Amnesty Intl. fights for human rights

For The News-Letter

“Agree or disagree?” senior Dylan Cowit asked attendees at JHU Amnesty International’s first meeting of the semester on Sept. 14.

Cowit, the president of the club, led an activity to promote discussion about different civil rights and human rights issues. As Cowit presented different statements, students moved to various sides of the room depending on whether they agreed or disagreed.

“We want people to start a conversation with the people who agree with them and then bring up that conversation to the other side of the room,” Cowit said. “We try to get everyone involved defending their viewpoint.”

This activity is just one of the many discussions and events Cowit has planned for the club in the upcoming year. Cowit described Amnesty International as a group of students who try to raise awareness for civil and human rights issues in Baltimore and around the world.

“For the most part, that just means starting a conversation,” Cowit said. “Each week we try to have a student present to the group about an issue they find interesting — whether that is world hunger or the LGBTQ people in Russia. After they present, we have an open discussion.”

Last year, the club’s overarching theme for discussion was police brutality, inspired by the events in Ferguson. Cowit recalls one member giving a talk about the pros and cons of police body cameras and whether that was something to consider implementing on a national level.

This year the group’s topic is “Individuals at Risk.” Cowit said that the focus is a bit broader this year to allow students to present any idea that is interesting to them.

“For example, LGBT issues or gender and inequality in the U.S. and around the world are two examples I can think of that fall under the topic,” Cowit said. “Any issue that a student is interested in, we want them to feel safe to bring that up in conversation.”

The club holds meets every Monday at 8 p.m. in the Krieger Laverty Room. Though most of the meetings revolve around member presentations, Cowit said that he occasionally likes to change things up and send out articles or videos prior to meetings.

According to Cowit, the club has been around for years, but up until his sophomore year, membership was very low. In his junior year, he worked with the president to raise membership. This year, about 25 students attended the club’s first meeting.

“We’re always trying to raise awareness to new students at Hopkins by putting up flyers and painting billboards or putting meetings in Today’s Announcements,” Cowit said.

Cowit added that the great thing about the club is that there isn’t much of a time commitment.

“We aren’t the type of club that takes attendance every week,” Cowit said. “We want to have as many people as possible come to our group and have a conversation. So if you can’t make it one week, that’s fine. If you want to start coming in the middle of the semester and you haven’t been to any meetings before, that’s great too.”

Senior Busola Obitayo, secretary of JHU Amnesty International, spoke about the organization’s purpose.

“Amnesty International is more than just a club for me. It is a place where I can genuinely discuss subjects that influence me and the world I live in. From issues such as Black Lives Matter to the Syrian Refugee Crisis to Global Climate Change, Amnesty International is the place to debate and examine current measures while considering future feasible solutions,” Obitayo wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Sophomore Alexandra Hansen, treasurer of JHU Amnesty International, agreed with Obitayo.

“To me, this club means interacting with other people who are just as passionate about human rights and the future as I am. Our goal for the coming year is to continue to raise awareness about human rights and different violations of them, and to cultivate an environment that is well informed and also passionate about fighting for those whose rights have been violated, and fighting for a better future!” Hansen wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

The events for the club in the coming year are still in flux. Cowit said they are definitely planning to host a panel in the spring with the theme “Individuals at Risk.”

“In the past, we’ve had panels and we reached out to different departments on campus,” Cowit said. “We’ve had Hopkins professors as moderators of the panels and we also reach out to professors at other schools like Goucher to try to get them to speak about an area they research.”

Cowit also hopes to plan a letter writing campaign similar to the one the club hosted in the spring last year that dealt with an education budget cut.

“The budget that Governor Hogan had proposed cut a lot of money from Baltimore City public schools, which are already under-resourced,” Cowit explained. “We did a campaign to Baltimore City Council and to Governor Hogan’s legislative director to get them to reconsider the budget.”

Overall, Cowit hopes that students interested in civil and human rights issues will drop by on a Monday night to see what the club is all about.

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