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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Undergraduates, Graduates/Professionals Lauded for their Achievements at the 6th Annual Human Rights Awards

With tremendous fanfare, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) hosted on April 22nd their 6th annual Human Rights Awards ceremony. It was a time of celebration and festivity as the spotlight was turned to the students and their exceptional achievements in studying and promoting human rights. 

“I’ve been at many universities in my career, explained Professor James Ron, “but this is the only one with a complete human rights orientation.” A human rights scholar at the Humphrey School, Professor Ron took the opportunity as the keynote speaker to highlight the development of human rights research and scholarship and its position at the university. As his remarks spanned his early work as a researcher at Human Rights Watch to his academic research now, Ron emphasized the growing presence and standardization of human rights in the world and the leading role that the University of Minnesota continues to play. His opening remarks set the scene for the rest of the program as a platform to recognize the recent and upcoming work of students in human rights.

CHGS announced its 2016-2017 Bernard and Fern Badzin Fellow: Miray Philips. Awarded to a PhD student in the College of Liberal Arts, the fellowship aims to support students whose doctoral dissertation project centers around Holocaust and/or genocide studies. A PhD student in sociology, Miray’s research is grounded in theories of collective memory and cultural trauma and focuses on the ways in which Copts in Egypt interpret their history of suffering and martyrdom in light of present-day suffering.

The Human Rights Program, too, announced its Scribe for Human Rights for the 2016-2017 school year: Roy Guzm├ín. Roy is a Master of Fine Arts candidate, and he will use his position over the summer and into the fall to write about the plight of migrant farm workers and the unjust conditions they endure in the workplace. He will partner with the Centro Campesino in Owatonna, Minnesota and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida to conduct research on migrants’ access to resources and adequate housing, as well as their efforts in protesting for fairer wages. At the end of this project, he will share testimonials and poetry inspired by the workers as a way to facilitate greater discussion around these human rights issues.

The ceremony recognized the incoming research fellows for the local non-profit, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers: Amy Hill Cosimini, Claire Hepworth, Mariia Prokhorova, Damir Utrzan, and Brian Wilson. Children of Incarcerated Caregivers conducts research on the detrimental, often-overlooked role that the criminal justice system can play on children, advocating for alternative sentencing options for children’s primary caregivers to promote better development for the children. The new fellows will join a team of dedicated lawyers, scholars, and activists this summer to continue the organization’s goals.

The Program also took the chance to announce the undergraduate and graduate students who will receive funding for a summer human-rights-related internship: Gabrielle Clowdus, Kayla Goldfarb, Sara Osman, Marine Phelps, and Trish Palermo. From their positions at the local Advocates for Human Rights to their assistance at World Housing in Vancouver, British Columbia, students are being proactive in gaining hands-on experience in promoting human rights, and the Human Rights Program is proud to support their amazing efforts. 

The luncheon also highlighted the accomplishments of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board. The Advisory Board was involved in many events and campaigns this past year. It recognized International Human Rights Day in December with a booth-style fair by asking participants what human rights means to them as a way to bringing greater awareness to the many advancements made and issues facing the global human rights movement. It also organized a performing arts event to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th, and it took part in Earth Day, too. Recognized members include Mariah Berner, Laura Dahl, Raisa Elhadi, Libby Herrmann, Rachel Kosse, Amanda Kruger, Catherine Larsen, Rebecca Lieser, Abigail Meyer, Daniel Sbriglio, and Kayla Song.

Of course, the celebration could not come to a close without announcing the annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award winners. Given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet-era Jewish refusenik repeatedly denied a visa for cancer treatment in the US, and Lisa Paul, a University of Minnesota alumna who fought on her behalf, the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award recognizes an undergraduate student who represents a true commitment to human rights. Anant Naik, the 2016 awardee, truly embodies this spirit. Through his work in Engineers Without Borders, Anant led initiatives to maximize the right to clean water in rural Bolivia through a service-based trip last year; he plans to continue to fight for human rights as he seeks a career in the medical field.

The Sullivan Ballou Award, named after Major Sullivan Ballou of the US Civil War, celebrates those who act from the heart—those who provide compassion, services, and advocacy in their communities through their actions, words, or presence. The 2016 awardee, Ricardo Bennett Guzman, has dedicated himself to human rights through his career as a photographer, filmmaker, and digital media artist. He has organized and created, for example, short films and galleries that bring to life the stories and struggles of migrants to the United States, torture victims during the War on Terror, and Palestinian of war-torn Gaza.

The terrific student workers we have had for the past two-and-a-half years at the Human Rights Program, Cameron Mailhot and Marie-Christine Ghreichi, were also recognized at the celebration.  We have benefited from their stellar work on the newsletter, supporting conferences and special events and providing research for the Program’s many projects.  We wish them great success in their next adventures – Cameron, as a PhD student in Political Science at Cornell University, and Marie-Christine as a Sullivan scholar studying in Lebanon.  Onward!

We commend all the students who have been recognized for their work in promoting, studying, and protecting human rights on campus, in the local community, and abroad. We look forward to their successes and contributions in the future.