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Human Rights Teach-In


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Thurgood Marshall Middle School Principal Dallas Jackson Ph.D. with Professor Dorothea Beane

Thurgood Marshall Middle School Principal Dallas Jackson Ph.D. with Professor Dorothea Beane. Click for high-resolution image.

A few years ago, Stetson Law professor Dorothea Beane stopped by Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School principal Dallas Jackson’s office for a visit. Beane introduced herself, and she and Jackson discussed how they might bring the local academic community together.

Stetson Law’s proximity to Thurgood Marshall Middle School makes the two schools geographical neighbors. Yet the topics taught in law school are a world apart from those taught in middle school. Or are they?

Might human rights be something both law students and middle school students benefit from discussing? The answer seemed simple, and the idea of the human rights teach-in was born.

 

 

 

 

Stetson Law student Vanita Vishnubhakat talks with middle school students about human rights at the April teach-in.

Stetson Law student Vanita Vishnubhakat talks with middle school students about human rights at the April teach-in. Click for high-resolution image.

Ever since, Beane and her law students have regularly volunteered their time and expertise, creating lesson plans and activities to teach the middle school students at Thurgood Marshall about the importance of defining and protecting human rights.

“This is about service to the community,” Beane said.

During the fall semester, Beane’s international human rights law class worked with a sixth-grade Ancient Civilizations class to learn about mature topics like class discrimination and genocide. This spring, a dozen students from Beane’s law class addressed 278 eighth-graders at middle school assemblies designed to get students thinking about the value of protecting human rights.

Stetson Law student Abigail Pressler shares her human rights law expertise with middle school students at the teach-in.

Stetson Law student Abigail Pressler shares her human rights law expertise with middle school students at the teach-in. Click for high-resolution image.

Jackson visited Stetson before the teach-in to talk with Beane’s law students about some topics of interest to his middle schoolers. He discussed some issues unique to the computer age.

“These kids are digital natives,” Jackson said. Children use the Internet to post photographs online that become the target of criminals, and download and plagiarize papers that don’t belong to them, he explained. “They don’t always realize the collateral responsibilities.”

“With rights there are responsibilities,” Beane said.

At an April 23 teach-in, Beane’s law students and Jackson’s eighth-graders got a refresher course on what some of those human rights and responsibilities are, and why they are universally important to children as well as adults. A panel of law and middle school students, joined by Jackson and a representative of the Attorney General’s Office, talked about some of the dangers of the digital age in an interview broadcast to students over school-wide television. The panel discussed how sharing pornographic images of friends on social networking sites and across the Internet could be considered a criminal act, and one with long-lasting consequences. Students watching from classrooms had an opportunity to send questions to the panel.

At the same time, in the middle school multi-purpose room, more than 200 students gathered in groups to talk with law student moderators about the importance of inalienable human rights. Discussion cards touched on human rights violations including child abuse and slavery, children dying in armed conflict, sex trafficking, migrant workers forced into deplorable livable conditions, men executed for protesting a disputed presidential election, and women being forbidden from wearing religious veils. Students had an opportunity to make decisions about what they valued most in the world, and ultimately why human rights are so universally important.

“The teach-in is a reminder that we are not only advocates but educators as well,” third-year Stetson Law student Vanita Vishnubhakat said after the April teach-in.  “It was  wonderful to see students actively engaged in the learning process; they applied human rights principles and concepts to historical events they had learned about at school. They weren’t just listening; they were making meaningful  connections.  I think we all left the school feeling as though we had contributed to the students’ understanding and appreciation of human rights.”