Student Reflection: The Three –Isms in Relation to the Oxford Consortium of Human Rights

Through the Hobby Center and the Honors College, students have the opportunity each Spring to apply to attend the Oxford Consortium on Human Rights at Oxford University in the UK, under the guidance of Dr. Johanna Luttrell. Sareema Adnan shares her experience from last spring. (For a previous post by Edwin Villa, go here)—Richard Armstrong


Is the glass half empty, half full, or is there just some water inside? These views are often named pessimism, optimism and realism, respectively. Just as they can be used to evaluate the liquid content in one’s container, the three –isms can be applied to a variety of circumstances around us. What struck me about the Oxford Consortium’s March conference was the varying degree of these –isms in relation to human rights and how this changed my personal views.

At the onset of this conference, I held the flag of pessimism when looking at the status of the world, particularly in developing countries. While my hometown of H-town (Houston for the nonlocals) has developed frozen yogurt with a slower melting time, there is a civil war destroying the local markets in Syria, a fleeing mother dodging border police in Europe and a refugee child playing with the mud in his camp. There was a marked imbalance in the world, and I could not help but realize that the fortunate circumstances I grew up in were by mere chance and by no merit of my own. Had I been born overseas in Palestine, Burma, Liberia, or South Sudan, my upbringing would have been drastically different from the air conditioned elementary schools of Texas. And as fortunate as I was, I felt that my efforts were useless in helping those overseas. If the United Nations, an international peace keeping force, could not end the wars around the world, who was I, a frazzled undergrad, to try? And with this pessimistic mentality, I set foot on the Magdalen sidewalk, carefully avoiding their sacred grass.

As the seminars went on, each professor brought their own flavored –ism to the table. Ibrahim Gassama brought a view that mirrored my own. While he strived to alleviate human suffering through service, he championed that the concept of human rights was hypocritical in nature. The same men we hail as human rights advocates were also perpetrators of these crimes. Although Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” this did not stop him from keeping slaves and infringing on their human rights. When I heard this view point, it made me feel more strongly about my pessimistic views. Human rights were corrupt from the beginning, right? Why bother trying to fix them?


If there was any professor who could counter that pessimism, it would be Hugo Slim. Throughout the conference, his bright outlook on the future was evident in every lecture and was quite contagious. While I had originally thought that optimists were naïve daydreamers, Dr. Slim showed me that holding high hopes was not something of fantasy. It meant seeing the best in others and helping them realize their potential. Seeking improvement in the name of human rights has led to education of hundreds of girls and development of medical facilities in underserved areas. We are barely starting to address the need throughout the world, but we are definitely taking on the right path, and fighting for “human rights” directs our efforts.

With these separate views coloring my thoughts, I can proudly say that I have dropped my flag of pessimism for one of realism. Realism, to me, is the middle path and means looking at the world for what it is. We have cracks of corruption and bursts of courage, unfair separation and overflowing kindness. These ups and downs, both in our community and in communities around the world, are part of our human lives. But we must strive to achieve basic human rights for all. These vary from place to place and in different times. Instead of focusing on defining human rights, we should focus on where they are being transgressed. This conference has taught me that we cannot expect to right all the wrongs in our lifetime, but we can certainly take steps to try.

—Sareema Adnan



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