Cultural Anthropology 235S

Cultural Anthropology 235S: Human Rights Activism

In Robin Kirk's Human Rights Activism course, students read classic human rights texts and examine the histories and contexts of these documents as well how early proponents of human rights used them, successfully and unsuccessfully.

By studying a different human rights issue every week, the students look at examples from a variety of periods, disciplines and cultures:

  • Europe’s attitude toward Latin America’s indigenous populations
  • the British-based campaign to end slavery
  • the impact on human rights of the Holocaust
  • the death penalty
  • the American civil rights movement
  • the Cold War
  • women’s rights
  • refugees and the internally displaced
  • weapons, technology, and war
  • truth commissions
  • other humanitarian interventions

These examples help students to understand how activists made practical use of the law, politics, the media, events and public opinion.

Why is this a service-learning course?

Because as professor Kirk says, students "take what they've read about and see how it works in the real world."

  • Each student selects a service placement and commits to serve 20 hours at this organization over the course of the semester.
  • The menu of service placements have been carefully arranged by Dr. Kirk in collaboration with several long-time community partners engaged in human rights-related work.
  • Students submit a weekly reflection on how the service experience relates to the course content and discuss the ethical and civic issues that arise through their service.

The Facts

In Fall 2009, 16 students completed approximately 320 hours of service with the following community partners:

  • Southern Coalition for Social Justice: Volunteers for Checkpoint Watch monitor and Twitter police and state trooper DWI stops, to ensure that racial profiling is not taking place.
  • North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium: NCCM is a non-partisan coalition North Carolinians committed to reforming the death penalty. Students help organize a "Live from Death Row" event at Duke, update records on campaign donations for NC senators and legislators, and provide content for the web site.
  • North Carolina Stop Torture Now: This all-volunteer group is the largest anti-torture coalition in the United States. Students help organize events, including an event on Duke’s campus.
  • EK Powe Elementary School: Students volunteer with the food backpack program, which provides staples to needy families with children enrolled at Powe, and organize a food drive to augment supplies.
  • Duke Human Rights Center: Student research summer internships and year-long fellowships related to human rights, assembled a list of rights-related courses offered at Duke, and assisted The Pauli Murray Project, which applies human rights lesson to Durham’s history, with meetings and events.

For more information, contact professor Kirk.