University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Experiential Learning: Touring the Eastern Seaboard with International Students During Election Week 2016 (Part II).

On Monday, I wrote about the academic structure of the YSEALI program and the curriculum I implemented. Read Part I here. In Part II, I will continue by reflecting on the study trip itself and specific observations from each city. First up, NYC!

NYC has a strong international draw and desire to be seen by students in the program. The Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island are always a hit but interesting observations pop up throughout our time in NYC. For example, walking around the National September 11th Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a student and I discussed how in Indonesia, where he was from, most people he knew thought 9/11 was a myth—that it did not happen. He was surprised to see the scope of the museum and memorial, and was interested in why folks back home did not know about it or the overwhelming evidence that the event did indeed happen. In fact, a common refrain heard from international students in our programs from Southeast Asia and Africa is that the U.S. does an impressive job—according to them—of memorializing our history via museums, memorials, and saving historical buildings, especially compared to their countries where they say the preserving of history is less prioritized. Though I also discuss with them that there are many aspects to U.S. history that are not remembered, or memorialized—as history is so often rewritten, and memorialized, by the winning side.






Photo: From our trip to New York’s Liberty and Ellis Islands.









In Philadelphia, by chance we were staying a block away from where Hillary Clinton was scheduled to give her major rally with Democratic Party’s bigwigs, and musicians Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, on the eve of the election. We were getting a tour of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell the morning of her rally but our bus was scheduled to take us to D.C. that afternoon (no way to have planned to stay to see that rally in advance L). Yet before we left town students got to see free speech up front and personal in the area near the rally. This led to some interesting discussions about how the kind of speech they saw would be suppressed in many of their countries—which score at the lower end of Reporters Without Borders ranking of Press Freedom. However, we also discussed how speech that overtly promoted policies that discriminated against groups, as seen at Trump rallies, was also protected political speech under our Constitution and also in human rights law. Seeing political speech in public space allowed for ideas from the classroom to take on more clear real world relevance.



Photo: Free speech alive and well—Independence Square, Philadelphia, 11/7/2016.


On Election Day we took the students to see a new addition to the Smithsonian Institute: the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum begins with a mile long walking exhibit that documents African-American history in chronological order from the slave trade to the election of Barack Obama. Walking with the students through this historical timeline was a unique experience that allowed them to see the fits and starts African-Americans faced in striving, and still having to do so today, for equal rights in the U.S. Many students reported that this was their favorite museum because of the experience of walking that timeline—they really liked the organization and content.

That night, informally, we took those that wanted to go watch election returns to Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, and bookstore (focused on African-American literature). The students enjoyed the festive atmosphere; with cheers for every Clinton state win projection from the mostly liberal crowd. The cheers became few and far between around 11PM when it looked like Trump might be able to pull off the Electoral College surprise victory. The place was emptying out by midnight.

On the day after Election Day, waking up to a Trump victory and a dreary rain falling over D.C., we took the students on the morgue like Metro (D.C. had the highest % voting totals for Clinton of any state/district—90.9% and lowest for Trump 4%) to the Newseum where we saw the daily headlines from Newspapers around the world (featured below) and watched Clinton’s concession speech on their big screen (featured below). Later in the day we got a tour of the U.S. Capitol building. Telling the students beforehand that the U.S. has a history of peaceful transfer of power was confirmed as the Capitol Visitor’s Center was very quiet, much shorter lines than usual, and seemingly unchanged to the naked eye from an election that will have lasting effects on the nation—although politically speaking it seems unlikely to have the effect of bringing Americans closer together as the slogan so revered on the Capitol tour, E Pluribus Unum “out of many, one” touts.


       Front pages of papers from around the USA and the world at the Newseum—11/9/2016


                   Hillary Clinton’s concession speech on the big screen—Newseum—11/9/2016.

Overall, site visits and travel, certainly can make politics, the struggle for rights, and U.S. history from the classroom come alive. Clearly, learning takes many forms at the individual level and it is certainly hard to predict when the magic of education will strike. I look forward to checking in with these students years from now to see how their experience was shaped by being exposed to watching the functioning of the U.S. political system in real time, at sites of significance, and through discussions with Americans both in and out of the classroom. As we struggle to understand what sparks the development of critical thinking skills and memory retention, it will be interesting to see if these instances of experiential learning mixed with classroom instruction prove more salient than traditional educational approaches. My hunch is that they will and I will report on any measurable results in future blog posts. Although the college classroom does not typically allow such trips down the Eastern Seaboard—perhaps there are other approaches that could bring in more experiential approaches and informal discussions even when an educator is faced with constraints? Does anyone have examples on how to effectively include experiential learning on a smaller budget and semester constrained timeframe?

Follow us on Twitter here.

Author Jack J. Barry, Postdoctoral Fellow, Global Training and Development Institute, University of Connecticut (all photos taken by author).








Photo taken outside of White House 11-7-2016
















Experiential Learning: Touring the Eastern Seaboard with International Students During Election Week 2016 (Part I).

This is the fifth, and final entry (although it will be in two parts—second post coming on Wednesday, December 14th) in our post-election series of blog posts on Teaching Human Rights. In the previous entries we have seen a variety of approaches to teaching on the 2016 election including: trying a “speak out” as a strategy in today’s post-truth climate; teaching Trump from a constitutional law perspective; teaching a non-political course to a very diverse campus; as well as hosting a guest speaker addressing race/class and the election. A theme in these entries has been the threat that the election of Trump endemically poses for minority groups and how teachers, who teach in diverse settings, have grappled with this new reality. Post-truth or not, many of our communities and students have reported that they have felt threatened from what Trump has said/represents. This entry picks up on that theme and applies it to experiential learning, international students, and to the employment of both informal and formal discussions around difficult topics this election raised.

In my job as the Academic Director for U.S. State Department-funded international academic programs I am placed at the heart of cross-cultural dialogue across many different settings. One takes place traveling with students from 10 different countries on a program concluding study tour where we visit sites along the Eastern Seaboard related to U.S. history, centers of governmental and economic power, and, as our program focuses on social entrepreneurship, headquarters of leading social enterprises in the American tradition—such as D.C. Central Kitchen which provides job training in food services to released convicts and homeless in the D.C. area. This fall, that study trip took us on a weeklong journey through NYC, Philadelphia, and culminated with four days in Washington D.C. during election week. Experiencing the 2016 election in D.C. was quite remarkable, especially in the company of students from Southeast Asia from very different cultural, religious, geographic, and economic backgrounds.

One of the key learning objectives of this Obama Administration-funded academic program, Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) is for students to explore U.S. history, politics, and our economic system. Not surprisingly upon arrival on the campus of the University of Connecticut in early October, the election came up constantly. How to talk candidly to a room full of bright international students about the two major political party candidates and why Trump was receiving such strong support proved to be a challenge from day one. How does one comfortably tell someone of Islamic faith that one of our Presidential candidates was talking about making it much more difficult for them to enter the country, indulging in the idea of putting them on a watch list, and having them endure “extreme vetting” (whatever that means) during each return trip to the U.S.? What do you say to foreigners when, according to exit poll data, 13% of the American electorate said “immigration” was the biggest problem facing our country, with 64% of those who reported voting for Trump? Or when 41% of the electorate said they want to build a wall (apparently the current fence is not big enough) along the entire Mexican border—and 85% of those that want that wall voted for Trump? Because you have to start somewhere, I would revert to the beginning by telling the long American story of racial resentment and strife, economic disparities, and slow, very painful progress made by some groups in the never ending struggle for equal rights under the law. Chronological order was my refuge in trying to answer these difficult questions.


On the left: YSEALI students meeting American teachers at the University of Connecticut—negotiation exercise.

I designed the curriculum to include academic sessions from different speakers on U.S. history—some of which addressed the brutal treatment of the Native Americans—and also sessions on African-American history, freedom of speech and press in the digital age, Asian-American cultural understanding, and economic rights in the U.S. These and other sessions helped to put the current state of racial, economic, and cultural issues facing the U.S. electorate in 2016 into context. However, the students kept a steady stream of questions coming, many raised in informal settings, throughout the program regarding the election and why Trump was getting such strong support from a nation of immigrants that calls itself “the melting pot.” The interplay between informal discussions with students, especially during our study trip, and in class with its formal discussions, led to a dynamic exchange of ideas in a cross-cultural context that might have long-lasting effects on learning via experiential exposure to rights, politics, and history. Check back here on Wednesday December 12th, for the second part of this entry describing our site visits and experiencing the election in D.C.



Part II here.

YSEALI students having fun while doing community service at Foodshare in Hartford, CT.


Follow Teaching Human Rights us on Twitter here.






Author Jack J. Barry, Postdoctoral Fellow, Global Training and Development Institute, University of Connecticut.



A speak-out as a strategy in today’s “post-truth” climate

Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” the word of the year 2016 and defines it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionaries). The 2016 presidential campaign, the traditional media coverage as well as the emergence of fake news throughout the internet (and now with the appointment of Steve Bannon on the way into the White House) are exemplary for this move towards emotional politics that do not correspond to facts but rather to felt realities. Voters were swayed by what they felt was true, and no factual contradiction could convince them otherwise. Climate scientists, political analysts and journalists are facing accusations of lying (the German word Lügenpresse has made it into white supremacists’ rhetoric in the US and journalists are defamed as liars throughout social media) or political correctness (a long, but interesting article about the history of political correctness and how the right uses it to demonize liberals can be found here). Many of us have seen the Professor Watchlist by now which lists “professors with liberal bias.” Liberalism and anti-bigotry appear to oppress conservative perspectives and to push a liberal agenda. In this climate of felt realities, it is difficult to argue rationally against that view. So, what can we do? How then can we teach critical thinking and openness to multiple perspectives?


A few weeks ago, I organized a speak-out on refugees on campus. To avoid the “feeling” of being lectured to and to promote substantial and open dialogue, I conceptualized this speak-out as student-centered with a few professors present who could answer questions and straighten out misconceptions but who would not lecture, push any kind of agenda, or even engage with their own opinion. To say this right away, the latter was the most difficult thing about this event. Being used to a teaching role in the classroom, it is not easy to hold back and to not answer provocative questions such as “why do we need to take in refugees, can’t others do it? It’s just too dangerous.” While I managed to not chime in then, this question weighed on me and I had to answer it at least in the echo chamber of my blog later. Here is what I would have said in a class setting.


I do believe, however, that it was beneficial to hold back. The discussion proved to be excellent. There was a multiplicity of voices and students seriously engaged with each other. There was no polemic back and forth but rather mutual respect and the students who argued for welcoming refugees held their own. In the end, there was no need to engage with my opinions, the students were capable enough to do so on their own and experienced a sense of empowerment. Some ground rules were necessary to make this happen.


I borrowed the set-up from the fish-bowl approach which is a cooperative learning strategy. This method consists of two circles – a smaller inner circle where the discussion happens and a larger outer circle where the rest of the group observes the discussion. The inner circle should not be larger than 10 participants while the outer circle can have as many as 50. In classes, I would place half of the students in each circle and switch later. For this event, I used an alternative approach and observers could switch into the inner circle to participate.


Our inner circle of ten participants included four “experts” plus six students. Everyone faced inwards. This was the circle of discussion, everyone who sat here could participate in the debate. The outer circle of about thirty students, faculty, and members of the wider community (somebody from Freedom House joined and contributed practical examples) faced also inwards and thereby constituted the observer position. When somebody in the outer circle wanted to participate, he/she tapped out somebody in the inner circle and switched seats with them. I asked in the beginning to tap people out who either hadn’t said anything in a while or who had a similar opinion to one’s own to avoid the silencing of voices and perspectives. This set-up had two benefits: the smaller setting of the inner circle allowed substantial discussion and the necessity of moving into the inner circle before speaking helped emotions to calm before contributing. I believe that this set-up was a great success in both hearing many voices and also keeping the dialogue productive and open.


We got some good feedback about the fish-bowl approach from students who felt that their opinions were taken seriously and that the debate was in fact open-ended and not, as they sometimes feel in class, led with a specific goal in mind. That did not mean, however, that the discussion was held at the level of felt realities and fake news. The multiplicity of backgrounds and voices ensured that misconceptions and false narratives were corrected. Such a speak-out then seems to be an excellent strategy to combat accusations of bias in teaching and to push back on “post-truth” tendencies. I will certainly employ this strategy in future classes as well and we are already in the process of organizing the next speak-out on campus. This time on “Russia-Europe-US and the role of NATO”.


A well written preview article of the event, published in our campus newspaper, with more information on the approach, background, and goals can be found here.

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 (, 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 ( 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:, 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”:

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.

24 promotion

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:

Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, “The world is not falling apart,” Slate:

On anxiety and terrorism

Steven Erlanger, “String of attacks in Europe fuels a summer of anxiety,” New York Times:

On refugees and immigration

Imran Awan, “Stop Blaming Refugees for Attacks Like Those in Paris,” New York Times:

Ben Norton, “Our terrorism double standard: After Paris, let’s stop blaiming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves,”Salon:

Amanda Taub, “Shutting down immigration won’t solve Europe’s terrorism problem,” Vox:



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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.52.18 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 1.21.37 PM

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.