Rights at the Edge: Human Rights Pedagogy and Practice Panel

Human Rights Pedagogy and Practice was a panel facilitated by Eric Hartman, executive director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, and widely attended by professors, students, and alumni. The panel featured four esteemed speakers from different parts of the country who made insightful presentations and answered questions on their inspiringly distinct styles of practicing human rights pedagogically.  

Diya Abdo, associate professor of English at Guilford College, spoke about an outreach program that she pioneered called “Every Campus a Refuge.” The program focuses on converting educational institutions into safe spaces that help tackle forced displacement issues by hosting refugee families and helping them resettle in the institutions’ local area. The program takes shape through a credit-based course offered by Guilford College, during which students study forced displacement issues about refugees and also engage in 15 hours of conversational interactions with Syrian refugees, ultimately culminating in an advocacy problem-solving project.


Bethany Barratt, director of the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project at Roosevelt College, spoke about the unique social-justice centric environment at the college and how every student is expected to develop a morale and ideas that work towards solving problems in society. She especially emphasizes learning through hands-on ground-level trips related to environmental sustainability, excessive police force, drug policy, and other issues via site-visits in Chicago. She also expressed her concerns about conflicts with the administration at the college where the focus seemed to be more on “quick wins” or causes that just require a small push to make change. She disagrees with this approach and feels strongly it is important to focus on the big problems in order to make real differences.

Juli Grigsby, assistant professor of anthropology at Haverford, spoke about working at non-profits/human rights as a journey rather than an arrival, where it’s okay to stumble and make mistakes. She believes in the importance of making a relentless effort in the field of social work even though it is often one’s work doesn’t get validated initially and tries to teach students political efficacy in her courses by culminating in a final project like the 2-day art forum she used last year. She believes in challenging her students to find creative ways to facilitate the kinds of conversations they want to see take place in communities. She also emphasized that there is never going to be enough money, time, people, or resources to do everything perfectly at first. There’s always going to be a compromise, and that is something that must be worked through and around.

Finally, Maureen O’Connell, associate professor of Christian ethics and active member of POWER (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild) at La Salle University, spoke about her class on social justice and community organization. She highlighted the subtle difference in changing the class from being about community service to community organization and the importance of empathizing and drawing from the experiences of people who endure the most pain in the cause area one works on. She also focused on how to teach students to build a sustainable structure or scaffolding to construct their ideas about social change, without which it can be hard to be productive change-makers. She indicated how crucial it is to foster a “communiversity”-style environment at colleges, where dialogue and feedback about social change was encouraged and appreciated.

The panel was one of the many events organized by the peace, justice and human rights department as a part of the Rights at the Edge symposium. It provided holistic insights into the practice of human rights across America and made for very interesting stimulus for anyone who is thinking creatively about their own projects or ideas in the field of human rights.

Noorie Chowdbury, Mumbai, India