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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Blessing 'the Least of These': Human Rights Symposium Oct. 9 through 13

Heeding Jesus' call to serve the world's most marginalized citizens, an extraordinary group of Pepperdine law students and faculty will present the Human Rights Symposium Oct. 9 through 15. The symposium is the first of its kind hosted on campus and will focus on topics such as the rights of women and children and religious freedom, while featuring such varied activities as prayer breakfasts, presentations, panel discussions and bible studies.

The Human Rights Symposium is an ambitious and collaborative project, headed by second year law students Matt Kraus and Liz Alvarez. Alvarez, who hails from McAllen, Texas, considers herself a committed humanitarian. She has spent time in Mexico building houses, churches, and schools and teaching self-defense techniques to Mexican police officers to help reduce police brutality. Alvarez has also found ways to be involved in humanitarian issues in the United States, such as chairing the International Justice Mission (IJM) chapter at her undergraduate institution, Abilene Christian University. There she began "IJM Awareness Week," educating her fellow students on human rights issues around the globe - and most importantly, on what students could do to make a difference. Alvarez' IJM Awareness Week at Abilene Christian proved to be such a success that IJM adopted the model into their "toolkit" as an innovative way to educate and demonstrate a commitment to human rights.

Kraus, a second year student from northern California, has also spent time in Mexico, helping the poor and disadvantaged. In Mexico, Kraus recalled, his "eyes were opened to the injustices of the world," prompting him to get further involved. As co-chairs of Pepperdine Law School's IJM chapter, Alvarez and Kraus chose topics and speakers which they hope, says Kraus, "will educate Pepperdine students on human rights issues and the potential they have as future leaders to use the law as a tool to advocate on behalf of those who are suffering."

Inspired by Alvarez' earlier success with IJM Awareness Week, Alvarez, and fellow law student Ryan Mannix started the first Pepperdine law school chapter of IJM (one of the first law school chapters in the country), and continue to look for ways to expose students to international human rights issues. With its impressive list of speakers and the many programs offered, it's clear that the Human Rights Symposium should be an effective tool. Currently, Mannix from Orange County, California, is working on his masters degree in divinity, through Seaver College. A few credits away from his law degree and with a certificate from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution under his belt, Mannix stays involved with IJM, as chaplain for Pepperdine's school of law chapter.

While Alvarez' and Kraus' work makes this event what IJM faculty advisor Joel Nichols calls a "student-driven effort," to make it a reality took great collaboration. Joining in the labor is Melanie Howard, associate director of the Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics and director of the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law. "We were able to get involved on a number of levels," says Howard, whose ILRE office supports an international human rights internship program, "especially in bringing a student voice to the event."

Jay Wolf, a second year student who will kick off the Symposium with a speech at Monday morning's prayer breakfast, is one of those student voices. Wolf's talk will reflect on his summer spent in Malawi, working with AIDS victims and orphaned children. His time in Africa strengthened his commitment to service because, as Wolf says, "We have all been given so much that it is imperative to give back to others in any way we can." Wolf is one of many Pepperdine law students who have coordinated with Howard and human rights organizations to spend a semester, or a summer, laboring on behalf of the poor and marginalized in such nations as Honduras, India, Kenya, Malawi and Bulgaria.

Howard has not only ensured students such as Jay Wolf the chance to share his experience, but, through the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law, is offering them glimpses into making a career of social change. Through speakers such as Linda Engle, an entrepreneur who sells products to raise money for women in India, students will learn about compassionate business models as well as the importance of socially conscious consumer choices.

With such a wide variety of offerings, there is something to interest every Pepperdine student at the Human Rights Symposium. Exposure to phenomenal speakers, such as Latcho Popov of Advocates Europe and Judith Wood of The Human Rights Project, co-chair Kraus aims to provide "examples of what one person can do with the law."

With all the exciting and informative events planned, the symposium is sure to be an eye opener - and, Alvarez hopes, an inspiration. "What I pray," says Alvarez, "is that people, especially on a campus like Pepperdine, will walk away with an understanding that we have an obligation to not turn a blind eye to human rights abuses."