#Lang30: From Student Activist to International Human Rights Lawyer

Every Thursday, New_S presents a new story celebrating the 30th anniversary of Eugene Lang College. Are you a Lang graduate with a story to share? If so, please go here.

On any given day, Kevin Heller (’90) can poke his head out his window at the University of London and see students protesting “everything from the U.S. military’s drone program to the university’s mistreatment of the janitorial staff.”

“That used to be me,” Heller, chair of the criminal law program at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, recalls.

Back in the 1980s when he was a student at Eugene Lang College, Heller was “very active in the squatting, homeless and anti-warehousing movements,” often demonstrating in Tompkins Square Park and in front of the first gentrified building in the Lower East Side, the Christodora House.

But even though his days of street-level activism are behind him, Heller has hardly abandoned his drive for bold, socially impactful work. An expert in international criminal and humanitarian law, Heller has served as Human Rights Watch’s external legal advisor on the trial of Saddam Hussein, helped negotiate the definition of aggression at the International Criminal Court, spent two years defending Radovan Karadzic at the Yugoslav tribunal, and taught international humanitarian law for the UN in Jericho, Nairobi and Istanbul. He’s even published a book on World War Two era war-crimes trials.

“And you can draw a straight line directly from Lang to what I currently teach, write, and practice,” said Heller, who has always been inspired by his experience at The New School’s liberal arts college.

Heller embraced everything about Lang. From the curriculum (“It was exciting, rigorous, challenging, enlightening) to life in New York City (“Suddenly, I found myself living in the Lower East Side, hanging out at the Anarchist Switchboard, and working on Sunshine squat”), the Colorado native had found a place where he truly belonged.

For Heller, attending Lang was nothing short of life changing—an experience that set him on a career course from student activist to international lawyer.

“I couldn’t ask for a better academic career,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds—and I’m only in my early 40s—but I do know this: I would not be where I am today without Lang.”

Every Thursday, New_S presents a new story celebrating the 30th anniversary of Eugene Lang College. Are you a Lang graduate with a story to share? If so, please go here.