Ponnada: Hungry for human rights


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The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, which has served the UI community since 1999, is expected to close because of a funding loss, despite the center’s huge impact on the Iowa City area.

The center’s mission to promote and protect human rights both here at home and abroad. Many students have demonstrated their desire to keep the center open via an online petition started by Zach Heffernen, the president of Students for Human Rights.

By allowing the center to close, the university is blatantly expressing a lack of concern not only for the wants of those students but also for human rights as a whole.

“The university has the responsibility to listen to the needs and concerns of its students,” Heffernen said. “Over 1,000 students wish to keep the center open, and yet the university has not found a way to do so.”  

Two years ago, the center was notified by the Office of the Provost that as a result of reduction in the UI general-education-fund budget, the office would be unable to continue the funding for the center. The center managed to remain open as it raised private support and received funding from the university — until this year.

Putting aside perfecting the world, look at what the Center for Human Rights has done right here in Iowa City. The center affects our community very directly through programs, Heffernen said.

For instance, the center has funded student internships through which students have been placed with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to work on significant service projects. Other programs include “One Community, One Book,” through which Iowans have engaged in reading and discussion about major human-rights issues, and “Know Your Rights” workshops, which have reached Iowans with information about their civil rights.

Whereas the university may say the center’s functions are simply being relocated, Heffernen believes majority of the center’s functions will end unless we as a community demonstrate we value the center.

“The center loses its strength if its functions are separated and moved into specific colleges,” said Heffernen, “The purpose of not having the center in a college is that human rights are interdisciplinary.  Human rights are not just for lawyers, or engineers, or teachers — they are for everyone.”

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