Pursuing Human Rights

By Iago Bojczuk
Class of 2018
Clark Honors College
SOJC, Media Studies

Many people seem to have the idea that youth are only capable of playing a secondary role when it comes to human rights.

However, my experience during spring break as one of seven Oxford Consortium Human Rights Fellows from the UO has convinced me otherwise. It showed me that we can have an active voice in denouncing human rights violations, changed my understanding of what it means to be human, and offered many opportunities to help others.

Before the trip, we discussed readings related not only to human rights practices but also to the morality behind studies such as the genocide in Rwanda and the civil war in Syria. We also discussed controversial nuances important for understanding UN sanctions.

By discussing the practices and the philosophies that initiate conflicts around the world, I believe that we became critical thinkers while remaining positive as individuals. This is the result of learning to reflect creatively on ways to solve, and possibly, avoid conflicts through empathy, compassion, and respect for human rights.

I am a Brazilian, and my first experience with human rights practices occurred in 2015. I was a youth delegate for the Children and Youth Forum during the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

I had the privilege of meeting the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who emphasized the importance of involving youth in discussions about local and global issues.

Before that, I had the opportunity to practice applying the relationship between new media and human rights with other high school students in a summer program at Yale University. We prototyped a campaign using virtual reality media to encourage empathy for the refugee crisis in the Middle East.

Empathy has also allowed me to think of diplomacy critically. In fact, the common understanding of moral diplomacy strategies seems strictly divided between good and evil, the reasonable and the irrational, saints and demons.

In my opinion, our ability to realize human potential depends on developing a solid comprehension of how culture, emotions, and attitudes can unite us toward a more collaborative worldview.

I practice this at the University of Oregon as a member of the UO’s International Cultural Service Program, which offered me a full-tuition scholarship to come to Oregon. In providing the Eugene-Springfield and surrounding communities with a cross-cultural exchange, I strive to share my learning experience as I discover new ideas, values, interests, and problems that are either different from or similar to those in Brazil.

I have no doubt that one of the most profoundly life-changing experiences during the Oxford workshop happened only because of the knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm that each fellow brought to the group. I came away believing that our future depends on developing an essential skill: the ability to evaluate what it means to identify our rights and duties in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.

Having the pleasure to study on the campus of one of the world’s most prestigious universities also made this experience inspirational. We felt an aura that may only exist in places such as Oxford, where for centuries the most brilliant minds have struggled to make sense of the universe and our role as humans in it.

We stayed in three of Oxford’s 38 residential colleges, places with notable alumni such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Thomas Hobbes, Oscar Wilde, and Erwin Schrödinger. Magdalen College was home to one of my favorite Brazilian poets, Vinicius de Moraes, who studied there in the 1930s.

For someone coming from the Brazilian countryside, being able to experience Oxford seemed only a distant dream. The collections of stories behind the remarkable architecture, the myriad works of art, and the melody of the traditional choirs echoing in the hallways inspired me in ways I cannot even describe in words.

While I believe that virtual communities have an enormous power to transform the world, there is no substitute for a face-to-face interaction with likeminded people. The Oxford trip also allowed me to get to know a small part of Europe that I’ve only seen in books. However, the most important takeaway for our group was to learn from one another about human rights issues in specific cases in order to bring new ideas back to our community in Oregon.

I would like to thank Professor Cheyney Ryan, Ashleigh Landau, the administrator of the UO’s Global Justice Program, and the donors who supported our travel for making this experience possible for UO students. I also would like to offer my words of thanks to Professor David Frank and to Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, for supporting me in this endeavor.

The Oxford program has reaffirmed my goal to help others become global citizens. If we wish to advance human rights, we must first create and develop human bonds. This the way to form communities that recognize the common ground we share as humans.

I am grateful to the University of Oregon for allowing me to acquire the values of being a global citizen. I am also grateful that my Oxford experience is now part of my life as a Duck. I will always carry this with me, be it in Brazil, the United States, or any other part of the world.