Recognizing human rights

Every year on December 10 the global community celebrates Human Rights Day, and this year, 2023, marks the 75th anniversary of commemorating the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This landmark declaration documents the inherent rights that every individual deserves as a human being – irrespective of race, colour, religion, gender, language, national or social origin, or any other status. 

When the United Nations General Assembly passed the declaration in 1948, it was proclaimed as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations." Although it is not a binding document, it led to the development of the International Bill of Human Rights, and had a significant impact on international law. It has become widely accepted as fundamental rights that everyone should respect and protect - and has set a standard for measurement and assessment in countries where certain marginalized groups are still fighting for equality.

Here at UBC, we pride ourselves in creating an inclusive and respectful learning and working environment that is free from discrimination for all members of our community, including students, staff and faculty. At UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, we firmly believe in providing a platform where everyone’s voices are heard, valued and respected. This dedication to inclusivity and equity forms the foundation of our institution, encouraging active participation and engagement from all members. By embracing a culture of acceptance, students are empowered to become actively involved in activism and address various societal issues.

As a student, it’s easy to feel powerless at times. But you have the opportunity to bring meaningful change at UBC. Together, we can create effects that extend beyond the boundaries of our campus, making a difference in the world we live in – and this change starts with you.

As part of this year's theme, Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All, the UN has set out three tracks of Human Rights 75 – promoting universality, forging the future, and supporting engagement. Here are some ways you can get engaged and commemorate the UN Human Rights movement as a graduate student.

Stay Informed

Continuing to educate yourself is crucial to stay informed and engaged with current social or environmental issues. It’s important to expand your knowledge and gain different perspectives to develop a holistic understanding of the topic at hand. 


Join Student Organizations

UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) is home to over 350 clubs, and they’re not just for undergrads! Look for student groups on campus that align with your interests and values. Joining such communities can help you provide a platform to collaborate with like-minded individuals and work collectively toward advocacy. View the list of AMS student clubs, or check out the list of Graduate Student Associations on MyCommunity.


UBC is filled with volunteer opportunities on campus, where you can meet like-minded people and help a cause that’s important to you! Check out the Volunteering forum in the Graduate Student Online Community, where there’s something for everybody.

Lead by Example

Be a role model for others by embodying the values of activism in your daily life – practice inclusivity and empathy in your interactions. Inspire and empower others to take action. 


💡Research spotlight

Meet some UBC students who are supporting the UN’s three tracks of Human Rights 75 through their research

Monica Shank Lauwo: studying literature and imagined futures of Tanzanian children 

Monica Shank Lauwo is a PhD student in the Language and Literacy Education program under the Faculty of Education. Her research project aims to empower Tanzanian children by involving them as co-ethnographers to explore their own language and literacy practices, which are often overlooked in elite practices. Through the use of visual methodologies, Monica’s study collaborates with schools and children in drawing, photovoice and multilingual bookmaking to expand children’s diverse language and literacy practices, while examining the impact of social class on access to education and its implications for equity.

She hopes her “work also catalyzes dialogue in local, national, and international communities about issues of importance to the children, by creating platforms for children to create and share their creative multilingual, multimodal productions in diverse contexts.”

“My work has connected me with a wide array of community organizations, schools, NGOs, and other institutions. I hope to continue and expand these collaborations to further social justice-oriented education work in the future,” says Monica. 

Sarah Klain: understanding the public communication in mitigating climate change 

Sarah Klain is a PhD student of Philosophy in Resources, Environment and Sustainability in the Faculty of Science. Her research focuses on promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives as critical solutions to climate change. Sarah aims to emphasize the aspirational aspects of transitioning to renewable electricity, including the associated benefits, the study explores how to generate wide public support for renewable energy, especially offshore wind farms. The research also investigates community engagement strategies in areas near proposed wind farms, examining public willingness to pay for environmental benefits.

“I hope to help the non-profit reach a wider audience through an academic publication with them,” says Sarah. “Addressing climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times. Figuring out how to shift our sources of electricity from fossil fuels to renewable sources is crucial for mitigating climate change, but there will be winners and losers in this transition. I want my research to contribute to clarifying the trade-offs involved in developing offshore wind farms.”

Fumiya Nagai: Understanding and Implementing Indigenous People’s Rights to Land and Territory in Canada 

Fumiya Nagai is a PhD student in Philosophy in Anthropology under the faculty of Arts. Fyumiya’s research focuses on the implementation of Indigenous people’s right to land, specifically exploring the challenges and possibilities of recognizing and implementing Aboriginal titles in Canada. The primary aim of the research is to contribute to reconciliation, decolonization, and the well-being of Indigenous communities. “My engagement in Indigenous peoples’ rights movements as an NGO staff member helps me deepen my understanding of the research topics from practical perspectives, further shaping my research design,” says Fumiya.


Additional resources



Thursday, 07 December 2023