UMN students, faculty receive grant for human rights research

The research will be used to aid policy recommendations for national and international governments

Norah Kleven

University of Minnesota faculty and students researching human rights received a $325,000 grant last month to conduct research and draft policy recommendations for national and international governments.  

The Grand Challenges Exploratory Research grant will fund “The Minnesota Model,” a research process which connects students and faculty with institutions to identify human rights issues as they arise. The results of the research will then be used to create policy recommendations which will be presented to the public, government agencies and international organizations like the United Nations. 

“The whole aim of the grant is to have a broad reach throughout the University of Minnesota community and to try to engage with lots of different people from … different departments all over the University,” said Jessica Stanton, associate professor of global public policy at the Humphrey School and a principal investigator on the project.

The research project is led by four University faculty from the Law School, Humphrey School and College of Liberal Arts, but will also include faculty members who specialize in education, environment, medicine, public health and more. 

The grant comes as progress on human rights issues is being undone with the rise of authoritarian governments, according to Barbara Frey, director of the University’s human rights program and a principal investigator on the project.

“There are more threats to human rights because people’s right to free speech, to organize, to oppose the government have been dramatically tightened,” Frey said. “There is less space for defending human rights and less respect for the laws and institutions that protect human rights internationally.”

Frey pointed to examples of regimes in Venezuela, Russia, China and Turkey as some of the countries in which human rights are the most in jeopardy. 

Stanton said she hopes the project helps people think more broadly of human rights and what constitutes human rights violations. 

Robin Phillips, the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a Minneapolis-based human rights group, said that the most frequent human rights issues her agency deals with are immigrant and refugee rights, sex and labor trafficking and racial and socioeconomic inequality. 

The program is still accepting research applications, and projects will begin by this summer.

“Beyond it being research, it’s also supposed to actually improve human rights through better policies and practices,” Frey said.