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Forum Examines State of Human Rights

International Student Ambassadors Organize Event

Human rights forum
International student ambassador Marcela Linares introduces faculty panelists at the Human Rights Forum, part of the campus’ International Education Week program.

By Jill Gambon

The impact of social media, globalization and legislative enforcement shortcomings were some of the issues examined by faculty and students at a forum on human rights this week.

The forum, organized by the University’s new International Student Ambassadors as part of International Education Week,  was moderated by Prof.  John Wooding. Panelists for the event included:  Profs. Philip Moss and Robert Forrant, Asst.  Profs. Jenifer Whitten-Woodring and Aart Holtslag and adjunct faculty member Greg DeLaurier.

While global economies have become increasingly intertwined, a consequence is the growth of a “shadow economy,” or people working at the margins of society without legal protections or workplace rights, Forrant said.  That shift has left workers vulnerable to human rights abuses, he said.

Although the Internet and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been widely credited with helping to fuel democratic movements throughout the Middle East this year, the technology can also be used to restrict the flow of or censor information, panelists said. “Social media is not a magic bullet that will transform the sorry state of human rights around the world,” said DeLaurier.

In recent years, legislative efforts to fight Internet censorship in repressive regimes have fallen far short, Moss said. “It’s a sneeze in a hurricane,” he said.

One student asked the panelists what can be done to improve things in the face of such sobering conditions.  Making human rights abuses more costly to violators would bring change, Whitten-Woodring responded.  Organizing and mobilizing opposition are key to transforming conditions, she said. “Protest movements can challenge the status quo.”  

International Student Ambassadors

“It was insightful to hear the different views,” said Harshal Tarar, a junior mechanical engineering major.  A native of India, Tarar is an international student ambassador who was involved with organizing the event.  “That was a great experience,” he said. 

The student ambassador program was launched this semester by the International Student and Scholar Office. Fifteen students, most of them enrolled in graduate programs, have been tapped as ambassadors. They are responsible for organizing events and welcoming new international students to campus.  The forum was the group’s first campus-wide event.

 “They did a great job planning the human rights forum and reaching out to the faculty,” said Jason Rowe, international student services coordinator. “They are off to a strong start making connections on campus.”