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Kean Human Rights Institute Conference to Focus on Voting Rights


The 13th annual Kean University Human Rights Institute (HRI) conference will focus on the power, importance and fragility of voting as our nation prepares for its next presidential election.

Ari Berman, an award-winning journalist and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, will be the featured speaker.

The conference, entitled VOTE: Human Rights in Action, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on March 27 in Wilkins Theater on Kean’s Union campus. It is free and open to the public, but preregistration is required.

“Here in the United States we take voting for granted,” said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D. “This conference, indeed the entire Human Rights Week, demonstrates Kean’s commitment to the importance of voting rights, and how voting supports the advancement of human rights.”

Berman, a senior reporter at Mother Jones whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Politico and more, and is also a frequent TV political commentator, has written several books on politics and voting. Give Us the Ballot was named a finalist for nonfiction in the National Book Critics Circle Awards.

The HRI Conference will feature a day of presentations by speakers steeped in social activism and justice, including Henal Patel, the Nicholas Katzenbach Legal Fellow of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. An attorney, she works in the Institute’s Civic Engagement Pillar. Also speaking will be Usjid Hameed, the government affairs and development coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s Columbus Chapter. A former Puffin Democracy Fellow with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, his work has included breaking down barriers to the ballot box for voters who lack proficiency in English. 

The conference comes on the last day of Kean’s Human Rights Week, March 23-27, during which the Kean HRI will host a series of interactive programs to educate students about voting rights. Included will be a campuswide voter registration drive; demonstrations of voting machines; a mock debate; a screening of the film Selma; an advocacy workshop; and on March 16, a recreation of the Women’s Suffrage March, from the HRI to the Liberty Hall Academic Center, followed by a poetry reading about women’s suffrage.

“Throughout history, people all around the world have had to fight for the right to vote. However, universal suffrage is not yet a reality. In addition, where it is, access to both registration and voting are often limited,” said Lauretta A. Farrell, D.Litt, HRI director. “By focusing on the right to vote at the 13th annual Human Rights Conference at Kean, we address these issues and more, shining a light on a critical and timely issue that is sure to be of interest to students, professionals, activists and community members.”

The Human Rights Gallery is also hosting Art as Witness: Political Graphics 2016-18, a multi-media exhibition exploring the issues and controversies surrounding elections in the United States. The exhibition is on display now through May 10. An opening reception, free and open to the public, will be held at the HRI Gallery on Thursday, February 20 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

The Human Rights Institute’s commitment to the topic of voting rights also includes several affiliated course offerings. The course offerings include Justice & Human Rights, a course taught by Farrell, and a Human Rights in Action alternative spring break trip, in which students will travel to Ohio. There, they will work with Hameed and the Andrew Goodman Foundation to support non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts in advance of the March 17 presidential primary election in that state.