Human Rights Essay Competition

First Place: $500 | Second Place: $250 | Third Place: $100
Deadline: 15 April

The Essay Competition encourages engagement with the issues of human rights at all levels.

All submissions must be prose non-fiction. Entries should be a minimum of 500 words.  Winning entries will be posted on the NMU History Department’s website and will be announced at the Marquette Interfaith Holocaust Memorial event in late April.


As a community, our shock and grief at global events force us to confront the troublingly persistent challenges of intolerance, discrimination, and violence towards “others” – from micro-aggressions to institutionalized inequalities to individual and collective violence. We hope that the Human Rights Essay Competition will stimulate us on how to recognize, analyze, and challenge these interconnected evils. We are dedicated to enhancing human rights for all and eradicating discriminatory actions towards any individual or group, whether those oppressed by their own states or those caught in international conflicts. But we also must consider the latent forces of “othering” used to justify inequality and violence in our own country. Indeed, the murder of George Floyd (or of Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor or….), the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (embodied in the death of Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind), the sustained assault on transgendered people (especially through state-level legislation), and the sharp increase in antisemitism (most horrifically the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh) indicate patterns of systemic discrimination here at home.

Grounded in the international recognition of human rights articulated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we encourage you to write on the topic suggested below about how our awareness of human rights can impact future generations, especially students.  As we experience the overwhelming horror playing out before our eyes (whether in Xinjiang or Rakhine State, in Palestine or Israel, in Ukraine or Sudan, or here at home), this is a historic moment for our university community to analyze and critique the links between inequality and violence and to stand together in resolve against those who wish to do anyone harm or limit their rights because of who they are, whatever their identity, values, or beliefs. We believe that we should be able to live in a society where all are free to live and breathe as they wish.

In our support for student action and social justice, we invite all NMU students to enter the essay competition on the following question: 

  • “How will you create awareness in your present community about human rights?”  

The participants and winners will be invited to and recognized at the annual Holocaust Memorial event on 25 April 2024. 

Please submit your 500+ word essays to

  • Subject Line: “Human Rights Essay Competition Submission”
  • Include in the body of the email (NOT in the essay itself) the following:
    • Your Name
    • NMU IN Number
    • Address
    • Phone Number
    • E-mail Address

NOTE: Only one essay is allowed per person.

DEADLINE: 15 April 2024


Northern Michigan University

  • Lydia Olson Library
    • Holocaust Collection
      The Holocaust Collection of the Lydia M. Olson Library consists of books, journals, audio-visual materials and documents relating to the Holocaust.
  • NMU Archives
    The Archives serves as the final repository for the historical records of Northern Michigan University and the five-county region of the central Upper Peninsula.

Marquette Area

  • Fayette Historic Townsite
    Fayette was once one of the Upper Peninsula's most productive iron-smelting operations, growing up around two blast furnaces, a large dock and several charcoal kilns aftern the Civil War. Nearly five hundred residents-many immigrating from Canada, the British Isles and northern Europe-lived in or near the town that existed to make pig iron. As the charcoal iron market began to decline, the Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette smelting operation in 1891. Attractions include a visitor center, exhibits, a twenty-six-station walking tour and a scale model of the original townsite.
  • Bishop Baraga Association and Diocesan Archives
    The archival collection contains nearly 2000 letters of Frederic Baraga's correspondence and several artifacts which belonged to our first Bishop. Also Office of Indian Affairs Records including maps and treaties, French Fur Company Papers, Henry R. Schoolcraft papers, Mackinac Agency, Chief Blackbird and numerous records.
  • Marquette County Historical Society
    The Longyear Library is a private library open to the public. A fee of $2.00 is assessed per research project for NMU students to access the materials and work one-on-one with librarians. The collection specializes in local history, and also contains material covering the entire Great Lakes region. Library materials include, but are not limited to:
    • ore docks
    • Presque Isle Park
    • iron ore discovery
    • shipwrecks
    • Marquette Branch Prison
    • education in Marquette County
    • historic buildings
    • ethnic groups
    • maps & photographs
  • US National Ski Hall of Fame
    Along with housing the Hall of Fame and Museum, the building includes a theater, library, gift shop, offices and plenty of storage space for archive material and collections.
  • Copper Harbor Lighthouse
    Since 1849, twelve years before the Civil War, the Copper Harbor Light Station has marked the entrance to one of Michigan's northernmost harbors. Today, interactive exhibits, period rooms and interpretive trails tell of the dangers of Lake Superior shipping and the duties and homelife of lightkeepers' and their families.

Additional Resources

  • Michigan Department of State's Michigan Historical Center
    The Center is the offical state agency for historical programs and activities that are the responsibility of the State of Michigan. The purpose of the Center is to preserve, protect, chronicle, interpret and present the history of Michigan to its people. The Center offers services and education to the public through five sections: museums, archaeology, archives, publications, and historic preservation.
  • Michigan Iron Industry Museum
    Museum exhibits, audiovisual programs and outdoor interpretive paths depict the Michigan iron industry that flourished for 125 years and still produces nearly one-quarter of the iron ore mined in the United States.
  • Archives of Michigan
    Records in the State Archives are particularly useful for tracing genealogy, legislative history/intent, land surveys, military service, and governmental policy on mental health, public health, education, labor, welfare and corrections.

History Department Teaching Assistants

Interested in working with students in the classroom and gaining valuable experience and training?  The NMU History Department runs its own student Teaching Assistant program!  TAs receive training in working with students from the program director and work one on one with their assigned professor.  Responsibilities may include working with students on primary source analysis skills, expanding student access to resources and support, conducting review sessions, facilitating in-class activities, and proctoring exams; the TA and professor can tailor responsibilities for the needs of the class and the interest of the TA.

Students' responses to the TAs in their history classes have been overwhelmingly positive.  Study sessions, office hours outside the professor's, in-class assistance, and the TA's status as a peer are all advantages they bring to the class, enriching the learning experience and providing another point of contact.

For more information about the department's Teaching Assistant Program, please contact Kathryn Johnson at


Student Organizations

Phi  Alpha Theta, History Honor Society

Phi Alpha Theta is a professional society whose mission is to promote the study of history through the encouragement of research, good teaching, publication and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians.  We seek to bring students, teachers and writers of history together for intellectual and social exchanges, which promote and assist historical research and publication by our members in a variety of ways.

Phi Alpha Theta is not limited to History majors or minors.  Criteria for admission include the following:

  • 12 credit hours in History
  • 3.1 GPA in History
  • 3.0 GPA overall

For more information, please contact our faculty advisor, Chet DeFonso, and visit the local chapter website at: or the national website at

NMU History Club

The NMU History Club strives alongside Phi Alpha Theta to promote similar goals but without the membership qualifications of that honors society.  We meet with Phi Alpha Theta to share ideas and resources, but see our mandate as the inclusion of all members of the NMU community in the cultivation of interest in history and the pursuit of historical truth.

For more information, please contact our faculty advisor, Chet DeFonso.

Student Michigan Education Association

The Student Michigan Education Association (SMEA) is a pre-professional organization for people preparing for the teaching profession in any of the higher education institutions in Michigan and who are not regularly employed as educators by an educational institution or agency.

If you are interested in supporting the department financially, thank you! As the department head, I can assure you that any money designated support the history department goes directly to enriching our students experience.

Gifts to the department are used in three main ways:

  • Supporting student travel to conferences
  • Supporting student research opportunities
  • Supporting the department’s teaching assistants

In each of these categories, even a small donation can make a significant difference.

  • $400.00 will supports a teaching assistant for one month – $100.00 will support a TA for one week
    • Able to give more? $1500.00 pays a teaching assistant for an entire semester!
  • $400.00 will cover the average grant to a student to travel to a conference in Michigan or Wisconsin


What our students say about our Teaching Assistants: 


His flexible office hours were great, as were his opinions and advice on how to succeed in this course.

He really took the time out of his schedule and moves things around to let us get ahead and be able to succeed.

She offered help several times throughout the semester. I feel that TA's contribute to a student's success by offering a helping hand in addition to the professor.

I liked how he clarified things for individuals or when we were in groups. He could tell if we were lost and did what he could to help. I think Adam did a wonderful job.


What our Teaching Assistance say about the opportunity:


“Overall, this experience provided me with a fresh perspective on content and insights into new dimensions to teaching that I would not have otherwise experienced, even as part of my education program.” – Jenny Baker

 “Working as a TA for an online course gave me the skillset and confidence to communicate with students digitally. I learned how to use some incredible resources and online teaching tools.” –Allison Luciano

“Regardless of what career I go into, the skills that I learned this semester are valuable and can be applied to many professions. The ability to give presentations and speak publically … are incredibly useful skills…” – Grant Kolean

“… I feel like the communication, critical thinking, time management, and interpersonal skills that I used as a TA will be valuable in whichever career I end up pursuing.” – Emily Winnell

 “This position helped me develop several important skills that are directly applicable to any future profession. Those include organization, working with others as a peer and as a leader, and synthesizing information into a model to be easily interpreted by others.” – Austin Bannister


How to Support the Department:

You can make your gift online. 

Or you may contact the foundation for more information: 

For additional information, go to or please contact the NMU Foundations office at 906-227-2627 or