Webster’s Institute for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies will host its fifth annual Human Rights Conference on October 8 and 9 at the Webster Groves campus. The conference’s theme this year is “family rights,” and the event will bring scholars, students, and community members together to explore issues like family law, adolescent rights, intimate partner violence, and LGBTQ family rights.
Freedom to Marry campaign director Marc Solomon will bring the conference to a close on the 9th with his keynote speech titled “Securing Human Rights in America: Lessons from the Freedom to Marry Movement.” All events, including the keynote, are free and open to the public, but attendees are encouraged to register, as space is limited.
The Institute – which has chosen to highlight human rights issues like disability rights and refugee rights in years past – chose the theme of family rights for 2014 because, Institute Director Lindsey Kingston explains, “the concept of human rights is all about protecting human dignity and ensuring that people have the bare minimum requirements to live a decent life. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine that kind of existence without some form of family. That’s why the international community recognizes the family as a fundamental unit of society.”
The theme of family rights, Kingston said, pertains to human rights scholarship on several levels in that it “not only highlights the human rights issues that impact families around the world, but also emphasizes the fact that families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – and all deserve the same level of respect.”
The conference will feature human rights experts from across academia and the non-profit world, and from around the country, including Jacqueline Bhabha of Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Law and Pamela Summers from NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
Several Webster faculty members will bring their areas of study to bear on the theme of family rights as well: Philosophy professor Kate Parsons will moderate a roundtable discussion, Kingston will present a talk on ”Invisible Families and the Right to a Nationality,” Anthropology professor Don Conway-Long will present on “Men, Masculinities, and the Family,” and Professional Counseling faculty members Hasmik Chakaryan and Stacy Henning will host a break-out session titled “Assisting Non-Traditional Families through Life Transitions.”
Chakaryan brings a unique global perspective to her and Henning’s discussion of the counselor’s role in helping non-traditional families. As a psycho-educational and psycho-social project founder and coordinator in East Europe for five years and as a counselor in the United States for the past 6 years, she said, she has worked with families from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic statuses, and sexual orientations, and has seen firsthand “how families struggle with generational poverty, addictions, war trauma, natural disaster outcomes, and migration – and based on where they come from and what stigma is attached to them, they will either get a chance to survive or not.”
Thus “when it comes to family rights,” Chakaryan explains, “it is vital to consider the context in which the family exists. Tensions in families may stem from economic and financial problems, which may be normal for all families to go through, but where [the family] comes from may affect the intensity of the problems they are experiencing, and the chances for them to ever resolve those problems.”
Chakaryan said she is looking forward to being a conference participant as well as a presenter – “hearing other great speakers, learning more about what is going on all over the world, [and hearing] personal experiences of those who would want to share their stories.”
Her and Henning’s contribution to the conference, she said, is one small part of the event’s larger goal to “raise awareness for human rights and social justice not only on this campus, but worldwide.”
For a full schedule of conference events, online registration, and more information on the Institute for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies, visit webster.edu/humanrights.