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Human Rights Program
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Human Rights Program

News

  • Human Rights Scribe Describes His Work with Writing in Prison

    Mike Alberti, the Human Rights Scribe for 2015, has written the following piece to the Human Rights Program describing his time over the past few months working with individuals writing in prison:

    "Each week for the last two months, I’ve had the pleasure to teach creative writing to fourteen men incarcerated at Faribault State Correctional Facility, a medium security prison about an hour south of the Twin Cities. As with the other classes I’ve taught in prison, it’s been an incredible experience to work with a group of writers who are so committed to their work and so eager to learn and discuss elements of craft.

    This class was a little different from the ones I’ve taught in the past, primarily because it was focused on more experienced writers, several of whom have many years of writing experience. While I continued to choose our readings and give personalized feedback on student work, the fact that several of the students have been writing for a long time has changed the classroom dynamic somewhat, in that I felt more comfortable ceding some of the responsibility for facilitating the class to the students themselves. One of the best parts of this experience was watching them supporting one another, praising and critiquing each others’ work. I was constantly learning from them, as well: every classroom discussion of a story or essay or poem brought to light something that I had never noticed or appreciated before.

    The dialogue between students was especially fruitful because this class did not focus on one particular genre, but touched on elements of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Some students worked entirely in a single genre, but many branched out and tried something new. One student, who focuses primarily on song-writing and slam poetry, wrote and revised a beautiful short story; another student, who is working on a memoir, turned his attention to poetry for a few weeks before combining elements of both genres in a moving and thoughtful lyric essay. The students said that this “cross-pollination,” as they put it, gave them a greater appreciation for work in other genres and added some zest to the conversation.

    Last week, on the last day of class, each writer stood in front of the room and read aloud from a polished piece that he had been working on. It was a powerful experience to listen to them present writing that they had labored over and of which they felt proud.

    Many people in our country, including President Obama, are beginning to pay more attention to issues of mass incarceration and to point out that the way we treat people who are incarcerated is often profoundly dehumanizing. I’ve never been more convinced about the value of working in prison and attempting to counteract their dehumanizing influence through artistic self-expression. After the final class at Faribault, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. Many of them thanked me for coming into the prison to teach. I thanked them, as well, because I’m sure I learned as much as any of the students did and because the experience of teaching in prison is humanizing for me, too.

    I’m very grateful to the Human Rights Program for providing the support that made these classes possible. Now that I’ve finished with the teaching portion of my fellowship, I will turn my attention to writing. I’m happy to have another month before classes begin to work on an essay about my experiences and the importance of arts education in prison more generally. I will also be helping to organize a public reading of student work, which will take place at the end of October."


    We thank Mike for his contributions and efforts in raising awareness of the value of self-expression for individuals in prison, and we look forward to his article-to-come and the public reading!
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  • Director Barbara Frey Speaks to Prospective CLA Students

    As a part of the Sneak Preview program for prospective 2016 freshmen, Human-Rights-Program-Director Barbara Frey presented a seminar engaging students interested in the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts with and introduce them to the study and field of human rights. 

    In a day of campus activities, information sessions, and tours, a group of high school juniors and seniors were able to take a moment and listen to Director Barbara Frey speak on the opportunities on campus and within the community surrounding human rights--as well as its contemporary history. In her seminar, Frey was able to touch on the various opportunities on campus and around the community for students to be involved in the human right discipline: in the Global Studies major, in the Human Rights Program, and in various human rights organizations around the Twin Cities. To provide context to the work being done in human rights, she continued with an outline of the various mechanisms and characteristics of human rights in international law and politics, engaging students with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights booklet, the development of the relationship of human rights between and among state and non-state actors, and the characteristics of classifying "human" rights. To close, the seminar was opened up for discussion, allowing for interested students to connect with others and have any specific questions regarding the program or study and promotion of human rights answered.
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  • Former Student Advisory Board Member Awarded Fulbright Scholarship


    Beginning this summer, Erik Katovich, a former member of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, will begin his work as a Fulbright Scholar in São Paulo, Brazil. Having graduated this past year from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in economics and minors in mathematics, Spanish, and history, Erik plans to continue to his work in the field of economics, with a focus on development, as both a student and a researcher. 



    As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Erik studied abroad early and extensively. Following his return from his second trip abroad in Spain, he became interested in studying the neighboring language of Portuguese. Do in part to his love for travel and learning languages--combined with his fields of study--Erik was able to develop a deep interest in the rich and complex literature, culture, and history of Brazil. Consequently, Erik became greatly interested in the enormous economic, political, and environmental challenges the country faces as its development enters the 21st Century.

    From his understanding of the field of economics, there are many questions and issues to be raised regarding the balancing of development, growth, and consumption with equality and human rights. On a more practical level, Erik further developed his interest in promoting and studying human rights from his internship experiences working with ESL learners and asylum-seekers and his time living abroad. As such, he has become actively involved in the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, serving the program for multiple years. Just this past year he was able to apply his desire in raising awareness of human rights issues and constructing workable solutions to its related issues by taking part in efforts to raise awareness for International Human Rights Day in December and in a clothes drive project for recognition of International Women's Day in March. 
      
    As a way to combine his interest in Brazil and in continuing his travels abroad with an application of his studies, Erik successfully applied for a scholarship through the US federal government's Fulbright Program to take part in a larger ongoing project hosted at the State University of Campinas in Brazil that focuses on comparing the development of labor markets in Brazil and the United States over the past few decades. For his part of the project, Erik will work with household survey and census data to measure the relationship between educational attainment and funding and uneven growth in productivity in various occupations, subsequently leading to changing forms of inequality throughout the economy. With a major policy goal in Brazil of addressing the right to an access to education, this work is inherently pertinent to the field of human rights. The results may demonstrate to policymakers the importance of funding education, or it may reveal the ways in which education policies drive inequality. Nevertheless, it should raise awareness for ways in which lawmakers can refine investment and efforts to better address and reduce inequalities in the country. The project's efforts will be an important contribution to Brazil's national debate over how to navigate the effects of the world economy and development on its citizens’ education and living standards. 

    Through the program, Erik hopes to further hone his approaches to economic research and to further understand the role of the economy--both in Brazil and worldwide--in the field of human rights. As a Fulbright Scholar, he hopes to build connections and communication with activists and students and to deepen his knowledge of other countries, cultures, and languages.

    Following his Scholarship, Erik aims to pursue graduate school for a PhD in applied economics or a related field with the help of his various experiences and interests. We commend Erik on his achievements and contributions, and we look forward to seeing his contributions to the field of human rights and beyond. 

    To learn more about the Fulbright Program, click here



    (Continue Reading)

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Human Rights Beat

  • Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

    The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago's west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Continue reading on The Guardian's website.

    March 6th, 2015
  • Amnesty International requests letter signing for Syrian asylum seekers pressured to return

    Reports in the media show that staff at the Manus Island, Papua New Guinea detention centre, run by the Australian Government, are pressuring Syrian asylum seekers to return to Syria where they will be in extreme danger. Read more on the Amnesty International website.

    June 10th, 2014
  • The ICRC releases video on Colombian human rights situation

    It's a crucial time for Colombia with presidential elections slated for this Sunday and ongoing peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas continuing in Havana, Cuba. In a new Intercross video, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Bogotá, Jordi Raich, says Colombia is at a crossroads -- poised on the verge of economic growth, shrinking poverty, and the potential to put an end to half a century of war. Watch the video on the Intercross website.

    May 28th, 2014
  • US: A Nation Behind Bars

    Far too many US laws violate basic principles of justice by requiring disproportionately severe punishment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 36-page report, "Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution," notes that laws requiring penalties that are far longer than necessary to meet the purposes of punishment have given the United States the world's highest reported rate of incarceration. These laws have spawned widespread and well-founded public doubts about the fairness of the US criminal justice system. Continue reading on the Human Rights Watch website.

    May 7th, 2014