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Human Rights Major Announced!


New major spans disciplines

By Christine Buckley, CLAS Today

Beginning in May 2012, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UConn will offer a new interdisciplinary major in human rights. The major will span the social sciences and humanities to teach students about the theory, application and violations of the fundamental rights that apply to humans around the globe.

"The human rights major draws on faculty from across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in departments including history, political science, economics, and English," says Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of CLAS. "Based on our experience with our human rights minor, I expect the new major to become one of our most popular programs."

The major is the sixth of its kind in the United States and the third at a major research institution. In addition to coursework, the major includes a capstone project in the form of a thesis or a service learning internship. Two current students are on track to receive the major at the August 2012 graduation.

Students will complete the human rights major in conjunction with another major in CLAS, which professor of political science Richard Hiskes, adviser to the new major, says will ensure students' entry into a wide array of professions following their graduation.

"The new major delivers to students an extraordinary opportunity to explore human rights in the classroom, in research, and in the field under the guidance of outstanding faculty spread across many disciplines within CLAS," says Hiskes.

Human rights has had a distinguished history at UConn and within CLAS. The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, founded in 1995, is devoted to the theme of human rights. In 2001, the university designated human rights as a research and teaching priority, and in 2003 UConn's Human Rights Institute was founded. The only United Nations UNESCO Chair in the U.S. is held by CLAS historian Amii Omara-Otunnu, and CLAS political scientist David Richards co-directs one of the leading worldwide ratings of global human rights.

Students of the existing human rights minor and its affiliated coursework have gone on to important careers fighting human rights violations around the world, while current students take advantage of internship opportunities and the expertise of faculty with hands-on knowledge of human rights issues.

Katherine Bradbury, a May 2011 graduate with majors in political science and English and a minor in human rights, received the Richard Goldstone fellowship, which gave her a 6-month internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This internship in The Hague led to a contract position at the ICTY, where she will continue to work on issues surrounding the recent extradition of Ratko Mladi?, a former Bosnian Serb military leader accused of war crimes.

"Minoring in human rights and receiving the Goldstone Fellowship was extremely helpful in securing my internship at the ICTY," Bradbury says. "My human rights classes also gave me a strong background in international humanitarian law and global human rights issues which have been helpful knowledge to have while working at the ICTY."

As molecular and cell biology major and human rights minor, senior pre-med student Aaron Hayes is interested in health care as a basic human right. For his capstone project, Hayes participated in the International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) program in South Africa, where he worked with Children of Fire, a charity and advocacy group for child burn victims, most of whom have been tortured with fire. His trip was funded by a CLAS Victor Schachter '64 Rule of Law Award.

"This program has truly changed my life in every way possible," wrote Hayes in a report about the experience. "While my passion for human rights was a part of me prior to IHRE, I can only say that words are not enough to communicate how truly amazing, rewarding and life changing this experience was, and will continue to be for me throughout my entire life."

Stephanie Wuenscher, a UConn junior, had been working toward an individualized major in human rights and is especially excited for the new formalized major.

"Human Rights is a very comprehensive, interdisciplinary major that combines essentially all of my interests and prepares me for any career that I could want in the future," she says. "In how many majors can you take economics and English classes and have them both count toward your major? But they all share a common theme."

Wuenscher adds that a great benefit of professors teaching classes in the new major is their real-world experience outside of their teaching and research. She describes professors who have previously worked for the United Nations and done aid work in Africa, and says that they've been great resources to her and other human rights students.

"You can be a social worker or aid worker, you can work in policy, for an NGO, for the government, or you can practice law," she says. "The professors are helpful in pinpointing potential careers based on your interests, and in helping you take the necessary steps."

Read Katherine Bradbury's blog about her experiences in The Hague at


Article originally published here