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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Graduate Minor Spotlight: Damir Utrzan

Damir Utrzan, PhD student in Family Social Sciences and a student of the human rights minor, was recently awarded two human-rights-related fellowships for the upcoming year. During the summer, Damir will be working under a Human Rights Fellowship through the Human Rights Fellowship Program at the University of Minnesota Law School, and in the upcoming school year he will work on his dissertation with the support of the Minority Fellowship Program through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Both fellowships will support him in building links to and support for minority communities in the Upper Midwest through his interdisciplinary efforts in providing counseling services to those who have faced serious human rights violations.
Originally from Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Damir and his family immigrated first to Germany following the Bosnian War and then to the United States. After completing undergraduate work in philosophy and human development, Damir began his Master's in marriage and family therapy at Northwestern University. Through his education, he became involved in human rights efforts through a practicum internship at the Mental Health Rights Clinic and Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago, which both work to end torture worldwide through advocacy, education, and training.

More specifically, his specialization in family social sciences has allowed him to research and develop an understanding of the crossroads between clinical work and human rights. His primary focus is on the ways in which interpersonal relationships play a role in both the mental health issues that may arise and the coping and recovering mechanisms necessary following human rights violations. With the classes and opportunities he has developed through his minor in human rights, Damir has been able to extend his studies further into how such relationships and mental health are affected by political and social processes, such as through efforts to receive asylum in the United States.

Through his Human Rights Fellowship, Damir will be able to develop both hands-on and academic skills in the field of human rights. He will continue his clinical work at the Center for Victims of Torture by providing psychological services, testing, and assessments to a wide range of victims of human rights violations--especially social, cultural, and economic minorities. He will also assist clients with their asylum claims through providing expert testimony and attending interviews and judicial hearings. He will also be working on two journal articles this summer incorporating experience, research, and empirical studies on various aspects of human rights work and clinical treatment related to refugees and asylum seekers.

For the greater 2015-2016 school year, Damir will be able bring into his academic studies his work with minorities' rights and counseling, thanks to the support of the Minority Fellowship through the American Association. Through the Fellowship's mission to not only prepare Marriage and Family therapists with skills to become culturally competent but also provide access and opportunities to such support to underserved groups and individuals, Damir will be able to apply his experiences and knowledge to his dissertation work, providing a platform for increased awareness and a voice to minorities facing issues related to and stress on mental health. We look forward to his contributions to both disciplines and commend him on his achievements.

The Human Rights Fellowship Program aims to foster links between communities in the Upper Midwest and human rights or social justice organizations around the world. Through these partnerships, fellows return with a stronger commitment to a lifetime of work related to human rights and social justice and contribute to communities in the Upper Midwest by sharing different experiences and raising awareness and support for human rights issues.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is a professional association for the field of marriage and family therapy. Representing more than 50,000 therapists in North America and around the world, it supports students with its Minority Fellowship Program to develop the skills, expertise, and understandings necessary to help assist minorities--both ethnic and underserved. For more information, click here.