A fresh group of students has reactivated Penn’s chapter of Amnesty International to focus on human rights issues at the University and around the world.
Amnesty International is an international organization that advocates against human rights violations, with chapters at colleges and high schools across the country. The Penn chapter will focus on issues within Penn and the Philadelphia area, while also advocating for global issues with Amnesty International. Members are currently planning for Amnesty International’s National Week of Student Action, which will take place from April 3 to April 11.
After all of the club’s former members graduated from Penn in 2018, College juniors Selene Bonczok, Marcela Gomez, Cole Borlee, and Tevye Johnson, relaunched the chapter, which currently has about 10 members. The new club leaders said their interest in human rights motivated them to get University recognition for the chapter in January.
During NWSA, Amnesty at Penn plans to hold a lobbying session with Rep. Dwight Evans (D–Pa.), advocating for his sponsorship of the Break the Cycle of Violence Act as part of Amnesty International’s campaign to end gun violence. The act aims to secure funding for community-based violence prevention and intervention programs. Members will also have the opportunity to join Amnesty International USA’s campaign for the Biden administration to free all Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees during its first 100 days and urge President Joe Biden to free people from ICE.
Compared to other social justice-oriented groups on campus, such as Fossil Free Penn, Police Free Penn, and Student Labor Action Project, College first year and Amnesty International member Sam Cheever said the chapter will focus more on domestic human rights issues. Still, Amnesty International at Penn hopes to be one of the advocacy groups students can turn to if they have human rights concerns about the University.
Cheever said Penn’s decision to introduce indoor dining in campus dining halls is a human rights violation because it is putting dining workers at risk of contracting COVID-19. Cheever, who is on the dining advisory board, said several dining workers have voiced fears about the reopening.
Dining workers did not have access to University COVID-19 testing until February, almost one month after they started work for the spring semester.
Participation in the club’s events and meetings are open to anyone who wants to learn more about human rights issues. Those who wish to engage more deeply with the club will get the necessary training to lobby and advocate, Bonczok said. Training includes attending Amnesty International USA events, workshops hosted by advocacy groups, and speaker events with professors and Amnesty International members who know about the lobbying process.
Following Penn’s announcement of plans for an in-person fall semester, members are hopeful that they will have more opportunities to lobby the administration and the local government, as well as to hold demonstrations next semester.
“Trust in the human rights regime, take responsibility, and fight to make it better,” Gomez said. “Joining Amnesty International at Penn is one way to do that.”