Human rights is focus for Norwich Prague trip

For 21-year-old Daniela Tupy, taking advantage of an all expense paid trip to Prague was more than just a chance to travel overseas.

The senior criminal justice major from Medway, Mass., will be returning to her home country for something other than visiting her family.

As part of a human rights course at Norwich, Tupy was able to submit an abstract paper in hopes of being selected to attend a Norwich-led event that bolsters the university’s focus on internationalization. “I wrote my paper on the communist use of police in Czechoslovakia during the 1940s,” she said. “I wrote the paper because of my family and my ties to the country.”

According to Tupy, human rights is something she deals with often through her job. “I am actually a part-time police officer in N.H., myself, so I was able to connect that with (the paper),” Tupy said. “I’m excited to learn about the country itself, there’s a lot of history I don’t know about, especially when it comes to human rights.”

As reports of a global rise in authoritarianism and the degradation of basic human rights threaten to endanger democracy, this Norwich-led conference that takes place in Prague March 7-8 has the potential to “help support the participants and human rights activists to bolster a society based on liberty,” according to the conference’s co-organizer.

“There is a rise in authoritarianism in the United States and throughout Europe,” said Rowland Brucken, Norwich professor of history and co-organizer of the 2019 Interdisciplinary Conference on HUman Rights.

“This conference is much bigger than I had ever imagined,” Brucken said. “This fits squarely into Norwich University’s mission statement of academic freedom and the exploration of controversial topics.”

The conference is based around undergraduate research conducted by students from Norwich University and Prague’s Anglo American University (AAU).

Norwich students attending the event will be participating in an all-expense paid trip to AAU, where they will present their papers to a panel of academics and learn about various human rights topics.

“This year’s theme is 20th century anniversaries in human rights,” Brucken said. “Students will present their abstracts to a panel of academics who will offer critiques after their presentations.”

According to Brucken, the trip is a prime example of Norwich leading the charge in exposing its students to experiential learning, or the pairing of unique academic experiences with formal class instruction.

“I pitched this idea as an afterthought, thinking it was just one of many ideas that may or may not come to fruition,” Brucken said.


Professor Rowland Brucken. Photo by Norwich University

“When you’re together with folks talking about human rights, inevitably, you share your own experiences, and you become inspired by listening to other people’s stories and learning about how they got to where they are today.” Professor Brucken

However, when administrators from AAU, with which Norwich had signed a memorandum of understanding, caught wind of the idea, they were captivated.

“They were immediately intrigued and put me in contact with their vice president of research,” Brucken said. “For the last year and a half we have skyped every week, he’s been the AAU point of contact in getting this conference together and I’ve been the Norwich point of contact.”

According to Brucken, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the conference.

“This is sort of a pilot, it’s the first year and most of the people involved are Norwich and AAU students,” Brucken said. “We are going to learn a lot about what works well and what we need to improve on.”

He is hoping to expand the event by 2021 when it will be held in the same capacity, except at Norwich, rather than the AAU.

“When the conference is at Norwich in 2021, I anticipate a more global list of participants,” Brucken said. “It will still be primarily Norwich and AAU participants, but we want to bring in more students and faculty from around the world.”

Like Tupy, a majority of the Norwich students attending the trip completed Brucken’s Global Human Rights class during the fall 2018 semester.

“I took the class because it seemed interesting and one of my friends told me about the conference,” she said. “I saw it as a chance to learn more about my family’s history.”

For Tupy and her peers, the conference will be more than just an academic function.

“We‘re doing a tour of the city, which will be fun for me, I’ve never actually seen Prague,” Tupy said.

Dylan O’Brien, 22, a junior political science major from Weymouth, Mass., another student on the trip, sees the conference as an opportunity to gain vital cultural experience for his military career.

O’Brien is a contracted cadet with the United States Marine Corps who had the opportunity to go to Israel last year.

“When I went to Israel last year, I learned of the importance of culture for anyone going into the military,” he said. “I learned that the best way to learn about culture is to actually go to the place you’re curious about.”

O’Brien, drawing on his trip from Israel, wrote his abstract on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.

“I’m interested to learn about what other people wrote about,” he said. “It will be interesting to draw parallels between what I talked about and what other people bring up.”

He is also curious about Czechoslovakia during WWII.

“I’m interested in seeing how the invasion of the Axis powers into Czechoslovakia failed from a military point of view,” O’Brien said. “I think there’s a lot to learn from a military standpoint, and I’m really looking forward to exploring [Prague].”

Jason Guth, 20, a sophomore international studies major from Elkridge, Md., is also looking forward to sightseeing.

“I’m most excited about being able to see things like Prague Castle,” he said. “I know a bit of German and Russian as well, so I’m looking forward to speaking it there.”

Guth has taken other trips to Europe in the past and is looking forward to experiencing Czech culture throughout the trip.

“I’ve been to Europe before,” he said. “If there is one thing I have learned about traveling to other countries, it’s that there’s always more to learn about [foreign citizens] and their cultures.”

Guth is eager to take advantage of networking opportunities through the Prague trip.

“I’m looking forward to learning about all of the other papers that are being presented there,” Guth said. “We will be representing the university and I’m excited to meet new people and gain new contacts.”

Guth and other students saw the trip as an opportunity to connect with people who share a common interest and similar mission in human rights.

D’Shaelyn Bullock, 20, a junior psychology major from Clinton, Md., decided to take the Global Human Rights course because she didn’t want a rerun of a “typical history course” that is often taught in high school.

She also has a general passion for human rights and for women’s rights specifically.

“My paper focused on women’s rights and how they came to be about in Great Britain,” she said. “I live in Maryland, but I grew up around Washington D.C., so my whole life I have been exposed to protesting and people fighting for what they believe in.”

Bullock is a part of Amnesty International, a human rights organization based out of London that claims to have upwards of seven million supporters worldwide.

“Being able to have my voice heard is something that I would like to achieve,” Bullock said. “This conference is the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

Bullock is also enthusiastic about exploring some interesting human rights memorials in Prague.

“There’s a memorial in Prague that honors Jan Palach, a former student who burned himself to death to make a statement,” she said. “This is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity and I’m glad I am able to take part in it.”

The next conference will be held at Norwich in 2021.

“This whole event is not just writing papers, its seeing and thinking about how these topics and skills that you’ve learned apply to the rest of your life,” Brucken said. “When you’re together with folks talking about human rights, inevitably, you share your own experiences, and you become inspired by listening to other people’s stories and learning about how they got to where they are today.”

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