New Human Rights Studies minor seeks to engage students with an interdisciplinary approach

Rosa Fallon
Arts & Features Staff Writer
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Along with the start of the fall semester comes a new minor program housed within the department of political science. The new Human Rights Studies minor will give students the opportunity to examine how human rights concepts evolved and will encourage comprehensive thinking about human rights from multiple disciplinary perspectives.  
    The UNC Asheville faculty senate said the minor will provide students with skills that will be helpful to careers in a variety of fields including journalism, business, public policy, criminal justice and more.  

Lecturer of Humanities Grace Campbell instructs the new “Perspectives on Human Rights” class. Photo by Rosa Fallon.

    The minor intends to challenge students to think critically about human rights on local, national and international scales while also enriching opportunities for students to participate in undergraduate research in the field of human rights.  The program employs an interdisciplinary approach, pulling its curriculum together from a wide variety of disciplines including humanities, sociology, economics and philosophy.
    Grace Campbell, a lecturer in humanities at UNCA, currently teaches UNCA’s new human rights class called Perspectives on Human Rights (HRST 201).  
    “It is possible to understand human rights from multiple perspectives,” Campbell said. “In particular, you can study it from the vantage point of international law, international relations; you can study it through the discipline of philosophy.”
    While Campbell teaches multiple disciplines, she mainly focuses on philosophy.  Her approach builds onto the philosophical questions about human rights while also incorporating insights from other fields of study.
    “Human rights are global and international and they have very powerful rhetorical force,” Campbell said.  “There are urgent needs in the world where people are deprived of their human rights so our students will be prepared for this.”  
    While the Human Rights Studies minor may be new, human rights research has an established foundation within the political science department that many might not be aware of, according to Jennifer Barnes. Barnes, a senior political science major and research assistant, is currently enrolled in Campbell’s Perspectives on Human Rights class and participates in human rights research within the political science department.  
     “I think that it’s a really good addition to the campus just because within the political science department there’s so much of a human rights research focus that I feel like was not quite as apparent to other students unless you really got into it,” Barnes said.
    The human rights research happening on campus reaches the global community of human rights scholars. Political science professors Mark Gibney, Peter Haschke and Linda Cornett  contribute to the Political Terrorist and Societal Violence Scales, international databases which measure terrorism and violence among countries.
    “The Political Terrorist Scale and the Societal Violence Scale are mainly based in UNCA which are big human rights measures that I don’t think a lot of students know about and to have that active human rights research happening, I think, is really, really important for undergraduate students to get a view of what’s going on and what research is being done rather than just a class environment,” Barnes said.
    For those interested in the possibility of enrolling in the minor but already have a heavy class schedule, the human rights minor includes a variety of class options that interested students may already find on their transcripts.  
    “If it’s something that you’re already interested in I think that the chances are you would already have a number of classes that would go towards it because there are so many options of which courses could count towards the credits needed,” Barnes said.  
  She believes that the human rights minor would be right for someone who wants to make a difference.   
    “I think that a lot of different people could go into it for a lot of different reasons. Once I started studying human rights, it felt like I couldn’t study anything else. It just felt like this is something that is really important to me and that I would be doing myself a disservice by not following through with it even if it’s hard,” Barnes said.  
    Mark Gibney is the Belk Distinguished Professor in humanities at UNCA and an internationally recognized human rights lawyer and scholar. For Gibney, having a human rights minor is a complementary addition to the political science department since all members of the department have an interest in human rights.
    “This department produces the most widely used human rights data set in the world. People all over the world use data that is produced by this department,” Gibney said. “In some ways what was more surprising is that we didn’t have a minor sooner.”
    The human rights minor program consists of a variety of class options from multiple disciplines including philosophy, political science, sociology and many others.
    “It’s more a matter of taking the different classes and saying that there’s an enormous amount of commonality here.  It’s not just political science. It’s not just sociology,” Gibney said.
    The minor requires 18 semester hours divided into four categories. Gibney says he hopes that the courses in the human rights minor and the interdisciplinary style of the program would provide an avenue for students to explore their interests and find out what they enjoy.   
    “I think students are capable of a lot of very good things. To me, human rights is not something you just lecture about. What I liked about college the most were classes that were engaged with the professor,” Gibney said.