England, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Netherlands…sounds like the perfect European getaway, but Global Women’s Studies (GWS) students traveled to these countries for more than just sightseeing. They met with individuals and organizations who fight for human rights and women’s human rights. This past spring was the first ever BYU Human Rights/Women’s Rights study abroad, with 30 students, all GWS minors, participating in the program.
Dr. Valerie Hegstrom, coordinator of the Global Women’s Studies program, and political science professor Dr. David Kirkham, who focuses on human rights, co-founded the study abroad. During the program, human rights classes were taught by Kirkham and women’s rights classes were taught by Hegstrom at Hyde Park Chapel in London. Hegstrom said that in addition to attending classes, students visited historical monuments involving human and women’s rights issues and met people who promote those rights. The main emphases of study were the two worst offenses of human rights: slavery and the Holocaust.
Because of the intensity of the subjects they were studying, students shared that the program was both deeply meaningful and challenging. Emma Beaumont, a student majoring in nursing, shared that the study abroad was “eye-opening, perspective-changing… [and] very humbling.” Joseph Fitzgerald, double majoring in psychology and German, explained that as a returned missionary from Germany, learning about the Holocaust was difficult. It was hard to learn about, because the Holocaust is “emotional” and “so many different perspectives” need to be considered when addressing it. Beaumont added that although the study abroad was “overwhelming at times, [it was] motivating to be the change and the difference you want to see from these problems.”
Katherine Kramer, a political science major, shared that the study abroad excelled at “helping us connect with lots of different people in the sphere of human rights.” Fitzgerald said that meeting with these individuals was the “most impactful part of the study abroad,” because it was “cool to see so many organizations and people working towards progress, [since it is] easy to complain about injustices, [but] hard to make a change.” Hegstrom said that the group also visited several human and women’s rights sites, including:
- A concentration camp in France and the Holocaust Center in England
- Amar Foundation in London, where a Baroness spoke about refugees
- The International Criminal Court in Hague, Netherlands, where they witnessed a trial
- Bletchley Park, where codebreakers (many of which were women who were good at puzzles) worked to break the codes the Nazis used during World War II
- The European Court of Human Rights, where a human trafficking spokesperson met with them
For GWS students, the human and women’s rights study abroad impacted them on a professional as well as on a personal level. Beaumont shared that the study abroad was “life-changing.” She used to “have the blinds on” about these issues, but now she “want[s] to be more proactive and open in talking about human rights.” Kramer said that she learned from the program that “not every person in vulnerable place/situation is going to have the same narrative/story.” For Fitzgerald, one of the main takeaways of the program was that “we need to celebrate progress but not become complacent” with the progress made. Beaumont added that she had felt like her influence was a “drop in a bucket,” but then she learned that “every drop counts,” because these organizations have made an impact. GWS students learned that although there are many challenges still facing the world, every drop does make a difference.