by Kristina Woods Butler
Speaking for the Voiceless
Two Texas Tech faculty tackle human rights education and research.
Texas Tech faculty members Hans Hansen and Jill Patterson were awarded human rights fellowships from the Embrey Human Rights Program in 2012. As part of the program, the fellows were required to travel to World War II Holocaust sites, and create courses and implement research at their respective universities focused on human rights issues.
When Texas Tech professors Jill Patterson and Hans Hansen arrived in Europe for a two-week tour of WWII Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland, neither knew exactly what lay in store. They said as extensively as they had prepared for the trip, what they saw and what they came away with exceeded their expectations.
“I think that beforehand, I would have thought quite stereotypically, or just on the surface, that human rights are a great thing to have, and we should have them,” said Hansen. “But I got a much deeper understanding by seeing the sights of the worst human rights violations in our history. I got such a fundamental understanding, and I saw a deep need for human rights at a basic level, that it’s a shared responsibility of the entire world.”
The European trip was part of the Texas Project for Human Rights Education, sponsored by the Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP) at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Patterson, a professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Hansen, an associate professor of management in the Rawls College of Business, were named fellows for the human rights education project in 2012. Through the fellowship, Hansen and Patterson were awarded $20,000 to fund trips, create courses and implement research regarding human rights.
The fellows were required to take a six-week human rights course at SMU, where they studied genocide, the Holocaust, women’s rights and violence against women, among other topics. After completing the course, the fellows journeyed to Europe, the birthplace of human rights.
—Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
The map above shows the locations of the major Nazi camps in Europe in 1944. Visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial website to view full image.
Birthplace of Human Rights
Discussion of human rights, or the fundamental rights entitled to all human beings, grew out of the atrocities that occurred during WWII and the Holocaust. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” a document recognizing human rights as the foundation of world freedom, justice and peace.
The first concentration camp, Dachau, was built in Germany in 1933 to house political prisoners. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the number of camps grew to about 20,000 between 1933 and 1945. The camps ranged from forced labor and transit camps to extermination camps. While on their trip, the fellows visited eight concentration and extermination camps in Germany and Poland. Many were unfamiliar to the group, like Majdanek, Belzec and Chelmno.
“No one’s ever heard of Belzec in the U.S.,” said Hansen. “The place was only in existence for less than a year. They built it to kill people, and they just ran out of people to kill and closed it down. So they built it to have exterminations 24/7. The trains would arrive at Belzec. In almost a 24-hour operation they were exterminating people, some in gas chambers. But the gas chambers were a bottleneck, so they would have shooting ranges, too. They would line people up and kill them 20 to 50 at a time. They killed 650,000 people in eight months.”
And a few, like the Schindler factory and Auschwitz, were more familiar.
The Chelmno Extermination Camp was opened in 1941 and was used exclusively for killing. An estimated 300,000 people were killed at the camp. Chelmno was completely destroyed in 1944 to remove all evidence.
“You expect all of the camps to look like you’ve seen Auschwitz look like in the movies with the train pulling through the archway and the smoke stacks from the incinerators,” said Patterson. “But they don’t all look like that. Some of the camps are empty. The Germans destroyed the camps right before they left, and so there really is nothing there, but just as far as the eye can see, this field where they had mass burials. It’s just a stretch of open land. No trees.”
The mass killing of Jews began in 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Not long after, the Germans began deporting Jews to extermination camps in Poland. In total, the Holocaust accounts for the murder of more than 6 million Jews and 1 million others. Hansen said his biggest impression from the trip was the scale of the entire Holocaust, and the baffling fact that it could occur.
“We have been studying the Holocaust since the Holocaust, and we still don’t know how it happened,” said Hansen. “We know what happened quite meticulously. We know the plans and where it occurred, and it’s very well documented that we know about the Holocaust. What we don’t know is, and this is dangerous and why we need to study human rights, we don’t know how they could pull it off. And we think that kind of thing could never happen here, but I promise you, they thought it could never happen there.”
Patterson said the trip was not a vacation by any means, but a sobering and educational experience. As a writer, what she took away from the visit was an overwhelming urge to tell the stories of the victims.
“There are fewer and fewer of the generation of people who have survived the camps,” Patterson explained. “Most people are never going to make it to those camps, so you need people who can tell those stories to other people. If you don’t tell the stories, there are people out there who will tell stories saying it’s not true. So it is important for people to go see the camps, and have good guides with them so they can learn the truth, face the truth, and come back and tell the stories.”
Storytelling in Human Rights
As part of the Creative Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences grant from the TTU Office of the Vice President for Research, Patterson was able to take a second trip to Poland during this past winter break to continue her human rights research. She is working on a series of 10 video essays titled, “What Remains: Ashes, Stone, Silence–A Collection of Video Essays on the Holocaust.”
Her experiences in Europe helped mold her human rights-based undergraduate writing course implemented in the fall 2013 semester. Patterson said the nonfiction workshop, The Power of Storytelling in Human Rights, is a way to teach students how to write and tell stories that move people, rather than preach at them. The class discusses ways to translate witnesses into vivid characters, and historical, political or charity events into dramatic scenes that tell stories to make people want to get involved. Patterson says her students are more engaged than ever.
“I was nervous about the class, the way I’m always nervous when I teach a new class,” she said. “But actually, this has turned out to be the best class I have ever had. The students are really engaged, and their writing is vivid. We talk not just about the craft, but about similar experiences we’ve had to those seen in the documentaries we watch or the essays we read. And they all want to talk.”
The documentaries and essays she uses in class touch on issues ranging from bullying to genocide, and all are examples of storytelling in human rights. Patterson guides the students in analyzing the different ways and best practices of nonfiction storytelling. The students then have to write and build a website based on a specific human rights topic.
Besides the art of storytelling, Patterson hopes the class will make students aware that human rights issues are not just a thing of the past, but are current.
“I think just getting the students to talk about human rights issues is a huge step,” she explained. “After watching one documentary on racism, we discussed the myth that racism is dead—that it’s the 21st century, and there’s not really a problem with it anymore. But we all could go around the room and tell a story where we had witnessed something that was embarrassing; moments where we should have spoken up, but we didn’t speak up; moments where somebody was biased or prejudiced against one of us for whatever reason. I think it makes students more aware that it’s still an issue that matters today. That it is not just an issue from the ‘60s, but that it is current, and that there are things that they can do about it.”
Human Rights and The Corporation
Hansen also created a course as part of the teaching component of the fellowship based on his professional background titled, Human Rights and The Corporation, which examines the increasing role that corporations play in society in relation to human rights issues.
“The premise of the course is that as corporations are playing larger and larger roles in society, there is a nexus between the corporations and human rights,” said Hansen. “For example, when corporations go abroad, they often open schools to educate and train their workforce, which is normally a government responsibility. But corporations are taking on that role. So if we are creating the leaders of tomorrow right here at Texas Tech, if our MBAs are going to be CEOs of corporations that operate on a multinational level, then they will have to grapple with human rights at some level.”
Meet the Experts
Hans Hansen is an associate professor of management in the Rawls College of Business.
Jill Patterson is a professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The course is partially a leadership development class, where students explore their values and determine how they are going to act as managers or as people. Some of the issues discussed in the class include corporate social responsibility in the U.S. and abroad, dealing with workers’ rights and human rights conditions in international factories, and answering questions such as: Can you do well as a company and be profitable by doing good?
“We get a foundation in human rights, what they are, what it means, and discuss our beliefs about the human rights people have,” said Hansen. “But we also try to keep it in a corporate bin, discussing what role corporations play in making choices about where they operate and products they produce.”
The class, first offered in the spring of 2013, was the first of its kind and drew in not only graduate students, but business professionals, Texas Tech alumni and community leaders.
“I had executives from the Lubbock community who attended the class, not as guest speakers, they attended as students and did assignments, and they loved it,” said Hansen. “So it gives us a couple of things. It gives the students exposure to executives that they never would have gotten, and it really helps Texas Tech reach out to the community and show off our new facilities at the Rawls College of Business. And the executives love being in the classroom setting again. So I think it has been a big win on several different levels.”
Hansen is not sure when he will teach another course on this topic, but he believes it has been a success.
“It’s going to be a real distinguishing factor for our students,” he said. “I really do believe that we are creating the leaders of tomorrow. So one day, our students are going to be in corporate roles, not-for-profit roles or government roles where they are faced with issues of corporate social responsibility, human rights and sustainability. So it’s here at Texas Tech where they will have gotten their exposure to that.”
Death Penalty Work
The Embrey Fellowship is not the first time the pair have encountered human rights issues. As volunteers for the West Texas Regional Public Defenders Office for Capital Cases, Patterson and Hansen are known across the state for their continuous research and dedication in advocating for justice in death penalty cases.
Hansen is a management expert for the office. He studies and promotes a narrative-based management approach, or narrative theory that involves each team member having an equally important job, rather than a position within a hierarchical structure–an approach seen in most management teams. Each team member’s contribution represents a chapter that ultimately comes together with others to tell a story from beginning to end.
Patterson is one of those storytellers. As a volunteer case storyteller/consultant for the office, she interviews the defendants, family members, victims and witnesses, and reviews legal documents to compose a compelling narrative used during a capital trial.
Hansen said their job is to tell the stories for the voiceless–those who can’t speak for themselves–which is something that resonated with him during his European trip.
“One of the fundamental premises of human rights is that there is nothing you can do to quit being a human being–you always have certain fundamental rights,” he explained. “That is what we are doing. We’re speaking for people who no one else will speak for, and they do deserve that. They haven’t lost that right. So even if they have done something awful, they still deserve someone to represent them and to speak for them, and to explain to them what’s going to happen to them.”
Kristina Woods Butler is Associate Director of Research and Academic Communications in the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Senior Editor of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Photos courtesy of Patterson and Hansen.