Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis is a human rights educator originally from rural Minnesota. Emiko is the daughter of a road construction worker and pianist, and was raised in a biracial and interfaith household. From a young age, she developed passions for working-class politics, immigrant rights, and music performance as a proud public school kid. Emiko’s early work experiences in low-wage industries alongside diverse immigrants in restaurant work, janitorial services, and farm labor inspired her to study interracial labor movements and human rights. Emiko received the Foundation Fellowship full merit scholarship at the University of Georgia, where she graduated summa cum laude and served in internships with the Human Rights Office at The Carter Center and the U.S. Senate. As a doctoral student at Emory University, Emiko organized cafeteria workers fighting for better wages and working conditions, and worked as a graduate research assistant at the James Weldon Johnson Institute, where she transcribed interviews with women veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During this time, Emiko volunteered as the Area Coordinator for Amnesty International Southeast Regional Office and worked tirelessly on the Troy Davis death penalty case. She also was an active member of the Student Farmworker Alliance, where she received her political education and solidarity training in South Florida from farmworker leaders from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. Emiko eventually wrote her dissertation on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ struggle for farmworker justice and its transnational advocacy efforts to combat modern-day slavery in the United States.
Emiko joined Freedom University as a volunteer faculty member in 2013. Following the departure of the founding faculty and the closure of Freedom University in June 2014, Emiko re-established Freedom University in Atlanta in September 2014. Emiko introduced a human rights framework to Freedom University’s mission and pedagogy, and began connecting undocumented youth to Black student movement veterans of SNCC and the Atlanta Student Movement. She also founded Freedom University’s social movement leadership training program to help empower a new generation of youth leaders, and expanded the curriculum to include a creative arts program, STEM classes, and mental health workshops in a year-long academic program. As an experienced social movement strategist, Emiko has worked to advance the undocumented student movement by building bridges between undocumented and documented student groups, and advocating for fair admissions policies in higher education across the United States. Emiko co-founded the Freedom at Emory Initiative, which led to Emory’s successful admission and financial support of undocumented students in 2015. Emiko continues to serve as the Professor of Human Rights, teaching classes in international human rights, social movement theory, and immigration history.