Annual Human Rights Summit @ QU

April 20, 2017


Demystifying Human Rights:
Connecticut Human Rights Partnership Meets at Albert Schweitzer Institute, Quinnipiac University for Annual Human Rights Summit

by Brian Stiltner and Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox

What are human rights as a concept and in practice?  How can we work together to establish a human rights praxis that supports the needs of the most vulnerable communities?  Broader questions of human rights are inextricably tied to particularized issues of justice, epistemology and global ethics. Educators, community and agency practitioners, and human rights activists take on the significant burden of making human rights practice intelligible and accessible to local communities and to marginalized groups.  Most importantly, because the language of human rights often becomes utilized for particular political ends, promoting human rights practice is not just a matter of maintaining institutional remedies, but is also about interrogating the narratives in which these issues are framed.  Accordingly educators, community organizations and state agencies must work together to share resources and tools for sustaining a meaningful human rights practice in Connecticut.

As a step in that direction, on March 5, 2017, representatives from universities, high schools, government commissions, and nonprofit agencies across Connecticut met at the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University for the 2017 Human Rights Summit.  The Summit was sponsored by the Connecticut Human Rights Partnership (CHRP), an organization created in 2015 to advance a culture of human rights in Connecticut.

In particular, CHRP was established to serve as a collaborative and inclusive forum for human rights stakeholders in Connecticut; provide interaction, discussion, and dialogue opportunities designed to promote a culture of human rights in Connecticut; and encourage the learning of multiple perspectives for recognizing human rights abuse and violations across local, national and global sites.

CHRP has been led by a steering committee of human rights teachers and advocates who work at the University of Connecticut, University of Saint Joseph, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, Avon High School, Curriculum of Hope for a Peaceful World, and the Connecticut State Department of Education.  Members from these organizations joined with representatives from Manchester Community College, Goodwin College, high schools in West Hartford, Manchester, Darien, and East Hartford, and six human rights agencies and organizations working to promote gender equality, economic justice and legal remedies for global and local communities. In addition, the Connecticut Campus Compact has been a part of CHRP since the launch meeting in 2015.

The lead organizers of the summit were two CHRP steering committee members, Prof. Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox of Quinnipiac and Prof. Brian Stiltner of Sacred Heart. Gadkar-Wilcox explained, “The purpose of the summit was for the representatives to learn from one another about the education, research, and advocacy that each organization does, with the goal of fostering better collaboration among human rights stakeholders in the state. We were thrilled that over twenty leaders took a whole day out of their weekend to make this high-level conversation possible.”

The summit was organized into four sessions. In the first, several high school teachers presented on dynamic courses at their schools. Notably, the town of Manchester has a graduation requirement of a human rights educational experience. Curriculum of Hope for a Peaceful World addressed opportunities and resources for elementary and middle schools.

In the second session, professors from the UConn Human Rights Institute, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, and Manchester Community College discussed curricular offerings, service and international immersion experiences, and internships.

Next up were the perspectives of nonprofit advocacy and service organizations. The American Association of University Women, Lawyers Without Borders, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, and the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors gave perspectives on the pressing rights issues that they work on and addressed the support that they could use from universities and K-12 institutions. Matt Farley from Campus Compact described how the organization’s mission of promoting civic engagement and improving democracy overlaps significantly with CHRP’s mission. By helping colleges and universities do their work better, Campus Compact can be a partner in spreading awareness of, and effective action for, human rights among college students.

The day concluded with an open brainstorming session chaired by Prof. Glenn Mitoma, director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at UConn. The participants examined how to engage new allies in human rights work, how to help people avoid discouragement, and how to help students think critically. They explored the need for connecting residents of different ages and diverse backgrounds. Finally, they recommitted to the future of CHRP and planned how it could spread the news about what each of its member organizations are doing and help them collaborate on specific projects, including a conference.

Stiltner reflected, “Everyone involved felt the summit was a great success. CHRP members now feel more aware of how they can connect with each other. For instance, a high school teacher of human rights can draw upon the expertise of a local university. A university with a human rights program is aware of the needs of nonprofits that their students can assist.”

Any organization or educator interested in human rights is welcome to get involved in the Connecticut Human Rights Partnership by contacting one of  the co-chairs, Stuart Abrams (sabrams {at} avon.k12.ct(.)us) or Shyamala Raman (shyamram1946 {at} gmail(.)com).

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