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At the intersection of human rights and the environment

Human RightsThe eleventh annual Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR) took place this January, focused on the human cost of environmental degradation. The conference brought 40 delegates from across the country, 15 speakers from around the world, and more than 100 students, faculty, and visitors to explore topics like environmental preservation and economic development. “Environmental issues often affect the most marginalized communities much more so than wealthier communities,” stated Weinberg senior and co-director of NUCHR, Mark Specht. “Poor people really bear the brunt of pollution and climate change.”

This year, speakers included American Indian activist, environmentalist, writer, and economist, Winona LaDuke, known for being a two-time running mate for presidential candidate Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000 and Kenyan ecological activist, Njoki Njehu. The conference also hosted three panels that addressed subjects ranging from the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation to community initiatives for sustainable development. The conference offered four educational trips to Chicago, where conference attendees observed local environmental justice organizations work first-hand.

New to the conference this year was a workshop with NU law student Phil Sandick for delegates interested in international human rights law. In addition, two undergraduate delegates also presented on the work that they have completed during their college careers. Medill Sophomore and delegate Miranda Cawley found the conference uplifting and "incredibly empowering to be surrounded by so many peers who have already accomplished so much."

The conference has also expanded across campus, working with other student groups including Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED), Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) and One Book One Northwestern.

“We’ve been around for a long time, and we are constantly making improvements,” Specht said. “It (NUCHR) actually has established itself as a regular Northwestern event that people across the University recognize as a fantastic thing that a lot of people are willing to support.”