Campus needs a human rights center

It is clear that globally, and even here on campus, human rights can be forgotten or disrespected. It has been three weeks since a highly publicized incident involving our student body president, and USC has still not responded to the concerns of students. Indeed, the Daily Trojan reported on Oct. 1 that in the three weeks following that occurrence, “Student Affairs has received more reports of bias incidents from students this semester than it did for all of the previous academic year.” It is evident that USC students direly need an open and permanent forum to discuss diversity, social justice, human rights and their significance. However, USC is still weighing options to respond to recent spotlight on students’ experiences of discrimination. In light of that, USC should establish a human rights center.

Founding a human rights center on campus would show that the Trojan Family has respect for the concerns and interests of all students. In doing so, USC will also demonstrate the commitment of the University and its alumni in the growing field of human rights studies. Establishing a human rights center that serves the needs of students is an expedient way to raise interdisciplinary awareness and interest about human rights.

The human rights center’s activities and direction should be student-driven with faculty input, and its focus should be on issues relevant to the student body as a whole. It should also cover individual hot topics as they surface. The student-driven activities should be broad enough to appeal to the interests of students across all majors, not only those from a liberal arts background. It should provide a speaker series that aims to expose students to the field of human rights studies and educate students about basic human rights. It should also provide funding for student internships with international human rights NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee and Anti-Slavery International that would normally be cost-prohibitive. It should ultimately aim to expose students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study to the fundamental field of international human rights and help them understand how human rights will interact with their career of choice.

USC has an international student population that constitutes more than 20 percent of the student body and numbers nearly 10,000 students as of Fall 2014. Many of these students will return home upon graduation as educated and inspirational leaders in their communities. USC should ensure that its international students go home not only with a first-rate education, but also with deep knowledge of and respect for human rights in an ever-globalizing world.

Additionally, USC is in a unique position due to its large international student population: There is opportunity for truly international dialogue about global issues and solutions here on campus. The only thing lacking, it seems, is a venue. A human rights center would provide that. Though it is true that USC hosts several institutes that deal with human rights, including the Shoah Foundation and the Levan Institute, these very targeted organizations do not coordinate as well as they could to address human rights concerns as a whole.

“A human rights center would serve as an umbrella organization for student-led activist groups and University institutes,” said political science professor Alison Renteln. “It would be a natural partner with the USC institutes that deal with genocide and ethics, but it would also encompass LGBTQ issues, food and water rights, the right to self-expression and other critical human rights. In essence, it would create bridges across campus and bring students and faculty together to face and discuss broad issues in the fields of human rights and social justice.”

In this way, a human rights center at USC would not be redundant, but in fact instrumental to ensuring that human rights and social justice issues are being discussed and addressed across all of the schools and various fields of study.

In fact, USC is lagging behind other premier universities when it comes to hosting institutions that advance human rights. The University of California at Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science has a Human Rights Program very similar to the one outlined above. Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government hosts the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, which has an extensive speaker series and funding for fellowships. Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law offers fellowships for NGOs and a speaker series designed to advance awareness of human rights. Even our rival schools, UCLA and Notre Dame, both have centers for human rights, the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, respectively.

It is evident that the most prestigious schools USC competes with have made the decision to host human rights centers that are committed to celebrating diversity, creating awareness of human rights and encouraging student involvement. There is good reason for USC to do the same. Having a human rights center makes USC a more attractive option for prospective students who want to become involved in advancing human rights. The issue of workers’ rights on campus, the pressure for a vice president of diversity and the increasing awareness of social justice on campus all underline the growing need for a forum to discuss these and other matters that USC students consider critical to their scholastic, professional and personal lives. If USC establishes a human rights center, then it will be making a decisive step towards making the University of Social Conscience a reality. To do otherwise would be an injustice to the students of USC.