Skip to main content

Let's Talk Human Rights

HRC Interns Reflect On Human Rights Week Events

By Eric Grimm '22, Sarah Behnke '23, and DeAlbert Shepard '23

The University of Dayton’s annual Human Rights Week is a student-organized series of events intended to raise awareness of human rights issues around the world.  Students outside of the Human Rights Center hosted events each day of the week focusing on the intersection of human rights and the environment. They included sessions on fair trade, food desserts, and how climate affects pandemics. The week culminated in a preview and discussion of the Moral Courage Project’s forthcoming work, Power and Poison: The Fight for Water. During this same week, the Center hosted its third Flyer Forum dialogue event on hate and its remedies. 

The aim of the Week is to promote continuous learning about human rights issues. Student interns from the Human Rights Center participated in several sessions throughout the week, sharing their reflections on the impactful events: 

Wastelands: Modern Day "Trash Cities"

This event centered around personal waste production and the formation of “trash cities'' around the world. The impacts of waste production on socio-economic inequalities in “trash cities'' were also discussed. During the event, the student facilitators asked all 300 Zoom participants to calculate their plastic footprint using the GreenPeace quiz. I was surprised to find out that, on average, I use 1,000 plastic items a year. The facilitators calculated that all 300 participants used around 300,000 plastic items a year, most of which are not recyclable!. This quiz and discussion opened my eyes to the amount of plastic and trash my peers and I go through in a single year. 

To help us mitigate this waste, the facilitators offered tips such as using reusable bags and bottles, shopping at local markets, and utilizing the recycling bins on campus that separate each item. The most troubling information I learned from this event was the impact of waste in cities worldwide. Because some countries use more trash than they can store or burn, they ship their waste to other countries and pay for it to be stored. 

However, receiving countries are running out or no longer have space to store such large amounts of waste. This leads to the creation of “trash cities”- areas consumed by landfills. Dumpsites are built close to impoverished areas and the people have to scavenge through the trash to find items to sell or use. One such trash city is Jakarta, Indonesia, where officials say approximately 2,000 people live in villages surrounding the trash mountain. The local residents say the number is closer to 20,0000. Attending this event opened my eyes to the impacts of my waste. Moving forward, I plan to ensure that my roommates and I recycle and reuse plastic items.

Poison and Power: The Fight for Water

On the last day of Human Rights Week, the Moral Courage Project (MCP) team hosted an event highlighting their new and forthcoming work, Poison and Power: The Fight for Water. Moral Courage Project aims to recognize individuals who advocate for their community against human rights-related issues through storytelling. The MCP team comprises UD students who conduct fieldwork to explore issues surrounding a current human rights crisis and interview community members who embody “moral courage”. Later, they transform their work into a multimedia exhibit and podcast series. 

This past year, the MCP team focused on individuals and communities fighting for the right to clean water in Flint and Detroit, Michigan, and Appalachia. For example, Barbi Ann Maynard, a water rights activist working in rural Martin County, Kentucky, shared the story of her community’s struggle for access to clean drinking water and her fight against the corruption that led to the poisoning of their county’s water source during the event. 

I found Maynard‘s passion for the cause to be truly inspiring. It takes a lot of courage and hope to stand up to corporate and governmental institutions that have failed so many communities across the country. What stuck with me most from her story and this event was that even something as vital to human survival as clean water is not guaranteed to everyone in the United States. Without clean water coming out of her tap, Maynard and her family couldn’t drink, bathe, cook, or clean without purchasing plastic water bottles or traveling to another county to retrieve consumable water. It is eye-opening that the wealthiest country in the world cannot provide basic necessities and rights to all Americans. 

Maynard’s county in Kentucky is just one example of a much larger problem throughout the U.S. This example is just a sampling of the stories that the Moral Courage Project has to offer about those fighting for their right to clean water.

Flyer Forum: Hate and its Remedies

Flyer Forum is a series of dialogue events hosted by the Human Rights Center were members of the university and the greater community come together to discuss issues facing our society at large. This forum focused on hate and how we, as individuals and community members, can work to foster understanding and advocate against hateful acts. 

I have attended Flyer Forum in the past, but this time I had the privilege of serving as a dialogue facilitator for one of the small discussion groups. The small group I led consisted of three minorities from different age groups and backgrounds. Their different backgrounds and experiences created a thoughtful conversation that grew my understanding of hate and how it is experienced differently by each person. During our conversation, we shared stories about microaggressions, modern segregation, and systemic hate through the distribution of wealth, health, and resources. We also conversed about what it means to have a history to be proud of and how our histories impact our self-identity.

What stuck with me from our discussion is the power of asking the question “Why?”. One of the members in my group shared an experience he had where a white colleague of his questioned him about his identity. He asked “why?” and discovered that the questioning of his identity stemmed from a sense of discomfort and uncertainty that his white counterpart felt with minority groups. This simple question led to greater understanding for both individuals involved and is one I plan to employ in the future. 

Following our discussion, we went over different ways to get involved in combating issues of hate. One was pressuring public officials and holding them accountable. This can be done through engaging with and educating community leaders about hate and ensuring that hateful acts are dealt with appropriately. It can sometimes feel as though it is impossible to create effective change as an individual, but in reality, we hold more power than we think. Holding our community leaders accountable and the people we come into contact with every day is one way to make a difference. By partaking in challenging conversations about real topics such as hate, we can bring about change in ourselves, our peers, and our community.



Eric Grimm is a junior political science and communication double major. He supports the marketing communications team at the HRC by creating promotional content for events and editing blogs for the website.

Sarah Behnke is a sophomore political science major with a minor in human rights studies. On the Center’s student engagement team, Sarah is developing a new podcast to make human rights more accessible to UD students. 

DeAlbert Shephard is a sophomore Psychology major from The Bronx, New York City. He is passionate about mental health, especially as it relates to the human rights field. After graduation, he plans to become a Psychologist and get his Ph.D. 

Previous Post

Interview With HRC Postdoc Paul Morrow On Mass Atrocities and Advocacy

HRC Postdoc, Paul Morrow, discusses his research in his latest book, how advocacy can prevent further mass atrocities, and touches on his next project looking at images of atrocity in an interview with HRC Senior Researcher Alexandra Budabin.
Read More
Next Post

On the Atlanta Shooting and Anti-Asian, Misogynist Hate

The Human Rights Center joins the multitude of voices in condemning the mass shooting in Atlanta this week, as well as other episodes of hate targeting members of Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities.
Read More