Associate Professor Bill Simmons is bringing together human rights activists from around the world.
After teaching human rights courses for 15 years, Bill Simmons, an associate professor in the University of Arizona’s gender and women’s studies department, is trying to change the conversation. Simmons recently launched GlobalHumanRightsDirect.com, which serves as a hub for human rights activists across the world, including those from oppressed populations, to share their expertise. We sat down with Simmons to discuss his new website, as well as his work with the Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development in Phoenix.
Q. What inspired you to create GlobalHumanRightsDirect.com?
A. We came up with the idea about four years ago, and about a year and a half ago we received a grant from the Confluencenter at the University of Arizona. The main idea was to connect people who might video-conference into classrooms or meetings — like a speakers’ bureau for human rights activists. It’s become a social media site for human rights folks, as well as an archive for human rights movies, webinars and human rights issues. You can advertise events, organizations and get involved in blogs to talk about human rights issues.
Q. In what ways can this site advance the conversation on social justice and human rights?
A. A huge part of it is bringing voices together — not just bringing voices into the classroom but also voices from around the globe that don’t usually have the chance to talk to each other. One of the things we write about is patiently listening to others and expanding our world view. We need to learn to listen to those who are marginalized.
Q. You’re also president of the board of directors for the Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development. How did you get involved in that organization?
A. When I taught at ASU, I had a lot of Lost Boys from Sudan in my classes, and I also taught about the Lost Boys. (The Lost Boys refers to a group of roughly 20,000 refugees, mostly boys, who were forced to flee their homes when the Sudan civil war broke out in 1983.) While at ASU, I created the master’s program in social justice and human rights and the executive director (of the Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development) is one of my former master’s students. They’ve adapted for the most part to living in the U.S., but they now have kids. So we’re trying to help educate the kids about Sudanese culture and the stories of the Lost Boys, as well as trying to help in the building of the new country of South Sudan.