The inaugural student-run Human Rights Symposium is wrapping up today. The Symposium offered five days filled with seminars and other discussion-oriented events to engage members of the UConn community and the public in dialogue about global and local human rights. Each day had a specific focus and the topics included racial equity and Black Lives Matter, genocide awareness, immigration and refugee rights, indigenous rights and decolonization and gender and sexuality-based rights. The event set a precedent for the university to remain committed to investing in and providing resources for human rights educational events that are crucial to creating a more just society.
“I think that it goes without saying that the events of the summer of 2020 placed human rights at the forefront in many facets of our society, and there came a point where it seemed imperative for students and the broader community to have a structured, designated space within which to address what we were seeing and utilize our collective resources to consider how we could progress together,” Irene Soteriou, the founder and president of UConn’s Human Rights Symposium, said.
Soteriou and her team, which consisted of a group of undergraduate, graduate and law students, worked tirelessly for an entire year to plan the event. She said that a lot of work went on behind the scenes in the weeks and months leading up to the event and they were in contact with many student groups and UConn professors to gain insight and advice about structuring the organization.
“The beautiful thing about an event as large as the UConn Human Rights Symposium, though, is that it inherently relies on collaboration,” Soteriou said. “So, everything you see is a product of so many people working behind the scenes.”
Two overarching themes for the week were intergenerational dialogue and the importance of collaboration. The events offered free legal advice, interactive workshops, town-hall-style conversations and panels to encourage people to get involved in whatever arena they felt most comfortable in.
“By emphasizing the need for intergenerational dialogue and creating events that place students in the same space as leading researchers, faculty, artists, grassroots organizers and community leaders, we make resources and knowledge more universally accessible and encourage students to take a more active role in developing sustainable and community-grounded solutions to our most pressing challenges,” Soteriou said.
A few notable speakers from the week included Columbia Journalism School professor Jelani Cobb, Amnesty International migrant rights researcher and refugee Denise Bell and Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz. These speakers combined their expertise in their fields along with alumni and other individuals to offer a comprehensive array of events. By creating a united front in the quest for human rights in all facets of society, the Symposium emphasized the importance of giving back to the community and recognizing the responsibility that comes with the history of the university.
“I find it important to recognize that we are both a land grant and flagship university. As such, we bear a unique responsibility both to our students but also to the residents of the Nutmeg state more broadly to invest the resources that we are given back into our community,” Soteriou said. “Events like these are therefore incredibly important because they remind us that we are one and the same, and that we can achieve so much more as a united front.”
Although it was only its first year, the UConn Human Rights Symposium has already proven to be a worthwhile organization and promising educational tool for many years to come. The week was marked by a dedication to dialogue, information sharing and progress within the realm of human rights at the local, state, national and global levels.
“Our hope is that this Symposium serves as an invitation for all those watching in the audience to listen, learn, and act; to draw from the plethora of resources available throughout the week, engage more deeply in these difficult discussions, and then seek out opportunities to be the person that drives the change you want to see in the world,” Soteriou said.
Soteriou offered the following advice to anyone interested in taking part in the mission of the UConn Human Rights Symposium: “For those who ask how they can live out the mission of the UConn Human Rights Symposium, I would answer as follows: remember that what you choose to do with the resources available to you matters. Pursue knowledge, get involved on campus and in your local community, and never stop chasing the conversations that matter.”