Humphrey School News—February 20, 2019

Human Rights Faculty Receive Grand Challenges Grant to Expand Research

New projects will tackle global barriers to equality and justice


A mural painted on a wall in El Salvador featuring those killed in the country's civil war.
A mural painted on a wall in El Salvador featuring Archbishop Oscar Romero and others killed during the country's civil war. Photo: Alison McKellar, Creative Commons

In response to what they call “backsliding” of human rights around the world, human rights faculty members at the University of Minnesota are launching a new interdisciplinary research initiative to respond to those violations.

The faculty team has received a $325,000 Grand Challenges grant to support “The Minnesota Model,” an interdisciplinary initiative that will bring together faculty and graduate student researchers with human rights partners in the field, including non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, to pursue 14 different research projects to identify critical challenges to human rights and propose innovative, timely solutions.

The project builds on and expands the Human Rights Lab, an interdisciplinary research effort that was established two years ago with support from an earlier Grand Challenge grant.  

Jessica Stanton, associate professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is one of four principal investigators leading the project. The others are Law School Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, faculty director of the Human Rights Center; Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program in the College of Liberal Arts; and Professor Joachim Savelsberg in the sociology department.

“This critical research will address a spectrum of violations, such as incursions on human security, deprivation of basic needs, and the denial of justice,” says Savelsberg. “It will simultaneously advance both human rights practice and scholarship.”

Over the next two years, the collaborators will hold several public events to discuss their research at the University of Minnesota, at partnership sites, and with international institutions such as the United Nations and the Inter-American human rights system.

“We will be translating our research findings into policy recommendations for governments and human rights advocates," says Stanton. “Getting usable information into the public is a critical objective of the model.”

In addition to the four principal investigators, more than 30 University of Minnesota professors from a diverse spectrum of disciplines such as education, environment, humanities, journalism, law, medicine, nursing, public health, public policy, and social sciences, have signed on as collaborators.

“By engaging graduate students with leading faculty and innovative partner organizations, this initiative will mobilize the next generation of human rights leaders to generate solutions to complex challenges such as inequality, discrimination and violations of human rights,” says  Frey, who recently co-authored a commentary on the need for more human rights scholarship. 

Administered jointly by the Human Rights Center in the Law School and the Human Rights Program in the College of Liberal Arts, the Minnesota Model is composed of three types of research projects:

●     Six strategic research partnerships between academic researchers and practitioner organizations, producing impactful scholarly and policy outcomes.

●     Six new faculty-led projects in the Human Rights Lab. 

●     Two projects led by non-governmental organizations, also through the Human Rights Lab.

The human rights faculty group is one of six interdisciplinary teams to receive a Grand Challenge Research Award for 2019-2021. 

Read more about the grant

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