The University of Iowa

Junior high students attend human rights conference

November 17th, 2010

By Drew Davis, The Daily Iowan

Almost 300 junior-high students sat in a ballroom rapt with attention. Nearly every one raised hands eagerly to ask the speaker a question.

The presentation was the final event of Tuesday’s Human Rights to Well-Being conference at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. It’s the 14th year the University of Iowa has brought students from Iowa and western Illinois to Iowa City to learn about human rights. Each year’s event has a different theme; this year’s was health care.

“The program is great, and it seems to spark a lot of discussion among students. What isn’t a big deal here might be big in other countries,” said Teresa Garringer, a co-coordinator of the conference. “The best part they say is the play and the food at lunch.”

Students seemed excited at the hotel after the event.

“It’s pretty cool and very nice we get to learn about human rights,” 13-year-old Michael Arp said. “Getting out of school is also a bonus.”

“My advice to the kids would be to actively engage themselves in working to make the world a better place.” – Greg Hamot

The goal of the event — which drew 292 students — was to introduce students to human rights early, so they could use their knowledge in positive ways, officials said. More than 1,000 students were turned away because of space reasons.

The event was sponsored by the UI College of Education, the Stanley Foundation, the Marriott Hotel, and UI Office of Admissions. It was started by Paul Retish, a professor in the College of Education, and Greg Hamot, the director of the UI Center for Human Rights, took over around six years ago.

Students listened to a keynote speech, two breakout sessions chosen by the students, lunch, which included a performance by the Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble, and a presentation by James Stachowiak of the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education & Research.

The theme focused on the 25th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — which focuses on access to health care.

Alexandra Dobre, 13, was eager to talk about the conference.

“I really liked it because it was nice learning about how to treat others and how I would like to change the world when I grow up,” she said.

Before the day ended, Hamot shared ideas with the kids.

“My advice to the kids would be to actively engage themselves in working to make the world a better place,” he said. “If they can’t help out a specific part of the world, see if we can change foreign policy and international relations with other countries for the better.”