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Social Work Trip Challenges Students to Connect Human Rights Issues to Everyday Experience

Social Work Trip Challenges Students to Connect Human Rights Issues to Everyday Experience

Students and faculty in the social work department pose for a photo in front of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Bethel social work major Alyssa Knight ’18 climbed the gleaming limestone steps of the Tower of Hope at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The architectural spiral staircase leads to a large viewing platform from which the lit tower shines over the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Knight was one of 22 Bethel social work juniors and seniors who, along with three faculty members, traveled over 400 miles to visit the museum this January.

After noticing strong connections between social work course material and the museum’s exhibits, Assistant Professor of Social Work Eydie Miller Shypulski presented the idea of the Winnipeg trip to a group of Bethel students in August. Although not affiliated with any particular course or degree requirements, the trip provided an incredible opportunity to expand the students’ understanding of human rights throughout history. After Shypulski discovered there was  student interest and commitment to visit the museum, the next step was to make the trip a reality.

“It took a lot of planning to get approval of the trip and fundraisers to help combat the cost,” says Katie Cudo ’18 . However, the students found their hard work rewarded when they successfully raised around $10,000 to help pay for the trip.

As the only human rights museum in the world, the institution’s exhibits and galleries told the story of the advancement and abuse of human rights throughout history. For many students, the exhibits made the topic of human rights—previously learned about primarily in a classroom—real and relevant to their everyday lives.

“Human rights is an issue for all people,” explains Knight, adding that the trip expanded her awareness of what was going on directly around her. “Everything that I experienced at the Human Rights Museum I could tie back to the things that we’re learning in class and at our internships, so it was very applicable.” Cudo agrees, “Part of becoming a well-informed social worker is having experiences to advance our learning, and this trip definitely taught us all more about human rights, historical trauma, and reconciliation.”

Shypulski explains how the exhibits challenged museum-goers to recognize the need for intentionality in promoting human rights by urging them to ask the question: “What happens when we don’t stand up?” Seeing examples of situations where people allowed fear to drive their decision-making and others suffered as a result caused students to ask what they, especially as Christians, can do to impact human rights issues.

Another trip participant, Megan Davis ’18, sums up her experience: “It made me realize it is true that one person can make a difference, whether that be through leading protests against injustice or the small things like acknowledging a person’s humanity when you make eye contact on the bus.”