HRIT Podcast Episode Eight

Human Rights: Multiple Origin Stories

Where did the idea of human rights come from?  There are many origin stories for this idea. In podcast episode eight, Dr. Katherine Marino and Dr. Jennifer Suchland give an introductory summary of some of the origins and struggles that have accompanied the evolution of the idea of human rights.  In reflecting on multiple origin stories – from European concepts of the human and empathy to Haitian revolutionaries demanding their humanity – the conversation reveals the limitations, contradictions, and possible future of human rights.

HRIT Podcast Episode Seven

Linguistic Profiling and Discrimination in Higher Education

What does it mean to be a global university or to promote access to education as part of a mission to diversity? One important dimension to an accessible and global university is the vital role of language.  For a critical perspective on this complex issue, listen to this conversation about language as a site of discrimination in higher education with Ohio State University graduate students Swati Vijaya and Elena Mary.

For a full description of the issue read on.

New York City Summer Trip 2017

What does it mean to do the work of human rights?  This summer eight Ohio State University students got the amazing chance to see first hand where human rights work is happening in New York City and beyond.  The group of stellar students, including Caeli Barnes, Kate Clark, Sabrina Jamal-Eddine, Farida Moalim, Lauren Roush, Nneke Slade, Rachel Tomasello, and Kyle Williams, have diverse academic backgrounds but came together with a common interest in human rights.

Facilitated by Professors Wendy Hesford (English), Amy Shuman (English), and Jennifer Suchland (Slavic/WGSS), the five day trip centered around the Human Rights Watch film festival, entitled this year “Change Starts Here.”  Each evening we embarked on the Walter Reade Theatre at the Lincoln Center, while during our days we explored many sites and venues relevant to human rights, including visiting Witness (a non-profit dedicated to documentary human rights practices), the African Burial Ground National Monument,  Stonewall National Monument, Columbia University’s Human Rights Archive, a tour of key sites in Harlem as well as visiting Ground Zero.

Here are a few examples and comments from students to give a richer sense of the experience. Continue reading

HRIT Podcast Episode Six

Europe’s “Refugee Crisis” and Dynamics of Mediterranean Migration and Reception: What Kind of Crisis? For Whom?

This episode focuses on contemporary migration to the EU, and in particular on circumstances related to Mediterranean crossing. Eleanor Paynter, a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies at OSU, speaks with Dr. Vicki Squire, a Reader in International Security at the University of Warwick, UK.

More specifically, this conversation addresses issues related to what has been termed a migrant or refugee “crisis” in Europe. For whom is the situation really a crisis, and what is at stake? Although Mediterranean migration is not a new phenomenon, boat crossings from North Africa to the shores of Southern Europe increased after the Arab Spring in 2011, and again during the Syrian conflict. Between 2015 and 2016, approximately 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland, many of them having arrived via sea routes or after crossing the Balkans on foot. Media coverage of Mediterranean migration has focused especially on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants arrive (and which was featured in the 2016 film Fire at Sea, by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi). Yet other locations are also key sites. Since mid-2015, the EU’s hotspot approach has attempted to distribute the reception process across multiple sites, and Squire’s recent projects have focused on so-called hotspots, in Greece and Italy, as well as both arrival and transit sites in Malta, Germany, and Turkey.

In her work at EU and US borders, Dr. Squire has focused on the notion of dignity. A fundamental concept in human rights, dignity is key both to survival and, of course, in circumstances of death and burial. Migrant deaths make headlines in extreme cases, such as the 2013 memorial held in Lampedusa for a shipwreck on Oct. 3 in which 366 people died, but deaths are, in fact, a regular part of precarious border crossing. Squire has recently compared the contexts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern US to discuss how migrant deaths constitute what she terms “biophysical violence,” or “abandonment to death by natural causes.” In this podcast episode, Squire refers to directives such as Operation Blockade, enacted in the El Paso, Texas, area in 1993, which blocked well-trodden migration paths, prompting routes to shift to more dangerous desert crossings.

Continue reading

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.


HRIT Podcast Episode Five: Rethinking Representation in Diaspora

Episode Five: Rethinking Representation in Diaspora: Art, Research, and Community Building

This episode takes up questions related to the potential of art for community building by focusing on a Columbus-based project with the local Somali community. Eleanor Paynter, a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies, speaks with Qorsho Hassan, an educator, researcher, and community organizer, and Ruth Smith, an artist, researcher, and educator, about their participatory photography and book project, Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between. The conversation considers the need for projects which build and share collective memory, as well as the ways narratives can bridge geographical and generational gaps.

Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between, the project by Qorsho Hassan and Ruth Smith, is a participatory research project, which means, broadly speaking, that research subjects are involved in the development of the project as a whole. Such projects can take any of a number of forms; participatory projects might involve the development of community spaces, such as the Edible Hut project in Detroit. Or they might involve the creation of art; Urban Art Works in Seattle, for instance, works with community members to design and paint murals in spaces around the city. The Muslim Neighbors project which Smith mentions in this episode is another such example.

Rather than entering a community to identify and collect information, participatory projects usually aim to effect long-term change by involving community members in the co-production of knowledge and, often, by offering something in return for the willingness of participants to share their time and experience. In the case of Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between, the project has involved training two young photographers and assembling narratives in book and gallery form, collections which will continue to circulate and which will likely prompt further storytelling, even after the exhibit closes.

For Hassan and Smith, one of the main ideas behind the kind of participatory research they facilitate is to challenge the circulation of a single narrative – in other words, to create and multiply the narratives communities tell about themselves and which become available to others outside the community. In their current research, Hassan and Smith are interested in how individuals and groups in diaspora build community and maintain connections between home and host countries. They begin by acknowledging “the consistent renegotiation of belonging and social norms within Somali and American cultures” and ask, “Where do Somali-Americans build their communities?” The narratives produced through the project represent both process and findings. Hassan and Smith have identified multiple unifying factors in the narratives, including “patterns of resiliency, particularly in the narratives of visible Muslim women.” The narratives suggest, they explain, that “communities are built amidst the in-between.”

This kind of project also responds to the question: who produces knowledge about a particular community? As Hassan mentions in the episode, research in Somalia and Somali communities has historically been produced by white scholars, mostly men. A variety of efforts have taken shape to speak against this legacy of colonialism. Mandeeq, a collective of scholars who define themselves as “unapologetically Somali,” actively works to decolonize knowledge production. Novelist Teju Cole discusses the broad scope of this issue in the development and humanitarian aid sectors in a 2012 article in the Atlantic on “the White Savior Industrialist Complex.” Participatory research can challenge colonial forms of knowledge production. Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between is, at its heart, a project in which Somali-Americans produce their own stories and represent themselves.

Follow Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between here:





Exhibition Information:

Dublin Arts Council is presenting Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between in collaboration with guest preparators Ruth Smith and Qorsho Hassan. The exhibition will be on view from August 8 – November 3, 2017.

HRIT Podcast Episode Four: Translating the Transnational

Episode Four: Translating the Transnational

Sujatha Subramanian, a PhD student in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, is in conversation with Jennifer Nunes and Tatsiana Shchurko about the complexities of translation in a transnational space. In their conversations, the speakers discuss the complexity of translating concepts, theories and epistemologies, and complicate the idea of translation beyond concerns of accuracy or faithfulness to focus on the political, social and cultural contexts in which translation takes place. Jennifer, a Masters student in East Asian Studies, discusses her project on translating the works of contemporary Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua and the process of using translation to interrogate the invisibility of the translator in standard English translation. Tatsiana, a PhD student in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, underlines the power context undergirding translation by highlighting how unlike knowledge produced in the Anglo-American world, knowledge produced in the non-English speaking world are not seen as theory. In their conversation, the speakers point to the possibility of using translation as a decolonial tool that can disrupt the hegemony of English language as marking literary excellence and as producing universally applicable theory.

Podcast Episode Three: What is Sanctuary?

In episode three, we discuss the issue of sanctuary, which is now widely discussed in local governments and university campuses across the nation.  With the recent rise in political rhetoric and policies that aim to detain and deport undocumented migrants/immigrants in the United States, many are asking for sanctuary policies. But, what does this mean? What is a sanctuary city? In this episode, Dr. Mathew Coleman of OSU’s Department of Geography shares a wealth of knowledge about the history and practice of sanctuary.  Importantly, he clarifies that sanctuary is not a form of amnesty, but rooted in community policing practices that are tied to previous waves of Central Americans seeking refuge in the United States. Sanctuary policies have sought, through community policing practices, to have a positive impact on vulnerable populations and community safety.  Listen in for an in-depth discussion of sanctuary past and present.

Podcast Episode Two

Problematizing Humanitarian Interventions in Latin America

Malia Lee Womack, a PhD/MA Ohio State student in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Latin American Studies (respectively), interviews Dr. Katherine Borland, an Associate Professor of Folklore Studies and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.  In their conversation they explore the complexities of US students and others volunteering in and providing aid to Latin America, and examine human rights strategies and grassroots organizing occurring in the region.  Womack and Borland consider in what ways disadvantaged communities are generally more able to identify the problems they face and the most ideal solutions to these problems.  Given the value of grassroots organizing and critiques of imperial intervention in Latin America, what obligations do wealthier nations and their citizens have to contribute to the empowerment of people in Latin American countries?  How should this intervention be modeled?

Human Rights in Transit Summer Study Program

Study Human Rights in New York City

UN Memorial to Honor Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade

Undergraduate students are invited to apply for a special trip to learn, watch, and reflect on  human rights.  Students will attend parts of the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, explore Columbia University’s Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research archives, and tour several key human rights landmarks, such as the UN Memorial to Honor Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade, the African Burial Ground National Monument, and Stonewall National Moment.

Trip Dates: June 12-16, 2017

Lodging and travel accommodations will be provided.  The trip is organized by Professors Wendy Hesford, Amy Shuman, and Jennifer Suchland.

Application Deadline: March 3, 2017

Application Materials include: 1) a detailed cover letter (no longer than 1 page single spaced) indicating your interest in the program, and background study and/or experience in human rights; and 2) short statement about a research or creative project that you hope to develop based on the trip.  All materials should be sent to

Informational Session: February 14, 2017, Hagerty Hall 455B, 3:30-4:30


HRIT Summer Flyer