Human Rights Seminar Asks Students to Question Western Notions

October 11, 2019

On Wednesday afternoons, Political Science and International Relations Professor Jinee Lokaneeta teaches Global Discourse on Human Rights, a seminar that meets from 1:15 to 3:45 p.m. in Seminary Hall. This is the first time the special topics course is being offered, and it pushes students to think about human rights in their everyday lives and how little is actually known about the subject. Students deal with the history and theory of human rights and challenge the Western ideologies that many people hold. 


“Some of these conversations are very explicitly looking at critically reimagining how we study the world,” Lokaneeta said.


She pointed out that, during the course, students will learn about the distinct history of human rights in the non-Western world and also focus on indigenous peoples’ concepts of human rights in places like Latin America, Africa and various Asian countries. The course is centered around discussion about the origin of human rights and the relationship between decolonization and human rights, as well as relating these themes to various film screenings on campus through the Gender and Globalization film series—making it clear that the discussion is not just confined to the classroom. 



Presentations are given by either one or a pair of students each week and highlight important topics from the assigned readings. New insights from these presentations are discussed throughout the second half of the class, opening up a space to share opinions and questions freely.


“What makes the class unique is the way that we talk about human rights,” said Richard Taylor (’20). “We’ll be talking about feminist thought, we’ll be talking about Third World approaches to International Law, talking about [...] Law Theory. There’s so many different parts of human rights that I think a lot of people don’t think about.” 


Ally Lopez (’20), an economics major, said the course, “Challenges norms that we gloss over and just think we know.” Lopez talked about the history and people that are often left out of dialogues about human rights and why it’s important to learn and talk about them. Professor Lokaneeta wants students to apply what they learn in this course in their everyday lives. 


Lopez added, “[The course] makes me, as a person, as an academic, as a wannabe scholar, question what I hold as normative ideals. It questions my own concepts outside of political theory.” 


This course, though centered around the theories behind human rights, can be applied to anything, and that’s what makes it particularly challenging but also rewarding for students. 


Both Taylor and Lopez stressed that these conversations are especially important to have in our world today. 


“There’s a lot of stratification, a lot of tension,” Taylor pointed out. “So thinking about what we’re going to do about these huge issues is really important to help try and solve them.” 


Though the course is still being perfected, Lopez encourages students to take it in future semesters. She said, “I would take this class if you are a political scientist or an economist or if you’re interested in language and what it means to organize people. I would just take it because it’s fun.” 


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