Member Spotlight: University of Arizona

Blog Post
Sept. 9, 2020

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During the pandemic the need for human rights work has stood out as a significant issue worldwide. This fall, the School of Information at the University of Arizona is launching a new 15-credit graduate Certificate in Human Rights and Technology via its Human Rights practice program designed to support that work and create new technologically literate and adept practitioners across the globe.

The new certificate program is the offshoot of a recent course, Human Rights and Technology, which focuses on new information communications technology including satellite imaging, artificial intelligence, smartphones, social media, and facial recognition. That course had an explicit goal: Bring together the voices of those who develop technology and those who use the technology.

William P. Simmons, a professor of Gender & Women's Studies and director of the online graduate programs in Human Rights Practice and Katherine Brooks, a director at the School of Information and the founder of the Center for Digital Society and Data Studies who together launched the certificate program, will welcome the first student cohort during the university’s second fall semester, which begins on October 15.

“We want to have students who are adept at technology help them to learn how to better work with marginalized communities. How do we really work with people doing grassroots movements so that grassroots NGOs will be more productive, more effective, more ethical,” explains Simmons. “And for our students who are human rights activists who work in NGOs right now --we want them to be more literate with technology, and also be able to develop specific technological solutions that their group needs right now.”

Every class within the certificate program will have video conference guest speakers from around the world, and most classes are working on projects with NGOs (non-profit, non-governmental organizations) in different countries. Even though it's fully online, students have the ability to work on projects in Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ghana, and others, says Simmons. It’s this ability and promise to make real change in the world that’s so exciting, he says.

“We see kind of a snowball effect that can happen. If we can teach one NGO in West Africa how to use drones, others nearby will want to use them as well and maybe start pooling resources. We want to be part of this increasing conversation between human rights folks and technology. We've figured out a pedagogy where students can work with community members on real world problems in every class.”