COOL CLASSES: “Organizations, Missions, Constraints: Humanitarianism and Human Rights in Practice”

A course for students seeking careers in social justice work to prepare them to translate their principles into practice in a complex world.

Class name: “Organizations, Missions, Constraints: Humanitarianism and Human Rights in Practice”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Adam Rosenblatt


Here’s what Rosenblatt had to say about his class:

I created this class because I saw it as a crucial part of the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights curriculum at Haverford, a school where so many students are seeking to do social justice work of various kinds after they graduate. Academics tend to create a lot of classes offering theoretical approaches to various issues in ethics and global justice, and then some other classes where a specific issue—whether it’s criminal justice, food systems, education, or something else—is examined under the microscope. Based on my own experience in various nonprofit and human rights organizations, however, I can confidently say that someone’s ability to thrive in a purpose-driven or social justice career is determined not just by the clarity of their convictions or their understanding of particular issue, but also by the particular organization where that person winds up working. Our students going into nonprofits, schools, hospitals, social entrepreneurship, and other fields will need to know about the dilemmas and daily realities of fundraising, “mission creep,” activist identities and work cultures, burnout, and similar issues. In order to expose the students to wide range of real-world perspectives, I have paired traditional classroom activities and readings with a semester-long, once-a-week guest lecture series. The class is hosting people from organizations as diverse as the American Friends Service Committee, Voice of Witness, and the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, and in each case we are asking the speakers to address not just what their organization does, but how they do it: what their work looks like on a normal weekday, and what commitments and constraints shape their daily lives.

Because my own background is in the study of human rights and humanitarianism, many of the course’s readings are deep engagements with issues in those fields: the growing demands for rigorous systems of accountability in the provision of humanitarian aid, the question of how “success” is measured in places where terrible disasters or violence have destroyed many basic institutions, debates over the bureaucratization and governance structures of social justice organizations, and even seemingly banal—but highly significant—questions such as whether it’s acceptable to spend a lot of money renovating the headquarters of a major human rights organization. However, whether they are going on from Haverford to an international humanitarian organization, a struggling local school, or a tiny start-up with a social justice vision, I hope the students will come away better prepared to translate their principles into practice in a complex world.

See what other courses Peace, Justice, and Human Rights is offering this semester.

Photo (of Adam Rosenblatt introducing Claire Kiefer of Voice of Witness to his class) by Caleb Eckert ’17.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.