Dr. Dokhanchi unveils a mural created for another of his organizations, the International Peace Studies Association (IPSA) along with IPSA President Michael Michelizzi. The mural was created by Gloria Eslinger and was unveiled in a ceremony on Sept. 21, which is known as World Peace Day.
Photo by Jean Germano

By Malita Villamayor

The pandemic may have brought them down, but UW-Superior’s Amnesty International is nowhere near finished. This fall semester, they’re working to raise awareness of basic human rights. Amnesty’s current focus is racial injustice. Kate Haga, a UWS junior and president of Amnesty International, is leading the charge. Because there are so many people of color whose stories have been cut short, she and her team have been working towards bringing those stories out.

“I think it’s important that we finally have these discussions in our country that have been neglected in the media and our textbooks…the POC community has been neglected,” Haga said. “They deserve to have their stories told and they deserve to be heard.” Later this month, Amnesty International is hoping to host an event featuring talks from people of color. The hope is that these speakers would give students the opportunity to hear their experiences of living in a community of color and how each individual personally combats injustice. While Haga and the group have been planning the event for a while, they had to postpone the original date.

“The event we were planning kind of fell through… We didn’t have as many speakers as we wanted,” Haga said.

Part of the issue stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. From cancelled plans to Zoom burnout, it took a few weeks for the group to get things going at the beginning of the semester. Still, Dr. Khalil (Haji) Dokhanchi, UWS professor and Amnesty International adviser, realized that students were eager to get together.

“It’s been impressive. No one has any tolerance [for the pandemic],” Dokhanchi said. “Some students have contacted me and said, ‘let’s get this started again.’”

One such student was Kate Haga.

“I was saying, ‘Hey, Haji! I wanted to make sure we could still find a way to plan events and get the word out!” Haga said.

Despite the inconveniences that come with being unable to meet in person, Amnesty International Secretary Amanda Foster notes that being online has its perks.

“It has given us new opportunities to grow,” Foster said. “Students are very busy people and being able to hop on a call is easier than showing up to a meeting at times.”

The UWS branch of Amnesty International has been around since the late 1990s. As the name implies, it is an international organization dedicated to promoting human rights. From gender and LGBTQ+ identities to speech and religion, members have used outreach and educational programs to raise awareness of these rights – and how they’ve been violated.

“We’ve done technology ban week – some schools don’t have technology,” Dokhanchi said. “We’ve discussed torture, raising awareness on that. We’ve had debates on campus… One of my favorite projects is Write for Rights.”

Dr. Khalil “Haji” Dokhanchi (left) works with a group of students at his annual “Refugee for 50 Minutes” project. While this project is done in conjunction with Dr. Dokhanchi’s classes, it brings awareness to many of the same issues that Amnesty International fights for.
Promethean File Photo

 Write for Rights, a letterwriting campaign to support those who have been imprisoned for their race, sexual orientation or beliefs, is one of the many events Amnesty has held on campus. Everything they do works towards the greater goal of creating a better life for all people.

“I want to spread ideas about cultural issues and get people interested in these topics so we can create a better society for everyone,” Haga said. “Being able to live a dignified life is something I care about a lot… I want everyone to thrive in this society, not just myself.”

This is a sentiment shared by Foster. “All human life is valuable… we all must have our basic needs met,” Foster said. “My goals are to find solutions within our government to change how our system works.”

Despite still being in the planning stage for most events, the students’ efforts have not gone unnoticed. They have a lot in store for the upcoming months, and Dokhanchi is eager to see how each student makes their goals reality.

“It’s inspiring,” Dokhanchi said, “to see the new generation become active, take the lead, and do some good – both in the community and abroad.”

To find out more about Amnesty International, get in touch with Kate Haga through email at khaga@uwsuper.edu.