It’s a graduation from the (Study) USA!

(Dear reader: I apologise wholeheartedly for utilising that musical pun, and moreover for the unintentional consequence of its being stuck in your head.)

Miley Cyrus I most certainly am not, but I did indeed have a party (of the combined academic, voluntary, adventurous and internship variety) in the USA as a successful recipient of a ‘Study USA’ scholarship. As you may know from other blog posts, I was a Business major at the wonderful Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA for the academic year 2014/2015, and I had a truly marvellous time.

This week saw the official conclusion of the scholarship programme for my cohort of peers and myself, as we underwent a graduation ceremony in the beautiful Barnett Room of the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office. It was lovely to see all the other students and hear about their experiences, and we could all empathise with the deflated feeling we all experienced upon our return home to Northern Ireland in the summer.

And so it was that on Thursday 29th October, it was essentially the end of an era as I walked up to receive my certificate from members of the British Council.

A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!
A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!

It is rather funny that this little piece of paper signifies so much: my successful survival in a country I had never before been to, my ability to adapt to a new college, new country and new educational system – let alone a new course of study. Yet it also symbolises the friends I made there, the brilliant people I met, my exposure to Greek Life and the US legal system via my internship. It reminds me that I was constantly challenged, endured tough spells, but ultimately conquered fears and overcame tribulations to succeed. So many memories and adventures are summarised by that glossy page, and in holding it I hold on to those memories, feelings and thoughts.

I will be honest and say that whilst it was a lovely ceremony and a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, it was bittersweet. Bittersweet in the harsh realisation that this is a chapter of life which has concluded. I am proud of myself and all my peers for successfully completing the programme, for challenging ourselves and enjoying the many opportunities and experiences afforded to us. But the year is over, and time marches on. I have amazing memories, but I do miss my friends and that next second home in Coe campus. I suppose I just fear that I will never meet those people again, or ever see Coe and Iowa generally again. Studying abroad is an amazing experience which I will always recommend, but I suppose I was not prepared for the influx of feelings upon my return – you adapt so readily to your new environment that it becomes home. Thus to return home is a shock to the system.

Perhaps it is also fear of the unknown, in the sense that as a final year law student, I do not necessarily know what I will be doing this time next year. When I was living in America, I knew that I had another year to dwell on the future; as November appears on the horizon I realise that time is racing by and the future, resplendent in hopes, vague promises and whispers of opportunities lies ahead. I am someone who likes to plan, to be organised and have a schedule. Not knowing what I will be doing next year yet or how my future will turn out does rather concern me.

But there is a strange twinge of joy in that observation: the future is indeed opaque, but so vast and promising. It is what I make of it, just like my study abroad experience. Thus instead of fearing it, I should – and will – consider it a new and exciting challenge to overcome. America taught me the importance of being independent, overcoming obstacles and seeing things through to the end. It would be a waste not to apply this knowledge and experience to my future. As I would frequently remind myself in the middle of bustling US airports as I carried heavy bags and my travel documents, you are the one in charge of yourself, and only you can see this through: no one else will live this for you. (I also repeated this as I had to lug a huge suitcase up flights of stairs and across platforms travelling from Gatwick to King’s Cross in London during one memorable summer of work experience. I was exhausted, it was an unbearably warm afternoon in a huge crowd, and not a single soul offered to help me either carry my bags or hold open doors. I had to get myself to my hotel; no one else was going to. And that I did – complete with a joyful attack on the hotel bed.)

With my Study USA certificate in hand, I remember that I can adapt, I can overcome, and moreover I enjoy the challenge. It is tangible evidence of my ambition and drive, of my will to succeed. And whilst the graduation ceremony marked the conclusion of my study abroad chapter, it also in fact marked the commencement of a new chapter of my life. I fully intend that it will be as adventurous, exciting and interesting as the previous one.

If you want to find out more about my year abroad and my American adventures, why not check out my website


Of Leadership and (Female) Innovation.

This morning I am sitting in front of a living room window in my house, and thanks to the recent rain everything looks startling green – Autumn is certainly with us now. With that seasonal realisation comes an academic one: week Five of the first semester of my final year at university commenced yesterday, and quite frankly I cannot believe how quickly the weeks have flown in.

However am I on Week Five already? It seems as though it was only last week that I was tackling online registration, or eagerly downloading my all my syllabuses for the semester. I can still recall happily leaving the local independent bookshop near my university campus, with a bag of new textbooks in hand. Dear goodness – we are five weeks into this semester, meaning that the countdown until its conclusion and subsequent coursework deadlines draws nearer. I have certainly noticed an increase in essential and recommended reading, and I find myself in the university library more often than not. (Not to mention I frequently find myself telling off the computers when my printing requests are not sent along to the printers. Or when I mutter under my breath in exasperation at the top-up machine, when it refuses to consume the notes I offer up to it – it does prefer English banknotes.)

But there we have it. Time is marching on, and apart from the work and effort I put in for my modules, there are other tasks demanding my attention, namely my student organisations and EU Studies Fair Ambassador role. These roles and responsibilities may result in me sacrificing lie-ins and days-off to travel into Belfast for meetings and research, but they are so worthwhile. Volunteering, working with others in a committee and engaging with the student body on campus… Such enriching experiences which provide me with many skills and memories of my time at university.

Cue this post: yesterday was a continuation of my Birthday, complete with presents for all intents and purposes, due to exciting news I received via email.

I recently applied for two programmes at my university: the Inspiring Leaders programme via SU Volunteering, and the InnovateHer programme ran by the SU Enterprise team. After submitting my applications for these programmes – which I shall elaborate on shortly – I was resigned to playing the waiting game. But that ended yesterday, when I received not one congratulatory email, but two – I had been accepted for both programmes. Thus I am over the proverbial moon, and galaxies too.

The Inspiring Leaders programme has been developed by Queen’s SU, and is supported by the William J. Clinton Leadership Institute and Careers, Employability and Skills department. The programme seeks to support current student volunteers in positions of leadership and aims to support the selected participants by increasing their understanding of themselves as a leader, to strengthen leadership skills, to enhance their personal development and increase their ability to lead others. Furthermore, the programme aims to demonstrate to the participants how to translate their volunteering and leadership experiences into employability skills and understand how these skills assist in the workplace upon their graduate entry.

To lead is to inspire, and to inspire is to lead!
To lead is to inspire, and to inspire is to lead!

I felt compelled to apply to this unique and rewarding interactive programme as I enjoy participating on campus life, working with others to secure a common goal and giving back to the community. Volunteering and leading have been highlights of my time at Queen’s, and I believe that to volunteer is to serve the community. I believe a leader is someone who leads by example, someone who understands their team, how each member contributes and what motivates them. I feel that to lead is not merely to manage, as a leader needs to encourage. Therefore a leader works for the team, and is ultimately responsible for them. I view my volunteer roles as more than positions of responsibility, but as an honour which I must work diligently for to continue to hold. I want to ensure I understand what it means to be a leader, understand the different styles of leadership and identify who I am as a leader. This is important as seeing how I desire to work in the legal profession, I will have to be prepared to lead teams or motivate others. Failure to do so effectively could negatively affect the client I serve.

As I stated in my application:

In sum: I would like to learn how best to work alongside others and lead in a way that motivates all to participate because they want to. I want to be challenged, and learn to step outside my comfort zone so that I know how to motivate others to do the same. I would like to learn alongside my fellow aspiring leaders, and from them.

I am thrilled that I was selected to participate, and I cannot wait to commence the weekend programme.

The InnovateHer programme is organised by the SU Enterprise department and is unique in that it is for female students only. It aims to assist 25 business and entrepreneurial minded female students who want to learn more about this line of work, providing practical assistance and support through interactive seminars and workshops.

The programme will enhance business and professional skills such as communication, negotiation, innovative thinking, presentation, and the ability to work within teams. Furthermore, it provides an exclusive access to successful female entrepreneurs with whom we can network with, and learn about how to stand out in a male-dominated field. It will also allow the participants to gain a knowledge and understanding of the practical business field, through providing training in how to write a business plan, how to undertake market research, how to market products and understand the vital role of PR. It will also provide training in understanding both the financial and legal aspects of business.

QUBSU Enterprise Innovateher

I desired to join this programme as I am interested in the world of enterprise and business, more specifically because I seek to work in the competitive legal profession, in which law graduates especially must become more entrepreneurial in order to be both employable and to be employed. My ideal job would be to work in a legal advisory capacity, so I will essentially work for myself and thus will need to understand how a business works and how to ensure it is successful and can grow in time. The programme will provide me with key skills and enhance that all-important commercial awareness. I cannot wait to commence participating in this programme; I feel that it will be exciting and challenging and will offer me the chance to explore what I am capable of.

I would like to conclude this post by urging any students to consider participating with student organisations and campus life. Moreover, always put yourself out there. Be willing to challenge yourself through different programmes and experiences, because the benefits of doing so are marvellous and will truly stand you in good stead. University is a verifiable treasure trove of opportunities, but you must actively go out and search for them. Trust me: you will be grateful that you did.

Birthday weekend – student style.

Hello all,

Well, this weekend was not just the standard law student weekend, comprised of readings and article research. Today actually marked my annual celebration of birth, aka my birthday. So there we have it! Another year older – hopefully, another year wiser, although that we shall have to wait and see about.

I was fortunate to have my sister home from Edinburgh (she has been teaching for the past two years) this week, which was the perfect early Birthday present. Alas, she had to leave early yesterday morning to fly back out, but she left behind presents and lovely, motivational cards which mean a lot to me.

Speaking of which, I was overwhelmed by the all the amazing Birthday well-wishes from my friends and family today, they truly did make the day. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by people who want me to do well, to succeed and be happy. Encouragement and motivation are key to students such as myself. Working hard, revising, volunteering – university is a wonderful, enriching life, but it can be tough. Knowing there are those wishing you well can be a true source of comfort and support when overcoming challenges.

Thus I have had a great day with my family and enjoying reading all my cards and opening my presents! (Another source of support when tackling mounds of reading and note-taking to be sure.)

A wonderful present from my parents: I am thoroughly spoilt. (Who said punk was dead? These will go well with my sassy political jumpers.)
My mother knows how much I admire Nicola Sturgeon! This will make for interesting reading.
Oh, and I have also celebrated the lead-up to my Birthday with watching a stream of civil and political rights films! On Thursday to mark my mother’s birthday we went to watch Suffragette – an amazing film to be sure; I had high hopes and I was not disappointed – and then we watched Selma in my house last night. Tonight, we watched Pride. Just the perfect way for a law student who is currently immersed  in human rights to celebrate.

As you move through the (careers) fair.

Sinead O’Connor may not have covered this song (although the original is rather divine) but this is the topic of this post: graduate careers fairs, and how to make the most of your attendance there.

Yes, it is that time of year again. The leaves are changing colour, the nights are getting darker, and suddenly campus is a canopy of sound, resplendent with crowds of students weighed down with freebies. Careers fairs, however, are more than just a date in the diary and an opportunity to stock up on pens, notepads and coffee flasks. Careers fairs provide students with a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with firms and companies in a relaxing and informal setting, and therefore can help with future career planning. Spending an hour or two of an afternoon strolling around stalls carefully and taking notes will prove invaluable come application time (and believe you me, that will come around all too soon).

I opted to write about careers fairs today, as today actually marks Day Two of my university’s Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair. This runs across three days, covering different career sectors and practice areas, and as I was promoting the Fair on social media today, I was inspired to write about not only how you can make the most of the day, but why exactly you should go in the first place.

QUB Grad Fair poster
It is that time of year again: Careers Fair season has reached QUB.

In a nutshell, attending these fairs is an essential step in planning your future career. The people you talk to, the information given, the questions answered and the interest taken: this all will assist you in gauging which firm, company etc. will truly suit you, what you desire to do, and your personality.

…I was inspired to write about not only how you can make the most of the day, but why exactly you should go in the first place.

You can meet recruiters and hear directly what it is that X firm or Y company is looking for. Moreover, if you have a good conversation in which you display enthusiasm and knowledge about the firm, chances are you will leave a positive impression, which will only stand you in good stead when you submit an application. (Remember that, as cliche as it may sound, you need to stand out from the crowd in an application. Should a recruiter remember your name and your interest, this can assist your application.)

In addition to meeting and engaging with graduate recruiters who can tell you about internship opportunities, deadlines, what they are looking for from a candidate etc., you may have the chance to meet trainees/recent graduate employees. They can give you an account of what it is like as a recent graduate and moreover, as a successful candidate. Reading graduate recruitment material and websites only gives you one side of the entire deal – talking to those who underwent the application process and are now working for the firm will give you the other side. This is important, because it will give you an insight into the work a graduate employee will be assigned and training afforded, whilst also hearing about the mentoring and social aspects. (I have noticed in recent years that many graduate employers are keen to stress a work/life balance, and like to talk about the socials which new graduate employees are encouraged to participate in. So do expect to hear about this.)

You will hear more about the industry, more about the market and will be provided with lots of information, hence the need to keep a clear head and take notes.

So, why should you even bother attending? This is a brilliant opportunity to see the graduate recruiters and trainees, and hear directly from them. Information comes to life when spoken, and when not confined to the website on your computer screen. You will receive tailored advice and answers to your questions, as opposed to generic answers under the ‘FAQ’ section of a website. And this will genuinely help you, whether in determining your opinion of the firm or in writing an application, I can assure you of that based on personal experience.

In sum: this is your chance to assess the assessors in the field of your setting. You can basically interview the graduate recruitment team present, and any graduate employees if they are present. Just as firms etc. determine your suitability with them, you can determine their suitability with your interests and goals via the careers fair. Seize upon that chance!

QUB Grad Fair Information
QUB spreads its Fair across three days. Planning and researching before attending is vital for all of the days.

Well, you decided to sacrifice that lie-in and attend a careers fair. But the place is filled with students asking questions, with smiling representatives outside their colourful and freebie-laden stalls, and graduate recruitment brochures are everywhere. What now?

Without further ado, allow me to offer some tips regarding how to make the most of your university’s careers fair.

In sum: this is your chance to assess the assessors in the field of your setting. You can basically interview the graduate recruitment team present, and any graduate employees if they are present.

  1. Research is key: Okay, I know that going to the fair is research in itself. But if you want to impress the graduate recruitment teams, and be able to ask intelligent questions that are not answered on their website, you need to research before you go. If you know the basics e.g. the deadlines for applications and the application process, then you can delve right into a deeper, and more rewarding conversation.
    At the very least, you should browse the employers’ websites and specific careers websites, and scan the news headlines prior to the fair to see what is currently undergoing in their sector (that’s commercial awareness at work right there.) Lastly, go to their respective stalls at the fair armed with questions and knowledge about what they do, and how they do it differently compared to others in the market.
    Law students beware: please do not forget that firms and chambers are distinct from one another. (I was told once about a student who asked a member of an international commercial law firm’s recruitment team about pupillage opportunities…)
  2. Don’t do a white rabbit, plan ahead: you do not want to run late, nor do you want to miss talking to firms you are genuinely interested in because you did not plan your day properly. Time is limited and you are one of many interested students clamouring around stalls. It’s all about strategy and organisation! Find out in advance which employers will be there, prioritise visiting those you are interested in applying to, and take note of the opening times – be there as early as you can.
  3. Prep that CV: not all employers accept CVs, let alone at a careers fair. However, some many just do that, or at least glance over it. My advice is to ensure your CV is current and updated, and well structured so that you can easily refer to it if needs be. Also, some careers fairs run workshops during the fair itself, covering everything from interview and application advice to CV clinics. As these tend to be organised by employers themselves, it wouldn’t hurt to bring your CV along to avail of their services.
  4. Presentation matters: basically, you want to dress to impress, but that doesn’t mean wearing a suit – opt for smart casual. So no scuffed trainers or ripped jeans, please. If you look professional, this will boost your confidence, helping you start and then engage in conversation.
    Presentation is about more than your clothes, however. Remember to smile when you meet graduate recruiters, channel your nerves into enthusiasm and confidence, and above all be mannerly and courteous. It helps if you have prepared a brief introduction about yourself, before you ask specific questions. Do not travel about in a pack of friends, because chances are you will potentially feel awkward engaging in a conversation with recruiters if your friends are not interested in that employer. It also creates the impression of you lacking independence!
  5. With pen and paper in hand: it is both useful and recommended that you take notes after each conversation. Not only will it serve as a reminder of provided answers and contact details, but you can also write honestly about how that particular firm made you feel. As you more from one stall to another, take some time to record your impressions:
    What does the firm do that makes it stand out from the crowd?
    Could you imagine yourself working there, and being content?

    How would you be able to use your skills there? What training is provided?
    How would you fit it?
  6. Follow-ups:You will most likely find yourself referring to the contacts you made when applying, or during interviews. Therefore it is vital that you follow-up on the conversations and contacts made during attending the fair. Always send an email to those who provided you with their email address – thank them for taking time to talk, for answering questions and providing information. Be polite and show an interest, and this means that you can cite this contacts in applications, knowing that they will actually know who you are.

Above all, do not be nervous! Whilst a careers fair is an important step of planning and researching future careers, it is also quite relaxed, so do try to enjoy the day. Remember that graduate recruiters are human, too! They have travelled out to universities because they genuinely think X university’s students are potential employees. They want to get to know you, and for you to know them. Therefore, as you move through the fair, simply be your good self on the day, and not who you think the recruiters want to see.

Of Human Rights and Individual Conceptions.

Week Three of final year Law is rapidly approaching its conclusion, and I am still as motivated and intrigued by my modules – evidently a good thing, to be sure.

As ever, this week has revolved around human rights, and legal theories and has continued to be fascinating. I particularly enjoy being able to study the history and development of various critiques, understanding the historical context and determining whether they still ring true today – see the work of John Austin, for example. My first tutorial for Legal Theory was this week, and I fear that my year abroad in America is beginning to become apparent to my peers as I did nothing but talk to our tutor and lead in the smaller group work. Oh dear. I was just too enthusiastic about the topics at hand, namely Socrates’ trial, the concepts of morality and justice, and the curiously complex questions of a) what is law, and b) whether law and morality should be separate issues, or are they destined to be entwined.

There was also an amusing moment during my Understanding Human Rights module, when our amazing lecturer happened to use my summary of a Marxist perspective when watching Pride (you can read more here) as the introductory slide in her presentation on Marxist theory. Cue my awkward shuffle in my chair as I could feel the gaze of my classmates on my neck.

To get to the heart of this post: for this week’s UHR seminar, we read a passage written by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on ‘What are human rights for?’ (see D Moeckli, S Shah, and S Sivakuraman (eds.), 2nd International Human Rights Law (OUP: Oxford 2014) pg 3-6) which was a thought-provoking piece. She begins her answer by saying ‘I was born non-white in apartheid South Africa… My father was a bus driver. We were poor.’ From this, our lecturer asked us to think about:

1) [whether we] think our conceptions of what human rights are for depend on our gender, race, class and where we were born? Should they?

2) What do you think human rights are for?

I felt strongly about the first question, and whilst I felt frustrated contemplating the general modern political consensus of human rights as that which ‘restricts domestic courts’ or as ‘positive discrimination’, I was surprised to discover that by answering the second, I was hopeful.

Navi Pillay’s comments were inspiring, because to me they reveal her belief in the universality of rights and how being human is to be entitled to rights. Her belief in rights-entitlement was her strength and motivation to challenge the apartheid regime, which view her as inferior and not entitled to the same rights and freedoms as her white counterparts. Her unwavering belief in her equal standing to whites saw her through university to the establishment of her law firm. Being from a poor background, and as a black lady, she challenged prejudice because she believed human rights applied to her, just as they applied to her white peers.

Our first instinctive answer to the first question I think tends to be, “of course our conceptions of human rights do not, and indeed should not depend on gender, race, etc.” Yet upon reflection, you realise that as a society we are perhaps influenced by our class, our background etc. into viewing who should have rights-entitlement, and who should not. In addition, negative press, and condemnation of human rights law by leading politicians may result in our conceptions of human rights and who exactly is entitled to having their rights starting to ‘blur’.

The trickier question is the second part: I believe that our conceptions, in a perfect world, would not influence our conceptions of human rights, as we would all accept that as we are all human, we all should enjoy the protection and recognition of rights. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world, and must accept that our influences can be either positive or negative. It is evident that those marginalised by society due to their class or race, or treated inequality by their fellow citizens due to their skin colour, gender or sexual orientation are more likely to allow these experiences to shape their opinion of rights as universal, and thus as ‘protection’. Those who do not encounter racism, discrimination or homophobia etc. do not understand how important rights are to the marginalised; they are more likely to be influenced by their own ‘privileged’ positions to argue that rights are already enjoyed by all.

I believe this question should make us realise that there are ‘privileged’ citizens, and due to their status and own guaranteed rights they cannot see why other citizens will demand equal rights-recognition; each having different conceptions of human rights and who is entitled to them. I would submit as an example LGBT* citizens in Northern Ireland. They ask for and deserve equality, and should be entitled to equality and non-discrimination under the law in Northern Ireland – namely that of the HRA 1998. The current issues of this sort would be of same-sex marriage and also the ‘gay-blood ban’. However, there are those in our society who, because of their own background and potentially religion views, refuse to accept that their fellow citizens, fellow humans, are entitled to rights equality. Members of the LGBT* community thus see human rights as their means, both on legal and political levels, to secure true equality in society. Their conception would be that as humans, they are entitled to human rights, which have been declared to be ‘universal’ and ‘inalienable’, whether by the UDHR, or ECHR. Conversely, those in society, influenced by their political and religious beliefs would argue that the law cannot be interpreted to agree with the demands of the LGBT* community. (There is an element of a natural law argument in their conception of human rights; these citizens would argue that the law of God cannot provide what man demands should be law.)

I mentioned in my reply to last week’s discussion the film Selma. I offer this as a further example of how differing backgrounds and beliefs influence our views on human rights, and the entitlement of same. Essentially, the film focuses on the struggle of the African-American community to secure rights-recognition through being granted the right to an equal vote. To be able to vote means more than society participation and maintaining a democratic system  – it means that your voice counts, that you matter as a member of society. The film is based in Alabama, which essentially viewed African-Americans as the lowest class of citizen, and not deserving of the right to vote. Furthermore, the state officials fear that if ‘the blacks’ can vote, they will change society and challenge the status quo. The African-American community fight to be granted the right to vote, knowing that they can achieve numerous positive changes through democracy. They felt entitled to vote, and thus be counted, as humans. However, the status quo in Alabama viewed them simply on the basis of their different skin colour; their own racist views and conservative opinions influenced their conception of rights, holding that African-Americans were not equal to them and not deserving of the same rights and freedoms. This struggle for equal recognition in society is still ongoing for the African-American community in the USA, just as we witness the similar struggle for civil rights and equal recognition for the LGBT* community.

From a personal perspective: as a young woman, I would view human rights as confirmation that my worth is equal to that of my male peers. This, and being from a working class background, results in my conception of human rights as a means to prevent discrimination and ensure equality and fairness, in society and in the eyes of the law. My own background ensures that I will be sympathetic to the struggles of those citizens likely to suffer discrimination; I will advocate their rights as I believe that we are all entitled to rights-recognition and protection.  Should my background etc. influence my conception of human rights? I would argue that it should, because it means that I strongly believe that human rights should be protected and recognised for all. As a human, and one who enjoys rights-recognition, I am aware that there are those who do not and I cannot see why I should not support them in their struggle to achieve rights-equality.

I thought that this is a very intriguing question, because it develops on the premise of the gap we have been discussing in class between the theoretical expectations of human rights, and the practice of human rights. Those whose conceptions of human rights stem from universality and equality of entitlement would argue that the gap between expectation and practice is wrong, and needs to be amended. Conversely, those who are influenced by gender, class, religion, political ideology etc. may argue that current human rights law is protection enough, and needs no further clarification or expansion. This can be seen in the current -Conservative! – government’s proposal to scrap the HRA 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

To address the second question: I feel that human rights are definitely a means to ensure equality in existence and for the protection of humanity. I think that human rights exist to  essentially ensure that all humans are recognised as equal beings. Human rights provide encouragement and motivation, as we are aware that we are all human and thus all possess dignity, which needs to be respected. By encouragement and motivation, I mean that by being aware of human rights, and what they provide and protect, we are aware of what we are entitled to – eg. freedom of expression, right to an education, right to assemble – which in turn encourages us to aspire in our goals. This could be either career goals, or to aim to campaign on behalf of others. Navi Pillay was aware of her human rights, taking encouragement from their stemming from shared humanity and dignity and thus aimed to succeed regardless of the prejudice she faced in South Africa as a black, working class lady.

Human rights are present to provide hope to those who may be classified as ‘others’ so that these minorities are aware that they are equally entitled to existence, to education, etc. Human rights are for motivation, so that we come to realise that regardless of race, background, language etc., we are all human and should be respected. Therefore, human rights are a platform for us to realise that discrimination and racism is deplorable.

It is 2015. If we cannot realise our shared humanity by now, when shall we? Human rights exist for us to do exactly that.

Freshers’ Fair Fun.

Hello all,

I just thought I would post a brief post about university life thus far, namely focusing on the fab opportunity that was the Freshers’ Fair at my university. This event is always a personal highlight as I love the atmosphere – the entire SU is abuzz with conversations, colour and interested, animated students. The vast array of student organisations and societies which are present at QUB never fails to both amaze and impress me. There is something magical in the fact that groups of students can come together to discuss their shared interests and bond over a group spirit, whether in sporting activities, politics, debating or charitable causes.

I was – and always am – excited to attend Freshers’ Fair over the two days it runs. I also feel privileged in the sense that for the past two years of my degree I have been asked to help organise and plan stalls, and have also fronted stalls. I particularly enjoy engaging with the attendees of the Fair, including talking to students and disseminating information about the organisation I am representing. I really enjoy being able to provide information and answer questions; knowing that you have been able to provide assistance always results in feeling a special feeling of contentment.

This year at the Freshers’ Fair, I was representing the QUB student society branch of the wonderful Derry-based charity, Children in Crossfire. This is the charitable organisation which I am a Committee member and Executive Secretary for (having been appointed to post during the summer). The charity essentially aims to improve the welfare and well-being of children, through working within communities and organisations already present within those communities. The charity was founded by Richard Moore, and has its roots in a story which is both tragic, but inspirational too.

When he was just ten years old, Richard Moore was blinded by a rubber bullet fired at point-blank range. However, he has never allowed feelings of bitterness or hopelessness to stunt his development, from childhood right through to today, saying that due to this incident, he has come to see life in a different way. He decided that from adversity, there comes hope, and so over a decade ago he decided to use his experience and personal understanding of trauma, and put it at the service of humanity, particularly children around the world who have been caught in the crossfire of poverty. Henceforth Children in Crossfire serves children and their families by providing education, service and rights-recognition. Basically, the charity aims to give children the right to choose, by providing healthcare, education and community support in order to allow children to develop and grow, and thus recognition their potential – and their dreams.

We aim to ensure the rights of children are protected by supporting organisations to train professional people like teachers, doctors, lawyers, and police; the media and local communities on child rights.

Thus on the first Thursday in October, the Committee Chair and I myself set about arriving at the SU for half past eight to find our stall, decorate the table, set up our presentational stand and prepare to engage with the students.

So I found myself at eight o’clock in the morning in a cold library printing off photographs and rushing about the SU shop, so that I could track down Blu-Tack. I must have struck quite the comical pose, with my backpack of law books and notes (I had two seminars that afternoon) and a bag full of printed photographs and also two boxes of chocolates. (After all, as everyone who has ever had to market to students knows, students like free products, and they like food.)

Ta da! After my ‘Changing Rooms’-esque makeover, our stall and table was decorated and ready for the Fair. (Complete with chocolates.)

Once the stall was decorated, we had to contend with technological difficulties in the form of my friend’s laptop seemingly refusing to connect with the SU’s wifi. This meant we could not access our pre-prepared excel sign-up sheet via Google Docs. Fortunately, I had thought to ensure that we had contingency plans for the day, and so we executed Plan B – which happened to be myself pulling out a fileblock, a Sharpie pen to quickly design a ‘sign-up’ sign for the table, and a stash of spare pens. So, phew. Panic averted.

From nine o’clock to half-past eleven I fronted the stall, and as expected it was an enjoyable occasion. We had a lot of interested students dander (see: NI vernacular  meaning ‘stroll’) over to our table to find out more about the charity, the QUB societal branch and how they could get involved. We spoke at length about the charity, its background and also its ongoing projects in Tanzania and Ethiopia. Our efforts paid off, as we had many sign up for our emailing-list and express their interest in wanting to become involved and help with fundraising events.

Reasons why I should not perhaps be left in charge of a stall: I ‘borrowed’ the Anthropology’s Neanderthal statue to help promote our stall.

I was also tasked with using social media to promote our presence at the Fair, and to encourage students to ‘like’ our Facebook page. I had perhaps rather too much fun with sourcing relevant, amusing gifs to use, but also perhaps with my photograph choices! (See the above Neanderthal pose.) I am pleased to report that we had high traffic on our page, and managed to gain new ‘likes’ for both our statuses and actual page.

Essentially, I had a lovely day. It may have been tiring to have to be on campus early and run around with preparation and organisational tasks, not to mention constantly feeling like a Del Boy when I approached students. But it was a rewarding and enjoyable experience – assisting with the Freshers’ Fair always is!

I would like to end this post with a gentle nudge of encouragement to all students: please, please do consider getting involved on campus and in student organisations. It is such a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and make new friends through shared interests and group objectives. Yes, you will learn and improve upon key skills, you will perhaps be awarded with roles of responsibility, and be challenged with paperwork, deadlines and group/time management. You will have something to add to your CV, and discuss in interviews. But most importantly, you will have a great time doing something you love with similarly minded people. It really is the proverbial cherry on top of the cake during your university career.

So, go on. Get involved on campus. You will not regret it, I can assure you.

Pride: a film to inspire you to take pride in Human Rights.

So, university life is back with a bang, and with it comes the joys of seminar prep, lecture reading and research. However, sometimes assignments do not always consist purely of reading textbooks and researching articles; they are more unique and thus more interesting than that.

Take one of my assignments for my ‘Understanding Human Rights’ module. For Monday 5th, I had to read four chapters of my international Human Rights law textbook, two articles – but also watch a wonderfully moving and inspirational film, Pride

My class was asked to watch this film, bearing in mind the theme of the previous seminar (that of ‘what is a Human Right?’ and ‘do we all have rights?’) and respond to a question posed by our module lecturer: Are all rights worth protecting? Are all human beings worth protecting?

I thought these questions were at once both simple to answer, yet also challenging – which is precisely what this module is about. We are supposed to have our thoughts and own views challenged by reading differing views and using different theoretical critiques to analyse and assess current Human Rights legislation, current affairs and case-law. I then thought that I would submit my answer to my module lecturer, but would elaborate upon my answer in a blog post.

I first watched Pride with the LGBT+ Alliance student society at the American college I was studying at last year, and I can remember feeling very moved by the evident passion of the gay-rights activists, in terms of both their own personal struggle to achieve equality and acceptance, and yet also in their brave –remember that workers tended to be those most vocal in condemnation of gay rights – decision to support the striking miners. I remember thinking that it illustrated so clearly how those who are denied rights can understand the suffering such oppression causes, hence their desire to help each other achieve their rights, and have them recognised and protected. It also made me realise that it is true that the vast majority of us within society are ‘safe’, in that our rights are never under threat and will always be protected due to our majority and thereby privileged status. We thus have a civic duty to show solidarity to our fellow citizens, and fellow humans.

It also made me realise that it is true that the vast majority of us within society are ‘safe’, in that our rights are never under threat and will always be protected due to our majority and thereby privileged status.

Conversely, minority groups, whether on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion etc. will always endure a struggle to have their own human rights recognised and protected on an equal footing. From that perspective, the majority of society members are ‘privileged’ and therefore I believe that we indeed do have a moral and civil obligation to help our fellow citizens in their awareness/defence of their own rights. We have a responsibility to ensure equality in rights recognition and protection, otherwise what is the point in proclaiming that human rights are truly ‘universal’? How could we allow the justification of rights-suppression for a minority group, when we are all human and thus are entitled to rights-equality through our shared human dignity?

We have a responsibility to ensure equality in rights recognition and protection, otherwise what is the point in proclaiming that human rights are truly ‘universal’? How could we allow the justification of rights-suppression for a minority group, when we are all human and thus are entitled to rights-equality through our shared human dignity?

After our class on Monday, and through re-watching the film again (when my DVD copy finally arrived! Perhaps my postman was on strike himself) these thoughts came back to me, prompting me to continue to consider society’s attitudes towards ‘minorities’ today, and to determine whether the views expressed in the film (which is set in the 1980s) really have changed over the years.

I also note that whilst there are communities and organised groups to which the characters belong to, i.e. the striking miners and the activists, they are fighting to achieve their respective rights from both a communal and individual perspective. It highlights my earlier point regarding the suppression of rights: the suppression of a group’s rights should not merely affect and concern them, or indeed even others in a similar situation (e.g. the activists wishing to support the miners). The suppression of rights should concern all in society, most especially those who enjoy their rights with ease. To suppress the rights of one is to suppress the rights of all. This is why I found certain lines of dialogue particularly poignant, namely the line delivered by political and civil activist Mark to Dai, the Welsh miner: “why support certain rights, but no one else’s’?” In my opinion, this highlights the hypocrisy that is sadly too readily presence within our current society. We are quick to query the right to a safe life and security for asylum seekers. We are quick to condemn those who wish to uphold free speech, and the right to assembly. Rights are not something which can be cherry-picked, to be selected and/or dismissed at the discretion of the state or indeed my citizens. We are all entitled to our rights, in having them recognised and respected by the state and state institutions. Furthermore, we are all obligated to recognise and respect the rights of others, too.

Overall however, the film provides an optimistic outlook on that issue: the potential for humans to rally around for each other, to help assist one another is vast. There is hope that rights are realised as being an entitlement of all humans, and thus truly ‘universal’.  Therefore human rights are worth protecting, as they ensure our lives can be lived to the fullest and we can achieve our potential. This can be evidenced through the powerful line: “realising you have a friend you never knew existed – it’s the best feeling in the world.” This comes at the film’s conclusion, when the Welsh miners essentially invade London to walk with the ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ activist group during the annual Gay Pride.

This scene echoes the continuous theme of friendship and solidarity recurrent in the film, namely through Dai. Dai had consistently referenced the slogan on the Dulais Valley Miners’ lodge banner, which essentially states a ‘you support me, and I will support you’ line with the added symbolism of two held hands. He promised the gay rights activists and the gay community during his address at the ‘Perverts and Pits’ concert in London that the miners would not forget their kindness, generosity and friendship, stating that the miners would be with them when they were needed, just as the gay community assisted the miners in their time of need. Thus to have the film conclude with this promise being upheld ensures a message of hope regarding our approach to human rights activists, and hope that we who are fortunate to have our rights realised and respected can then extend the hand of friendship to those who need our help, and show solidarity with those who have their human rights suppressed.

During the first class for this module, we briefly touched upon the various theories we would be using throughout the module to critique the concept of ‘human rights’ and current existing Human Rights legislation, at both a national and international level. I decided to select two theoretical perspectives to view the film through, and ultimately selected upon the Marxist view and the Feminist view.

From a Marxist theoretical perspective it could be argued that the miners – the proletariat – were being denied their right to strike due to the bourgeois order; here rights were in theory provided to all by the order but as a means of subtle control, and more importantly such rights could be curtailed. Rights therefore were a promised fantasy, aimed at subduing the proletariat in to accepting the status quo by promising better conditions, etc. (It is also reminiscent of the current bill proposed by the Conservation government to limit strike action.) It is interesting to note the review of the film from the FT: it was branded ‘a parade of tricks, tropes and tritenesses, designed to keep its balance for two hours atop a political correctness unicycle… Nothing in modern history is more amazing than the cultural rebranding of the UK miners’ strike as a heroic crusade, rather than a Luddite last stand for (inter alia) union demagoguery, greenhouse gas and emphysema.’ Evidently the reviewer viewed the strike as a protest against the state and the status quo; his review is eerily similar to what one may expect from a bourgeois dismissal of the strike.

The use of striking songs throughout the film, such as ‘solidarity forever… The Union makes us strong’ emphasises that there is power in the masses; a subtle reminder that the proletariat outnumber the bourgeoisie. The use of state institutions to control the workers, to monitor them and subdue their striking efforts would again highlight the dominance of the bourgeois order. This can be witnessed in the film when Mark comments after the Pride parade in the opening of the film, “where have [the police] gone? They went somewhere else to pick on someone else.”

Marx always spoke of the shared suffering and thus shared support to be found within the proletariat. The film illustrates that this is not always so straightforward: the miners originally are hesitant to accept the support from ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ because of the negative publicity and consequently political damage it would cause to their striking campaign. It also stemmed from stereotypical and traditional derogatory views of gays and lesbians. Yet over time, the majority of the miners come to accept ‘the gays’, realising that they are not so different from each other after all, and that their struggles are the same – a struggle against the oppressive status quo and the establishment which refuses to acknowledge their rights. Marx’s hope of solidarity is thus realised at the film’s conclusion, with the miners travelling to London to walk with their gay supporters during the annual Gay Pride.

From a Feminist theoretical perspective, I thought it was interesting to see that perhaps the lens of liberal feminism as noted by Dembour illustrates that rights were created for men by men. I mean this in the sense that the striking miners are male, and the women in their lives and communities suffer alongside their male counterparts for a right they personally do not have either. The men were the ones who openly protested, by standing on the picket line and confronting the police and thus the state. The women were confined to the homes, in charge of food banks and committees. They had a role, but although it was a vital one, it was perhaps overlooked and indeed taken for granted by the men. However, the character of Hefina shows a woman who ensures efficient organisation and communication; she manages men and women alike and so characterises the definition of feminism: she is an independent, able and strong woman on a par with men. She represents equality, in that men and women are equal with each other and can thus work together to ensure rights recognition and protection. The Welsh women collectively represent the potential of female empowerment; this can be witnessed in the film when they start singing together to express solidarity, and a shared strength to continue in the strike.

Furthermore, society was still lacking in gender-equality at this point in time, and this was accepted as ‘right’ and the norm. This is evident when Sian answers Jonathan’s question of what she will do as the strike had finished with, “I’m a wife and mother. My life goes back to normal.” Jonathan urges her to use her abilities, her talents at organisation and speaking to her advantage. The film’s conclusion informs the viewer that Sian attended university and obtained her undergraduate degree, and would go on to become an elected MP – the first woman from her region to do so. I personally found this rather inspiring, in that Jonathan, as a gay HIV positive man recognised that society not only marginalised him, but Sian because she was a woman – hence his urging to make something of herself as a means of defying society and instigating change.

I also thought it was interesting to see that the lesbian activists were more ‘combatant’ in terms of challenging gender roles and societal expectations. This is perhaps due to the fact that as women, society laid down restrictions and expectations, and as lesbians, society would generally deride them and deny them recognition and respect. Thus the lesbians set out to create their own place in society, with the double challenge of achieving equality both as women and as lesbians.

Steph mentions her desire for female independence, and insisting her ‘status be recognised’; she frequently comments “and lesbians” during the film whenever the gay men comment about “gays”. Steph also freely discussed sexual liberation whilst challenging the concept of sex as being ‘only for men’ whilst talking to a miner’s wife. Steph presents herself as a strong woman with a passionate belief in feminism, equality and rights-recognition. She is also presented with traditional feminine characteristics, displaying a caring attitude behind her bold exterior e.g. she alone goes to Joe’s house to enquire if he is okay after he was absence as the group headed to Wales. She also informs Joe about life in society as a member of the gay community, providing educational advice, “you’re not legal. It’s sixteen for the breeders, 21 for the gays.”

The lesbian couple was more militant, demanding that there be a women’s only committee within the Welsh village, “for women’s issues” which the gay men, Mike and Mark in particular, could not understand the need for. They also pressed for a women’s only support organisation for the miners, and eventually break away from ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ to establish this women-only organisation themselves. This illustrates that perhaps even gay men are in a more privileged position that lesbian women due to their make gender, and thus cannot understand the need for women to achieve equality.

I wish to conclude via the discussion of a symbol which, to me, speaks volumes. On an interesting note, I thought I would mention this observation I made when in America. In January 2015, it was reported that the cover of the US DVD release of the film makes no mention of the gay activist content within the film. Furthermore, the plot summary was edited. The standard description of ‘a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists’ which was to be found on the UK release was instead modified to say ‘a group of London-based activists’. I also noticed that the ‘Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners’ banner was removed from a photograph on the back cover; this is still present on the UK release.

The symbolism behind such a marketing move is evident, but also saddening – and frustrating. The true story, the real-life activists and their unique, inspirational stories were removed from the US release which not only dismisses their work within the film, it de facto removes them from history, and from society. Their very right to exist is being eradicated through the suppression of their banner and their mention in the film’s summary.

Human rights are worth protecting, because they protect humans who are classified ‘different’ by society, when in reality they are not ‘different’ at all – we are all human, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as human rights provide.

Pride ultimately is a message of hope, and after the film ended, I was left sitting staring at my laptop screen, with a strong desire to do something good, and to help people. Mark Ashton, the leader of ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ was a fella with a Northern Irish background and personal experience of life during the Troubles. He desired to see everyone treated with respect, free from discrimination and contempt. I feel motivated by his message and inspired by his actions, and can only hope that someday I can do something worthwhile which can help others.