Voice of Witness and Professor Susan Roberta Katz have collaborated to offer this semester-long Human Rights Education course at the University of San Francisco.
Designed to support teachers of kindergarten through college as well as educators working in non-formal settings, the course aims to facilitate the teaching of human rights through modeling the exemplary pedagogy and praxis. In general, it explores the use of oral history, literature, visual and performing arts, interactive curriculum, and community activism as means of human rights education.
The main course texts consist of readings from the VOW book series, and VOW staff lead various class activities over the course of the semester. All students conduct an oral history based upon a human rights issue of their choice. For the final project,they expand upon this issue and develop research-based pedagogical tools based upon oral history to train others.
Narrator: Jaspreet (Jepe) Ghotra
Interviewer: Jackie Eugster
No one is sure if Jepe was born deaf, or if she lost her hearing before the age of one. Born in India, her parents decided to move to America for a better educational opportunity. Our paths first crossed five years ago during our undergraduate studies at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). My second year at CSUN, Jepe and I become roommates and have been best friends ever since. She is a petite woman with a spitfire personality who loves to chat and has one of the best laughs you could ever experience.
In Oregon, Deaf community events clashed with my own personal identity. In high school I had two white Deaf friends. They were involved in a Christian Bible study group – a Deaf bible study group, which I have nothing against it but it really was not for me. I just didn’t feel comfortable going. I’m not Christian; we have different religions.
They said, “Come, there are many Deaf people who come to gather and socialize.” I can’t articulate exactly what I was feeling, but it was not comfortable. I was asked to come when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. Sometimes I would be tempted, but I always decided against it. They would always try to convince me to join them over the summers, it was some sort of Christian camp where many Deaf people would gather and hang out and have fun. They even tried to convince me to change my religion and that would make me feel better. So regardless, I never fit in.
My Indian background clashed with the Deaf community in Oregon and being Deaf never allowed me to fully access school, friends, and even my family. I was complacent, going through the motions of everyday and living up to what society had expected me to be. I thought, after I finished school, I would get married, go to work, have kids and continue living this ‘average’ life. I did not have many goals and was not aware or conscious of social issues like racism, sexism, classism and audism (the oppression of Deaf people). I think I was very close-minded. No one taught me to think otherwise.
Narrator: Sarah Toutant
Interviewer: Kelly Mills
Sarah Toutant sat for an interview just months before her graduation from the University of San Francisco where she is studying Sociology and Critical Diversity Studies. During her senior year, Sarah has been the president of USF’s Black Student Union. Under Sarah’s leadership the BSU actively engaged the campus community in conversations about racism at USF and presented a list of demands to the President of the university. Sarah’s interview happened during her final spring break as a student at USF and just days before the President of the university was scheduled to attend BSU’s general meeting to address the list of demands.
I tried not to really think about my race as an African American woman. I was tired of all of the comments, I was tired of not getting asked to go to a dance, I was tired of like people not wanting to…people like making fun of my hair or people just saying these stupid things and it was on a daily basis. It would be at lunch one day, like I had a story every single day of something that had happened and I never told my…I never told my family, and it wasn’t even like, I noticed, looking back on it now, it didn’t matter what race the students were, like it was pretty much anyone would say things. Even the other students of color would say stuff. And even in 7th and 8th grade, I still was one of few, very few black people. I think I was actually the only black girl. There were black men, or black boys, but I don’t remember black girls at all. So I didn’t even see myself. I began to kind of see my skin color but I never saw women or girls.
Narrator: Sabrina Word
Interviewer: Hailey Vincent
In 2007, Sabrina became a victim of sexual assault while an undergraduate student at California State University, Sacramento. Since her assault in 2007, Sabrina has worked as a Peer Health Educator for GAMMA, she has become a certified domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, she’s worked on a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), she’s been the project coordinator in the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Resource Center at University of California San Diego and she’s worked as a prevention education coordinator at domestic violence and sexual assault agency in Solano County. Sabrina is now the health educator in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program at her alma mater, California State University, Sacramento.
I just sat on stage and I read my story. Afterwards, this weight was kind of just like lifted off my shoulders and I didn’t have this secret that I felt like I was holding in. My peers knew now what I had been through. I always remember after I spoke, there was this girl that came up to me just crying and all she said was thank you. Still to this day I don’t know who she is, but she has always just stuck with me. Then one of my sorority sisters brought me flowers and a card and said thank you. Since that initial day of sharing my story, more and more people have shared their story with me. I would get random text messages or phone calls like, “Hey Sabrina can you meet up with me or can you meet up with one of my friends?”
I knew the statistics beforehand but now it was like, this is becoming real, these statistics have faces. Basically any time anyone disclosed to me, I just connected them with the campus advocate. I said, “Thank you for sharing but I can only do so much.”
Narrator: Ko Ko Lay
Interviewer: Jane Pak
Ko Ko and I meet in his new condo lobby in downtown San Francisco. He greets me with a warm smile and welcome. As we ride the elevator up to his unit, he explains how he is still in the process of moving in. Upon opening the door, we are greeted with smiles by his niece, Destiny and wife, Mimi. Soon after we take off our shoes, Ko Ko’s mother comes out of her room to say hello. Having only been in the country for 5 years, she apologizes for her limited English as we shake hands and exchange smiles.
When I was young, we lived in Union Park in Rangoon, capital of Burma and I went to Catholic School, St. Philomena, from Kindergarten to 4th grade with my sister. After 4th grade, I entered the national school, No. 2 State High School in Dagon, also called Myo Ma School. Many Burmese leaders finished from that high school. Originally I was a science student but I made a monk hood for two years and then I changed my mind. I really wanted to learn about Buddha philosophy, Buddha belief, what he teaches but from the aspect of philosophy not from religious aspect. This is what I wanted to do so I changed the major. Unfortunately, I had to restart again from first year and then I enrolled in first year until my final year in Rangoon University.
At that time, we founded a student union, All Burma Student Federation of Student Union. We decided some of the group can keep on struggling non violently inside Burma. They had to go underground. Another group considered arm struggle and went to the Thai-Burma border and formed the student army and fought back the Burmese army. Because the Burmese dictator challenged us (whoever came up they were ready to fight), students were really mad and we had nothing to do. We had no choice. Otherwise we had to go to prison 128 years or 65-128 years for nonviolent action. I don’t believe in that one. We need to fight. We need to fight for freedom. Fight for peace. Fight for democracy. Fight for social justice. So more than 10,000 students crossed the Thai-Burma border and also some students crossed the India border and some other border, too.
Our group crossed the Thai-Burma border and we formed All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF). It is a Burmese student army, actually. I was elected as a Central Executive Committee member and I served as a Secretary of Information. We fought and lived in the jungle over 4 years, 1988 to 1992 December. Some group, we are the founder of All Burma Student Democratic Front, decided to migrate to a 3rd country – Canada, Australia, England, United States to continue our studies because at that time, I was a final year student. I didn’t have a Bachelor yet. And also in the jungle we found out that our education was not quite qualified to rebuild the country because under the military regime we didn’t have the freedom of choice, we could not choose any major we wanted, we could not do that. They went by scores so our education system was wrong, too.
Learn more about collaboration and consultancy opportunities through the Voice of Witness Education Program.