Last weekend USF hosted the eighth annual Human Rights Film Festival. All films were free and shown in Presentation Theater. For “Street Talk,” members of the Foghorn staff asked students to share what human rights issue they thought was the most important. Surprisingly, most students were unwilling to answer the question. An overwhelming majority of students surveyed said they did not care about or have an opinion regarding human rights. This reaction confused and frustrated the Foghorn staff, especially considering the value Jesuit education places on human rights and social action. The Human Rights Film Festival was an excellent way to get involved in or learn about human rights, and yet so many students passed up the chance to attend.
The festival screened three student films before jumping into full-length features. Film topics included (but were not limited to) sex trafficking, gay rights, and immigration. Nearly every student at USF could have found a film or topic that interested him or her. Obviously, some students could not attend due to time conflicts. These students should not, however, view the film festival as simply a missed opportunity. There are plenty of ways for student to get involved in human rights projects at USF, in San Francisco, and nation and worldwide. Students may not have the resources to make films about the human rights cause of their interest, but they do have the ability to take action on a smaller scale.
Youth homelessness is a human rights issue that directly affects the USF community. All students at USF have had the opportunity to go to college. For some students this process was easier than others, but regardless of background, students at USF have all experienced a certain level of privilege. The next generation of USF students has the potential to consist of many intelligent students who currently do not have the opportunity to go to college. Homelessness disables many youth, creating a hostile environment to be educated in. Homeless students might drop out of school in order to find a job or (most likely) because they do not have the resources to be successful in school. USF students have the ability to personally create change in society and fight against the unfortunate reality that human rights abuses often occur in our own city. Organizations like “StandUp for Kids” and “Opportunity Impact” were created in San Francisco to help local youth overcome poverty and homelessness. Both of these organizations are looking for volunteers and can be contacted at their respective websites www.standupforkids.org and www.opportunityimpact.org.
USF prides itself on high levels of racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity that foster an accepting and open minded environment and community. The rest of the world, however, does not always share similar values. Civil rights issues are some of the most prevalent human rights concerns in San Francisco and the city offers a plethora of opportunities to further your involvement in the civil rights cause of your choice. The Global Fund for Women (www.globalfundforwomen.org) operates in downtown San Francisco and is involved in both local and global campaigns for women’s rights and gender equality. Equality California (www.eqca.org) is an organization that fights for the civil rights of gays and lesbians across the state. Currently, they are involved in the campaign for equal marriage rights, repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and increasing criminal penalties for hate crimes. Immigration issues present a debate over who should receive civil rights and whether citizenship is required for civil rights rules to apply. The African Immigrant and Refugee Resource Center (www.airrc.org) works to help immigrants from Africa secure jobs and housing in San Francisco. They also perform legal support for immigrants seeking citizen ship and offer language proficiency programs.
These organizations are just a small taste of what the San Francisco non-profit community has to offer. Students at USF need to shake their feelings of apathy about human rights and start getting involved. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for forgetting the extreme need for human rights persisting both in the city and around the world.