Launched in Fall 2015, the Human Rights and Action Learning Community (HRALC) has been a thriving hub of activism, academic achievement, and community service. In partnership with Community Outreach and the Human Rights Institute, the HRALC engages participants through academic, experiential, and residential activities designed to enhance their understanding of social justice, diversity, and civic responsibility. Service experiences and immersion programs provide practical forums that foster a greater understanding of individual values, community issues, and the principles necessary for active citizenship.
I met with Castella Copeland, Social Justice RA for the HRALC, to gain insight into her experience leading and being a part of this learning community. A main goal of the HRALC is to teach students to apply their volunteer experiences in the learning community programs, and integrate them with work they do in the classroom, future careers, and beyond. Basically, it’s “putting the human rights framework to work in bringing theory to practice,” Castella said. “Human rights is a journey and experience; it’s like exploring your faith.” The HRALC offers an opportunity for students to use human rights as a lens through which they view and shape their journeys through the world. Students are encouraged to view issues from different perspectives, to think critically, and make connections (personal and otherwise) between different causes and movements. Castella will be returning as the Social Justice RA for the HRALC in the fall 2016 semester.
In terms of requirements, students commit to engaging in 35 hours of service work each semester. Students also participate in weekly meetings focused initially on building community within their cohort, and then on creating other programs to integrate community service and the human rights framework. For example, the HRALC started off the year with an overnight retreat and community service project at Camp Horizons in Windham. Earlier this semester, the group also hosted a series of campus-wide discussion of the book The New Jim Crow, the UConn reads book for this year.
Skylar Wright, a sophomore majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring Human Rights, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Psychology, described her experience being a member of the HRALC. Initially part of the Community Service Learning Community, Skylar was motivated to apply to the HRALC when the former merged with the latter. The main draw for staying a part of this community was the “close-knit atmosphere” and the specific focus on social issues and inequalities. “The [HRALC] has really opened my eyes to the injustices that exist all over the world. When we think of human rights, it’s usually framed in such a way that it seems like a distant problem—not something we deal with in the United States. However, there are clearly human rights violations that happen very close to home…. The HRALC has given me a new perspective on exactly what human rights are and why we should care about them.” Skylar will also be returning to the community for the fall 2016 semester as a Learning Community Mentor.
In reflecting upon her experience, Skylar offered this recommendation for students interested in joining the community: “I would recommend this learning community to other students because it promises to challenge your perspectives and open your eyes to some of the issues there are both close to home and around the world. As these issues become even more relevant and visible, it is pivotal that students at the university are informed about them; being a member of this community will make that knowledge easily accessible.”
For newly admitted students, here is how to apply: http://lc.uconn.edu/apply-now/.