New human rights major requires second discipline
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 01:09
There is a new major available to students at the University of Connecticut—the human rights major.
Announced publicly as a new major possibility last spring and officially opened for students to register about two weeks ago, 75 students have already declared the minor and 25 have declared the major. Ten students declared it a major on the first Friday of the semester alone, when it was officially launched.
According to its website, humanrights.uconn.edu, the human right major’s mission statement is, “…first, to coordinate human rights initiatives at the university of Connecticut and support faculty and students who study human rights; and second to promote a unique approach to international human rights scholarship based upon contextual and multidisciplinary research in the social sciences, humanities and law.”
The new human rights major is a standard major in terms of requirements, said Richard P. Hiskes, a professor and the Director of Undergraduate Programs for the Human Rights Institute. Hiskes said that it has several courses that crossed into a variety of other departments. It also requires 12 additional related credits, similar to many other majors.
One unique feature about the program, is that in order to graduate with a minor or major in human rights, a student must either complete an internship in the field or do work on a senior thesis.
Additionally, all students are required to have a second major in order to qualify and be accepted into the program, Hiskes said.
“There are several reasons for the required second major,” said Hiskes. “Modeled after the program setup at Columbia University, we feel as though the human rights major is a very interdisciplinary program, and therefore many disciplines feed in to it. When students are required to have a second major, a cross-fertilization of sorts occurs. This helps the student in identifying and zeroing in on some areas of human rights from other disciplines.”
Hiskes said a benefit to the requirement for an additional major is that many students pursuing a human rights degree would like to go onto graduate school, but currently there are no schools in the United States with a specific graduate program in human rights. However, it is still very possible to attend a graduate institution for a degree in the second major, such as a graduate political science program, and still concentrate on human rights issues.
Hiskes believes that human rights is such an overarching field that the second major requirement will help students to foster their growth.
“Just about everything involving the concept of life is related to human rights,” he said. “It can be economics, policy and politics, or even film. It is a very broad set of subjects.”
Besides having the opportunity to grow through many different classes, there are also many study abroad options for human rights majors. The internship program in Cape Town, South Africa will allow students to pursue nine credits for an internship, according to Hiskes. He also mentioned that there is a program through Bard College that goes to Johannesburg, South Africa. There will also be a specific Human Rights program through the UConn in London study abroad program that will allow students to focus on internships. Students may also simply pursue their internship requirements wherever they are going to study abroad, as there is a great emphasis on studying elsewhere in the major.
Hiskes said he believes that there are many opportunities for students pursuing a major in human rights. He does, however, know that there will be minor road bumps along the way, as the major is so new.
“Whenever you are starting a program, there are all kinds of things you can’t anticipate before it actually begins,” he said. “For example, because it requires a double major, the advising has to be done carefully to make sure students graduate on time.”
Nevertheless, Hiskes said that he is very excited that it is finally a possibility for students to declare human rights a major, after about three years and many meetings with the human rights committee. He said that he is very thankful for the faculty and administration for being so supportive of the major. The new major had been one of the focus areas for the administration for the last five years and they are very excited about it. Even before officially becoming president of the university, Susan Herbst was in communication with Hiskes about the prospect of the new major.
“I am very excited and I think that its something very special for UConn,” said Hiskes. “This major is attached to a very active Human Rights Institute, lots of programs, speakers, travel support for undergrads, and enthusiasm from faculty, administration and students. UConn has been building one of the premiere human rights programs in the world, and the major is certainly the undergraduate accumulation of it.”