Human Rights in Higher Education: Incorporating practical experience

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revolutionary critical pedagogy is still prohibited in our primitive pre industrial societies,because of the after math of post industrial re colonisation of the intellect and resources.

curriculum resources

the root cause of fundamentalism and religious extremism is basically due to impoverished and decadant pre industrial superstructure, which is going towards collapse. there is an ideological rift between government sector and  private sector since post privitization and post liberalisation era. government sector is totally helpless and powerless infront of private sector and due to decadant pre industrial approach of our stupid policy makers it is going bad to worse. thats why madrassas are mashroming everywhere.

CHALLENGES: Ethical issues with incorporating experience

Challenges: ethical issues with incorporating practical experience in human rights education programs

Share the challenges, barriers and difficulties that you face in building and maintaining a human rights program. Think about the following questions:

  • What are the practical and ethical difficulties you face in incorporating practical experience in your human rights education program?
  • Why do you feel it is important to incorporate practical experience in your human rights education program?
  • What place does a human rights program (or classes) have within an academic education degree program (liberal arts, law or other discipline)?
  • What are you seeking to accomplish with having a human rights education program?
  • Are there particular challenges that face students who are working full time while continuing their education? Are there special barriers (or opportunities) they face in incorporating practical experience in their human rights education program?
  • How do you evaluate the impact of practical experience on students and how they are able to incorporate human rights in their future work?
Why it is important to include practical experience

The general understanding of human rights and how they apply in our daily life is very under developed. While gross abuses are usually recognized, for example laws and practices that deny access by asylum seekers to health care, everyday practices that effectively deny access to health care are not usually recognized as abuses of human rights. For example lack of access by people with disabilities living in supported residential facilities to the health care services available in their local community. Given this it is very important to "translate" human rights principles into everyday language and to locate them in everyday experience. When we do this we start to transform the culture of our community into one that values human rights.

Re: Why it is important to include practical experience

Dear Diane,

thank you for making this valuable point. It is also my direct experience that people (and in our dialogue context students and pupils) need to be confronted directly with a certain problem, to make them realize its scale and the impact it has on the other's life.

An example to illustrate it : in my refugee law class, at the beginning of the course, we used to hand out to students a made-up personal information form and asked them to fill it in, as an asylum seeker would be requested to do it. The form was made obsure by using several techniques: including some Latin-based words, which people would barely recognise and associate with their meaning, putting some script in reverse directions (to ilustrate problems a person used to left-to-right script might experience with Western script), providing only very limited space to questions demanding lengtht decsriptions and vive versa etc..

The aim of this example was to make student's experience confusion and  lack of orientation that asylum seekers (and other groups confronted with an official requirement)  may feel and how thisis the very first infrigment of their rights, often bearing large scale consequences even for the outcome of the proceedings in their case

Jadwiga Maczynska

relating practical experience to HR theory

I findthat here in Kenya people ingeneral are much better at articulating their grievances in terms of humanrights, much more so than is my experience from Europe.So here it is more a matter of relating practical experience of human rightsviolations to human rights theory and showing what use the international humanrights regime can be in addressing these real life problems (not always easy). Enablingstudents of human rights from different parts of the world to meet and todiscuss human rights from their various perspectives could be a veryinteresting way of enhancing understanding of the relationship between theoryand practice. 

connecting students across the world

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

The idea of facilitating dialogue between students at my University and student activists in other parts of he world is of interest to me as well. Has anyone established such communcation already? How have you achieved this and is this peer educaiotn model helping  teach the relationship of thoeory and practice?



Re: connecting students across the world

Abigail Booth, Programme Manager, Head of Nairobi Office, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Kenya

 Could it be possible to link students from different parts of the world through joint projects? Students from human rights courses at two or three different universities could be linked up in small groups and asked to research a certain issue together. This would have to be done via internet but would be one way of bringing students together, enabling them to exchange experiences and perspectives and learn more about each others realities and the relevance of human rights in their different contexts.

It would also be a way of bridging the gap between the north and the south allowing students to understand that they all have something to offer to improve human rights (addressing the "overwhelmed syndrome")  It could also underline that it is only by working together at the global level and by combining global and local approaches that we will be able to combat discrimination and injustice around the world. 

Connecting Students across the world

Mingzhen Ge, Shandong University, Human Rights Center, Law School, China

Connecting students across the world is one great idea, but for some regions, the language will be the problem. Not all students or university students can communicate with others in English.

re: connecting students around the world

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

Language barriers are of course a very real constraint and and important to recognize. I wonder if this might also present an opportunity to engage students studying other languages in other parts of the unversity in the work of creating this network. Language learners often seek avenue to practice theri skills and interpreting and translating for thier peers, may be a win-win situaiot for all concerned. The human rights center/program could offer an on site practicum experience for foreign language students, while devlping a network of student human rights scholars around the world. Perhaps an ambitious vision, but I can see in my university how we may be able to utilize the skills and assets of students not already involved in our program by engaging ther skills in concrete ways.


Connecting students around the world


I like your idea of engaging language students. I can tell you that the New Tactics project has been very fortunate to engage both language students and language instructors in our efforts to provide New Tactics case studies and materials in various languages.They tell us how rewarding it has been for them to use their language skills to share such inspiring stories and experiences - and to learn about these experiences from around the world in this way.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

connecting students

Abigail Booth, Programme Manager, Head of Nairobi Office, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Kenya

  I think the all of your ideas are great and I don't think we should let the language barrier get in our way. Sure, the project would be ambitious but it would be interesting to continue the discussion even after this online dialogue is over. I  will unfortunately be leavning RWI at the beginning of next year. I will be doing a PhD so I will still be in a university setting and would love to contribute towards piloting this sort of project if more of you are interested. 

Practical experience can inspire future leaders

I agree that there is a tremendous need to translate human
rights principles into everyday language and experience.  There is a
similar challenge in the community where I live.  Despite many human rights problems (poverty,
racism, access to education and health care), few recognize that these are
human rights issues, or that we have much to learn from international human rights efforts. 
I would also add another reason that incorporating practical experiences
is important – it can inspire students to envision ways they can participate in
the human rights movement.  In past
courses and trainings, I have had students tell me that they sometimes feel
overwhelmed or powerless when they learn about the breadth and scale of human
rights problems around the world.  There is a great longing to do something, to take action.  I have
used resources from the New Tactics project to demonstrate that meaningful
change is possible, and that young people can be at the forefront of efforts to
combat human rights violations in our own community as well as at the global
level.  This provides an opening to
discuss what human rights issues resonate most for them, and how they might
become involved. 

Tactics for addressing the overwhelmed syndrome

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University
of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for
Global Citizenship.

The point that Nicole makes about students being overwhelmed really resonated with me. It comes up every semester, multiple times. The more the students learn about global issues the more some of them feel as if there is nothing that they as one individual can accomplish. Also, why look overseas when there are issues in your own local community? So I have used a book by Doug McGill, "Here: A global citizen's journey" to discuss the term he uses, glocal and his premise that you never have to leave Rochester, MN to experience global issues as the Mayo clinic and other hi-tech industries attract people from around the globe. And those people bring something of their own culture and community with them, for good or bad. A couple of recent killings of Somali youth in the vicinity of the U of M bear witness to that as it appears likely that issues from their homeland led to these killings.

I used to start my semester by talking to the students about global issues - issues out there- and trying to bring them back here. I now start here, in Rochester and the Twin Cities for example and increase their comfort level with the concept of glocal/glboal - "problems without passports" . In oher words, every human being, regardless of nationality, has the same aspirations in terms of education, housing, infrastructure, security. The scale and impact of these issues varies from country to country but there ARE universal aspirations, we are fundamentally more alike than different.

So, moving from glocal outwards provides the students with a certain comfort level - they are dealing with global issues in their every day lives. In areas such as environment, health. security we are increasingly linked, for better or worse. The current financial crisis illustrates this all to well. Interconnectedness has benefits but also downsides - we are now so interconnected that national goverments can no longer impact this type of crisis, but we lack the global institutional capacity to tackle these issues.

As students increase their comfort level with the fact that they DO know about and understand global issues, because they experience them every day, they gain confidence that they may be able to impact them. In the same way as New Tactics emphasizes that tactics are transferable from one country or culture to another, students start to understand that their education and experiences are of value in other countries. The fact that they have carried out public achievement projects with high school students in MN means they have the framework to envisage similar projects outside their immediate environment. Then NT offers them the tactical map - map out the scale of the problem but do so not in order to get overwhelmed but to find your OWN particular way in to a problem and identify partners who are working on the same problem from a different angle. Interconnectedness in this case is a positive. And then they say, oh! this is similar to something we did in public achievement - power mapping - and we are off and running.

Most of my students will work in the domestic arena, not the international one. But the problems they will work on are still glocal/global and being active in their own communities links them to other global citizens around the world who are working on similar issues and would like to share experiences and tactics, often through issue based international not for profits. We used to call the course "Global Leadership" only to have students shy away, thinking they would have to have aspirations to become Secretary General of the UN to take the course. Now we call it Leadership for Global Citizenship which is an inclusive, not exclusive concept.

Still, none of this is to say that there is not a real challenge in avoiding the overwhelmed syndrome and it takes constant attention and guidanceand seeking new and innovative ways to help students. The founder of Give Us Wings, a not for profit organization based in the Twin Cities and working with women in rural areas in Uganda and Kenya has a good, bracing response to this issue when she addresses my class - she says feeling overwhelmed is a western privelege - the women she works with are way too busy trying to survive day to day to feel overwhelmed, they just get up each morning and work until they drop. There is apparently no word in their local language for "future" because every day is such a struggle that the future is simply not a concept worth naming. So we have no right to be overwhelmed - I realise this approach does not work for everyone! but it bears thinking about in addition to gentler ways of approaching the overwhelmed syndrome!






Including new actors

I agree totally and therefore I think that it is very important to also provide those who are not enagaged in human rights as their primary committment with a possibility to participate to the extent possible for them.

Sometimes people (also students) tend to think that human rights are far too complex and  over-theoretized  a concept to be approached by someone without relevant experience. To overcome this assumption I think it is important to open up your projects and actions to the widest possible forum, as a person who once realizes the practical day-to-day impact of human rights in the society, is much more bound to commit in the future and often find his or her own ways to play a role. To this end, visibility is of key character.

Any experience on that? 

Jadwiga Maczynska, Project Manager, Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre, Krakow, Poland

more practice...

Abigail Booth, Programme Manager, Head of Nairobi Office, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Kenya

 I am very happy to hear these discussions about incorporating practical experience into human rights education at universities. Although I work within an academic institution I personally work with more practically oriented human rights training. During the years I have found a reluctance within academia to take practice seriously with on-the-ground human rights work being seen as being of lesser value. (this may, I admit, not be a generalised problem). Things are changing slowly and we are looking for ways to find synergies and interactions between our academic and programmatic work, but the previous reluctance really took me by surprise. Have any of you found any reluctance within your faculties? Is this something general or maybe a symptom of more "old fasioned" academia (I get a feeling that Universities with a more modern approach are more likely to be open to new pedagogical perspectives and ideas about learning)?


re: more practice...

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

I believe this is a generalizeable concern, unfortunately. I share your experience and have encountered reluctance to take practice seriously . This is particularly true in the "liberal arts" disciplines and colleges, which traditionally are at the center of University administration and undergraduate education, and historically have adopt eda pedagogy that does not include a practice component outside of the work of the classroom. It is a traditional approach and one that hinders the integration of human rights, with its emphasis on a theory-practice nexus that demands training for application, as well as limiting the role of human rights centers in the academy (human rights centers provide the "student service" and "experiential learning", while the departments do the "real" academic program). I would welcome suggested ways of translating  the work of  providing instruction in and about practice into language that resonates in traditional academic circles. Any expereince with this kind of advocacy within your own institutions?



Arguing your case

Dear Amy and Abigail,

from my perspective I agree that academia tend to be more reluctant in adopting new approaches and involving practical aspects in their teaching. This concern was shared by many collegues of mine and some of them even emphasised that it is the more long established and otherwise renowed institutions, which might be more suspicious of 'novelties'.

Otherwise I think that well-aimed marketing can sell a lot of ideas and often it is the urge to be competitive, which facilitates implementing a new programme. Most instututions would not like to be left behind and perceived as less advanced then the others and I think this 'let's be innovative here' note often proves succesful while arguing your case with the superiors. The Legal Clinics idea, which has been in operation in Poland since 1997 only, started with one 'experimental' programme  and is now present at almost all major universities, both public and private, which teach law. Somehow even if you do not like the game, once others start it, you feel compelled to join, even if only for ambition reasons. 

 Jadwiga Maczynska, Project Manager, Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre, Krakow, Poland

Getting past the paralysis of academia

Having come from the NGO community it was interesting to reorient my teaching to an academic environment here at the University of Minnesota, where I am part of an interdisciplinary department.  Students in the university setting are very good at studying ABOUT things but not often invited to learn through applying their own expertise.  Students get accustomed to passive learning, as observers and not actors. 

 The theoretical and legal study of human rights is fraught with lots of problems.  We don't travel too far in our introductory courses before we can see problems with incomplete definitions, lack of enforcement, double standards and gaps in protection.  Because of these problems, students who are invited only to examine the theories of human rights as outsiders can grow quickly disilllusioned with human rights as a framework.  This disillusionment can lead to cynicism and paralysis unless students are invited to use their skills and assets to "fix" the problems.

 My first couple of years teaching a graduate seminar on human rights advocacy I used a typical seminar format with reading and discussion.  I discovered that the students easily slid into the role of critics, instead of engaging the issues with creativity.  Instead, I now organize the class as an NGO and make them struggle through the tactical and ethical questions in the first person.  This engages the different skill sets of the interdisciplinary students and they come up with interesting and unique strategies for addressing current issues.  The students seem empowered by this approach.  The problems of the field don't go away, of course, but  they struggle with the problems more directly instead of just turning off entirely. 

Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, USA

Re: Getting past the paralysis of academia

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

Barb's insightful comment rings true to my own experiences with students, and I am very interested to learn about how she dealt with the problem of  the "student as the outsider". I particularly like this way of framing the concern, because it suggests that by creating opportunities for students to serve as "insiders", students become agents of their own learning while at the same time exposing through action the possibilities and limitations of the disciplinary structures that  guide the theorization of human rights, and hopefully  generate critical thinking about problem solving within and beyond those structures.

This leads me to consider in what ways teaching about human rights is a challenge to traditonal liberal arts frames of reference and institutional and disciplinary structures, at least in the United States. Where does human rights "fit" into an undergraduate curriculum in particular? And if it doesn't "fit", in what ways can we encourage  the educational institutions in which we work  to be more responsive to  the "insider" educational experience Barb has outlined? 






I work at a university

I work at a university where we do not have a human rights center, and have often wondered about this question of where human rights fits.  I've noticed that on our campus, human rights courses typically exist because of faculty interest.  Some of the faculty developing human rights courses are relatively new to the field of human rights - their interest was sparked later in their academic careers.  It's also been interesting to see where those courses are emerging - not always in political science, but in departments such as anthropology and communication.  For those interested in eventually teaching about human rights at the university level, there are now many intellectual paths they might take.  While in many respects this is a wonderful development, it also poses challenges. 

I would be interested in hearing from those of you who have human rights centers on your campuses regarding the impact a coordinating center has on human rights teaching, faculty recruitment, student life, etc.

I think one of the main barriers to finding a place for human rights to fit is the interdependence of human rights issues, and the fact that so often there are multiple human rights problems at play simultaneously.  These interrelationships are also true of practical experiences to address human rights violations.  At the New Tactics project, we recently started categorizing some of the human rights tactics by academic discipline, and so far all of them have landed in multiple fields of study.  There are so many opportunities for students to become involved in human rights work from virtually any field they choose.

How to find homes at universities for human rights

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.


Although, as you know, the U of M does have a Human rights center (thanks Barb Frey!), working with you and the NT team on how to put together an Educators resource page on the NT website, I really concur that there is a place for human rights in almost any discipline. Reviewing  the New Tactics database for instance it was possible to develop a generic classroom module that, with different search words, would provide a tool for any discipline, from political science to medicine, from business to social work.  Search words can be tagged to make this relatively easy for any educator to find the appropriate resources.  And the data base also notes what sector initiates tactics and what sector is the beneficiary (public, private, civil society). Also useful is the breakdown of tactics into: prevention, intervention, restorative and building of human rights cultures and institutions. This lends itself to a simple division into small group work in the classroom and a comparison of the relative effectiveness in different scenarios of different approaches.

However, to me the big  headache remains, how to "market" such a resource for educators to those outside the human rights/legal disciplines. What is it that would lead an economist /ANother to this site? Any ideas out there? Because it seems to me that this is the next challenge for NT. There are great resources being developed for educators, but how to get them engaged? How much interaction do those of you who are in the Human Rights centers in universities have with your colleagues in other disciplines and how do you do this outreach?

reaching out across disciplines

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights


The inherent indisciplinarity of human rights you describe so well seems to be both a strength and a weakness in the academy. Because human rights doesn't neatly conform to any disciplinary interest exclusively, and given the "siloing" that goes on in many higher education institutions, and the lack of infrastrucure supporting interdisciplinary efforts, this means human rights is everywhere, but  nowhere in terms of resources and curricular support, at the same time.

One way that Centers like mine have tried to bridge disciplinary boundaries iand build as to situate the Center outside of the law school and in a liberal arts program. This does seem to help break the association of human rights with the law school curriculum and to open up possibilities for building curricular  programs related to human rights in other disciplines. My Center has made efforts to facilitate communication between faculty from relatively disparate parts of the university to identify common interests. Sometimes this helps build common vocabularies to communicate about human rights as a subject of scholarship. Faculty can then relate this vocabulary, translated for them by other faculty in these dialogues, to their teaching and scholarship, using both the tools of their disciplinary homes, as well as the new intellectual community "home" building through such communications.

A challenge for human rights teaching in the liberal arts curriculum, however, is the foreignness of integrating practice and theory and conceptualizing human rights as mode of engagement, and not just a subjec tof study, in the world requiring practical training or exposure to practical applications of knowledge. Service learning is model that may provide an inroad to such integration, as it articulates a pedogagy that appears to be cognizable in many disciplines. Anyone working with service learning to teach human rights in a "traditional" liberal arts discipline? What are your experiences?


Human rights reaching across disciplines

I want to connect this exchange regarding the interdisciplinary nature of human rights with Diane's comment and examples of how the Australian Centre for Human Rights Education is working within and across academic disciplines but also with organizations and groups such as Indigenous People's groups to build collaborations and develop build relevant curriculum to address human rights issues and concerns.

Please refer to her full comment but partially quoted here from Human Rights in the University:

"At the ACHRE we are tackling this issue by adopting a collaborative
approach to the development, teaching of courses and income sharing,
with other discipline areas. For example in one of our courses students
participate in a Human Rights Campaign Studio where they research and
develop a human rights campaign to a real life brief from community
organizations, this semester the Studio concerned homeless people. This
course is jointly developed and delivered with the Faculty of Applied
Communication. Similarly our course on Ethics, Practice and Applied
Human Rights has been developed and  run jointly with the discipline
areas of Engineering and Social Science. Somewhat differently, our
course on Applied Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples is being
developed with the Indigenous Leaders Network of Victoria, a peak
Indigenous body, which will consult with Indigenous people on what they
would like to see in such a course and then work with us to develop and
teach the course.

I think these are excellent examples of the cross section of disciplines integrally engaged in addressing human rights. I hope we have the opportunity to learn more about the process ACHRE undertakes to develop and teach the course with the Indigenous Leaders Network and the impact such a collaboration has on the students participating in the course and engaging with the Network!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Reaching out across disciplines

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.


Nancy and Amy

Really useful exchange, thahks! From my perspective, the course I teach is run out of Student Affairs! and cross listed with the College of Education and the College of Public Affairs, the Humphrey Institute. The Humphrey Institute has now established a Center for Intergrative Leadership with the Carlson Business school which has an oversight committee for our leadership minor. In addition, the Study Abroad office is working with us to facilitiate and encourage leadership students to spend a semester abroad. And we are establishing links with not for profits in the Twin Cities: Give Us Wings and another group dealing with AIDS both here and South Africa; the Wilder leadership foundation, Girls International Forum and, of course, New Tactics. An instructor on the course took a group of 10 leadership students to South Africa last summer as part of the course, facilitated by the not for profit here in the Twin Cities. And for their service learning, students work with and mentor middle school students working on community projects locally.

It is interesting to put this all down in one place as it makes me realize that the leadership minor and the U of M is in fact moving in a more interdisciplinary and holistic direction plus making real efforts to connect with the community where it is based and the projects that are underway. We all know that academia is very 'parochial' and territorial in terms of disciplines but I think there are signs that this is beginning to break down under the weight of the reality of the interconnectedness that results from globalization in all areas. Plus there seems to be a growing realization that universiteis need to be part of the life of the community around them. So maybe we are all really on the cusp of this. Let's hope we keep moving in that direction. This dialogue certainly helps me to feel that this is not just something happening in the leadership minor at the U of M but is a global trend - trends are not definitive (as I always tell my students!) but we can help to move this forward until it does in fact become reality


Human Rights Reaching across the disciplines

Diane Sisely, Director, Australian Centre for Human Rights Education at RMIT University

Thank you Nancy, I'll keep you posted! 


Human Rights across disciplines

Alice Nderitu, Fahamu (Kenya) in coordination with the University of Pretoria, South Africa

I have put together some challenges including some on human rights across disciplines mainly based on my work in curriculum and content development both in government and civil society for education  instituitions. No answers yet I am afraid as there is still so much we are trying to do.

  • Lack of documentation on the extent and adequacy of human rights incorporation in the national education policy and in the curricula of  higher education institutions;
  • There is a general lack of contextual studies for this region ( kind of what South Africa has) that have been carried out to determine learning points from best practices in other countries concerning human rights education as well as regarding the teaching of human rights. For example in which subjects or faculties should human rights be taught? Do we “mainstream human rights so that all engineers, doctors, anthropologists e.t.c study human right or do we teach it as a subject?  Should we then move forward and suggest a suitable model that showcases a way forward for human rights in the curricula of higher education institutions?
  • If we agree on beginning such a process how do we then begin provision of quality human rights education and training to all those we expect to deliver as teachers?
  • How do we achieve methods  of achieving a  "human rights-based approach to schooling" beyond the curriculum content where human rights values inform how students learn, how they are treated by their teachers, how they treat one another, and how then do we promote in  students the need to  support social justice issues ?
  • How do we combine discussions, lectures, group work, practical plans of action, with learning so that teachers of higher education can present human rights as a way of life not merely as a subject?
  • Is it possible for the lecturer/tutor/ teacher to see his student as someone with other links and influences such as family which could then affect the student in school? Think of the student whose father is a political prisoner and whose views on human rights are shaped by this experience.  
  • How do we enrich access to education itself as a human right? In Kenya when free Primary education became a reality everyone was excited until we realised that there were not enough classrooms or teachers for all the children. The children all take the same exams whether they learnt under a tree or in a state of the art classroom. The opportunities therefore do not of course reflect the results. I therefore wonder ( and its okay since my name is Alice) – how do we enrich access to education itself as human right so that equality of opportunity can at least come close to equality of results ?
Final thoughts

Dear Alice, I really like the way you framed these questions, and they touch on many of the ideas that I will take away from the dialogue.  Issues of access, pedagogy, training of teachers, and the variety of paths we might take to expand human rights education - these are all questions that deserve further exploration and discussion.    I hadn't known about the South African example you mention, and I would be interested in learning more about that model.  Over time, it would be great if we could develop a collection of innovative approaches to tackling these questions, and inspire future human rights educators.  I hope we can continue the dialogue in the weeks and months ahead.

 I've been inspired by the wonderful work that is taking place in human rights education around the world, even under difficult circumstances.  Thank you to everyone for all the great technology, media and other curricular resources and ideas that I will incorporate into future human rights education programs.



Marketing practical human rights experiences

Susan,  I agree that marketing is a big challenge to incorporating practical human rights experiences across academic disciplines.  I think Nancy's comments on "human rights and everyday life" are relevant - many groups doing innovative work to address human rights problems don't consider themselves human rights workers, or part of the human rights movement.  There is a similar barrier to reaching educators in other disciplines, even if they are incorporating related issues such as ethics, justice, social responsibility or global citizenship.

As I'm writing, I do see some hope here.  There are a growing number of practical human rights experiences around the world in areas that a couple decades ago would have seemed somewhat surprising, coming out of business and science fields as well as other areas.  These case studies can be used to introduce human rights in fields where human rights isn't traditionally taught.

I also think there is a growing interest in global engagement among educators in many fields of study.  In our Center for International Education, where I work, we see students and faculty across campus that are interested in increasing global education in their courses and departments.  I've also noticed growing interest in human rights or humanitarian work among faculty and students in new places (at least to me!), such as engineering and architecture.  I think part of the solution is finding creative ways to package human rights resources, tools and case studies to reach more people, perhaps trying to understand and use some of the language from other academic fields to market the materials, or to draw connections between various academic fields and human rights.  

I'll be interested in hearing from others in the dialogue about outreach to disciplines that aren't traditionally considered human rights fields.

moving from ignorance to hopelessness

As a current college student who strives to be a long distance runner for justice I hope to share a few observations that may be helpful.  My generation has been brought up with this passive learning style that places a premium on remembering facts.  Those who can best retain information are rewarded with good grades.  This deters the instructor from teaching application and the student from learning it, because both will go unrewarded.  This, along with a society that conditions us to be narcissistic, materialistic, and hedonistic, creates in us a very low threshold for cognitive dissonanceA question I struggle with is "How can we change the value systems, so that purpose in life becomes connected to those whose dignity and humanity has been stripped from them?"  I think it is imperative that we start with Socratic questioning when teaching students about issues regarding human rights.  Drawing students out from the cave Plato speaks about in The Republic.  We need to start with questions that cause students to "know thyself", so that we can remove the mindsets and ideologies that are detrimental to others.  Within this process students will become steadfast in the struggle for justice and avoid moving from ignorance to hopelessness when learning of the dark injustices of this world. 

re: moving from ignorance to hopelessness

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

Thanks for this insightful contribution, Skyler. Could you share with us experiences you've had in the classroom that  helped you "know thyself"? What question or activities might be included in teaching about human rights to encourage meaningful learning  leads to skill building and empowerment ?



Re: Getting past the paralysis of academia

Hi everyone.  I am a student in Barbara Frey's Human Rights Advocacy Course, and I just wanted to provided a student perspective to your dialouge.  I love the hands-on approach of the course (described above), as do the rest of the students.  In fact, even though we are simulating an NGO, we are actually carrying through on two of our "simulations."  Half of our class is putting on a forum on the Horn of Africa, and the other half is working on legislation that will improve the conditions of immigrant workers (particularly in meatpacking plants).  Thus, the hands-on approach has empowered us. 

We are also empowered by Barb.  She constantly reminds us of the impact that one person can have in the world.  I think that this approach is INCREDIBLY important for human rights students.   When we are constantly learning about the intricate problems that plague our world, we can easily become overwhelmed and need to be reminded of the impact that we can have!


Hands-on approaches


Thanks so much for sharing your experience and feedback regarding the hands-on approach that your class has been using to move you from theory to actual practice and involvement in carrying out human rights advocacy. It's especially great to see how excited you are about the process and carrying out your actions.

Have there been any aspects of the classroom experience you've had that have been especially helpful for preparing you for the "real world" application? We would love to hear more from you.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Final reflections on dialogue

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.

Dear All

I am signing off with this posting. Just would like to thank NT and all of you for the empowering nature of the dialogue. it is very comforting to link up with all of you in different countries that are basically working in the same way and toward the same goals. Universities do not know what resources they have in their human rights centers. I was bemoaning to a colleague the other day that there is no obvious 'home" for  human rights in academia and she pointed out that this was itself a great opportunity to promote a cross disciplinary approach that ALL universities are going to need to adopt in this new global era

Great to exchange thoughts with you all and I look forward to seeing the NT educators page up and running shortly so that we can use all these resources that we have shared this week..


New Tactics Resources for Educators page link

Hi all,

I want to be sure to share with you all that you can click on this text: NewTactics Resources for Educators to get to the page with the resources. This is a resource page "in progress" and we very much welcome yand want our ideas and feedback regarding what would be useful and helpful to you.

Thank you everyone for all your wonderful insights, sharing of your resources, ideas and experiences. The exchange has been GREAT!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Human Rights in Higher Education: In

Dear Nancy Pearson and all,

The on going Human Rights Education programme in India is funded by International Association for Religious Freedom, an International NGO, having consultancy status with UN.  It is organised at micro level.  The participants for the programme is selected at the local level representing various religions representing mostly from both the sex. Young adults and Students are prefered.


With regards to using the DVD prepared by IARF and PDHRE, for programmes conducted by others,  I may have to discuss with IARF.  The DVD is in English and regional languages like Hindi, Tamil, Bengali.


Some of the encouraging feedback from the participants were that they could understand the other religions and tolerate even appreciate their religious beliefs.  In India in some pockets tension due to religious intolerence is noticed the programme aims at addressing the isue and train the youth to take positive steps to tackle the situation


Dr. G.Rajaram, HRE Fecilitator, IARF and

 Head, Dept. of Commerce,

Government Arts College, Paramakudi,

Tamilnadu, India

Final reflections on dialogue

Diane Sisely, Director, Australian Centre for Human Rights Education at RMIT University

Dear All,

Thank you for the conversation and thank you Nancy and New Tactics for facilitating it so expertly! I'm sure we will be following up with one another on a range of topics.

Susan I agree with your final comment re ALL universities needing to adopt a cross disciplinary human rights approach in our new, global era and I think Alice has identified some of the important and immediate challenges we face as human rights educators, that is the adoption of a human rights based approach to education.


Final reflections

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights


Dear All,

Thanks to Nancy and Kristin and all at New Tactics for making this fantastic dialogue possible. I feel exactly as Susan that it is a great comfort to learn that we are not alone in the challenges we face and  to discover the wealth of knowledage we share collectively as  human rights educators.  I agree that human rights centers could lead the way in developing crossdisciplinary educational models and in enhancing the pedogagy of our Universties in many ways. All the insightful communications and resources shared demonstrate this potential concretely and powerfully!

Thanks to all of you for your inspiring work. I look forward to continuing to learn together through New Tactics resources.  I wish everyone much success in their teaching and institutional development.

In Solidarity,



Human rights and every day life


You have raised a particular challenge that we have faced in New Tactics as well. We have found that many people working in NGOs around the world don't define themselves as human rights advocates, nor do they define their work in terms of human rights principles. Instead, they might say, "we work with children" or "we focus on women's issues" or "we work to combat corruption in government" but they don't necessarily see what they do regarding these target populations or issue areas as human rights concerns or from a human rights perspective.  It has been very rewarding for New Tactics when people do have the opportunity to reflect on their work from a human rights perspective and place themselves within the human rights advocacy community. 

One of my colleagues once remarked that it would be a different world if people were so comfortable and used to living their lives from a human rights perspective as they were about brushing their teeth. We do see transformations when human rights become an integral part of our everyday language, behavior and experience. Let's keep that multiplier effect going!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

RE Human rights and every day life

Dear Nancy,

to my experience this might occur in  a human rights classroom as well. For instance, once we were discussing  economic rights taking the International  Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as our starting point, it visibly left the students with a hazy vision of some unreal aspirations. Since we started the other way round - by discussing the microcredit concept by Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (Nobel Prize laureate, yet criticized and controverse to many people) and what is the true nature of economic rights and only then moving on to legal foundations, a lively discussion ensued, with a full recognition of economic rights impact on the general human rights situation and interconnections in the system. 

That allowed us in turn to interweave aspects of forced labour and child labour in the picture (e.g by means of the tactic Labeling to End Child Labor: Creating a market to support fairly produced products, as featured in the  Workbook - New Tactics in Human Rights: A Resource for Practitioners). At the end what we achieved was to leave the students with a much more wide idea of how the idea of economic human rights is deeply rooted in everyday situations, which we all can impact. 

Jadwiga Maczynska, Project Manager, Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre, Krakow, Poland

Human rights in the university

 Robin Kirk, Director, Duke University Human Rights Center, North Carolina, USA

I'm posting here a letter written by J. Paul Martin, a founder of the first US university human rights center (at Columbia), in response to an article aboutthe roe of human rights education in universities. Martin has, I think, a very traditional view -- human rights starts as a legal question, that then demands evidence, concrete policy recommendations and action. Students, then, learn the law, collect data and create new policy that better protects human rights. In this model, human rights study is practitioner based. 

Left out is the study of human rights itself -- how did it come about, why, what needs does it serve -- or neglect, who gets to decide, etc.  For the purpose of critical thinking, I think these are essential elements of any human rights program.I also think that Martin's view remains too law-centric. So much of what we consider the modern human rights movement is driven by non-lawyers using the powerful idea of human rights to press for an expansion of what is considered a "human right" -- specifically, I'm thinking of the Mexican activists who reinterpret the UDHR to support their contention that abortion is a human right or the battle that took place among Amnesty volunteers to press the organization to work on sexual orientation as a human rights.


Human Rights Makes its Bid at the Global University
Jon Cioschi, Summer 2008

To the Editor:

Jon Cioschi’s article provides a fair
overview of human rights studies at Barnard and Columbia Colleges. In
the process he raises the question: what is a good human rights program
in a liberal arts curriculum? Here, as in most other universities,
human rights studies were nurtured in the Law School, especially in the
field of international law. However, it soon became obvious that both
the analysis of, and the remedies for, human rights abuses called for
the insights of the social sciences and the humanities. Legal scholars
began using the latter and scholars outside the legal field began to
draw on law and other normative frameworks. It was also apparent that
the principles enunciated in the various human rights treaties had
broad applicability, reaching into almost every aspect of human
relations. Thus the language of human rights soon permeated
international diplomacy and popular discourse. The net result is
tangled webs of norms, facts, analysis, disciplines, and remedial
propositions and actions, with a basic tension between norms and

To provide a better frame of reference,
I have proposed dividing the field into four main fields of
intellectual endeavor, although in practice both scholars and activists
may draw on all four. The fields are interdependent. Each field is
defined by its radically different methodology that might or might not
coincide with that of an academic discipline. The four fields are:

The Normative: This is the
defining, unique characteristic of human rights studies. Fundamentally,
it is the idea that there are certain legal norms, agreed upon by a
given society or community of states and accepted as governing the
treatment of human beings. The normative field of inquiry also examines
other philosophical, cultural and religious norms. Law, especially
international law, philosophy, cultural and religious studies, but also
other humanities such as literature and media studies, play major roles
in this field.

The Empirical: Accurate
fact–finding and reporting has been the dominant and defining
characteristic of the modern human rights movement. Equally necessary
is an understanding of the numerous domestic and international
institutions that are concerned with or impinge on human rights. The
social sciences, statistics, and data management are major disciplinary
resources in this field.

The Analytical:
In the search for solutions, human rights scholars and advocates need
to understand the underlying causes and interpretative frameworks and
theories associated with complex social problems. We need to know the
causes of abuses before we can hope to solve them. The social sciences
have a big role to play here.

Implementation: Remedial and
other activities, such as advocating, litigating, mobilizing,
educating, and policy making, are designed to remedy human rights
abuses, all of which will draw on the resources of the previous three
competencies. Many disciplines and professions come into play here.
This is the field of major and minor social engineering.

Each of these fields raises theoretical
and practical problems and thus challenging debates. Human rights
studies aims to develop the basic language and intellectual tools
needed to participate in the whole range of normative and empirical
debates and in the formulation of the policies and strategies designed
to alleviate human rights abuses and violations.

Unfortunately, both scholars and
practitioners often conflate the identification of problems,
cause–effect postulates, and the identification of the best remedies.
Equally dangerous are arguments based on unexamined normative,
cultural, and historical assumptions. Human rights studies in the
liberal arts curriculum draw on the resources of the social sciences
and the humanities, as well as law, seeking to bring clarity and depth
to both the intellectual debates and ongoing social interventions.

J. Paul Martin

J. Paul Martin is the Director of Human Rights Studies at Barnard
College and former Executive Director of the Center for the Study of
Human Rights at Columbia University


Human rights in the university

Diane Sisely, Director, Australian Centre for Human Rights Education at RMIT University

Robin, I absolutely agree with you regarding J. Paul Martin's views. Human rights do not start as a legal question, they have and do start with the question, what is necessary to enable people to be able to live their lives with decency and dignity.

As we know, this is the fundamental question that lead to the writing and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The law (Conventions, etc) followed the identification of the answers to this question, the identification of the values that were agreed as necessary to protect if all people were to be able to live and flourish. 

While human rights laws are absolutely necessary, they are not sufficient for the realization of human rights by people, for this we need to promote, develop and support a culture that  respect human rights. This requires much broader learning and action. It requires social and cultural transformation across all facets of our societies.

At the ACHRE we are tackling this issue by adopting a collaborative  approach to the development, teaching of courses and income sharing, with other discipline areas. For example in one of our courses students participate in a Human Rights Campaign Studio where they research and develop a human rights campaign to a real life brief from community organizations, this semester the Studio concerned homeless people. This course is jointly developed and delivered with the Faculty of Applied Communication. Similarly our course on Ethics, Practice and Applied Human Rights has been developed and  run jointly with the discipline areas of Engineering and Social Science. Somewhat differently, our course on Applied Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples is being developed with the Indigenous Leaders Network of Victoria, a peak Indigenous body, which will consult with Indigenous people on what they would like to see in such a course and then work with us to develop and teach the course

I don't see human rights education as being the responsibility or preserve of any one discipline area, but rather of all.




Campaign studios


 I love the concept of a "Campaign Studio."  I think I do the same thing, just don't call it that.  One of the questions I always face is what to do with the half-baked product that the students create by the end of the semester.  Do your studios go on in time?  How do you carry on the work that is started by the initial group?

 We have used varying techniques.  The most promising projects can be carried on through support of graduate or undergraduate assistantships to my Program, or by encouraging students to apply for their own funding.  My continuing responsibility for this incubated projects, though, is a source of concern.  How do you handle this?


Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, USA

Campaign studios

Diane Sisely, Director, Australian Centre for Human Rights Education at RMIT University

Hi Barb,

We have just finished our very first Campaign Studio and we have philanthropic funding to actually run the campaign that the students produced. My plan is to approach one of our large media buying companies, with a philanthropic arm, to fund the products of our Campaign Studios into the future. Wish me luck!


Campaign studios

Good luck with this, Diane.  We'll check in with you in a year when you have one campaign on the way, the next being hatched.  The obvious question becomes how to balance the entrepreneurial adventures  you keep on creating!  I feel responsibility for past campaigns we have launched in my classes, yet it's impossible to continue to supervise them and teach at the same time.  

My class last year literally started an NGO, child protection international, (check it out at, but I only had funding through the summer and the students who started it are having difficulty getting it to its next step.  This poses a dilemma:  how do we energize students to work on real but still sustainable campaigns.  Funding is clearly the necessary element, so we'll keep working on that.  

 Good luck with your work and link us in to your campaigns as they move ahead.



Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, USA

collaborative approaches

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights


As Barb noted, the concept of a "Campain Studio" is wonderful! New to teaching, I have struggled with creating opportunities for students to engage in "real word" problem solving that both channels their desire for action  and application and actually helps  the partnring organization with human rights promotion. I'd love to know more about your collaborative process, and like Barb, how you help students to continue their human rights practice beyond the classroom experience.


Empowering students

Dear Amy,

I think you made a crucial point here. We attempt to make our students use the most opportunities we can provide, so that they can learn as much as possible, in particular in practical terms. I find it is important for the students both to establish what they would like to follow with (in broad terms) as what they do not fit in, so that they can make informed choices.

We made a very good experience in engaging Legal Clinic students in various project and research activities of the Human Rights Center outside the clinical programme. They always made a significant input and whatever they might be lacking in some theoretical knowledge and experience they made up with their initiative and engagement. I believe that gave them an opportunity to go outside the classroom in a project on a larger scale, learn directly from the outside partners and gain experience, which in addition made it easier for them to engage in other human rights projects, when they graduated from the Clinic.

Jadwiga Maczynska, Project Manager, Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre, Krakow, Poland

re: supporting ongoing practical application

Amy Weismann, Deputy Director, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

Dear Jadwiga,

This sounds like a great model. I love the idea of engaging Legal Clinic students in the work of the Human Rights Center. We do this informally, through volunteer internships that bring students, mostly already engaged in legal clinic curricular programs. However, we have yet to "break through" into the law school curriculum so that these students can pursue work at our Center  for academic credit, in furtherance of their clinical program. Are students working with your "outside partners" able to earn academic credit?If so, how do you structure this  in terms of supervision?  And what kinds of outside partners have you engaged so far? I'd alos be interested to know if any of the work that students pursue has led to ongoing, susatinable initiatives, such as the formaiton of new community based or university based organizations,  or programmatic activities at your Center. 

I'm eager to learn from your success!


supporting ongoing practical application through internships

Dear Amy,

as far as students’ engagement in the Center’s activities in concerned, I am often resorting to the financial argument, while making my case with the superiors deciding on those matters - that would be the ‘lawyer’ bit in me, I suppose ;) – and I point out to the fact that they offer quality job, while demanding limited financial resources, like reimbursing their travel costs etc. Since in outside-sponsored projects staff funding tend to be limited, this way you can provide students with experience they need and they bring in their creativity and open mind for free. We are not able to give them extra academic credit, but they can use in as their obligatory internship, as described below.

In Poland most law faculties require students to complete internships within their studies programme. In my home university, students in the regular 5-year full law programme (equivalent to M.A.) need 3 months internships to graduate. Some years before the internships selection possibilities were limited to court institutions (one month obligatory) and legal offices, police, local government legal services etc. for the remaining two months.

The Legal Clinic decided to sign a cooperation agreement with the Ombudsmen office, to enable students to make internships for credit there. Since then, and as more and more students were eager to make ‘human rights-based’ internships, due to the development of human rights classes in the curriculum, the internship rules became less rigid in that respect and now the requested ‘court internship’ can be accompanied e.g. with a placement in an NGO of the student’s choice. Students usually show a great deal of initiative here, selecting various options varying from customer legal service to children rights NGOs, and all is needed is a pre-authorization of their choice by a designed faculty members. No formal supervision is being executed during the internship and students are supposed to provide a formal diary on what they did during the internship, while reporting on it at the end of the academic year.

In addition I think that Barbara’s post on internship v. in-class activities very accurately summarized the challenges of internships we also experience in Poland.

Jadwiga Maczynska, Project Manager, Jagiellonian University Human Rights Centre, Krakow, Poland

Empowering students: case in point teaching

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.

One of the leadership gurus is Ron Heifetz who teaches at the Kennedy School of Governance. Ron H uses the 'case in point" approach which is to allow case studies to arise from the classroom and from the experience of the students themselves. He tends to not have any class plan or syllabus but walks in on the first day and builds on the material his students provide. It tends to cause great initial frustration but most students emerge feeling as if it was the most important course they every took. He does caution that it is easier with graduate or mid career students than undergraduates. He has written a number of books on Adaptive leadership - how organizations and individuals need to adapt or become extinct. He uses an example of the male silver back gorilla who has learned that the way to protect his group against leapord attacks is to huddle together to deter them. But for men with shotguns there could be no worse strategy - hence they are facing extinction. Ron H background is unusual: a professional musician and psychiatrist.........he uses many wonderful musical and medical examples in his work. Another cautionary note (or not!), is that the KSG took years to make him a faculty member, they considered that no one else could actually replicate his approach. But he now has a large cadre of former students who replicate this. One of them wrote a book "Leadership Can Be Taught" which details this approach. It makes interesting reading for any educator in any discipline. And it certainly embraces the idea that students learn best from their own and their colleagues direct experiences of success and failure.


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