UConn's human rights minor began in 1999 with about 15 students. Today there are roughly 80 students with the expectation of 100 by the end of the year.
Dr. Richard Wilson, the director of UConn's Human Rights Institute, attributes the increase in interest to a newfound awareness of human rights issues since 9/11.
"There has been a huge interest, I think, in part, because Americans used to think human rights were for people in other countries," said Wilson. "After 9/11, human rights were brought to America. [September 11th] was a crime against humanity. Those kinds of attacks were on American soil for the first time in living memory and it made Americans think."
To Wilson, students became interested in human rights for two reasons – their country was attacked and the United States government responded, in part, by sanctioning the CIA and military to torture prisoners.
When Wilson started teaching at UConn in 2003, he was teaching a human rights course on torture. Wilson used the ticking bomb scenario – if there was a ticking bomb in a highly populated public place, would torture be justified? – and asked students what they would do. Two-thirds thought that torture would be justified.
Wilson asked the same question in 2010, but this time only one-third of the class thought that torture would be acceptable.
"It's interesting to see how students have changed – now that U.S. students have seen military soldiers torturing and detaining others," said Wilson. "There has been a shift in student perception on these issues over the course of time. Student attitudes have changed; there is more interest; they are more informed; they feel that it relates to them a lot more than it did before 9/11."
Ruth Glasser, a lecturer in the department of urban and community studies at the Waterbury campus, said that since 9/11, there have been more conversations revolving around disaster management and preparedness. The program has even brought in the Connecticut Department of Public Works to talk to students about this.
"Students are also more conscious that we need to understand what's going on internationally and what other cultures feel and what makes them tick; we saw that firsthand with 9/11," said Glasser.
Glasser, who teaches an ethnic history class, says that she teaches more about Muslim and Arab Americans and how they feel and what they think and how they are treated.
Bandana Purkayastha, professor and acting department head of the sociology department, said that the sociology department has changed over the last ten years, in part because of 9/11.
"In terms of research, I do know there is faculty research that has reoriented, especially how faculty is thinking about issues after 9/11," said Purkayastha.
One example of the scholarship being produced concerning the post-9/11 environment is a book called "Human Rights in our own Back Yard." The book, edited by Purkayastha, UConn sociology professor and Associate Dean ofCLAS, Davita Glasberg, and San Jose State University's William T. Armaline, with some chapters written by UConngraduate and undergraduate students, has some chapters devoted to issues specifically relating to post-9/11.
"The work I do and what I teach, we will talk about issues that surround Muslims in the U.S. Not just the Middle East, but South East Asia," said Purkayastha. "The orientation is there, even if there is not a specific area for middle eastern studies [in the department of sociology]."
The Arabic language program has also grown in the last ten years. Arabic was offered as part of UConn's "Critical Language Program" for many years. A full-time instructor in-residence was then hired in 2007 to accommodate the growing program.
In the fall of 2005, there were 22 students enrolled in Arabic language classes. In fall 2010, there were 190 students.
Maha Darawsha, the current Arabic instructor, has accounted some of the program's growth to an increased interest in the Middle East, its language and culture.
According to Darawsha, prior to 9/11, many students enrolled in Arabic courses because Arabic is part of their heritage and they wanted to learn more.
"After 9/11, the case changed, there are more students who want to just explore the culture and language," saidDarawsha.
Darawsha is also finding many business and political science students looking to learn Arabic as a way to make themselves more appealing in the job market. Many know that there are job opportunities with the state department and military and that learning Arabic would be an asset.
"It's the students willing to accept the language and learn it," saidDarawsha. "The more effort they put into learning the language, the more they accept it and the culture."