With the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the world agreed that the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Over time in America, the understanding and teaching of human rights has retracted. Two University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) scholars hope to reverse that course.
“We have a scattershot understanding of human rights in the U.S. … We don’t have the bigger picture of the rights and their importance,” says Virginia Rowthorn, JD, LLM, assistant vice president for global engagement at UMB, director of the Center for Global Engagement, and senior lecturer at the University of Maryland Graduate School.
Rowthorn is co-author with lead author Amy Ramirez, MA, director of international services at the center, of the book chapter “Human Rights in U.S. Professional Education” to be published in Emancipatory Human Rights and the University.
“What we’re writing about is the importance of having a deep, fundamental understanding of human rights so that we can uphold our own rights and those of others,” Rowthorn continues. “What we support in our article is human rights education in the U.S. as a pathway to an established, shared, and global responsibility to make human rights a reality.”
Rowthorn and Ramirez assert that it is crucial for professional coursework to include human rights education.
“What gets taught inside the curriculum has a very powerful way of shaping how individuals understand a wide range of issues,” Ramirez explains. “The idea of teaching with and through and for human rights enables students to develop the critical reflective capacity to understand a lot of issues in society.”
Ramirez’s and Rowthorn’s research focuses on professional education, an area challenged when it comes to adding new curriculum. While students in medical, social work, or law schools are essential audiences for human rights education, they’re also the most constrained by course requirements.
Ramirez and Rowthorn use their book chapter to explore ways faculty can embed human rights education into existing courses. Ethics courses, for example, are a natural place to embed human rights and its important global perspective. Their article also encourages curriculum committees to support faculty who wish to incorporate human rights into the existing curriculum.
“We want to encourage professional schools to strike a balance between meeting obligatory education requirements and supporting the agency of faculty,” Ramirez says.
The book research coincides with the center’s webinar series, “Human Rights at Home.” It includes timely talks such as applying a human rights lens to the topic of racial injustice in America and health as a human right.
Ramirez and Rowthorn hope to aid faculty development and create a more expansive curriculum encompassing the global perspective of human rights.
“We need to expand our world view to think about what ethical practice means, especially for professions that are foundationally about valuing human life,” Ramirez says. “Human rights should be a natural part of the way these professionals conceptualize their duty to society.”