Human rights fires the imaginations of peoples around the world struggling for greater political, social and cultural space even as the phrase escapes a one-fits-all definition, with activists constantly reinterpreting and reimagining what constitutes inalienable rights, who can claim them, and how they can best be framed and fought for. Both the study and practice of human rights are active areas of inquiry at Duke, uniquely positioned among leading universities to bridge the divide between “civil” rights, rooted in US law and the Constitution, and “human rights,” fed by the US experience but also drawing on international influences. Located in the American South and with a grounding in the lived experience of the American rights struggle, Duke can both provide the intellectual rigor to questions surrounding rights and also build partnerships with local, national and international practitioners.

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Under the leadership of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute (DHRC@FHI), partnering with the Duke Human Rights Archive, part of Perkins Library, and working in connection with the DHRC at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the new “Human Rights and Social Movements” concentration in History, the RightsConnect project explored how Duke can articulate a sustainable collection of human rights classes, service-learning experiences and research opportunities, highlighting new pedagogies based on vertically integrated research teams, on-site learning, service placements (including through Duke Engage) and peer-to-peer networks that encourage students to articulate their own rights vision. It brought together existing and new stakeholders to assess the current state of human rights study and practice at Duke and charted a path toward new approaches that will be both sustainable and add value to the undergraduate experience.

Urgent questions that appeal to both faculty members and undergraduate students include thorny issues like humanitarian intervention; the balance of truth, justice, reconciliation and post-conflict peace-making; the persistence of poverty and an expanding underclass deprived of basic rights in developed nations; the impact of the “war on terror” on international relations and privacy; the relationship between rights, environmental justice and climate change; and new rights frontiers in science demand a multidisciplinary approach.

James Dawes

Specifically, they will implement a faculty/staff/student research seminar on human rights in post-secondary education to examine the study of human rights in contemporary universities, and they will host a series of public talks and meetings with students by prominent human rights thinkers who are also educators in a coordinated effort to rethink the role of universities in human rights education.

Beginning in the Spring of 2013, RightsConnect hosted a series of speakers who had expertise in both university-level teaching and human rights. We have assembled much of the information on a RightsConnect page on our web site (and continue to add material). These include the interviews done prior to or during your visits (by our hardworking students, Kelly Carroll and Betsy Santoyo).

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