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Human Rights, Government Power, and President-Elect Trump

This is the third entry in our post-election series of blogs here on Teaching Human Rights. We have read about teaching in a non-political course to a very diverse campus, as well as about a guest speaker addressing race and class with respect to the election. Much like Nicole discusses in her post, I have rather diverse classes and found myself talking to many students from marginalized groups who were terrified about the prospects of what Trump’s election means. However, unlike Nicole, I teach explicitly political classes about American government and American constitutional law, and I also teach in a fairly red part of a blue state. The former means students expect some discussion of the election, and the latter means that while I faced many students who were genuinely frightened about the future, these students were also in the room with others who remained civil, but were not at all upset by the election results.

This blending of political views in classes about American government created an interesting environment in which to discuss how the election turned out, but also what it means moving forward both for American politics and for human rights. Much of what I discussed with my introductory-level classes was dissecting the voting patterns as well as discussing policy implications at a basic level. This discussion involved some of my own input, but largely we had a very open-ended discussion where I tried to create a safe space for all to talk (much like Nicole described), and then spent time together answering their questions, addressing their fears, and dispelling rumors, myths, or otherwise fake accounts of what has happened and what will happen. This was part therapy, part education, and part fact-checking, which the students reported appreciating and finding beneficial. While I think it is important to share this experience, I am actually going to focus the rest of this post on teaching American constitutional law in light of the election, before relating these discussions to teaching about human rights.

One of the courses I am teaching this semester, which I regularly teach, is constitutional law. Typically at the undergraduate level American constitutional law is broken into two (or sometimes three) main areas: (1) government institutions and powers, and (2) civil rights and civil liberties (and if a third, rights of the accused). While I am teaching the second of these courses in the spring (which seems incredibly timely given the campaign rhetoric), I am teaching the first version this semester. This class largely focuses on what the federal and state governments can and cannot do under the constitution, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court. It is from within this context that I want to focus. The students in this class, by the time of the election, have read about how the various branches check the other branches, as well as various elements of governmental power over foreign and domestic policy. It is precisely this information that had this class discussing the implications of Trump being president-elect and broader concerns for human rights (the latter not normally a topic for this specific course).

To put things in perspective, Trump has discussed drastically lowering if not completely stopping the number of refugees the US accepts, in addition to imposing a Muslim registry, authorizing waterboarding and other forms of torture because he “knows” they work (a position he is slightly stepping back), and using military force to indiscriminately target those whom he does not like. What the students in my class expressed is that these acts are fundamentally against the constitution, but not clearly beyond the President’s power to enact (even if for only for a short time). Korematsu, which upheld FDR’s plan of Japanese internment during World War II, has never been overturned and has been positively cited as supporting Trump’s Muslim registry ideas. While we have laws outlawing the use of torture, and the Supreme Court has said that the Geneva Conventions still apply to the U.S., that does not mean that Congress and former President George W. Bush did not try to circumvent both of these, and thus president-elect Trump and his Republican Congress could do the same.

Presidential power has been expanding for years, and much of it exists with few checks. President Obama, out of necessity from the intransigent Republican Congress, has extensively employed executive orders and executive agreements, all of which Trump can undo by simply signing his own executive orders and agreements. Most terrifying from a human rights standpoint is that the current Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president has greatly expanded the use of drones, ordering over 500 strikes, often with little regard for citizen casualties. This is further complicated by the fact that the US policy arbitrarily designates all fighting-aged men killed by a drone are terrorists, unless evidence emerges after the fact that they were not. On top of this, Obama has overseen at least six US citizens killed with drones, although only one was specifically—and extra-judicially—targeted. This is especially concerning when considering the hostility many of Trump’s currently-named advisors and cabinet members have for much of the rest of the world, given Trump’s desire to blow up our enemies with reckless abandon, and given his seemingly thin-skinned reactions to anything he perceives as a slight (see almost anything on Trump’s Twitter feed). Remember, he will have the ability to, more or less, order these strikes at will. All of this without even discussing the domestic implications for human rights for discriminating against minorities, or anyone receiving government assistance as part of the U.S.’s social safety net that has been targeted by the incoming Republican-dominated government.

Our laws are not self-enforcing. Our institutions cannot stop authoritarianism if we lack the political will to do anything. Trump will not listen to Democrats, he’s made that clear, and Republicans, at least not openly and publicly, especially since the election outcome, are not pushing back against him (not that it is clear that he would listen). Nothing in our system works to check power without opposition. If the government does not oppose him, there is little that we, as US citizens, can really do. The naming of Bannon as his chief policy advisor and the Republican complacency over it is a very telling moment. Unless Republicans suddenly push back aggressively against Trump on this, things are not looking good for human rights in the US. To try to put this into context of teaching, my advice (and my approach) has been to be open and direct with students. Encourage them to ask questions, encourage them to speak out when they disagree with what the government is doing, and remind them that the US system is built on the premise of active citizens working as a check on the government, which is particularly necessary when the government will not check itself. These are difficult times for many and pedagogically challenging discussions to have, but we must have these discussions with students if we are to be involved in helping students develop into thoughtful individuals who will be responsible for the future.

Daniel Tagliarina

Trumped: Electoral politics and the clash of race and class

This is the second blog in a post-election mini-series on Teaching Human Rights. In the first blog, Teaching Human Rights Editor and Contributor, Nicole Coleman, shared her experience in the classroom the day after the general election. She highlighted the importance of creating understanding of why traditionally marginalized students might need support navigating the era of President-elect Trump. She also addressed the fact that it is the responsibility of white people to stand up to bigotry and in solidarity with those who have been targets of the President-elect’s campaign. In this post, I will present an example of how a guest lecturer guided students through a historical account of the electoral politics, race, and class.

A guest lecturer was scheduled to speak two days after the general election on the satellite campus of a public state university. The satellite campus is located in a major urban city in the United States where a majority of the students identify with communities traditionally marginalized and who were targeted during the campaign season, i.e. women, African Americans, working class, inner city residents, of Muslim faith, and/or immigrants. Only after the election did the organizers of the event realize how timely the lecture would be.

The presentation was entitled, “Trumped: Electoral politics and the clash of race and class.” The speaker, Ewuare Osayande (http://www.osayande.org), is a community organizer, accomplished author, student of history, and self-proclaimed rebel.

Mr. Osayande began his presentation with a series of questions, including why Trump, why now? Why would the white working class get behind a man who has spent his career getting rich on the backs of the white working class? Why would the white poor vote against their own best interests? Why is there not an alliance within the working class, regardless of race? He responded that we must appreciate where we are at this point in American history. And this election exposes why logical answers are not always found in individual votes.

Mr. Osayande highlighted that a real democracy would recognize the popular vote; the lie for him is within the Electoral College. The Electoral College was established through the Three-Fifths Compromise proposed during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. At that time, it was agreed that a system needed to be put into place to ensure that the Northern states with more population did not sway the vote away from the less populated Southern states. Slaves within a state were counted as three-fifths of a white person’s vote (http://constitution.laws.com/three-fifths-compromise). To this day, the Electoral College continues to discount votes from black and brown voters which I realized particularly when my 18-year-old niece’s boyfriend told me that his vote did not count because he was brown. The Three-Fifths Compromise is just one of many laws that empowered the white colonists and contributed to what we now call white privilege.

Mr. Osayande pulled more history in to the discussion and highlighted that in Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. DuBois (1935) emphasized that the white working man was often as impoverished as the black man who was enslaved. Specifically, in the chapter entitled, “The White Worker,” DuBois forecasted how even today capitalists pit white workers against “others.” During the 2016 election campaign, the rhetoric was that “immigrants are taking away jobs” as a way to redirect anger felt by the un- and underemployed workers towards immigrants; instead the narrative needed to be shifted to the necessity of a living wage in the United States. From DuBois to Bernie Sanders workers must recognize the power is in their numbers and need to unite despite their differences.

Mr. Osayande related this psychological game of whiteness between capitalists and workers to the seeds of fascism nurtured during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Theories of race contribute to the white working class not understanding that the commonalities they have with black and brown communities are more relevant than the similarities they have with the rich and elite. The poor whites, at least those who bothered to vote, voted for Trump because we still hold tight to the American Dream. Yet, poor white Americans’ lives are more similar to the black and brown urban poor Americans’ lives than they are willing to admit. Does this really mean that poor white voters decided Trump offered them the best opportunity?

As Mr. Osayande stated, President-elect Trump’s political base represented the bald face of capitalism and is propelled by the “alt-right,” a movement made up of neo-Nazi, paramilitary, and Tea party voters. The 2016 election exposed to the liberal leaning voters that the mask is off and the new movement does not need politicians to represent them, they can represent themselves through self-funded campaigns bolstered by Citizen’s United v. FEC which gives businesses unlimited ability to finance campaigns and political advertisements.

Mr. Osayande pointed out that the 2016 election also exposed that women in the United States are still not united. Black women overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. This vote wasn’t because Black women were overly excited for another Clinton presidency, but because Black women understood the larger context of how politics will impact individual lives. White women, on the other hand, voted against their own best interests and based their vote on white privilege.

Mr. Osayande also highlighted that there is hope though in our future. Young Americans (18-25 years old) overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. This voter bloc also polled highly in favor of policies that secure economic rights Since the Civil Rights Movement, America has slowly moved towards a democratic nation. Within two generations the first Black President was elected. There is hope in the realization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for a revolution of values that will ensure all people in the United States have opportunity.

Perhaps it was serendipitous that Mr. Osayande’s lecture was scheduled post-election, but as instructors interested in teaching human rights, we must engage with community experts to expose students to a variety of voices and viewpoints. Teaching human rights goes beyond international laws and history, as such we must be prepared to utilize pivotal current events as teachable moments.

Christina Chiarelli-Helminiak

 

Post-Election Teaching

This is the first post in a mini-series on teaching and campus action after the presidential election. Today, I am concentrating on what I said in class the first time I taught after the election. We will have future posts about a campus speaker who focused on electoral politics and the clash of race and class, about teaching constitutional law, about teaching foreign students before, during and after the elections, and about a speak-out on refugees.

I teach a German language class and while I include German culture and touch upon human rights issues, this is not a typical class in which you talk politics. The class then never discussed the presidential campaign before last week. After the election however, I felt that I needed to address the issues in class. Not only because half of my students belong to a marginalized group that has been threatened during the campaign (namely African American, Muslim American and LGBT students, even more than half if you count women) but also and maybe even more so the other half does not belong to a minority, therefore can lean back and wait and see, can believe that everything is going to be ok. So, here is what I said:

“If you don’t belong to a traditionally marginalized group, and that means at this point that you are white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered and male, be an upstander. Don’t let racist, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic, ableist comments go unnoticed or unchallenged. Listen to those who have been threatened and violated, believe them and stand with them. If you belong to a minority, know that this classroom is safe. That this community stands with you. And that we, the faculty and your peers, are here to listen and to help. You may feel angry, but you also may feel sad, overwhelmed, desperate. There is counseling on this campus for this reason. I have the number, don’t hesitate to contact me or anyone.

White people did this and white people need to stand up against bigotry now, stand up for those who have been threatened. We cannot let oppressed groups carry the burden of fighting those who threaten them directly. This is not about the President-Elect, but about what our classroom, our campus and our community can do to make sure that these are safe spaces for everyone.”

Given that I teach on a diverse campus in a diverse community, there was no push-back. This may be different in other locations (even though this study would suggest otherwise: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Yes-You-re-Right-Colleges/238400?cid=trend_right_t), but it is important nonetheless. There may be opposition, and we will speak about teaching in the post-truth era in a future post, but I believe that it is more important that students know that we stand with them.

Many centers for teaching have issued guidelines and advice after the election. The one at your institution may have as well. This is a good place to start finding concrete ideas for teaching during the next weeks. There may also be teach-ins at your campus. And finally, here is one article that stood out among the many that have been published during the last week. Whether you teach human rights or not, all of us can try to be more inclusive in our teaching: Kevin Gannon – “Inclusive Teaching in Exclusionary Times”: http://www.teachingushistory.co/2016/11/inclusive-teaching-in-exclusionary-times.html.

The Advantages of Teaching Human Rights Classes in a Hybrid Format

In this month’s post, I’m going to discuss some of the advantages of teaching human rights courses in a hybrid format. The hybrid model combines both in-class and online teaching – ideally broken up into two modules each week, one online and one in the classroom. As it combines multiple teaching methods, I have found this style of instruction to allow for the benefits of both online and in-person teaching while mitigating some of the disadvantages of each. Students still have face-to-face time with their professor, but they also experience the flexibility of an online course.

This semester, I am using this method to teach an Introduction to Human Rights course. My class contains 35 undergraduate students with a range of majors, and, therefore, a varying level of previous knowledge about human rights. Some students can name various components of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while others might not be willing to wager a guess in public as to what the acronym “U.N.” actually means. Interdisciplinary pedagogy prioritizes the inclusion of a variety of learning experiences and the provision of adequate time for collaborative learning among students precisely for this reason. Although, in practice, most undergraduate courses encounter this varying level of background knowledge, in interdisciplinary courses, we take it as a given from day one. In my experience, hybrid courses are excellent opportunities to provide space for multiple types of learning while still offering time and a space for easy collaboration.

Part of a lesson from an online module about the United Nations

Part of a lesson from an online module about the United Nations

Pedagogically, a hybrid course offers many benefits. This format allows students to engage with lecture material through online modules at their own pace without sacrificing face-to-face contact with their classmates and professor. Students may also use online modules to watch videos or listen to podcasts in preparation for in-class activities. For example, so far this semester we have done several online modules incorporating media in a way that would be difficult to do in a traditional classroom format. When we were studying the UN, I assigned the students to watch several online videos of Universal Periodic Review proceedings. Between videos, they would reflect on each in their online journal. This exercise allowed them to move through the videos and writing at their own pace and then come to class having already thought through the discussion questions in their journals.  The combination of online reflection and in-class discussion can be particularly helpful for students who may feel too shy to contribute in class, but may be more comfortable having the chance to work out their thoughts in a written format.

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Students watched episodes of shows such as 24 as way to begin thinking about how torture is portrayed in the media

The second media activity involved asking students to watch one of a variety of television episodes in which torture was portrayed and then complete a reflection handout. These worksheets then served as the basis of our in class discussion that week. Although we could have done a similar assignment in class, by completing the assignment as a part of their online module, the students were able to watch different episodes (from shows like Scandal, 24, Lost, and Homeland). We were then able to devote our class time to comparing the different techniques used to portray torture in the media and how these related to what the students had learned about the Convention against Torture in their online module.

A hybrid model also easily allows for the incorporation of multiple voices and perspectives into lectures and activities. Instead of just acknowledging that scholars differ in their opinion about a topic, for example, an online lecture allows the professor to link to these sources. I can point students to other websites to watch videos or read reports, an exercise that not only increases their knowledge about the topic, but also shows them where this kind of material is available online. This polyvocal approach to constructing online lessons is particularly suitable for interdisciplinary classes that are attempting to teach topics like human rights across the disciplines.

So far, I feel like the class has been going really well, and the students seem to agree. When I gave them a quick survey last week about what format they would most prefer if they were registering for other human rights classes (giving them the choices of hybrid, all in-class, or all online), the hybrid format came out as the most popular. Maybe it’s just the fact that they have to come to class less frequently, but I’d like to think it’s something different.

 

Teaching Human Rights in the Context of Angst

This blog post includes ideas for conversations at the beginning of the semester. In a subsequent post we will discuss more detailed lesson planning regarding terrorism, migration, and violence in classes that deal with these kind of topics. The thoughts offered here can be integrated as brief conversations and are thus appropriate for a range of classes that do not necessarily address human rights specifically.

In light of this summer’s events both in the U.S. and Europe, our students may return from the summer break with anxieties and feelings of insecurity. Based on the different attacks this summer, students might feel unsafe in general and may also project these fears as biases at specific groups of people. Since these groups can, depending on who is harboring the fears, include African-Americans, Muslim Americans, refugees, migrants, police officers, and white supremacists, we are prone to encounter intersecting and conflicting fears in our classrooms. As most of us teach human rights, our syllabi include instances of discrimination and violence and thereby further contribute to this general angst. So what can we do about it?

It can be helpful to present statistics about terrorism, crime, and immigration, or use the ted talk in the resource section of this post for a general take on the decline rather than the rise of violence. I doubt, however, that facts alone will alleviate the fears. Showing that not all members of a certain group prescribe to an ideology or not all members of a group are violent is too vague to actually help students deal with their anxieties. My goal in this situation is to help students to see perpetrators as individuals rather than collectives (this approach may be more suitable for terrorism fears rather than police brutality and structural discrimination which our next blog post will address in more detail). A faceless group of potential attackers leads to a diffuse and irrational kind of angst. Therefore, I suggest a speak-out. Early in your class, ask your students to talk about their fears and possibly contribute as well. Ask everyone to respect what they hear and to not dismiss it. All fears should be taken seriously. As a next step, allow for conversations. Support different groups to talk to each other rather than about a faceless entity. Making it personal in ways where a fellow student may be a member of the group that other students fear will increase an understanding of diversity and individuality within that group. It also shows how these fears affect the actual members of a religious or ethnic or professional community. If you don’t have diverse classes, bring in people from other parts of campus or the community and allow everyone’s voice to be heard. Speaking alone might be cathartic, but entering conversations can make a long-term difference.

For these conversations to work, we should make sure that our classroom is a safe space. Don’t dismiss any fear for being unwarranted but address the reality of these fears as well (what are students specifically afraid of and why?). Don’t let conversation take the form of accusation and defense. If you have one or more minority students in your class, don’t take them as the representative, as the mouthpiece of their ethnic or religious group. This would play into the homogenization of groups as well. They should also not have to answer broad questions about their group – they are individuals with individual experiences. Present them as exactly that and have them share their feelings as well. Here, the personal contact is the most important element. Eventually, facts need to be introduced into the conversation as well. Depending on the time frame of this intervention in your class, bring in articles, statistics or professionals (for instance, police officers from the city or county, or the Imam of a nearby Mosque, or a scholar from your institution who studies African-American history, Islam, terrorism etc.) for factual information.

If you have the time, let students research the background to some of the attacks. Germany is a good example since four widely different attacks happened within one week. While all four attacks were committed by members of the same religious group and three attackers were refugees, only one (maybe two) were politically motivated. Both the Munich rampage and the Reutlingen murder could have happened elsewhere and with different ethnic backgrounds. That doesn’t make the crimes any better, innocent humans have died in both occasions, but it does help to relativize an assumption of homogeneity that plays into a rhetoric that sees a whole group as potential perpetrators of terrorism. The two refugees in Germany can also contrast the attackers of Brussels and Paris who had lived in Europe for a long time before their attacks. Here separation within a society lies at the heart of the problem, which a politics of fear may exacerbate. Articles can provide additional material to drive one main point home: By homogenizing one group of people and further pushing the group out of our societies, we may help the aims of terrorists.

 

Selected resources:

On violence in general

Steven Pinker, Ted Talk, The surprising decline in violence: https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence?language=en

Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, “The world is not falling apart,” Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/12/the_world_is_not_falling_apart_the_trend_lines_reveal_an_increasingly_peaceful.html

On anxiety and terrorism

Steven Erlanger, “String of attacks in Europe fuels a summer of anxiety,” New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/world/europe/string-of-attacks-in-europe-fuels-a-summer-of-anxiety.html?ref=world&_r=2

On refugees and immigration

Imran Awan, “Stop Blaming Refugees for Attacks Like Those in Paris,” New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/16/should-europe-shun-refugees-after-the-paris-attacks/stop-blaming-refugees-for-attacks-like-those-in-paris

Ben Norton, “Our terrorism double standard: After Paris, let’s stop blaiming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves,”Salon: http://www.salon.com/2015/11/14/our_terrorism_double_standard_after_paris_lets_stop_blaming_muslims_and_take_a_hard_look_at_ourselves/

Amanda Taub, “Shutting down immigration won’t solve Europe’s terrorism problem,” Vox: http://www.vox.com/2016/3/22/11285962/brussels-attack-refugees-immigration

 

 

By: Nicole Coleman

Can we give them a little more rights? Incorporating a human rights segment into an academic program.

There is little doubt that human rights is an intriguing topic to folks from all walks of life! From freshman in college to the elderly, people tend to be curious and interested in learning more about their rights, and the diverse landscape of international human rights. Offerings of human rights courses are growing in the academy, yet there are many academics who cannot devote a full semester to teaching rights. If one is willing to think outside the box there are many ways to incorporate rights into various academic programs and/or courses that are not specifically billed as human rights.

Obviously there are many types of academic programs that do not fit squarely into the semester timeframe: afterschool programs, lecture series, exchange programs, conferences, mini-camps, team building excursions, and as discussed in a previous blog post field trips. The range of differing time restraints and/or programs is too broad to address here, but one thing they often share is opportunities to employ a rights based segment into programing but face a limited time constraint to do so. Of course, this depends on the relevant content of the program—there is not much rights discourse analysis presented in your typical “Physics Camp” but maybe there could be J. I have been fortunate enough to be able to incorporate rights based lessons into U.S. State Department funded exchange programs, including President Obama’s new signature academic exchange program Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), and the long running Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) program.

At the University of Connecticut, 20 young African leaders and 40 young Southeast Asian leaders come through our programs run by UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute, where the focus is on social entrepreneurship. Students hail from 10 Southeast Asian countries (YSEALI) and 10 countries in North and West Africa (SUSI) and while participating in these very competitive programs they develop social enterprises, interact with U.S. citizens/instructors, and go on a week-long educational study tour to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. They stay in the U.S. for five weeks, four of them at UConn, and then return home to their countries to begin the difficult work of scaling up their enterprises and creating social change. Our program’s learning objectives focus broadly on social entrepreneurship, the study of U.S. history and culture, and on leadership. I am employed as a postdoctoral fellow with a component of my job being to design the academic curriculum and our broad learning objectives have allowed me significant space to incorporate human rights into the programming. One need not look very far to see the impact of rights in learning outcomes as student projects have ranged from anti-discrimination programs in Algeria, Morocco, and Indonesia, to new recycling programs in Senegal, Cameroon, the Philippians, to bridging the digital divide among the poor, rural Malian population and the urban elites.

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There are four primary ways that I have incorporated human rights that have been particularly effective and might be of use to other faculty or administrators adding rights to an academic program/course: (1) direct academic sessions on human rights; (2) academic sessions that indirectly address components of rights; (3) an online portion that allows for continued engagement with rights after the program concludes; and finally (4) informal simulations and icebreakers focused on creating cross-cultural respect.

We define the “social” part of social entrepreneurship (SE) broadly to include many areas of social change. Human rights fits nicely under this broad umbrella. Thus, as mentioned above (1), I have included traditional academic sessions that directly address rights with titles such as “Introduction to Human Rights,” and “Economic Rights in the U.S. and Beyond.” These hour or so long sessions fit into the program goal to enhance students’ understanding of the “social” in SE and how their social enterprise may employ/or uphold human rights to achieve goals of their local community. Direct knowledge of human rights, especially those related to their particular causes can help our students’ incipient organizations get community and international support for what they are trying to accomplish. Students with little or no human rights background seem to get a lot out of these introduction type sessions—especially if there is a dynamic presenter who mixes up lecture, activities, and powerful use of human rights in multimedia form.

Second, I have included sessions that do not directly address human rights but are indirectly related. These sessions have included: Freedom of the Press in the U.S., African American Leaders and the Civil Rights Movement; Global Environmental Issues; Microfinance; and Social Mobilization which focuses on large scale social movement tactics across different political systems around the world. Elements of human rights are never very far afield from the content and students often make the connections to rights quite easily (especially if they have had the intro to rights sessions beforehand). An added bonus is that these sessions can cover aspects of the program that need to be covered, such as American history/culture in our program.

Third, I include a hybrid online portion of the academic program where students have digital lessons to complete before, during, and after our “on the ground” segment of the program is completed and students have returned home. Thus, they are able to do follow-up readings on rights and continue conversations from the classroom in the online realm. After they complete our full program, including receiving seed funding to start their enterprise, we point them in the direction of the vastly expanding free MOOC options for further learning (see a related post for more info about the potential power of the hybrid model).

Finally, an added bonus of “a rights based component” is that it has fostered strong bonding and the respect of differences among our often disparate groups. Our programs are intentionally diverse, with U.S. Embassies abroad choosing students from different religious, cultural, political, and economic backgrounds (not to mention from 10 different countries). Thus, we have found that the more we can foster mutual respect the smoother the program runs and it leads to closer bonds between the participants. We have included cross-cultural understanding activities, for instance a Peace Corps’ favorite Bafa Bafa (lesson plan for it here from NYU), a business negotiation simulation called Russian Railroad, Circles, Triangles, and Squares which is a simulation about power dynamics among groups, and also many simple icebreaker type games which have helped our students practice the mutual respect that they have been exposed to in the classroom and apply it to real world cross cultural dialog.

Of course, none of these options substitute for the depth of a full semester focused on rights, however they certainly have added a strong rights component to our program without sacrificing overall program goals. In fact, my experience has led me to want to “give them a little more rights” whenever I can J. Giving students “a little more rights” could work in a variety of settings beyond the aforementioned programs. For instance adding a section on rights can really expand the international strength of a traditional course. The icebreaker type activities could be used in almost any classroom, and who knows maybe even at a future “Physics Camp.” A little human rights education can clearly go a long way. Feel free to share your experiences bringing the study of rights into programs/courses and to contact me if you want more detail on any of the activities mentioned above.

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Group Projects in Online Classes

This is the last of three blog posts on the online class “Introduction to Human Rights.” I have talked about general course design (here) and assessment (here). Today, I will focus on group projects and the specific challenges as well as opportunities that the online environment provides for them.

Students usually do not like group projects. I don’t blame them; I didn’t like them much either when I was a student. I was always convinced that I could have done better and could have worked more efficiently by myself. As an instructor, however, I see benefits in group projects that go beyond a good grade and efficiency; benefits that relate to future jobs in which most of our students will have to collaborate, but also more social skills of negotiation and compromise that will help in all sorts of situations.

Students are even more concerned about online group projects. They assume that all the problems they encounter in the face-to-face class will be multiplied in an online class: figuring out times to meet, communicating goals, submitting parts of the presentation, merging parts into a coherent whole seem more daunting when you have never met your collaborators in person. Here is the good news though: it is not! I have actually found that group projects work better online. I assume that some of the reasons are that the students are already used to working asynchronously and logging on multiple times a day. They are more responsive to emails and have learned to communicate in discussion forums and to submit assignments online. All these skills are needed for successful group projects without the face-to-face problem of finding a time and space to meet in person.

The biggest challenge for online group work, I have found, is to establish clear guidelines as well as due dates for each step of the way. It won’t work to give a group the assignment and expect them to submit the completed project after a week or two. Therefore, I broke down the projects in multiple steps and supported the process with three tools – a discussion forum for asynchronous communication, a chat area for synchronous conversations, and a document exchange for sending documents for revisions back and forth (all available through blackboard).

The projects focused on a specific group of people and their rights: rights of disabled people, rights of children, LGBTQ rights, indigenous rights, rights of migrants and refugees. Students sent me their topic preference (indicating and ranking their top three choices) in the second week of class, and I formed the groups according to interest. The first step in the groups was then to assign roles. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the class, I asked them to include the history of the rights of their group (including an international convention if it exists), legal cases/proceedings, and cultural representations of the (rights of the) group. Since I had groups of five students, students could not just pick one area, but had to collaborate within those subject fields. Most groups split the history part and assigned one student to merge the different parts in the end. Others split multiple of the parts. They communicated their roles to me by the middle of the third week of class and began their research. During the fourth week, the groups submitted a draft of their presentation. This required collaboration in the form of bringing the different parts together and held each group member accountable to do research for their own part. I gave feedback, based on which the students finalized their prezi or power point presentations. These were due at the beginning of the fifth week. After another round of feedback, the students then added their narration to the visuals. Both power point and prezi have the option to upload recordings which enables the students to record their own part and then add it to the appropriate visuals. This corresponds to an in-class presentation where each student would be speaking about their specific part. Here, they pre-script their narration, record and upload it. Some groups opted to have one students do the narration for all parts. Based on this experience, I would advise against that. This student would not have done research for any of the parts and might not be able to capture all nuances. The presentations of those who split the work into parts and each student did the research, found the visuals and narrated their own part proved to be more in depth and more engaging at the same time. The narrated version of the presentation was due at the end of the fifth week. During the sixth week, everyone watched all the group presentations and asked questions in a discussion forum. The groups had to check into their own presentations to answer these questions and possibly do some more research to be able to answer them.

As I discussed in the blog post on designing the online course, the group projects allowed me to include more groups of people and their specific rights. While I gave up some control about what students would find and communicate to the others, the benefit of not having to choose only one or two groups of people outweighs this challenge. I confronted the challenge also during the multiple rounds of feedback, steering the groups into a certain direction when they seemed to be missing major points. The LGBTQ rights group in 2014 for instance, decided to pick three countries to present different human rights legislation for LGBTQ people. I asked them to consider an additional table that shows how many countries (and which ones) follow similar laws (for instance: where is homosexuality punishable, where can homosexual couples get married). That way, their creative interpretation of the topic was upheld and led to a very interesting/engaging presentation, but an overall picture of the topic could be included as well. The second option if a presentation doesn’t include the information needed is to add questions during the discussion phase of the project to require additional research or point all students to the missing information. Hopefully, this won’t be necessary as students readily incorporate feedback – I have not had to do this so far.

I assess group projects online as well as face-to-face as a combination of my evaluation, a self- or team evaluation, and peer evaluation. Each group evaluates one other group’s presentation using the same rubric that I use. Additionally, the team members evaluate each other as well as themselves and their contributions to the team’s success. The final grade of the presentation consists of three equal parts: the average of the self-/team evaluation, my grade and the peer grade. This takes into account that some team members might contribute more than others (self-/team-grade) and how well the presentation works as a whole – as a coherent product is one of the main factors of a successful presentation. If one part of the presentation is a lot less successful than the others, the grade can be adjusted as the rubric asks for an evaluation of all three parts (history, legal, cultural representation) and the roles have been assigned in the beginning. I have found though that groups regulate themselves very well and will do extra work to make up for a group member’s missing contribution. They might then indicate that this specific group member didn’t do any work on their team evaluation, but the presentation itself has never reflected this and could still receive a good grade.

Overall, online group projects have proven to work well for me, sometimes even better than face-to-face ones as students do not need to find a time and place where to meet, but rather incorporate the group work into their regular online work. In evaluations, students commented that they were quite worried about the group projects beforehand but that they worked surprisingly well. This might be something worth sharing with students before they embark on their projects to alleviate these concerns.

Have you done group projects online? What tools have you used? Have you found other procedures to work well? What challenges have you encountered? We welcome feedback, ideas, comments and reports of experiences! If you are interested in handouts and rubrics, contact us here.

Teaching Human Rights Outside the Classroom

sw-day-at-un

As college-level instructors, sometimes we get constrained to the classroom. The thought of a “field trip” seems very elementary, but sometimes we need to get out of the classroom to teach human rights.

On April 4, 2016, the International Federation of Social Workers and the International Association of Schools of Social Work co-hosted the 33rd Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations (http://www.monmouth.edu/school-of-social-work/social-work-day-at-the-united-nations.aspx).  This year’s theme was Refugees and Displaced Persons: Ensuring Dignity and Worth.  The event provided social work students, faculty, and practitioners with a glimpse of what it is like to work at the UN, a formal system with its own culture, language, and protocol.  The panel was assembled to replicate UN Briefings with representation from an Ambassador, a high level UN Staff member, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), and moderator(s).  #SWDUN2016 panelists included:

  • Ninette Kelly, Director, New York Office, UN Office of the High Commission on Refugees
  • His Excellency Deputy Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ambassador Nazifullah Salarzai
  • Guglielmo Schinna, International Organization for Migration, Head, Mental Health, Psychosocial Response & Intercultural Communications
  • Patricia Talisse, MSW Student at Fordham University from Aleppo, Syria

From a pedagogical point, taking a trip to the UN makes the learning come alive, so to say.  Students were also able to realize how the United Nations relies on civil society, opening up job possibilities they had never realized were available to them.  And while there are numerous destinations one can imagine for a human rights-oriented fieldtrip, the UN affords a unique opportunity for students to expand their individual professional endeavors and interests—from outside of the classroom to outside of the country.

The focus on refugees and displaced persons was not only relevant and timely—but it demonstrated the connection between individual work and international policy.  The very nature of the panelists’ positions—and thus their discussion—interwove issues on all levels of practice—from individuals and families, to communities, countries, and ultimately, the necessary governmental collaborations and partnerships (and more) needed to address a crisis that is impacting over 60 million people worldwide.

Perhaps most importantly for social work students, and all students for that matter, the experience was an opportunity to experience first hand that political involvement is a prerequisite for upholding human rights—and that they can, and should, be a part of the equation.  For those students who might struggle with the political side of this work, such a trip to the UN can be an awakening.  Sitting in an expansive and high-tech conference hall at the United Nations in the heart of New York City while experts from around the globe all echo the same sentiment—one that undeniably underscores the fact that these problems are the result of political crises—is an extremely powerful tool to bring awareness and interest to an emerging generation of humanitarian workers and activists.

By Christina Chiarelli-Helminiak and Pier Cicerelle

West Chester University (PA)

Bringing Interdisciplinarity into the Classroom: Book Panels

Human rights is an inherently interdisciplinary subject. The topics, materials, theories, and studies not only branch multiple disciplines, but involve ideas and insights from multiple disciplines interacting all at once. However, so often we, in our various institutions, approach human rights from disciplinary perspectives. We teach classes in our own discipline with discipline-specific literature, and focus on topics germane to our disciplines. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does limit what we can say regarding human rights, or the topics that we can cover. This limitation is inherent to how higher education is structured—we all have our discipline, and it is in this one discipline that we are trained and receive our degrees. This limitation is, however, more of a hurdle than a wall when it comes to human rights education, and it is something that we at Teaching Human Rights try to overcome. I am writing here to discuss one tool for jumping this hurdle and offering a more interdisciplinary learning experience that is student-centric and still fits well within a discipline-specific course: book panels.

While this pedagogical tool is by no means specific to human rights, or to interdisciplinary courses or topics, I think it is particularly beneficial in these settings. But, before I can explain why it is beneficial and what it offers, I need to first explain exactly what I mean. By “book panel,” I am borrowing from the academic world of conferences where “panels” have people discussing the same work, or perhaps body of work, integrating their own insights and analysis into this work and sharing these connections with their fellow panelists as well as the audience. It is this idea—a group of people talking about a specific thing with an audience—that I suggest we can bring into our courses.

The setup is remarkably simple:

  1. select a number of texts (I recommend full books) related to the course,
  2. break students into roughly equal groups,
  3. assign one group to each text,
  4. have the students read the books and write a short paper integrating the book into course material, and
  5. have the students sit together in front of the class and discuss their text, largely in response to questions posed by the professor and the non-panel students.

Building on this set up, students are able to integrate additional texts into the class, offer their insights, and share these with their peers in a way that emphasizes the collaborative nature of learning. The professor is de-centered from the course as students take the lead in teaching their peers about the books they read and how they relate to course topics and themes. The ability to draw more connections and to move the class away from traditional lecture or discussion formats makes this an ideal activity to take place towards the end of the semester. This way, students will have more course material to draw upon, and hopefully will be familiar with one another such that they will fully engage with the activity both as panel members and as audience members. Additionally, bringing in extra texts allows for the class to cover more topics without having everyone read five (or however many you use) additional books.

Beyond covering more topics—although this might be enough to recommend this activity for any class—and allowing students to take a more active part in knowledge generation, book panels offer an additional benefit: the chance for introducing multiple different disciplines into the conversation. Even if the bulk of the course is firmly rooted within one discipline, by carefully selecting interdisciplinary (or at least multidisciplinary) texts, the professor can integrate views beyond those offered by the discipline-specific readings. The use of materials from other disciplines also highlights the ways in which topics such as human rights are interdisciplinary, and how greater insights can exist when we push back against disciplinary boundaries.

When I used book panels in my Theory of Human Rights course, students remarked in class, out of class, and on course evaluations about how they loved the project. In these comments students indicated two main benefits they got from the book panels: (1) the book panels made the course material “more real” as the students were able to apply the ideas we had read about and discussed, and (2) it allowed students to see how the ideas from class transferred beyond the walls of the classroom to other topics. That is, both the disciplinary goals of the class and the students’ broader interdisciplinary education were enhanced by the use of book panels in class (at least, that is what the students self-reported).

I will now walk through how I implemented book panels in my Theory of Human Rights course, while also discussing the books I chose and why to give a practical example of the way these can be integrated into a course. For more information on this assignment, you can find the lesson plan I wrote on this site available here. My Theory of Human Rights course (you can also fine the syllabus as part of our database here) was a 50-minute, 3-times-a-week upper-level course with an enrollment of 45 students. To try to balance the size of the groups with the number of additional texts, I settled on 5 books for the book panels. This gave me groups of nine students, which allowed for if any students dropped (I had the books selected before the start of the semester), missed their book panels, were underprepared, or for whatever reason did not speak up during the panel. I thought the size was large enough to allow for these contingencies, without being so large as to not allow everyone to talk during the allotted time.

I had students, in advance, rank the book options in the hopes that everyone would end up with their first or second preference, and, ideally, no one would have to read the book they were least interested in reading. Each book was scheduled for one class day near the end of the semester. Students were to write a two-to-three page paper integrating their text with the material from the course. These papers were due at the start of class on the day of the book panel for that book. Additionally, to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the course and assignments, I had peers from different departments who also study and teach human rights serve as moderators for the book panels. This allowed someone with different disciplinary training ask questions of the students, while also emphasizing the need to explain clearly the connections they are making to course material, as the moderator was not someone who necessarily read all of the course readings. In addition to questions from the moderator, students who were not on the panel were encouraged, and given ample opportunity, to ask questions to the students on the panel. This set up was designed to get students on the various panels to be willing to share, and to do so in clear terms. Moreover, it was meant to emphasize the interdisciplinarity of human rights and the importance of bringing multiple perspectives to bear on course material (a theme of the course that ran throughout the semester).

As I mentioned, I selected five additional texts for the book panels. I wanted to have a range of topics beyond what we discussed, that represented different disciplines and types of media or writing to emphasize interdisciplinary connections, while also making sure that the selections had ample room for connections to course material. I am already on record supporting the use of non-traditional text and media in the college classroom, but the selection still took a lot of careful consideration regarding offering a wide range of texts and topics that were still relevant to the course. I decided I wanted a play, a novel, a memoir, something more art-centric (I ended up using a graphic novel), and a work of political theory more in-line with the main course readings but that covered a topic we did not discuss. The texts I chose were:

  • Dorfman, Ariel. 1994. Death and the Maiden. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Hiskes, Richard P. 2009. The Human Right to a Green Future: Environmental Rights and Intergenerational Justice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levin, Ira. [1970] 2010. This Perfect Day. New York: Pegasus Books.
  • Mathabane, Mark. [1986] 1998. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. New York: Free Press.
  • Satrapi, Marjane. 2007. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon.

I will briefly discuss each and describe why I selected these. In so doing, I hope to lay out the process I used, not to convince others to use these specific books, but rather to show how others can think about what books would be useful for integrating into their courses through book panels.

In his play, Death and the Maiden, Dorfman addresses issues of truth, justice, and reconciliation in the wake of the fall of a dictatorial regime and the human rights abuses it perpetrated. The play addresses the issue of rape as a form of torture, making this play a possible trigger for some, but a valuable tool for discussion for how sexual violence has been a common tool of oppression and human rights abuse in times of war. I selected this text to get at the dramatic portrayal of human rights issues through the play medium, but also because of the inherent ambiguity involved in the play and the major themes of who is guilty or responsible for human rights abuses, and what should be done with these individuals.

 

 

Hiskes presents a work of contemporary political theory that constructs an argument for a universal human right to a clean environment. This text fit well into my course selection because it is a work of political theory, but covers a topic (the environment) we did not cover in our course readings. Hiskes’s argument is provocative, and the text is incredibly well-written, making it assessable for a wider audience. This is well within the mainstream of course readings, and was part of my attempt to include a text for students who might not feel comfortable branching out beyond the core of the class. However, the text itself is interdisciplinary in its reliance on both work of theory and more “empirical” works as well to build a truly unique argument for considerations of environmental rights as human rights.

 

 

Levin’s novel posits a dystopian world where people have all of their basic needs completely cared for by the all-knowing UniComp, but they lack basic free will. The main character comes to realize the control UniComp has over the populace and escapes to a “free” city that has been removed from official maps. However, upon arrival, he finds out that freedom has a price: poverty, suffering, disease, inequality, and discrimination. The novel poses two strong, dystopian worlds without seemingly arguing that one is better than the other, allowing much room for student interpretation and analysis. The novel is engaging, highly readable, and involves a topic of particular interest to me: the influential power of utopian/dystopian fiction as a teaching tool.

 

 

Mathabane’s memoir of his life growing up as a black South African living under apartheid, details the atrocities committed under apartheid and his eventual escape from South Africa. Mathabane’s recollections of living in apartheid South Africa introduce important human rights topics with a somewhat familiar setting (although we did not explicitly talk about South Africa in the course, most students are at least somewhat aware of discrimination and human rights abuses under apartheid). His portrayal of the rampant human rights abuses is powerful and revelatory for students who are typically removed from such situations. The inclusion of this book also highlight the importance of using first-hand accounts in making human rights topics “real” for students (for an assignment about the use of perpetrator narratives, instead of victims, check out this lesson plan on our site).

 

 

Satrapi illustrates her memoir of her childhood growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, her time abroad for school, as well as her travails as she returns to and again leaves Iran. This work presents a view of Iran at different times that often times varies from what the average American college student is taught about Iran. Moreover, this work again emphasizes the importance of personal narrative, much like Kaffir Boy, while also introducing questions of women’s rights (need a lesson plan on women’s rights and Perspepois? Then look over here!) and the power of images for relating stories. Imagery is often lost in many classes, especially with topics as potentially abstract as the theory of human rights. I wanted to introduce a work that addressed important questions surrounding human rights and did so largely through images.

 

 

These were the five books I selected, which would work for a variety of other classes, but are by no means the only books that could be used for a similar course. In fact, while all address some interdisciplinary aspect of human rights, they all are also works I felt comfortable with integrating into the course given my interests, experiences, and training. For those interested in working a project like this into their courses, I encourage you to think about what you want the different texts to add, and then pick works that offer these benefits, but that are also works you feel comfortable using. It is important to push ourselves and our students, but that does not mean we have to go beyond our abilities to do so, potentially jeopardizing the learning experience of the book panel. If anyone else has done similar projects with their class, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Teaching about Race, Police Brutality, and the Black Lives Matter Movement

black-lives-matter-1011597_1280The THR Database is happy to announce the addition of several resources that can be used to teach about race, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The 2014 killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, as well as countless other incidents of police brutality and racial discrimination are often topics that come up during discussions in human rights classes. These issues are directly related to the structural nature of discrimination, as well as to questions about the enforceability of human rights law and the role of social movements when law fails to produce results.

To help instructors find resources for teaching about these topics, we have included a link on our Resources page to the Anna Julia Cooper Center. Housed on the campus of Wake Forest University, the AJC Center has a wealth of resources related to the study of the intersections of gender, race, and place.  Among the resources offered by the Center are a collection of syllabi, including one entitled, “POL 210: BLACK LIVES MATTER: PERSPECTIVES ON BLACKNESS, STATE VIOLENCE, AND RESISTANCE” from Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. (With Professor Harris-Perry’s permission, we have also included this syllabus in our syllabi database).

Do you have favorite resources for teaching about these topics? If so, we’d love to hear about them!