HRIT Podcast Episode Ten: A conversation with Dr. Karma Chávez

Episode Ten: A conversation with Dr. Karma Chávez

In this episode hosts Pritha Prasad, PhD student in English, and Dr. Jennifer Suchland (SEELC and WGSS) speak with University of Texas, Austin professor Dr. Karma Chávez.  Dr. Chávez is author of Queer Migration Politics (U of Illinois Press, 2013) winner of the  Book of the Year by the LGBTQ Communication Studies Division of the National Communication Association, and is Co-editor of Text + Field (Penn State Press, 2016) as well as Co-editor of Standing in the Intersection (SUNY Press, 2012).

Dr. Chávez is the co-founder of the Queer Migration Research Network, an interdisciplinary research initiative that critically examines how migration processes fuel the production, contestation, and remaking of sexual and gender norms, cultures, communities, and politics. Dr. Chávez is part of activist endeavors, including with the group Against Equality and produced the radio show, “A public affair” for six years on 89.9 FM WORT in Madison, Wisconsin.

In their conversation, they discusses the practice of coalitions, the importance of intersectional politics, and the struggle structural change working within institutions such as academia.

Summer 2018 Trip to New York City

Undergraduate 2018 Summer Travel & Study Opportunity

Professors Wendy S. Hesford and Jennifer Suchland invite International Studies Human Rights Minors and Arts and Humanities undergraduates interested in human rights to attend an informational session on February 19, Denney Hall, Room 311 from 1:00-1:45 about the summer study opportunity “Human Rights in Transit.”

This is a 5-day study program scheduled for June 15-19, 2018. The program will include attending film screenings at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Lincoln Center and exploring the archives at Columbia University’s Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research. We will also tour the African Burial Ground National Monument, United Nations, and the Stonewall National Moment among other human rights related sites.

Students accepted to the program will be provided lodging and travel accommodations.

In order to participate, students will need to enroll in English 5193 (Course 15349) for 1 credit during the first summer session with Professor Wendy S. Hesford.  [The Registrar indicates that cost for first 4-week summer session will be discounted 25% along with all summer fees and tuition.]

This is a competitive program. Application deadline is March 5, 2018. Students interested should send a detailed cover letter (no longer than 1 page single-spaced) to Professor Wendy Hesford (Hesford.1) indicating their interest in the program, background study and/or experience in human rights, and a short statement about a research or creative project that they hope to develop based on the trip.

Support for this program comes from OSU Human Rights in Transit Discovery Grant and the International Studies Program.

HRIT Podcast Episode Nine

Precarious Journeys – Transit at EU Borders

In this episode, Kathryn Metz (Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Slavic and East European Studies) and Eleanor Paynter (PhD student in the Department of Comparative Studies) discuss conditions of transit for migrants both outside and inside EU borders. What factors shape the journeys of migrants as they reach and attempt to enter the EU? How do migrants’ descriptions of their own experiences of transit complicate popular representations of migration to Europe? Our conversation draws on fieldwork observations and interviews from Summer 2017. Here we offer additional resources to contextualize our conversation and for further reading:


Contexts: We discuss two sets of routes: one through the Balkan region, and one across the Mediterranean Sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) collects information on arrival trends in Europe and maintains a map of this data. In the Mediterranean context, updated data on sea crossings are also maintained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Relevant laws and procedures:

Border externalization is the transfer of migration controls to a third-country. With the closure of Hungary and Croatia’s borders in 2015-2016, there is a backlog of migrants in Serbia. The European Union has deemed Serbia a safe third country and the EU has contributed money and personnel to the country to contain the migrants and prevent them from moving onward.

Serbia does not, however, meet all of the necessary criteria to be classified as ‘safe.’ Namely, it is lacking an effective and efficient asylum procedure. Serbia’s safe country classification has resulted in thousands of cases of push backs of irregular migrants who are apprehended inside the borders of Croatia, Hungary and Romania and returned to Serbia without the opportunity to apply for asylum in one of these EU countries. Without an effective system in place in Serbia, thousands of migrants do not have the ability to apply for asylum and receive protection. The lack of legal options results in migrants attempting more perilous journeys and relying on smugglers to gain entry into the EU.

The Dublin Regulation, originally established in 1990 and revised multiple times since, currently stipulates the procedures for determining where asylum applications are processed. In November 2017, the European Parliament agreed to discuss several major changes to this regulation, including the stipulation we discuss in this episode, that migrants register and stay in the country of first entry. The year 2018 will likely see changes to how and where migrants’ applications are processed. You can track the legislative discussion here.

On Libya: We mention Libya as a key site of transit for migrants who cross the Mediterranean and arrive in Italy. Recent news coverage of migrant detention centers in Libya has garnered more attention for the circumstances of migrants there more generally, including accounts of migrants being auctioned into slavery. This coverage also draws attention to the policies and agreements between the EU and Libya as they affect conditions for migrants.

On gender: The interviews we refer to in this episode were all conducted with men in transit to or within Europe. While most migrants arriving to Europe are men, an increasing number of women are also in transit (see the “demographics” section here). The presence of women has periodically gained increased attention, as with the recent Mediterranean drowning of 26 Nigerian women as young as 14, who were given a funeral in Salerno, Italy, on Nov. 17, 2017.

During the height of the 2015 refugee crisis along the Balkan Route, aid workers and immigration officials focused on facilitating movement along the humanitarian corridor in the Western Balkans. They were not equipped to recognize and address gender based issues. With the closure of borders and less movement along the route, aid workers and border guards are now building capacity to identify and provide assistance to women who have suffered gender based violence while in transit. While NGOs are working to address the situations of female migrants, gender and transit, and the experiences of women in transit more generally, are areas that deserve more attention by aid workers, policy makers, and researchers.

On methods: Conducting fieldwork in situations of transit means spending time with people living in uncertain and unstable circumstances, which raises important ethical and methodological considerations. With the methods of semi-structured interviews (Kathryn) and oral history (Eleanor), we both aimed to allow for migrants to tell, through interview, the stories they deemed needed telling. One starting point for considering the ethical dimensions of qualitative / ethnographic research with asylum seekers and refugees is the recent collection edited by Karen Block, Elisha Riggs, and Nick Haslam: Values and Vulnerabilities: The Ethics of Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Australian Academic Press, 2013.

Resources mentioned, including clips:

  • The book Transit Migration in Europe, edited by Franck Düvell, Irina Molodikova, and Michael Collyer (Amsterdam UP, 2014)
  • Article “The Impact of Externalization of Migration Controls on the Rights of Asylum Seekers and other Migrants” Bill Frelick, Ian Kysel and Jennifer Podkul, Journal on Migration and Human Security Vol. 4 Number 4 (2016)
  • The 2016 film Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), directed by Gianfranco Rosi
  • Al Jazeerainterview with a Nigerian migrant in Italy, July 5, 2017
  • PlayGround English and OxFamvideo interview with a migrant from Afghanistan
  • TRT Worldinterview with migrant in Ventimiglia, August 15, 2017
  • Vista Agenziarecording of a demonstration held in Rome on August 26, 2017

Organizations we mention include:


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.