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Let's Talk Human Rights

Bringing life to the stories and experiences of the “water warriors” for classrooms

By Jordan McCormick '22

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the Catholic Church’s teaching on human dignity. It is one of many reasons I wanted to pursue both education and religious studies. Today, it seems messages of human dignity have been lost in our world that is often very isolated and self-centered. In many ways, we have forgotten how to see people as people; we are quick to disregard someone for their views, we hesitate to be generous with our time and resources, and we have become complacent to those closest to us.

On human dignity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt” (1929). 

What does it mean for someone to be entrusted to us, for us to be responsible for them, for their defense and promotion of life? 

This past fall and summer, I was invited into a small piece of this gift of “entrustment” while I worked as a curriculum development intern for the HRC. With the help of Ali Siebert, my fellow classmate, and Dr. Joel Pruce, we have been crafting a high school curriculum based on the Poison and Power: The Fight for Water podcast. The project covers the stories and lived experiences of those at the forefront of the water crises in Flint, Detroit, Michigan, and Martin County, Appalachia. Consisting of seven lessons and ranging from topics on human rights and environmental justice to civic engagement, it is our hope that the material will inspire both students and educators to learn more about and get involved in human rights issues. 

In the curricula, each lesson includes segments of the podcast, creating an opportunity for students to listen to and be immersed in the first-hand accounts of the water-warriors. As students explore the various identities and backgrounds of those featured, they are invited to reflect on their own identities and upbringing which have shaped who they are and how they experience the world around them. The curriculum culminates with a final lesson on civic engagement and dialogue in which students are empowered to identify needs and make changes in their own communities. 

The material has been written in line with Ohio state teaching standards but is accessible for any high school classroom in the US.

As I’ve reflected on the experience of those in the water movement, I think about our call to care for one another, to be responsible for one another. As I listened to the podcast, I was amazed as the residents of Flint, Detroit, and Martin County refused to sit by in apathy as they lost hair and teeth, received cancer diagnoses, and went days without showering due to toxic water and city shutoffs. They fought to be heard as they were ignored by public officials who, leaving them out of policy decisions and initiatives, refused to acknowledge their rights and dignity as a human person. These individuals, in many ways, were ignored and “othered” when they brought attention to the crisis in their communities; they were disregarded due to their social status, how they talked, and, sometimes, for the color of their skin.

For the water warriors, their work transcends personal and immediate experience; they fight not just for their own right to clean water, but for their neighbor’s right too, recognizing the humanity and the dignity of those entrusted to their care. Listening to their stories of community organizing, I was deeply moved by the profound sense of fellowship and camaraderie demonstrated by the water warriors. 

I recalled from hearing about the experience of local officials and leaders of the affected communities, that it is easy to ignore the hardships of another when one is removed from the situation and not immediately affected by the crisis. When I think back to my understanding of human dignity, however, I am reminded of what a gift, and a tremendous duty, it is that God has entrusted us with one another. We are called to go outside of ourselves, to see and protect the gift of those around us even if it costs us something. These moral “upstanders” of Flint, Detroit, and Martin County encourage me to step out of my comfort zone too, to be aware of the needs of my neighbor, and to be willing to come to their aid even in the times it is inconvenient for me. 

As I journey through my senior year at UD, I will seek moral courage in my interactions and dealings with others and, along the way, I hope to see more of the belovedness of my neighbor before I see their faults or annoyances. As a society, I am hopeful that we can move beyond what we see of people on the outside - politics, nasty narratives, what people tell us to think, and what we think we already know - to get at the root of the human experience, to be able to say, “You are my neighbor. You are worthy and deserving of your dignity and your rights no matter how much we disagree or how different we may be.” May this be what guides us and our work for human rights as a Catholic and Marianist university.

Learn more about the Moral Courage Project and the curriculum here.


Jordan is a senior from Cincinnati, OH studying AYA Secondary Education and Religious Studies. Within the Human Rights Center, she serves as a curriculum development intern designing lesson plans to bring the Moral Courage Project to life in classrooms and providing resources for students and teachers to increase their knowledge of important domestic issues. On-campus, Jordan is a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid and a peer minister in Catholic Life. Jordan hopes to unite her love of research and storytelling with her work in the HRC! Upon graduation, she plans to teach high school students or work in campus ministry.

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