The BYU-Hawaii Human Rights Club met via Zoom for its opening event on Sept. 22. Club members shared their vision of spreading peace and awareness of basic human rights and hope to unite people and help them feel connected despite uncertain times.
“The world will be invited to unite and share thoughts on how to weather these storms, heal our planet and change it for the better. Even though we may not be able to stand next to each other, we can still dream together,” David Whippy, an assistant professor in the faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, said.
Whippy, who spoke at the event, said “September 21was a day declared by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day of Peace, which was why they chose that day to do the club’s opening.”
“As we struggle to defeat COVID-19,” Whippy said, “Your voice is more important than ever. In these difficult times of physical distancing, the international day of peace will be dedicated to fostering dialogue and collecting ideas.”
Whippy spoke to students during the meeting about the importance of being advocates for peace in their communities. Whippy invited “everyone to lead with non-violence for 24 hours and reflect on their experience.”
Even though we may not be able to stand next to each other, we can still dream together.
Goals and vision
Christina Forrester, a senior from Florida majoring in political science and the BYUH Human Rights Club president, said “Our mission is to bring awareness through booths, lecture series and short films."
“We wanted to create a community where students feel like they can come and express themselves and feel connected even though we are all over the world,” she said. Forrester expressed she was grateful to see at least 50 people join the club.
The club aims to motivate students to be engaged in their communities, explained Forrester, and think about what they can do to make a difference in their societies.
“There are a lot of human rights issues that we see all over the world. We hope to give students an opportunity to feel like they are making a difference.”
Forrester organized a “get-to-know-you” game online during the meeting. “Online is pretty interesting and different, but we can still be connected to others,” she said at the event.
During the virtual meeting, Sakiusa Tukana, a junior from Fiji majoring in political science, shared a video titled, “What are basic human rights” that features specific issues and basic human rights examples.
According to Forrester, “It was a great example of being informed of the basic human rights because it emphasized the United Nations’ universal declaration of human rights. [This is] the kind of information we need to learn and know about.”
Tukana discussed how the Human Rights Club activities are based solely on the United Nation’s calendar and the special events celebrated.
“Students are involved in these activities in order to participate in the planning, collecting of information, researching, etc.,” Tukana said. “We allow everyone to have a voice in the planning and not just the leaders.”
The BYUH Human Rights Club was a select interest club category, he said. “The club is under an academic department. Christina Akanoa, a political science professor, is the club’s advisor.”
Edmond Saksak, a junior from Vanuatu majoring in political science and social work, said, “The Human Rights Club has no say in any matters here at BYUH. But it contributes to educating students on human rights issues and helping students know about the importance of the United Nations.”
Inspiring others to serve
Forrester affirmed her role as a leader in the Human Rights Club is “very fulfilling.”
She said, “There is something special and being able to bring everyone together, especially on issues people care about. More importantly, it is an opportunity for me to share something I care about, and I get to learn from other perspectives as well.”
She said she had a desire to be involved in this club ever since she was a freshman. “I remember attending a Human Rights Club opening social as a freshman and seeing how students get together and talk about these issues and what they can do personally to contribute to a fair society is just fulfilling,” Forrester stated.
She remembered how she felt, and she wanted others to feel the same way. “That is why I’m motivated to serve in this chapter.
“I wanted to encourage everyone that, after all, we are a family. Please reach out to each other and try and fill in the gaps of uncertainty during this pandemic. It is part of being connected.”
Tukana said Melissa Fifita, the club president at the time, invited him to join the club presidency when he first came to BYUH.
“After a few weeks and months into the role, I got used to it, and I’m encouraging others to try it out and learn about the issues around them and what they can do to contribute to a safer and fair world,” he said.
Tukana encouraged everyone to take the opportunity to learn about human rights and allow their knowledge to build character. “It is an opportunity to not only help others but yourselves,” he said.
Saksak said joining the club in a situation like a pandemic is difficult. “Doing it online is a challenge but to participate and be educated on issues relating to our day is important.
“Human rights are an ongoing issue, but it is everyone’s duty to take a stand for what is right and just for the good of all living things.”
In conclusion to his talk, Whippy reiterated President David O. McKay’s vision, “From this school, I’ll tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”