When Bill Simmons traveled to another country to do human-rights research, meeting the people dealing with issues firsthand, he wanted to find a way to expose his students here to their knowledge.
So Simmons started to ask if they could do videoconferencing. To his surprise, most said yes.
“I would Skype in people from countries people wouldn’t imagine, Rwanda, eastern Congo, Sudan,” said Simmons, a University of Arizona professor of gender and women’s studies. “My students learned so much, and I learned so much, and the people who Skyped in just loved it.”
When his colleagues asked how he did it, he realized there wasn’t a place to bring people together around human-rights issues. Six years ago, he came up with the idea of a human-rights speakers’ bureau, providing a place to connect.
For the past year-and-a-half, he’s been working with a group of 15 UA faculty members on Global Human Rights Direct. It’s set to launch Wednesday at this month’s Show and Tell at the Playground Lounge and Bar downtown.
With a $14,000-grant from the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, the group turned Simmons’ idea into one-stop shop for social media on human rights.
“It’s not only a place to connect with people, but also to meet people interested in similar issues around the globe, dealing with the same issues or problems you may be dealing with,” Simmons said.
It’s kind of like a mini Facebook page for human rights, he explains. Members can search for people with similar interests, create a profile that includes the issues they’re interested in, groups they’ve worked with and their educational background. They also can tell visitors if they’re interested in doing video conferences and include their speaker’s fee.
“There’s so much knowledge out there about human rights, but people who are deemed the experts are usually people in developed countries, they are usually academics, they are usually pretty much privileged and they often don’t have much on-the-ground experience,” he said. “What we believe is that the experts in human rights are people on the ground facing these issues on a daily basis, and if we can somehow leverage their knowledge and bring them together, we can address human-rights issues in a new way.”
People can also sign up to be interpreters. The homepage will feature specific organizations, topics, events and videos and how you can help.
The Confluencenter started the Innovation Farm program in 2014 to provide seed money and support to interdisciplinary working groups, said Javier Durán, the center’s director. It looks for projects that can make lasting contributions to scholarly and artistic life at the UA and with the potential to achieve larger objectives, including outside funding, he said.
The Global Human Rights Direct project, he said, has the “potential to change the way in which a plethora of human-rights agents would network, interact, theorize, discuss, advocate, lobby and even impact global and regional conversations and policies regarding these rights.”
There’s also the possibility for comparative studies and work. For instance, topics could include cross-border dynamics and rights of migrants and refugees.
“This could potentially alter the way we look at human rights in this country where we are used to seeing human rights issues as ‘foreign’ and distant,” Durán said.