Jennifer Rubenstein / Politics

For the last several years I have taught a 4000-level seminar in the Politics department called Global Ethics. I hope to continue teaching this class in the future. Many students have told me that their favorite parts of this course are the more hands-on, interactive activities and assignments, such as viewing and discussing NGO fundraising advertisements. While I think that these activities are valuable, I have worried that some of them are not maximally beneficial to students in terms of developing their critical and analytic skills. I have therefore been looking for ways to engage students with hand-on interactive projects that are also very demanding intellectually. I want to use funding from the Mead Endowment to try out several of these ideas. In addition, I hope to build relationships (e.g. with the International Rescue Committee) and show “proof of concept” so that I can incorporate these activities into the class on an ongoing basis, perhaps with funding from other sources.
The five activities that I would like to try are listed below. In addition to being interactive, all except #4 involve informal discussions or interactions with me, inside or outside the classroom.

Dinner discussion with refugees
Charlottesville is a major resettlement area for refugees from all over the world. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works with them to provide assistance during their transition. I propose adding a unit about refugee resettlement to my current syllabus. We will then have a panel discussion followed by small group conversation over dinner with five refugees who currently work as translators for the IRC. All of the students will have a chance to hear all of the refugees’ stories; we will then divide up into smaller groups to have more in-depth discussion over a shared meal. (I met with Harriet Kuhr, executive director of the IRC in Charlottesville, and this is the plan that she thought would work best.) After the dinner, students and I will have a casual “de-briefing” of the experience. As part of their preparation for this dinner, students will view one or more films at the 2nd Annual Refugee Film Festival, which is co-organized by the IRC and the Center for International Studies at UVa and will be held in mid-October 2013.

Informal discussion with an experienced aid worker
A significant portion of the class is devoted to studying ethical issues associated with humanitarian and development aid. I want to bring in an experienced aid worker to have an informal discussion with students about these themes as they have arisen (or not) in the aid worker’s own experience. Rather than a presentation in a formal classroom setting, I would like us to have a more informal discussion in a setting such as the Philosophy department library, with light refreshments.

Viewing of “Beyond Borders”
Beyond Borders (2003) is a film about humanitarian aid starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. It reflects— both intentionally and unintentionally—many of the problems with humanitarian aid that we read about in the course. Rather than having students watch the film on their own, I would like to arrange a group viewing, with light refreshments (e.g. popcorn, chips, soda), followed immediately by a group discussion.

“Where to send the money?” exercise
Another issue that we discuss in the class is how scarce international humanitarian and development resources should be allocated. While students are always very interested in this topic, I think that the discussion will be all the more pointed, memorable—and educational— if there is actual money at stake. I therefore want to give the students $100 to donate (collectively), and have them decide together where (if anywhere) to send it. I might invite students to “pitch” particular organizations to the rest of the class, drawing on arguments from more philosophical assigned readings.

Funding for student proposals
In the class as it is currently structured, students are invited to meet with me individually in order to find a reading and come up with a list of discussion questions that addresses a topic related to the course, but that we did not cover. My goal in offering this option is to encourage students to think critically about the syllabus. I want to amplify this part of the course by telling students that they can propose not only a topic, but an activity—including one that might involve some costs. (They will not be allowed to use it to buy food.) I have no idea what (if anything) they will come up with— but that is precisely the point. If they come up with something that works well, I might even do it again in future years. But even if no one comes up with a way to spend the money, I think that the type of reflection that this offer will generate will be fruitful in itself.

Dinner discussion with refugees
Food (26 people @ 25.50 each) $663
Honorariums for speakers (5 @$100 each) $500
Discussion with aid worker
Travel expenses (travel from NYC or DC, 1 night hotel) $400
Honorarium $100
Refreshments $ 60
“Where to send the money?” exercise $100

Viewing of “Beyond Borders”
Refreshments $ 30
Student proposals fund $500
TOTAL $2353