Funding issues decrease studies on human rights, students say

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Universities have a hard time getting funding for research in human and women’s rights, students said at a panel Friday.

Students from universities around the country attended the 18th-annual Emerging Scholarship in Women’s and Gender Studies Conference. UT’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies hosted the conference, which had eight panels about contemporary feminism and race and gender issues. Friday’s panel provided insight into the challenges researchers face when they seek to analyze basic human rights.

Claudia Cervantes-Soon, a UT graduate student in education, spoke at a public high school about her research on social justice and human rights in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“In higher education, we are neglecting education research when it is not related to the [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields,” Cervantes-Soon said. “What I found was that, in the school itself, they had to go against the dominant notions of what education is, which is getting a degree and becoming an engineer.”

Researchers at universities are having difficulty getting funds for issues, including education and human rights, because they are not considered the prestigious and objective fields, she said.

“People tend to not really care about [human rights] because it doesn’t produce any efficiency or anything like that,” Cervantes-Soon said.

Kim Allen, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, spoke about her research on gang rape and the role that spectators play. She said she could not find a single court case where the prosecutors have pursued the gang rape spectators.

“Spectator liability is on the books in 48 states for the crime of dogfighting, and it is also in the books for three states for drag racing but never for gang rape,” Allen said.

Her paper suggested spectator liability should also be imposed on gang rape because spectators in that crime play the same role as they do in drag races or dogfights.

She said universities need to improve their resources for people researching human rights so that the law can better deal with issues, such as gang rape. Writing about and researching issues such as human and women’s rights makes it difficult to be successful in the academic world because it is often not considered a pressing issue, she said.

“I am passionate about human rights, and I would happily write on nothing else,” Allen said. “But if I repeatedly author articles on this topic, I would not be able to break into this elite circle of academia. So people stick to safer bets and write about standard constitutional law issues.”

Tatiana Young, a UT graduate student in women’s and gender studies, said research in human rights issues needs to grow.

“I really like the interconnections that I saw between the idea of spectatorship and accountability,” Young said. “To what extent is the responsibility on us as spectators to really challenge actively the continuing oppressions that we see in everyday life?”