Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis serves as the Executive Director at Freedom University, an underground school for undocumented students in Atlanta. Born in rural Minnesota, Emiko was raised in a biracial Japanese/Slovak household and developed passions for working-class politics and music performance in equal measure. 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 graduated from the University of Georgia in 2006 and received her Ph.D. in 2012 from Emory University, where she wrote her dissertation on an interracial migrant farmworker movement led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in South Florida. After the closing of Freedom University in Athens by its founding faculty, Emiko re-opened Freedom University in Atlanta in September 2014. As the organization's first Executive Director, Emiko introduced the human rights framework to the center of its mission, expanded the curriculum to include the arts and social justice leadership training, and began connecting undocumented youth to veterans of the Black Freedom Movement. Emiko works to advance the undocumented student movement by educating and mentoring a new generation of undocumented freedom fighters and advocating for fair admissions policies in higher education across the United States.
At Freedom University, Emiko continues to serve as the Professor of Human Rights, teaching classes in international human rights, social movement theory, and immigration history. As an organizer, Emiko has engaged in numerous direct actions for workers’ rights and immigrant justice, and has been arrested four times in the Kingian tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. Emiko is also an accomplished violinist, photographer, and sings with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus.
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