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  • Student Opinion: We Knew

    Thousands of people including leaders from all five campuses and 42 states urged the University of Minnesota to fire head football coach Tracy Claeys. 

    We asked the University to Fire Claeys in part because from the moment women entered the world, we were taught to feel guilty. We were told to cross our legs, to smile more, to speak softly, and to limit our opinions. We were warned what men will do to us if we put ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of. We were told to be smart is to live in fear.

    We came to college and the words, “1 in 4”, were echoed by our loved ones as they sent us off, given as warning during our freshman orientations, and plastered all over social media. One in four refers to the percentage of undergraduate University of Minnesota women who report being victims of sexual assault.

    Trying not to be among the 25%, we watched our cups at parties. We kept an eye on friends to make sure nobody took advantage. We put headphones in our ears, stared at the wall, and pretended we didn’t exist while alone on public transportation. We walked with pepper spray in hand, on constant alert, because we knew what might be shouted at us when we walk alone at night. We learned that the sound of elevated footsteps behind us is always accompanied with heightened fear.

    We knew 97% of rapists walk free, victim survivors are heavily criticized, and that often women and LGBTQ+ folk are viewed as prey before viewed as human.

    At college we fought hard for policies that support sexual assault survivors and educating about what it means to obtain consent. We faced every institutional barrier, but we kept fighting. The University of Minnesota heard us when we said, “1 in 4 is too high. We are doing something wrong.” We were proud when our school agreed to implement a policy that addresses hard conversations about rape culture. University policy finally insisted, “Just make sure I want to have sex with you.”

    Then we read the horrifying EEOA report on an incident involving repeated assault by a football team recruit up to 10 football team members. We read how man after man went into that room, as others watched and filmed as she pleaded for it to stop.

    We watched the Gophers we cheered for on chilly Saturdays stand in front of national television, “in solidarity with their brothers in an effort to make a better world”. We watched the team we supported with so much pride insist their participation in a football game would be of higher value to the university than our conduct code and our values.

    We watched Coach Claeys respond to the outcry of our campus in that he, “had never been more proud of his boys”. While due process is important, we heard nothing from him during the boycott about respecting women.

    We wondered why this man has to be the role model for young men at our University.

    We tried to explain that his apology doesn’t matter. We tried to tell our campus, state, and country that no football game is more important than the fact that 1 in 4 women are assaulted on college campuses. We tried to explain his tweet was tone deaf. He didn’t recognize this isn't about football anymore, but a battle we’ve been fighting for years. We tried to explain that after years of hard work, we are heading in the wrong direction, and the entire country is watching.

    We thank the University for their decision to fire Claeys, as one step toward fighting rape culture. To all the victim survivors, to all those who aren’t believed, to all who are dehumanized and objectified, to all those who are accused of “wanting it”, I am so sorry. This is a step forward, but we have a long way to go. The fight has just begun to reclaim the climate of our campus in the name of the security, safety, dignity, and respect for women and for all students.

    -Written by Trish Palermo
    (Continue Reading)January 20th, 2017
  • Los Ofendidos: Shedding Light on Human Rights Injustices in El Salvador

    This past fall, University of Minnesota Graduate student Paula Cuellar, presented a screening of “Los Ofendidos”, a film that covered topics of armed conflict and human rights abuses during the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with torture survivor Neris Gonzalez, who provided her own personal testimonies and recollections of the war.

    Though the military occupation of El Salvador ended in 1992, the fight for social justice is far from over. Los Ofendidos explained that the injustices suffered throughout this war were due to institutionalized violence coming from the rightist government. Many citizens who were considered leftists or a “threat to the government” were seized, held captive, and tortured by the Salvadoran National Guard.

    In essence, the Salvadoran civil war was a government-led attack against its own people. When the war ended, Guerilla forces met with the government and reached a peace deal. This deal ended the conflict and granted amnesty to perpetrators of violence on both sides. While this was central to ending the violence, it conveniently left voiceless the victims of these human rights injustices.

    Even today, the rhetoric of the government is focused on indirectly telling victims of this war to move past their trauma, Neris says. War survivors still living are told by their government that El Salvador has too many problems today to focus on events from 20 years ago. While it is true that El Salvador has problems even today, the dismissal of the crimes committed against innocent people has only furthered the violence. Military groups that were prevalent during the civil conflict have evolved into the gangs which continue to terrorize civilians and coerce the government into bending at their will.

    While the violence was contained to El Salvador, the war was an international affair. The government-led hate groups perpetrating this violence, mainly La Hacienda, or the Office of Financial Affairs, kept tabs on civilians thought to be “subversives”. To be a subversive meant to be committing acts against the government, which could include mobilizing other civilians in protest, teaching others how to read and count, and being a doctor injured people without making them compensate you. For teaching her neighbors how to read and count, Neris was held captive by the National Guard and tortured for two weeks before eventually being released. She has since devoted her life to seeking justice for the horrors committed against her and other victims of armed conflict.

    Fortunately, with mobilization and pressure from people like Neris, changes are being made. Two months ago, the 1992 Salvadoran amnesty act that protected and absolved war criminals and government leaders central to human rights injustices committed during the war was finally declared unconstitutional. This action is a huge step forward in the fight for justice. Bringing these injustices to light today creates a dialogue focused around the victims of torture, and finally gives the affected people the voice that was stolen from them.

    On April 4th, 2016, Neris was one of four plaintiffs that brought the two main leaders of violence, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and José Guillermo Garcia, to justice. The generals were hiding out in the United States, and Neris and the other plaintiffs successfully got them deported to El Salvador where they will finally be brought to justice for perpetrating the violation of human rights. We are grateful to Neris for her visit to the University of Minnesota and to Paula for her continuing efforts in shedding light on these human rights violations in El Salvador.

    To learn more about Paula and the incredible work she is doing to help shed light on these injustices, please read this December 2016 article published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

    ~Written by Selma Demirovich
    (Continue Reading)January 13th, 2017
  • Student Opinion: Being Muslim At Minnesota

    This historic election cycle has brought about tremendous changes in America’s social climate. For many, it has been easy to ignore the hate and fear that has developed out of the reactions to the presidential campaign, but for refugees, people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community, ignoring the problem is not an option. Hateful messages from the president elect’s campaign and the subsequent responses of his followers has instilled fear into the hearts of many members of marginalized communities, not only throughout the country but also on campus at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, several events targeting Muslim students and students of color have occurred on campus. A few members of the Muslim community on campus shared their thoughts on current campus climate.

    When prompted with the question, “how has the presidential campaign affected your life on and off campus?” Al-Madinah Cultural Center President ZamZam Yusuf responded saying “The day of the election my mom was telling me to watch out, say my prayers, don’t talk to anybody, and don’t tell anybody what you believe. But my mom doesn’t understand that I have no choice by the clothes I’m wearing and what I look like”. Many Muslim students share similar sentiment on campus, after several Islamaphobic events related to the presidential campaign surfaced on campus this semester. In November, an unidentified vandal painted the word “ISIS” over the Muslim Student Association’s panel on the Washington Ave Bridge. Events like this have created unease among many students belonging to various identities; refugee, Muslim, black, and LGBT, to name a few. Minority students on campus are not represented adequately within the University’s faculty and staff, and the University does not exceed or even meet expectations for protecting the diverse students it so claims to treasure.

    When asked his opinion on how he thinks President Kaler and the university administration could do better in addressing acts of hate towards minority groups on campus, Carlson student and Al-Madinah Cultural Center Historian Khalid Hammami answered with “I go to a Diversity Forum for Muslim Student Association every 2 weeks, and they sent a representative [from Office for Equity and Diversity] which I think is a good first step, but I want them to show their involvement, and I want them specifically to come and listen in and either set up a meeting themselves [which I think is their duty to do so]; set up a meeting to say “hey students, we want to hear your input” and I know Kaler is a busy guy but we have some pressing issues”.

    On the topic of making campus more inclusive, CLA student Shahd Abukhdeir made a excellent suggestion: “I think that they need to have workshops, honestly, to work with students of color or for people to teach students of color. I’ve been to panel discussions for incoming teachers with a panel of students of color where the teachers just asked us questions and all of us addressed the situation, and we also said that if there’s something going on in the Middle Eastern community for example, like don’t look to me to be an advocate for my entire community, because I can only speak for myself. But at the same time, don’t be scared to ask us questions. Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you can’t be taught something”.

    Promoting an atmosphere of more speech, like Kaler suggested, is exactly what this university needs: more speech centering minority students to educate everyone for the benefit of our campus as a whole.

    ~Written by Selma Demirovich, with contributions by ZamZam Yusuf, Khalid Hammami, and Shahd Abukhdeir.

    (Continue Reading)January 13th, 2017

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Upcoming Events

External Human Rights Events

  • Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop Public Reading Organized by Human Rights Scribe

    On Saturday, October 24th, the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) will hold a reading at Hamline University. The reading, organized by MFA candidate Mike Alberti as part of the Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship, will feature the work of several writers currently incarcerated in Minnesota state correctional facilities. MPWW instructors will read pieces of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction on behalf of their students, and two formerly incarcerated alumni of MPWW classes will read their own work aloud for the first time. 

    This is a free reading, open to the public, so please come and invite a friend. A short Q&A and informal discussion will follow. Plus, there will be snacks! It’s sure to be a very powerful evening. We hope you can make it!

    Where:  Hamline University,
                  Klas Center, Kay Fredericks Room
                 1537 Taylor Avenue
                 St. Paul, MN 55104

    When:  Saturday, October 24th, 2015, 7:00 PM

    To learn more about MPWW and their work, please visit
    (Continue Reading)October 19th, 2015

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