Human Rights @OSU

Externalized Learning and Deep Thinking on Human Rights

When we enter through the classroom door, we enter a space that remains largely internal to the experiences of those enrolled and teaching a class.  To me, that space of the classroom is vitally important and even sacred.  But this semester, through a teaching cluster made possible by the Humanities and Arts discovery theme initiative, several of us attempted to cross-pollinate across our classes and to make the internal classroom more external.

Students in Slavic 5450, Global Human Trafficking: Representations and Realities, undertook collaborative projects with their peers as well as engaged in a “pop-up” project with students in two other courses at Ohio State this semester.  Students were asked to work in groups to come up with an anti-trafficking campaign that addressed the complexity of human trafficking as well as some of the common pit-falls of representing violence.

Documenting pop-up with wall of post-it-notes

During the process they engaged the “Livable Futures” pop-up organized by the Humane Technology group and led by Professor Norah Zuniga-Shaw.  Also joining us were students from Professor Tommy Davis’ course in Environmental Humanities (also a discovery theme group). The students in my and Professor Davis’ class gave peer feedback to a design project created by graduate students for the Livable Futures pop-up.  Students then were asked to think across themes and modalities to consider the intersection of human rights, the environment, and livability.  For the students in my class, they connected the dots between the human precarity and violence they studied in the context of human trafficking, environmental precarity, and the role that design plays in creating (un)livable futures.  Two of the students who took part reflected on the pop-up experience in this short video (clip).

CIW Visits Human Trafficking Class

The group projects that emerged reflected deep thinking about human trafficking, livability, and the interconnections between human and environmental vulnerability.   One group created a template for an app that is geared to youth who are in vulnerable housing situations, or homeless.  The Spot (App Image), links-up youth to different community services in an anonymous way. This approach to anti-trafficking considers the vulnerability that youth experience before they are potentially in situations where they have little or no agency.  Another group designed an advertisement campaign to educate the public about the Real Cost of an American Breakfast (Poster). Focusing on the exploitation in the production of commodities like oranges and tomatoes, this group’s anti-trafficking campaign shifts the focus from sensationalized images of victims to economic chains of profit and exploitation.

This connected well with the message of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, who came to our class for a guest lecture.  The CIW was at Oho State, in collaboration with OSU student groups, to rally the administration to pressure the fast-food chain Wendy’s to sign the Fair Food Program.  Wendy’s has a prime location on OSU campus in the medical hospital.  It is also the only fast-food chain that refuses to ensure that the tomatoes they source are not handled by farm workers who are under conditions of exploitation or forced labor.

By putting student work in conversation with other classes, with the wider public, and with people engaged in the community, we pushed much of the internal work of the classroom into the wider world.  While I still honor the internal space of the classroom, this semester we pushed those boundaries in creative and vital ways.