Bridging Classroom Conversations On Human Rights with Real-World Applications Amid A Global Pandemic

Mahima SindhuCommunication & Rhetoric Major, Applied Statistics Minor, Global Health Certificate, Managing Health Services Programs & Projects Certificate (Junior, Class of 2021)

The novel coronavirus has undoubtedly compromised the world’s population health and economy alike. However, on March 19th, 2020, the Human Rights Watch made clear in their article, “Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response”, to note the vast human rights violations exacerbated by the pandemic. By issuing lockdowns and enforcing ‘stay-at-home’ measures, we quickly forgot to accommodate for our nation’s most vulnerable populations— including the homeless, impoverished and low-income individuals, prison inmates, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Consequently, this negligence transformed into heightened disparities, which led communities around the country to take a stand and advocate for themselves in efforts to bring forth a national agenda that prioritizes addressing disparities with a human rights framework.

As a student, learning in the midst of a pandemic poses a variety of challenges, however, this is also a time that encourages opportunities and intellectually stimulating conversations around human rights. Hence, in partnering with Dr. Lester Olson, I came up with a teaching project this semester that I hope will engage his Human Rights Rhetoric students to think critically about the world during a challenging time like this, while also serving as a creative means to review class topics.

My proposed teaching project is a roughly 10-episode podcast on women’s intersectional experiences during COVID-19 [see below for a template schedule]. In each episode, I will take topics directly from the syllabus to root my conversations in. This way, as female activists and scholars speak about their work, the inclusion of class topics— double binds, simultaneity of oppressions, irreparable harms, institutionalized systems enabling bias , etc.— will enrich their conversations surrounding the pandemic experiences of women in diverse communities— differently abled, LGBTQ+, single and/or teen mothers, impoverished or low-income, etc. Further, I chose the specific format of a podcast because of the growing notoriety that education instructors are placing on the use of quality multimedia platforms in efforts to engage their students. As a Communication & Rhetoric major, one of the salient topics discussed in communication classes is how technology has evolved our communication practices in unique ways to better accommodate our changing needs. The introduction of podcasts in the classroom offers one such example. Moreover, in the context of human rights and social movements, podcasts and similar edtech platforms are proving increasing potential to bring forth voices and issues that were not previously acknowledged by mainstream media.

This project is one I am both personally and professionally invested in. As a recently admitted Master’s of Public Health student in Health Policy and Management, concentrating in Women’s Health/Maternal and Child Health, all of the topics I plan on addressing in the podcast are ones I can directly see emerging in my future career since each present their own set of challenges in public policy. Likewise, I also see this project as an excellent segue for teaching experience. As someone who is entertaining the idea of entering the academic and teaching sector later in life, I hope that I can take away some really enriching lessons in the implementation of supplementary multimedia resources in the classroom.

Episodelecture material
Episode 1Lecture 3/4  Fundamental Texts in Rhetoric and Human Rights
Episode 2Lecture 6 Analogs in Rhetorical Criticism: Silence as Signs of Complicity and Approval
Lecture 7 Analogs in Rhetorical Criticism: Transforming Silence into Language and Action
Episode 3Lecture 9 Speaking For and About Others: Representing and Appropriating Others’ Experiences
Episode 4Lecture 10 Double Binds and Performative Contradictions: Language and Policy Discourse
Lecture 15 Social Role and Institutional Location: Advocating Changes in Public Discourse
Lecture 18 The Simultaneity of Oppressions: Differences and Intersections in Bias Offenses
Episode 5Lecture 11 Emotional Dynamics of Speeches Concerning Irreparable Harms From Bias Offenses
Lecture 12 Irreparable Harms: Silence, Denial, and Resistance As Human Responses To Challenging Messages
Episode 6Lecture 13 Apologia, Reconciliation, and Vengeance 
Episode 7Lecture 14 Blaming the Victim, Scapegoats, and the Representation of Rhetorical Devils 
Episode 8Lecture 16/17 Institutionalized Systems Enabling Bias Offenses: Systemic Analysis of Institutions Enabling Anti-Gay Violence
Episode 9Lecture 20 Embodiment, Performatives, and Enactment 
Episode 10Lecture 21 Narratives, Myths, and Stories

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