A Passion for Human Rights Research

University of Dayton alumna Kata Lucas '12 credits the University's human rights studies program for sparking her interest in the Bosnian war and also encouraging her to question some of her family's views on the 3-year conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was settled in November 1995 by the Dayton Peace Accords.

Lucas, now a research and policy analyst for Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County, will return to campus this month to present her Bosnian war-related research at the Social Practice of Human Rights conference, Nov. 8-10, at the 1700 South Patterson Building on the University of Dayton River Campus. Her talk is one of nearly 100 presentations by human rights scholars and practitioners.

Lucas will present “Silenced Agency Gains a Voice?” Her research looks at policy development efforts for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in the post-Dayton Accords world from a feminist perspective.

“The main reason I decided to attend the University of Dayton was because of the human rights studies program and being interested in these types of topics,” Lucas said. “It was specifically through several courses that I took as a human rights studies major that sparked my attention in the Bosnian war and genocide.”

Lucas, whose grandparents are from Croatia, said her studies also revealed the “misinterpretations and half-truths” she was told about the war and historical ties among Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which allowed her to confront nationalism in her own life.

“I had been told one version of the war in the Balkans during the ’90s and while some of those points may be true, there are definitely things that I had been told that were very much passed through a nationalistic lens,” Lucas said. “Studying the military conflict in Bosnia and Croatia and the history of the region through my courses in the human rights studies program really opened my eyes to a different version of history.”

The University of Dayton established the nation’s first undergraduate human rights studies program in 1998. More than 100 students have graduated from the program and pursued careers as human rights advocates and academics or humanitarian professionals in legal, governmental and nonprofit sectors.

Lucas continued her research while earning a master’s degree in international affairs from the New School in New York City. She lived in Bosnia during summer 2013 and has since made two trips back, most recently for several weeks this summer to attend a conference and meet with officials from the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. Her ongoing human rights research is unrelated to her current professional role researching economic development and transportation issues for Milwaukee County policy makers.

Presenting at the Social Practices of Human Rights conference allows Lucas to formally engage in topics she is most passionate about and also gives her additional experience presenting research.

“The University of Dayton really set the foundation for me and helped me find my passion in a very personal and also a professional way,” she said. “Even though I’m not working on this research in my day job, I want to do this work in my free time and it is my goal to ensure this research is a central part of my job in the near future.”

Having alumni such as Lucas return for the conference confirms both the quality of the University’s students and the value of its human rights studies program, said Tony Talbott, University of Dayton Human Rights Center interim executive director.

“Convening the conference every two years keeps UD at the forefront of human rights advocacy and scholarship,” Talbott said. “We host some of the biggest names in the field, as well as new and emerging scholars and practitioners. This is a fantastic resource and opportunity for our faculty, staff and students to engage with folks doing crucial, cutting-edge human rights work all over the world.”

About 300 participants from more than 15 nations will attend the conference, including representatives from many international human rights organizations.

Keynote speakers are William Dobson, senior supervising editor of NPR’s international desk; Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center; Nadiezhda Henriquez, a Columbia war survivor and human rights advocate; and Carol Anderson, author of White Rage and the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African-American Studies at Emory University. Their talks are free and open to the public.

University of Dayton faculty and students presenting at the conference include Tereza Szeghi from the department of English; Caroline Merithew from the department of history; Joel Pruce from the department of political science; Roger Reeb from the department of psychology; Sr. Leanne Jablonski from the department of religious studies; Simanti Dasgupta, Miranda Hallett and Theo Majka from the department of sociology, anthropology and social work; Rebecca Potter, director of the sustainability studies program; and Robert Brecha and Leah Ceperley from the University’s Hanley Sustainability Institute.

For more information, including a complete schedule and research panel registration, please visit the conference website.

The University of Dayton Human Rights Center will stream portions of the conference on Facebook Live, as will Open Global Rights on its website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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