Correction: This article has been updated since its original publication to reflect that Residential Life funded the event.
The Residence Hall Southwest staff created an event to teach students about civil rights activists.
Rights at the Museum is an event created by the peer advisors at RHSW and hosted in the Residence Hall West lobby. As part of the event, peer advisors acted as civil rights activists to teach students about the lives of advocates and the issues they supported.
Jack Partain, psychology sophomore and peer advisor, said part of the motivation behind the Rights at the Museum idea to showcase a variety of civil rights issues and activists was to reflect the diverse staff of Residential Life and the diverse student body.
“We worked really hard to make (Rights at the Museum) something presentable and something that would be really interesting to the coordinators,” Partain said. “And we won and it was fantastic. We were super happy because it was (out of) all the areas and we were the ones who were selected.”
During planning, Southwest Residence Hall Coordinator Rachel Deen said a big part of the Rights at the Museum was to represent aspects of civil rights activism such as education and privacy that have not typically received as much attention.
Nixon Jose, a mechanical engineering junior who attended the event, reflected on what the event meant for him.
“It’s interesting because it’s mostly people that I’ve never heard of until after this event,” Jose said. “It wasn’t like Martin Luther King. It was people that nobody knows about or people who just came up, like Malala who got shot a few years ago. And Edward Snowden. No one really thinks of him as a political activist but he is.”
Some of the advisors decided to showcase activists who spoke about issues that have personally affected them.
“We were looking through a list and we saw Clifford Beers, who fought for mental health rights, and whom I’d never heard of,” Partain said. “Mental health is often not considered a civil right. But I consider it very important to me because I struggled with mental health personally before in the past.”
Other advisors chose activists because of the impact they had on the national conversation surrounding civil rights.
“A lot of the people were (focusing) … more on the fact of equality rather than straight up attacks on somebody’s privacy,” said Samuel Wallaert, a mechanical engineering junior and peer advisor. “Snowden is more along the lines of technological attacks where it’s you. It’s impartial to race, gender and so forth.”
As part of the research process, the peer advisors utilized different techniques to learn about their activists. For example, Wallaert looked directly at the dossier Snowden leaked to find far-reaching government surveillance programs. Partain, for his presentation on Clifford Beers, read Beers’ autobiography, “A Mind That Found Itself.”
Deen said the idea for Rights at the Museum originated as part of a competition called “Shark Tank.” For the competition, all the residential halls created and presented an idea for an event. The winner received funding from Residential Life to make the event become a reality. This year RHSW won the competition and created Rights at the Museum.
“It started off with me going, ‘Hey why don’t we do something like Night at the Museum?’” Deen said. “And the staff loved it. It turned into, ‘Well how about we talk about some rights and things like that?’ And one of my members said, ‘Why don’t we try Rights at the Museum and bring out some civil rights activists?’ That’s where we got the idea.”
After the peer advisors gathered information about their activists, Deen organized all the research and consulted with the Galerstein Gender Center and the Multicultural Center for feedback.
When students finished walking through all the stations, they were given buttons and T-shirts to keep as souvenirs of the event.
“Don’t be complacent,” Jose said. “Always find a better way to see the world. So (Snowden) tried to stop the security bill. Malala tried to give kids an education. Everyone has their own thing to better the world and that’s what this is.”