A Message from HRI's Leadership on Racism and Human Rights in the United States

The new academic year begins in a charged social and political climate. In her welcome message to the University community, President Herbst acknowledged the hatred on display around the country and in Charlottesville earlier this month, and she reaffirmed “the commitment we bring to our mission as members of a diverse and inclusive academic community.” Responding to these events, a group of faculty, administrators, staff, and students from across the university have planned a Vigil for Memory and Justice to be held on Wednesday, August 30 at 7:30 pm in the Student Union Quad. We stand in solidarity with those who speak out against hatred and violence, and we encourage others in the community to attend the vigil and to participate in events throughout the semester challenging racism, xenophobia, discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, and other forms of oppression.

Although the resurgence of overt racism has been evident in the past months, the work of eliminating racism – whether overt, covert, structural, or interpersonal – remains a critical challenge for our society today. The Human Rights Institute, through its teaching, research, and programming, is committed to engaging persistent racial, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic bias and discrimination on the local, national, and global levels. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), built on global movements to end the practices of colonization and state segregation, recognizes that eliminating racism and xenophobia is essential for a world order founded on human rights.  CERD is one of the few human rights treaties that the United States has ratified, and we must hold the United States to its commitments in that document.

In the wake of the white supremacist protests and violence in Charlottesville, the UN body charged with monitoring compliance with CERD issued a rare “early warning and action procedure” memo to the United States government. The Committee called upon the government – including “high-level politicians and public officials” – to “unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and racist crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country” and to “actively contribute to the promotion of understanding, tolerance, and diversity between ethnic groups.” As human rights advocates, we have been deeply dismayed by the failure of our highest leaders to heed this call at such a critical point in time.

The UN’s charge also applies to us – not only as educators and professionals but also as members of the university community. We call upon those engaged in our collective work to support the efforts of students, colleagues, and staff in units across the university to promote and uphold the values of inclusivity, social justice, and human rights. Doing so is critical to fostering a thriving university community and society. Please join us at the vigil if you can, and at later events throughout the semester dedicated to discussing how we should address these issues in the classroom, campus community, and beyond.


Kathryn Libal                                                            

Director, Human Rights Institute

Associate Professor, Social Work & Human Rights


Molly Land

Associate Director, Human Rights Institute

Professor, Law and Human Rights