Community Advocates advocate human rights

Human Rights Week informs RPI students

Last week, the Rensselaer Community Advocates hosted Human Rights Week, which involves a series of events that bring awareness to “discrimination based on race, sex, religion, physical ability, or sexual orientation,” as well as other issues such as homelessness.

The Community Advocates define themselves as “rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate student leaders who have the shared goal to prepare Rensselaer students for global citizenship by promoting an understanding and appreciation for diversity and inclusivity.” It operates year round to accomplish this goal. Additionally, the Advocates focus heavily on student involvement and urge students at large to do the same. They work closely with such groups as the Office of the First-Year Experience to help sponsor events like Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond. They also appear at each year at the International Festival.

Human Rights Week originally began as a celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., said Assistant Dean of Students Cynthia Smith. It has since become a week highlighting projects meant to inform students about threats to human rights and how they can be combated. Each year, the Community Advocates choose to focus on their particular areas of interest. This year, for example, the events focused on homelessness, environmental issues, anonymous systems, cyberbullying, and violence against women. Also, due to the scale of the project, the Advocates received assistance from RPI’s Student Experience Office, Residential Education, and various faculty members.

The first event, held on last Monday and Tuesday, Homeless Advocacy Sleep Out involved assisting the RPI chapter of Habitat for Humanity with their Habitat Goes Homeless program. This was held with the hope that they could increase awareness of homelessness in the U.S. among Rensselaer students.

Also on Monday was the RPI Relief & the Mighty Waters Campaign. During this event, the Community Advocates and other interested students discussed the environmental problems the Schoharie, Mohawk, and Hudson Valleys areas are currently facing, as well as what they may have to deal with in the face of global warming.

On Tuesday, the Community Advocates held a discussion titled Human Rights and Anonymous Systems. This talk focused on analyzing the areas of success in movements such as Occupy Wall Street, specifically on the advocacy processes employed and the implications to individuals.

Wednesday featured a program that “[clarified] the various forms of cyberbullying, [created] an open dialogue about addressing the issue, and [provided] resources for victims of cyberbullying who are not sure how or where to get help.”

The final event occurred on Thursday. The Community Advocates hosted a screening of Until the Violence Stops, a film by Abby Epstein that documents the creation of “an international grassroots movement called V-Day to stop violence against women and girls.” Smith explained that the hope in showing the film was to increase awareness of the fact that violence against women is a real issue. She added that, when people know about such an issue, they generally tend to try to help in anyway they can.

Smith mentioned that the Community Advocates are already planning events for next year’s Human Rights Week. Of note will be their showing of 8, a play by the American Foundation for Equal Rights that focuses on the overturning of Proposition 8 in California. The Advocates will work with the Pride Center of the Capital Region. Smith explained that by showing the film, the Community Advocates hope to increase awareness of the issues related to gay marriage and increase tolerance.

The Advocates have held several events over the course of this academic year. These include celebrating the International Day of Peace on September 21 and Troy’s Victorian Stroll on December 5. They also assisted with the relief effort after Hurricane Irene passed through the area. Last year, they also helped with RPI Relief: Support For Japan, following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor failure in the country.

Those students who wish to learn more about the Community Advocates and Human Rights Week can contact Smith at smithc@rpi.edu or visit the DOSO website at http://doso.rpi.edu/.