs.

Under Sarah’s leadership, the Centre has undertaken its most creative, accessible and inspiring human rights projects to date. Examples include the ‘Have You Got That Right’ video series, the Castan Centre blog, the strategic use of social media to promote the work of the Centre and key human rights issues, and the growth of our enormously successful annual conference, which is now a ‘must attend’ event on the Australian human rights calendar. Her own regular human rights column with The Conversation meant that a human rights perspective on contemporary events was readily available to a wider audience.  

Sarah has spearheaded the innovative visiting activists program and brought scores of national and international visiting researchers to Monash. She has made human rights study trips possible for her colleagues, overseen the growth of the global and domestic student intern programs, and personally supervised numerous innovative PhDs, in doing so seeding generations of human rights activists and careers within and beyond Australia. Her integrity and innovation in leadership was recognised in 2014 by a SACS Leadership Award and felt every day by those of us working alongside of her. 

Numerous research projects were also identified and pursued under Sarah’s leadership, which have addressed crucial human rights issues and had important real world impacts. These projects are too many to catalogue but include the production of a significant report on educational outcomes for children with disability in Victoria and two editions of ‘Human Rights Translated’, a text that assists businesses to understand how human rights must matter to them. The Centre’s work on business and human rights helped secure the highest possible rank for Monash Law on community engagement and impact in social justice research as judged by the Australian Research Council in 2019.  

During Sarah’s directorship, the Centre has evolved as a crucial part of the Monash University Law Faculty, an important part of the wider reputation of Monash University, and a recognised leader and trusted voice in the Australian human rights landscape.

It is fitting that this stature is now being recognised with the Centre’s nomination for the Australian Human Rights Commission’s prestigious Law Award .

Sarah’s leadership has not just resulted in hundreds of students engaging and generating their own impact in the field of human rights, but she has also supported and mentored many current and former colleagues, enabled others in the Centre to be creative, energised and connected with each other and with the human rights community, creating a genuinely egalitarian, inspired and exciting team that we all at the Centre have felt privileged to be part of. 

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Castan Centre

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law seeks to promote and protect human rights through the generation and dissemination of public scholarship in international and domestic human rights law. In pursuit of this mission, the Centre brings the work of human rights scholars, practitioners and advocates from a wide range of disciplines together in the Centre’s key activities of research, teaching, public education (lectures, seminars, conferences, speeches, media presentations, etc), applied research, advice work and consultancies.

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