Human Dignity and Our Schools: Benedictine Grad Addresses United Nations

For the first time in history, a graduate of Benedictine College has spoken before a group of United Nations (U.N.) delegates in New York City. LaTisha Downing, who earned her undergraduate degree from Benedictine in 2000 and then returned to earn her Master of Arts in School Leadership in 2007, had the opportunity to address the 67th Session of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women. The stand-alone side event was organized by the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, the World Youth Alliance, and the FEMM Foundation. Downing’s presentation can be viewed at the 31-minute mark of the U.N. recording of the event.

“It was originally a Zoom meeting,” said Downing. “But then I was invited to go to New York City and report on my progress with the Human Dignity Curriculum in person at the U.N. We thought there would only be a table full of people, but it was a big crowd, standing room only with lots of international representation. And it was very well received. They were asking how they can take this back and implement it in their schools in their nations.”

Downing, the principal at Central School in Atchison, Kansas, was recently named principal at Atchison High School beginning with the 2023-2024 school year. She updated the group about her pilot program to implement the Human Dignity Curriculum at Central School, the first public school in America to do so. This new program is a K-12 curriculum that teaches personal identity and human excellence along with themes like human dignity, freedom, solidarity, history of ideas and human rights. It was developed by the World Youth Alliance and its director, Anna Halpine. Part of Downing’s presentation included videos of student interviews so those in attendance could see the impact the curriculum had already had in just five months at the school.

“It is amazing that these students came to us with tons of walls built up about education and about themselves,” said Downing. “But with the Human Dignity Curriculum, they are learning to not only respect others, but also to have respect for themselves.”

Downing implemented the curriculum within the 4th and 6th Grades at Central School. Dr. Tory Baucum, director of the Center for Family Life at Benedictine College, had recommended the curriculum and suggested she run a pilot program. The school district’s curriculum instruction director approved the program for the elementary and middle school levels and the Center’s John Paul II Fellows, Benedictine students, have helped with the implementation. The two Central School teachers involved in working with the curriculum are also Benedictine education graduates, twin brothers Keenan Martin ’13 and Kelsey Martin ’13. According to Downing, the Human Dignity Curriculum can touch on multiple classes and disciplines.

“It is character education,” she said. “It looks at what human dignity is to them. It covers a multitude of things. It covers creativity. It covers self-esteem. It covers self-awareness. It covers friendship. So, it’s more than human dignity.”

“Quite a few students have talked about taking it home to their own families and telling their brothers and sisters about what they have learned,” Downing said. “They have done really well with the curriculum because it is simplified enough to reach everyone.”

Downing’s hope is to expand the Human Dignity Curriculum to other grades and to the high school level and that once they show traction with the implementation in Atchison, other schools around the country will adopt it.

“This is a way to advocate for kids, advocate for youth, advocate for people across the world,” Downing said. “I know I have the ultimate advocate for this in God and I see it as a blessing that I am being used as a vessel to spread the word about the Human Dignity Curriculum to other people and other nations.”

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.