By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)
UCLA International Institute,May 08, 2018 — Graduate students from a variety of disciplines came together at the UCLA Faculty Center on April 20, 2018, to present internationally focused research at the Fifth Annual International Institute Graduate Student Conference: “Going Global: Exploring Human Rights in the Shadow of Nationalism.” The conference aimed to highlight graduate research exploring the meaning, purpose and pursuit of human rights amid a worldwide political wave of nationalism.
The UCLA International Institute organized the conference with funding from a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. Cosponsors included the UCLA Graduate Division, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Latin American Institute, African Studies Center, Center for Middle East Development and Asia Pacific Center.
“The work of our conference… [is] to understand the [nationalist] phenomena at work, expand scholarship in the work of human rights and connect academics and advocates to meet these challenges,” said Asli Bâli, faculty director of the UCLA Law Promise Institute for Human Rights and co-director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies, during her opening remarks.
Between panels, conference-goers mingled and networked over lunch while listening to a keynote address by Pamela DeLargy. DeLargy — who has spent decades working at institutions such as the International Centre for Migration, Health and Development and the office of the UN Special Representative for Migration — spoke about her experience working with refugees in Sudan. DeLargy said she found the conference both encouraging and necessary in the current global political climate, praising the quality of graduate students’ research and its international scope.
Exploring international human rights law
The day’s first panel, “Implementing and Enforcing Human Rights Law,” focused on enforcing human rights in Latin America. Andrea Vilán critiqued legislation intended to curb child labor and child marriage in Latin American countries, while Kelebogile Zvobgo presented his research on why states do or do not commit to human rights treaties. Saskia Nauenberg Dunkell rounded out the panel by examining approaches for addressing human rights abuses and introducing transitional justice in Colombia.
At the “Conceptualizing Human Rights” panel, Ashley Halabi conducted a spatial analysis of governmental reach into Rakhine State in Myanmar and the government’s recent brutal counter-insurgency strategy. Panel colleague James then spoke on the theory and practice of remote sensing for human rights advocacy.
The following panel, “Citizenship: Rights of the Migrant,” saw Adrian Matias Bacong share his research on the rights of overseas Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates. Tara Adler spoke about the rise of anti-immigration sentiments in her native Denmark. Finally, Jenny Lee presented cases of undocumented transnational adoptees in an examination of citizenship.
Susan Wikstein opened the “Understanding and Imparting: Transformation of Human Rights” panel with a presentation on global citizenship education and its application to local human rights discourses. She was followed by Coralie De Mazancourt, who talked about the resistance of Chagos islanders in the Indian Ocean to their forced displacement by British authorities. Jungwon Kim rounded out the panel by detailing the intersection of social welfare and education in social democratic states like Sweden; her data suggested that well-educated people are significantly more likely to support social welfare policies than their counterparts in liberal democratic states like the U.S.A.
Celebrating human rights research and activism
During the “Human Rights: Visible and Invisible Borders” panel, Anthony Dean Norton examined a comparative claims approach to resolving self determination disputes, while Marc Edward Jácome analyzed the legal case surrounding the deadly shooting of a Mexican citizen in Mexico by a U.S. border patrol agent. Harleen Kaur then shared her research on how violence has shaped the identity of the Sikh diaspora in the United States.
Marcelo Goncalves spoke about the use water harvesting as an instrument of climate justice in semiarid regions at the “Right to Resource and Knowledge” panel. Julie Botnick addressed challenges to cultural sovereignty in human rights work and the importance of consent and collaboration when when researching and archiving artifacts in indigenous communities. Finally, Marcia Hale spoke on the need to maintain public access to water as cities modernize and privatize.
At the panel on “Rights of the Marginalized,” Joshua Mayer shared his paper on the human rights implications of Nicaragua's Grand Interoceanic Canal, while Nihal Kayali spoke on the emergence of Syrian-run health clinics in Turkey. Brooke Bach-Tang Phan, Laurelyn Mynhier and Aline Zero Soares then presented a short film entitled "Nationalist Populism, Misogyny and Society: An Exploration of the 2016 Election,” which examined the intersecting roles played by misogyny and nationalism in the most recent U.S. presidential election.
The day’s final panel, “The Right to Freedom, Security, Opportunity & Utopia,” allowed undergraduate students at the UCLA International Institute to discuss their research and activist work. Susan Bean argued for urban agriculture as a tool to combat global food insecurity, while Gabriel Ortiz examined recent neoliberal education reforms in Mexico.
Gabrielle Sheerer presented research on the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres and the struggle for sovereignty in Intibucá, Honduras. Brittany Hewitt combined linguistic analysis of Spanglish with an examination of portrayals of queer Latinidad in radical lesbian literary magazines. Finally, Christina Farhat spoke on the Syrian refugee crisis in her native Lebanon, drawing on research into the discrepancies between the mandates of international law and the actual implementation of refugee-related policy in Beirut.
At the close the undergraduate panel, two fourth-year International Development Studies majors were honored with the International Development Activist Award: Bridget Bruggeman, for her work as an eintern in Nicaragua through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Lauren Yang, whose time working with local agricultural businesses during her study abroad program in Ghana taught her the importance of acknowledging the assets and goals that already exist in developing communities.
Upon conclusion of the conference proceedings, Robin Garrell, dean of the Graduate Division and vice provost for graduate education, presented the award for best paper to Marc Edward Jácome for “Human Rights on the Border: A Legal-Historical Analysis of Hernández v. Mesa.” Patricia Turner, dean of UCLA College and the vice provost of undergraduate education, presented honorary best paper awards to undergraduates Susan Bean and Brittany Hewitt for their research on combatting food insecurity and “queering Latinidad,” respectively.
Attendees were then invited to a celebratory reception. Conference organizers, student researchers and members of the community toasted to a day of impassioned, international research and the continued success of the Going Global Conference in sparking conversations on advocacy, activism and development across campuses and disciplines.
Special thanks to Amanda Lai (Global Studies), Deisy Moreno (International Development Studies) and Maria Amaya Morfin (International Development Studies) for their help in covering the conference.