Press Release: Human Rights Educators USA Announces 2021 O’Brien Awards

November 16, 2021

Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA) announced today the winners of its 2021 O’Brien Award for Human Rights Education. Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, Professor and Founding Director of Human Rights Studies at the University of California, Davis, is the recipient of the O’Brien Award for individual achievement. Executive Director Kate English will accept the O’Brien Award for organizational achievement on behalf of Educators Institute for Human Rights of Washington, DC.

Established in 2015 in memory of Edward O’Brien, pioneer human rights educator, the O’Brien Awards annually honor an individual and an organization that have made an outstanding contribution to human rights education in the United States. The 2021 awards will be presented as part of HRE USA’s Human Rights Day Celebration on Friday, December 10, at 3:30 EST.

Keith David Watenpaugh

2021O’Brien Award for Individual Achievement

A leading historian of human rights, Keith David Watenpaugh has led important educational initiatives at UC Davis and in collaboration with partners in the Middle East, efforts to advance the human rights of refugee students, including the Article 26 Backpack Project, an award-winning, cloud-based mobility tool that empowers refugees to safely store, curate, and securely share important educational and training documents. His dedication to expanding human rights education inspired him to build the UC Davis Human Rights Studies Program, the largest program of its kind in the University of California system.

One nominator has said of him: “Dr. Watenpaugh’s commitment to participatory student involvement in the construction and implementation of the Article 26 Backpack has impressed me most deeply. … [H]e prioritizes the engagement of students as peers, mentors, and leaders in the operations of Backpack.”

A colleague has said of him: Watenpaugh founded the UC Davis ‘Human Rights Initiative’[because he was] inspired by a profound commitment to establish Human Rights as a central intellectual and ethical concern” on campus. … His courses provide a foundation at the general education level for human rights history, theory and practice for more students from diverse backgrounds in one year (1000+) than faculty in my program reach over four years. Moreover, he has led the first successful institutionalization of Human Rights Education in the UC system.”

Educators Institute for Human Rights (EIHR),

2021 O’Brien Award for Organizational Achievement

Human rights education is the foundation of Educators Institute for Human Rights (EIHR). Founded by teachers for teachers, EIHR provides training, develops materials, and supports networks of educators globally to work together to teach the history of mass atrocities, including the Holocaust. In the face of rising violent extremism and hate-filled rhetoric, educators in the United States and across the globe look to EIHR as a resource for prevention, response, and rebuilding community, as well as materials, and support to teach the next generation about these subjects responsibly and confidently. Based on five continents, staff members are able to provide a uniquely global perspective to this work.

One nominator observed, ”Unfortunately, in the United States, the topic of human rights is often viewed as an issue that impacts other parts of the world, not our own country. … Students need to be provided with opportunities and resources for frank examination and discussion of inequities and inequalities in our country. EIHR provides both and highlights the connections between historical events across centuries and continents. With this context and perspective, our students will be better prepared to take on the challenges of being a responsible and active global citizen.”

HRE USA is proud to honor Keith David Watenpaugh and Educators Institute for Human Rights for their commitment and service to human rights education in the United States.

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