Sustained Rights Inquiry: Before, During, and After Summer Internships (Part 1 of 2)

By Eric Hartman*, Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford College

Reposted with permission. Originally written for Gristwood A., & Woolf, M., (Eds.). (2017). Civil Rights and Inequalities. The CAPA Global Education Network Series. https://www.capa.org/publications

*The author would like to thank Professors Kaye Edwards, Thomas Donahue, Carol Schilling, and Anne Preston, as well as CPGC staff members Janice Lion and Stephanie Zukerman, for their feedback on earlier versions of this article. Photo Credit: Thomas Donahue

This volume orients itself on an issue that human rights scholars have recognized as a central tension: that states have been the only historic guarantors of human rights (Donnelly, 2003). That is, while the language and central tenets of rights theory suggests universality, the structures that ensure liberties such as freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the experience of a quality education are national not global. The deep irony in this observation of states as rights guarantors is that states have also been the largest violators of rights, through systematic persecution of minorities, undermining freedom of the press, failing to support quality schooling, and other state-institutional attacks and inadequacies. It is civil society organizations – those collections of people that have social missions that are governed neither entirely by the market desire of profit nor the state desire of power – that continuously push states to appropriately enshrine and protect human rights as civil rights.

Civil society organizations are essential components in the development of rights experiences because while states have been the only historic guarantor of rights, the presence of a state does not guarantee rights. Rights are not merely objective conditions realized through a teleological process of states existing and improving. Rather, rights are “contingent moral aspirations” (Donnelly, 2003) that are tentative and open to change (Donnelly; Ignatieff, 2003). When people choose to hold governments accountable for the existence of rights, those rights are more likely to manifest. For those who believe that the presence of human rights represents important moral progress, it is therefore essential to include rights thinking and rights pedagogy within international education and community-campus engagement. In this sense, institutions of higher education are among the civil society organizations that hold states accountable for the existence and experience of rights.

In the brief essay that follows I will illustrate how international and community-engaged educational experiences offer important opportunities for intellectual inquiry centered on the juxtaposition between rights thinking and rights practice. I will illustrate the discussion with examples from a set of courses that continue students’ intellectual journeys relating to rights-thinking following 8-week summer internship experiences focusing on peace and social justice.

Ensuring Disciplined Rights-Inquiry Accompanies Summer Internships

Haverford College’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) supports student summer internships at the intersection of their academic careers, peace work, and social justice efforts. This programming is advanced with a certain self-critical wariness. That wariness leads to curriculum and programming processes that aim to carefully and conscientiously encourage the development of humble, reflective social change leaders.

Programming connected to the CPGC is rooted in deep skepticism borne of a thorough review of the literature across several related fields of practice. The literature on community-engaged teaching and learning offers a robust critique of universities positioning communities as laboratories for the advancement of student learning, documenting community members who observe paternalistic, racist, and “taking” behaviors among students (Larsen, 2015; Stoecker & Tryon, 2009). In terms of advancing intercultural learning or humility, editors of a sweeping summary of the field of international education recently concluded, “Most students do not, then, meaningfully develop either through simple exposure to the environment or through having educators take steps to increase the amount of that exposure through “immersing” them”  (Vande Berg, Paige, & Hemming Lou, 2012, p. 21).  And global development – the field in which many CPGC students intern – has been critiqued for its repeated failures to meaningfully advance well-being around the world (Easterly, 2006).

Yet carefully facilitated community-campus partnerships can positively impact communities (Irie, Daniel, Cheplick, & Philips, 2010), achieve broad community support for partnerships (Hartman, 2015; Larsen, 2015; Toms, 2013), grow civil society networks and advance human rights norms (Lough & Matthews, 2014; Reynolds, 2014), and have transformative effects for students (Kiely, 2004, 2005) who become more globally aware and more engaged in global civil society (Hartman, 2014). Such careful facilitation takes many forms, including the locus of community campus partnership. The discussion below focuses on only one of many important programming components: pedagogy and co-curricular programming as drivers of student learning related to rights-thinking.

Considerable research in the fields of international education (Vandeberg, Paige, & Hemming Lou, 2012), community-campus engagement (Ash & Clayton, 2009) and the combination thereof (Hartman, 2014) demonstrates that students are most likely to learn in areas where they are systematically prompted to give focused attention, along with where they are academically rewarded for doing so. This quite logical – even banal – conclusion offers an important caution for courses and programs that feature conventional curricular pathways coupled with assertions that students “become global citizens” or other important, aspirational goals that do not necessarily track onto program and curricular learning design pathways.

The pre-internship retreat and post-experience coursework offered in conjunction with CPGC internships, since 2003, ensure that students consider and even address political, economic, and social structures relating to their individual internship experiences. In the pages that follow I share specific texts, descriptions, and assignments from the retreat and related courses, to illustrate the manner in which structural thinking and related rights-inquiry is continuous, connected to experiential learning, contextualized within relevant literature, and challenging in terms of moving students toward deeper and more nuanced rights-thinking (This framing borrows from the 4 C’s of best practice reflection as advanced by Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede (1996)).

Internships may take place anywhere in the world, domestically or internationally. Haverford does not have separate offices supporting students in international and domestic civic participation. This truly global framing of intercultural and global systems learning and engagement, increasingly understood as best practice in international education and civic engagement (AAC&U, 2014; Musil, 2006; National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, 2012), supports a bridging of the distance between universalist rights theory and civil rights implementation as a matter of institutional organization. From the outset, students interested in public health implementation in urban environments in the US are in the same dialogue spaces as students considering public health in Appalachia and Argentina. The comparative opportunities continuously highlight the role of structure across diverse spaces.

These international and domestic activities are consistent with the CPGC’s global mission, to advance peace and social justice through research, education, and action. Examples of internships include: working with a women’s empowerment center and cooperative in Morocco; supporting arts-based reconciliation work in Berlin; cooperating with environmental justice initiatives in Nicaragua; advancing public health initiatives specific to Philadelphia’s Latino community; and self-designing internships specific to students’ own intellectual and professional trajectories. Each year, the CPGC works with more than fifty interns in placements around the world, about half of which are self-designed, with the remaining portion occurring through standing partnerships.

The pedagogical arch of a summer internship experience couples careful student selection and preparation during the spring term with community-based experiential learning during the summer, followed by coursework on human rights and global health during the fall term. Each component of this process is further explained below.

Pre-Internship Selection and Programming

Preparation includes a competitive selection process in which students respond to essay prompts that are the first moment of written reflection in a learning journey that proceeds over nearly a year. Responses to these prompts are developed through the awareness and disciplinary backgrounds that students bring to the process, coupled with individual counseling provided to students by staff members in the CPGC.

Essay prompts during the selection process include:

  • Please identify the issue you are examining and why it is significant historically, politically, socially, and culturally. How does this internship project relate to or examine this issue? How does this issue fit within the parameters of the CPGC’s mission?
  • What impact do you expect your internship project to have on the community in which it is taking place and the participants it will involve? Discuss the ethical issues necessary to consider before undertaking such a project.

A faculty and staff committee makes student selections. For many of the internships, a representative from the hosting organization oversees the final selection. Once selected, students attend a three-day retreat that includes instruction on working across social and cultural difference, brief consideration of broader social, political, and structural issues, and preparation for the logistical, health, and safety considerations that accompany the experiences. While the retreat is not associated with academic credit, students are required to read brief articles that begin the intellectual inquiry they will continue through the fall term. Such articles or chapters include, for example, selections from Amartya Sen’s (1999) Development as Freedomconsideration of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s (2006) “Case for Contamination” in the New York Times Magazine, as well as other articles and chapters that consider individual and cultural identity in the context of cultural, economic, political, social, and historical structures. Here again, facilitated discussion spans domestic and international structures of identity, belonging, and rights.

During the internship experience, students receive specific journaling prompts to encourage continuous reflective engagement with these themes. Often, students experience their internships individually, without other similarly situated students nearby, putting particular emphasis on directed journaling as an opportunity for dialogue connected to the preparation and re-entry components of the experience. While CPGC preparation works to ensure students are respectful and supportive interns, prepared to learn with and from host organizations, it is in the post-experience courses where students are challenged to consider related rights issues through sustained intellectual inquiry for academic credit.

Re-Entry Courses

Haverford has developed several courses, two are described below, that offer students opportunities to integrate their summer internship experiences with academically-grounded learning and reflection. Students may also appeal to enroll in other courses as “re-entry” courses, but must have those courses approved by the CPGC Academic Director. The Academic Director role is filled by a Provost-appointed, tenured faculty member, on a three-year, rotating term.  Re-entry courses during the Fall Term, 2016, were:

Re-Entry Course Option 1: Development, Human Rights, and Transnational Injustices

What are the worldwide obstacles to peace and justice? How can we surmount them? This course examines theories of some of the leading obstacles to peace and justice worldwide, and of what global citizens can do about them. In doing so, it invites returning CPGC interns to interpret their experience in light of some of the most important concepts and theories driving debates over international activism and global citizenship. The three problems we will consider are colonialism and its legacies, whether we live in a global racial order, and whether the global economic order harms the poor and does them a kind of violence. The two solutions we will consider are the practice of human rights, and the project of economic and social development. The course has three main goals: (1) to give students some of the knowledge they will need to address these problems and be effective global citizens; second, to understand some of the major forces that shape the present world order; and, third, to hone the skills in analysis, theory-building, and arguing that are highly valued in legal and political advocacy, in public life and the professions, and in graduate school.

The course, the full syllabus for which is available here, includes significant theoretical investigation and as such could stand independently as a course in political science or human rights. In order to better integrate experiential learning with that strong theoretical foundation and academic inquiry, returning interns receive several prompts that specifically integrate both. For example:

For returning CPGC interns: (1) By noon on 16 September, submit via e-mail a paper of not more than 350 words. The paper should describe a question about the social circumstances in which you conducted your internship, a question to which you did not feel you had a good answer. The paper should explain why that question is important, using the method for turning questions into problems in the section from Booth et al’s Craft of Research, mentioned in the Guide to Writing Good Papers, below. (2) At the beginning of Session 13, submit another paper of not more than 350 words. This should explain how what you have learned in this course has shaped your view of the question that first puzzled you. Do you feel you have a better answer to it? Or do you feel that you need to formulate the question differently? Why? These count as response papers for grading purposes.

In addition to these response papers, course discussion and presentation opportunities return continuously to consider summer experiences in light of broad structures.

Re-Entry Course Option 2: Bodies of Injustice: Health, Illness, and Healing in Contexts of Inequality

This course is designed for students returning from internship experiences who wish to deepen their understanding of social justice, health, and healthcare. The course integrates experiential learning with humanities and social medicine readings on witnessing and representing inequalities, cultural conceptions of health, structural determinants of health, and addressing health inequalities in the United States and other countries. Structural determinants include education, food resources, markets, medical and social services, governments, environments, transportation, cultures, languages, and more.

The syllabus indicates clearly that, “All course graded activities, including reading responses, an internship presentation, an internship critical reflection essay, and a next steps project – center on integrating internship experiences with relevant critical readings in the humanities and social sciences.”

Readings and dialogue within the course highlight health as a human right, as understood in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNHCR, 2008). Course questions and dialogue extend to the United States’ historic and continuing reluctance to engage health as a right, the relevant civil policy structures in place to support health as a right at the internship sites (in the US and abroad), and next steps in organizing and advocacy for supporters of health as a human right.

Engaging students in courses like these, at the least, provides opportunities to increase the likelihood that students will understand their summer internships in light of broader structural forces specific to the existence of rights (at the civil level) and the distance between that implementation and theorized existence (at the universal level). The courses also encourage increasingly sophisticated academic inquiry, and many of the students continue with additional research, leading to senior theses (All Haverford students must complete a substantive senior thesis for graduation). Research topics advanced beyond courses in the past year, for example, included:

  • Clashing Motives: International Aid and the Case for Strengthening Healthcare in Nigeria
  • Linking Policy to Real World: Exploring Policy Objectives of HIV/AIDS Program Funders in Nigeria
  • Addressing Access: Abortion Providers within the Reproductive Justice Framework
  • The Changing Landscape of Healthcare in the Greater Philadelphia Region

The research topics shared above all advance inquiry at the intersection of individual experiences of health and broader policy questions, highlighting the relationships of structures and rights. Due to the shared preparatory programming, inclusion of domestic and international experiences in common dialogue with one another, and exchange within and among re-entry courses, CPGC programming supports sustained engagement with the question of how rights structures manifest, succeed, or fail.

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