To celebrate Universal Human Rights Month this December, resident assistants in Newing College held a human rights rally on Thursday in Broome Hall.
The RAs, along with representatives from Binghamton University’s Campus Bible Fellowship, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Human Rights Institute, held the event in hopes of facilitating an open discussion about human rights. Jillian Nostro, an RA in Broome Hall and a senior double-majoring in biology and Spanish, said she wanted to help plan the discussion to allow students to hear about human rights issues from a variety of perspectives. Nostro also used the event to expose students to new organizations and resources.
“Binghamton University is a very diverse campus,” Nostro said. “We’re basically a big melting pot, especially here in Newing where we have break housing, so we have a lot of international students as well as Binghamton Advantage Program students, LGBTQ and Jewish students. We want BU to feel like a home for everyone, but not everyone knows about the organizations and resources available.”
Thursday’s rally was a Newing Global Engagement event, organized by RAs to get students more interested in international matters. Activities included a wall poster on which students could write what human rights mean to them and a table where students could write a letter to their representatives to praise or criticize their actions regarding human rights.
Ugwuogo Onwuka, a member of BU’s Campus Bible Fellowship and a junior majoring in mathematics, said he attended the rally to discuss human rights from the perspective of a practicing Christian.
“Because we are created in God’s image, human beings have intrinsic values that other creatures do not have,” Onwuka said. “In the Bible, one of the things that is said is that hurting another person is defying the God who created them, as it would go against what they were created for. When God created us as equals, we were created with unalienable rights. There are a lot of Christian organizations that are trying to end sex trafficking, interpersonal violence, slavery and other violations of human rights.”
Mahmoud Almady, president of the MSA and a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, said he also attended the rally to spark further conversation of religious views on human rights.
“[Muslims] believe that all people, regardless of age, sex, religion, etc., were created as the best of all the creatures, and as such we have rights that cannot be taken away such as the right to live,” Almady said. “There is a very important Hadith, which is what we believe the Prophet [Muhammad] said, that the one who kills one person will hold the same weight as if you killed all of humanity. We hold the human life to a very high standard — all people are equal — and the best among us are the ones who stand up against oppression.”
After students were given the time to walk around and participate in conversation and activities, David Cingranelli, co-director of the University’s Human Rights Institute and a professor of political science, discussed his involvement in human rights studies and the Institute’s newest opportunities for students, including the new human rights minor and internship and study abroad opportunities.
“I’ve been teaching about human rights for 30 years,” Cingranelli said. “Right now, I think there’s great jeopardy and it’s a good time for those of us who care about human rights to get involved and be supportive. The leader of our own country is not the biggest supporter of making the advancement of human rights as an important goal of American foreign policy, and he’s even withdrawn the United States from the Human Rights Council, which is the primary body within the United Nations that deals with human rights matters. This worries me.”
At the end of his speech, Cingranelli encouraged students and RAs to ask questions and voice their own concerns. Hannah Zamor, a sophomore majoring in political science, said she enjoyed listening to the group’s discussion and hearing from a professor in her field of study.
“I think the event was a hit because the topics covered were very intriguing and really thought-provoking,” Zamor said. “It’s better to be thinking than to not be. I’m interested in human rights, civil rights and public service, so this was all very interesting to me.”
Almady said he believes that human rights is a topic that needs to be touched on more often, especially by students.
“The most important thing that I wanted to get out of the event was, at the very least, to present the issue to students as well as my own perspective,” Almady said. “I firmly believe that knowledge is power, and if people are intrigued then maybe they’ll go out and investigate the issue a little more.”