Human rights

UI provides four senior citizens with human rights training

Four seniors from the University of Iowa Human Rights Certificate Program began their involvement in human rights advocacy and education through a supervised internship.

Four graduates from the University of Iowa found a purpose for human rights advocacy and activism in the university’s human rights certificate.

Through the certificate, Grace Wenstrom, Lauren Fuller, Kirsten Smith, and Levi Bowman participated in a guided internship at Scholars at Risk, a national organization that aims to protect international scholars and academic freedom.

Fuller, a political science student, said she and Wenstrom — a journalism and mass communication student — traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Rep. Ashley Hinson , R-Iowa and Rep. Cindy. Axne, D-Iowa, in April about a human rights case. Wenstrom said the team was assigned the case of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist detained for creating a Uyghur-Han cross-cultural website.

Each member of the team facilitated meetings with members of Congress. Wenstrom conducted a conversation with staffers in Ernst’s office.

“I would say they’ve been responsive. Much like everyone else, they were a little apprehensive, just in terms of [the] from a human rights angle, most staff wanted to go to, ‘OK, how does this affect us economically,’ and kind of a protectionist type angle,” Wenstrom said.

Through Scholars at Risk, the seniors worked alongside Clare Farne Robinson, Advocacy Director for Scholars at Risk.

“University of Iowa students are raising awareness of the persistent and deeply concerning global problem of wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of scholars and students,” Robinson said. “But, perhaps more importantly, the actions of the students remind the world that imprisoned scholars are not forgotten. They remind scholars and their families that the higher education community remembers them, values ​​them, and continues to support them.

Wenstrom said conversations with members of Congress taught him to be assertive.

Before coming to UI and taking the Practicing Human Rights Seminar: Supervised Practice, every member of the group had an interest in human rights and advocacy, Fuller said.

“We all sort of talked about our interest in human rights, advocacy and social justice awareness,” Fuller said.

Bowman, a scholar of global health studies, said he began his advocacy work after watching his father, an Iowa senator, pursue advocacy and activism.

“I just started working with the Iowa Democratic Caucus,” Bowman said. “And so, it sort of turned into an advocacy role.”

Smith, a communications student, entered college with the intention of studying women’s rights, but changed her mind when she found out about the certificate in human rights.

“Once I learned about human rights through the certificate, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Smith said. “And I’m actually going to do a graduate program in human rights in the fall.”

Wenstrom started noticing social inequalities at a young age and was worried. It was during her time at UI that she became involved in the legal side of human rights advocacy.

“I kind of carried that through my summers in college, that’s really when I started exploring whether I wanted to attack it from a legal standpoint or not. “, Wenstrom said. “So I did volunteer work and legal aid offices and stuff and I really started to develop my interest that way.”

The four seniors said that the human rights certificate teachers had helped to strengthen their dedication to human rights and advocacy.

“Just feeling a passion, while they’re giving talks, is sometimes intense,” Smith said. “It’s so inspiring and makes you want to be like them and learn what they know.”