Navigating Human Rights Issues in the US

By Jaymelee Kim

The Childhoods in Motion: Children, Youth, Migration, and Education Conference was co-sponsored by the Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group (ACYIG), the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration, and the Council on Anthropology and Education. The Committee for Human Rights (CfHR) and the ACYIG co-sponsored a public forum at the conference to ask “how do we engage the public about human rights issues in the US?”

This question is one iteration of CfHRs two-year dialogue about engaging each other, students, and the public about human rights. Human rights discussions do not have to be couched in an international human rights law framework, however, anecdotally, that appears to be a common assumption, with scholars of social justice, colonialism, migration, and a variety of other relevant fields underrepresented in the conversations. As part of an effort to highlight 1) the connection between human rights and other anthropological foci and 2) discussions of human rights in practice and pedagogy, CfHR held forums at the AAA annual meetings in 2015 and 2016. The co-sponsored public forum for Childhoods in Motion is a continuation of that effort and was paired with a workshop hosted by Les Walker, the AAA Public Education Initiative Project Manager. Given the timing and theme of the conference, immigration and migration were of particular interest to participants, who generated the following suggestions:


  1. Talk to members of state legislature face-to-face. Representatives may not be familiar with systemic violence or how policies marginalize specific groups. Often a dialogue is necessary not just to declare that you are for or against a particular bill, but to explain why you do or don’t support it and how it impacts people.
  2. Urge friends and family members in states that are about to vote on discriminatory bills to contact their representatives.


  1. Support faculty impacted by changes in legislation. For example, close family members of faculty may be undocumented (and faculty themselves may have only recently become documented). Administration may be unaware of this. Considerations (e.g. leave time) could be made for faculty who are negotiating and navigating the impacts of new government policies.
  2. Ask students who are impacted by marginalizing policies what kind of support they need. Do not assume to know their need. If advocating, make sure the advocacy is relevant to the needs of particular student. Do not homogenize need.

Public Engagement

  1. Teach a publically accessible course. Arrange with administration to teach a course that is open to the public and advertise widely in local newspapers, etc.
  2. Advertise or create anthropological podcasts that address human rights/colonial/violence concerns.
  3. Teach a workshop or class at the local library and advertise widely.
  4. Think anthropologically. Given the current federal administration, American voters were driven by wide-ranging concerns. Identify motivating factors and engage in respectful dialogue, rather than promote stereotypes of a self-focused intellectual elite.
  5. Use AAA resources. AAA has created a public education project: World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration.

CfHR encourages dialogues about how human rights relate to various anthropological frameworks and how to engage students, the public, and each other in pressing human rights issues. Everyone is encouraged to attend the AAA CfHR sponsored panels, roundtables, and forums; we look forward to continued collaborations.