FAQ

1. What are human rights?

The international human rights regime took shape in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Before then there were many different ideas and theories about human rights and social justice going back to the most ancient civilizations.  Since then many international organizations, led by the United Nations, have formulated more detailed laws and principles as well as practices.  There are also many enforcement institutions and a worldwide commitment to human rights education.  However, there is still a big gap between the ideals and the practice.   In an increasingly globalized world, human rights is one of the major ways in which groups articulate their claims for social justice.

2. What is human rights education?

Human rights education began in law schools and spread to other areas of higher education, notably to political science and the other social sciences, to social work, to philosophy, criminal justice and even literature.  The aim of this education is to prepare the next generation to incorporate these ethical and legal standards and institutions into the way we solve all our social problems.  The educational challenge is to show how human rights are relevant to a vast range of contemporary social problems, many of which are truly questions of life and death, sometimes for thousands of our fellow human beings.  One need only think of poverty, lack of access to healthcare, the current refugee crisis and access to education and even to clean water, not to mention violence and discrimination in all their forms. It is therefore impossible for any one person or organization to deal with everything.  Choices have to be made.

3. What is the shape of human rights education at Barnard?

As a college preparing women to work in the world over the next fifty years, human rights education at Barnard addresses the issues that face, or need to be faced by, women.  Again, the list is long.  The first group are all forms of discrimination against women in both public and private life.  The second group is defined by the need to subject all day-to-day situations to a gender analysis, in other words to examine how many situations impact differently on women compared with men.  The third group are the many social priorities and policies that undervalue certain rights as opposed to others.  For example, none of us could survive without daily access to water.  However, this has only recently come to be seen as a human right while other rights, mainly civil and political rights, have long enjoyed both status and extensive jurisprudence to support even their nuances.  Thus, we have a right to free speech and to religious freedom but not to healthcare, education, a clean environment etc.  Women have a major role to play in changing this ideology and practice.  If not women, who?

4. What is the human rights curriculum at Barnard?

Human Rights is a joint major: that is, a student must also major in another discipline or program.  This model is important because human rights is not a discipline in itself; it must incorporate and call upon the resources of many disciplines.  While at Barnard students combine human rights with many disciplines, usually the social sciences, though some have combined with dance and architecture or one of the physical sciences.  This model enables students to pursue their own professional aspirations as well their intellectual curiosity, working with Barnard's multi-disciplinary Human Rights Faculty

5. What are the Program’s goals in terms of knowledge and skills?

The unique quality of human rights education is that it deals with social norms and social justice.  The problem is that in practice many other norms and harsh realities govern our personal lives as well as domestic and international politics.  Moreover, they often conflict with one another as well as with other social priorities and with cultural traditions and practices.  Thus, human rights professionals such as lawyers, social workers, public health professionals, NGO and community leaders, need not only to possess accurate and detailed knowledge and information but also the skills to analyze social problems, to manage small and large conflicts, to know how to change people’s behavior as well as to influence public policy, and to raise the necessary funds to do that.  This calls for eloquence and persuasive thinking and ideas. To prepare students for these challenges, the Barnard human rights offerings expose students to the basic principles and, working with their two major advisors, allow them to choose additional, more specialized courses from the wide variety available at both Barnard and Columbia

6. Are there any additional resources?

In addition to courses, students have access to other human rights faculty at both Barnard and Columbia as well as Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights (http://www.humanrightscolumbia.org/).   Many organizations at both institutions hold events focused on real life problems, and there are now many graduates of the Barnard human rights program out in the field who are happy to advise their successors. Moreover, Barnard’s location in New York City provides unique access to a host of institutions which offer events to the general public as well as internships for Barnard students.

7. Who administer the Human Rights Program?

The Director is Prof. J. Paul Martin (jmartin@barnard.edu ) who founded the Columbia Human Rights Program in 1978 and directed it until 2007 when he moved to Barnard. His research and teaching have focused on human rights education, on religion and on the problems facing developing countries.  The principal associated faculty member is Prof. J. C. Salyer (jsalyer@barnard.edu). His work and teaching address mainly US domestic issues, notably those arising from documented and undocumented migrants and from climate change.  The Program Assistant is Ms. Maia Bernstein (mbernste@barnard.edu).