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Students learn about Universal Declaration of Human Rights at countywide event

Jeff Urbin, education specialist at the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home, opens the event.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is as important today as it was in 1948 when it was first adopted. Students from across Dutchess County – including 23 from Red Hook – recently spent a half-day diving into the declaration and learning how they can carry it forward through their actions. 

Dutchess BOCES Center for Educational Equity and Social Justice’s “Pathways to Civic Engagement: Small Places Close to Home,” brought students and chaperones to the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home on Dec. 6 for the event – a fitting location since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee. 

The title of the event came from a quote from Roosevelt which began: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.” 

"We wanted students to see what they had in common to build bridges across the county and give them time to think about civic action they can take,” Jenny Schinella, former director of Dutchess BOCES Educational Resources, said. “This is a trial and we wanted to see how it works. The districts were excited.” 

Senior Kaitlyn Martz wanted to participate because she is interested in history. “I wanted to develop a further understanding of everything and obtain more knowledge about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said. 

Red Hook sent students from three classes to the event: Women’s Studies, Theory of Knowledge and Genocide Studies. 

Jeff Urbin, education specialist at the Wallace Center, kicked the day off with some introductory remarks about the declaration, explaining that its 30 articles cover the basic rights everyone should have. The list includes being born free and equal in dignity and rights, the right to a fair trial, to worship as you want, to be free from slavery, to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

“Human rights are being challenged every day right in our own communities. It’s not old, it’s not foreign. It’s here and it’s now,” he said. 

How does this change? 

“It happens with kindness, with us working together. You’ve got the power,” Urbin said, sending the students into a rotation of three breakout sessions on these topics: 

  • 100 Cups of Coffee, Transformative Dialogue Project presented by the Dutchess County Commission on Human Rights. This group took selected articles from the declaration and discussed them one-on-one and in small groups. 
  • Bystander Intervention, a virtual presentation from Right to Be, addressed the topic of harassment and how bystanders can make a difference. 
  • Living Links: Standing up to Antisemitism and Hate, presented by 3GNY – a group of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. This session was designed to build empathetic connections to the events and lessons from the past and help students come up with effective “Acts of Honor” they can perform to honor the legacy of Holocaust survivors by standing up to antisemitism and hate. 

    Red Hook students at the Universal Human Rights Declaration event


Christian Totman, also a senior, had a few study halls Tuesday and felt the conference “was a better use of time. We have a project on this, so I wanted to expand my knowledge. I wanted more information on FDR’s life and how that affected him and how it all links back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 

Schinella and the ER team assigned students to different breakout sessions to ensure students from all six participating districts were in each one. In total, about 167 students participated.