On Thursday, April 7, more than 100 students from five middle schools in Eastern Iowa participated in the Annual International Day Human Rights Conference, co-sponsored by the University of Iowa College of Education, UI International Programs, and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.
After the event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers were excited to return this year for the one-day event designed to educate middle school students on local and global human rights issues.
This year’s theme centered around health disparities amid the global pandemic and was based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International Day is intended to help participants develop an understanding of what human rights are, examine local and global issues related to human rights, appreciate the meaning and significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and apply the concepts of human rights to their own lives.
“I think students will walk away with a better understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, different human rights issues, and how they connect both to global issues and to our local context,” says Krista Regennitter, program officer of global education at the Stanley Center.
This year’s festivities included a keynote speech delivered by Dawn Whitehead, the vice president of the Office of Global Citizenship for Campus, Community, and Careers at the American Association of Colleges and Universities, followed by two rounds of breakout sessions and an afternoon activity facilitated by the University of Iowa Students for Human Rights Club.
In her keynote speech, Whitehead encouraged students to consider how what happens in one part of the word impacts other areas of the world.
“We are more connected than we have ever been before,” says Whitehead.
Her talk tackled disparities in healthcare globally, collective responsibility, and the importance of learning from one another.
“What is it that you can do to help address these challenges?” Whitehead asks the students. “Remember, it is absolutely important that you look around the world as you’re trying to solve problems, because there are solutions that we can learn from our neighbors both near and far.”
The breakout sessions, many led by UI students and alumni, featured engaging learning activities that went in depth into various topics relating to human rights and global health disparities.
"My favorite part about International Day was definitely participating in the breakout sessions,” says Zayn Aswegan, a student attendee from Oelwein Middle School. “We learned that we have to take better care of our planet and make sure it’s not worse than it is now.”
Alisa Meggitt, current Global Studies teacher at North Central Junior High School in North Liberty, board member on the Iowa Council for Social Studies, and Iowa Alumna (B.A. ‘92 Global Studies, B.A. ‘02 Elementary Education with a social studies endorsement) led a breakout session titled Life Without Medicine. This session involved interactive storytelling detailing her experience in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Senegal, West Africa.
“I absolutely adored my experience as a UI International Day presenter,” Meggitt says. “The kids were fun, curious, and excited to be there.”
This was Meggitt’s first year presenting at International Day, but she has been bringing students to the conference since she began teaching in 2002 and believes the conference is an enriching opportunity for students in eastern Iowa.
“My students appreciate the professional venue, the concurrent workshops, the lunch, and the opportunity to learn about human rights with thoughtful hands-on activities and experiments,” Meggitt says. “They always return beaming with excitement and begging me to come as eighth graders the next year.”
International Day has proven to be a success since its start in 1997, and it is the collaboration between the co-sponsoring organizations, presenters, teachers, and students that allows for all involved to walk away with a renewed sense of learning and appreciation for those around the world.