Taking notice of human struggle

Human Rights Week to shed light on global and national issues

Story by Rachel Streich, staff writer

Conflict in Syria displaces millions of people from their homes 6,072 miles from Eau Claire. North Korea’s government denies citizens basic freedoms in their country 6,120 miles away.

Just because these issues take place so far away does not mean UW-Eau Claire students shouldn’t be concerned about them, Kristine Rivall, co-chair of the Human Trafficking Abolitionists, said.

To increase awareness of violations of human rights on campus, several student organizations are hosting the third annual Human Rights Week March 31-April 3. The Human Trafficking Abolitionists, Amnesty International and International Justice Mission have helped put together workshops and sessions addressing current issues from modern day slavery to suppression in North Korea.

“I think that ignorance is very harmful,” Nikki Hanto, sophomore member the Human Trafficking Abolitionists, said. “If people don’t know about an issue, they can’t do anything to stop it.”

Along with the goal of informing students, the events emphasize taking action, Rivall said.

A fundraiser to help Syrian refugees is the hub of the week. Students can stop by a table in Davies Center Monday through Thursday and in Hibbard Friday to purchase items with 60 percent of the donations going to Mercy-USA, a charity providing aid to families and children in Syria. The rest of the money will go to funding for the next year’s events.

Items from Made by Survivors, an organization that employs survivors of human rights abuse sustainably, will be for sale as well as fair trade chocolate, cacti, t-shirts and buttons.

This new fair trade marketplace is part of an effort to allow more students to participate in the week’s events.

Because attendance has not always been high in the previous years, the week’s organizers have been reaching out to students with more advertising initiatives such as whiteboard messages and posters. They also arranged to have slideshows of facts and statistics about human rights issues in Davies Center throughout the week.

So far more than 200 people have clicked “like” on the event’s Facebook page. Students visiting the university’s homepage can see the icon for Human Rights Week at the bottom of the screen as well.

Rivall said she hopes the events draw in a bigger demographic this year.

“It’s for everybody,” she said. “It’s not some closed group for just people who only care about human rights.”

Not only do different groups of students have the chance to learn more about human rights subjects, but leaders of the workshops can also gain new knowledge.

Brie Sweeney, a sophomore and facilitator of the workshop titled Porn Realities, said she has been able to gain a fuller understanding of the topic of pornography in society as it correlates with violence against women and human trafficking.

She said the other workshops cover a variety of subjects, but they all tie together, shedding light on problems everyone can work to fight against.

Emerson Freybler, a freshman history education major, said he is excited for people to become aware of issues he is passionate about.

“In our culture it becomes really easy to live comfortably, and forcing yourself to learn about these things is really a way of growing as a person,” he said.

As the events continue throughout the week, Freybler said there are only so many problems people can wrap their heads around at a time, but there is always more to learn.