Human rights issues in countries like Darfur and Haiti have captured the attention of many UC Davis students. Soon they may be able to apply that interest inside of the classroom.
In response to rising student demand, the university is currently considering introducing a human rights minor by fall 2011. It would be only one of two such programs in the UC system, the other at UC San Diego.
The interdisciplinary minor would be part of the religious studies department in conjunction with the history, and the Latin American and hemispheric studies program. Students would take classes from a variety of departments within the College of Letters and Sciences, said religious studies professor Keith Watenpaugh.
“Our goal is that students take away from the minor a greater understanding of the role of human rights – and the struggle for human rights – across a wide spectrum of human activity, both past a present,” he said. “We also want them to be able to recognize when human rights are being violated and acquire the intellectual tools and know-how to address human rights problems.”
Watenpaugh, who has been instrumental in getting the program off the ground, created a Facebook group for the proposed minor last week. The group quickly accumulated over 50 members in the first 24 hours.
“I think a human rights minor would be of particular relevance to anyone who is thinking about a career in law or any type of advocacy or public policy,” said Rachel Goldstein, a senior international relations major. “I know a lot of people within my major alone that would be extremely interested in this minor.”
The proposed minor currently includes approximately 37 elective courses that students could choose from. Among those is a summer abroad course “Revolution, Dictatorship, Democracy: Chile 1970-present,” taught by Spanish professor Michael Lazzara.
During the course, students have the opportunity to talk directly with politicians, artists and human rights activists about various struggles throughout the country’s history.
“I think UC Davis students are keenly aware of their rights and of the gravity of human rights violations both in our own communities and around the world,” Lazzara said. “I want to motivate students to make a difference and combine scholarship with activism, to not see these as mutually exclusive arenas.”
When asked about their response to the proposed minor, many students were supportive of it, although others expressed concern over whether the university could currently afford to add new programs. However, this will not be an issue, Watenpaugh said.
“One of the key points of this minor is that it draws on existing courses,” he said. “All the courses in the minor are already being offered, so there is no additional cost.”
Both professors agreed that a humans rights minor is especially relevant in light of the recent protests occurring on UC campuses.
“The right to education is one of the most basic human rights,” Lazzara said. “Consequently, when our public universities come under threat, it is up to all of us to speak up for what is right.”
ERICA LEE can be reached at email@example.com.