4 Bringing Theory into Practice

In the course, International Justice on Trial, developed by Emily, students explored international justice systems and evaluated the effectiveness of different approaches to achieving justice through class discussion, assigned readings, individual research, and writing assignments.[1] Students considered alternative approaches to justice using case studies from Guatemala, El Salvador, Rwanda, and Bosnia. The overarching question for was “What is Justice?” For the research assignment, students were asked to choose an issue area, region, or country with context of human rights violations. They were also asked to provide a definition of what they think justice is. Then, they were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of judicial trials to achieve justice, by identifying those trials that worked and did not work according to their own definition of justice. Finally, they were asked to propose alternative approaches to justice that would address shortcomings of existing efforts. Students were required to submit a research topic proposal early in the course, then submit a rough draft mid-way through the course, and a final paper at the end. The instructor provided extensive written feedback at the draft stage.

For the first course in autumn 2018, the guidelines were developed during the second half of the class, a product of class discussions and presented to the class.[2] A total of five students out of 23 used the guidelines in their papers. Two students used the guidelines to cite personal or family experience, three students cited personal interviews. Through interviews and anonymous course evaluations,[3] we found that even students who didn’t cite personal interviews or personal experience in their papers, still found that the guidelines made them think about their relationship to their research and encouraged them to think critically about all of their sources. Through interviews, students explained why they used the citation guidelines, and any challenges they had. In response to student feedback, we edited the guidelines to make the examples of how to use them and not use them clearer, and to add the information about informed consent. Subsequent edits created examples for how students can incorporate the quotations and citations into their papers, and an informed consent form to increase transparency among students, the instructor, and the interviewee.

We found through the interviews with students, and reviewing student use of the citations, that these guidelines can be an important tool for anti-racist pedagogy. Kyoko Kishimoto writes that the following are goals of anti-racist pedagogy: promotes critical analysis skills and awareness of social position; decenters authority in the classroom, and encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning; empowers students and applies theory to practice; and creates a sense of community.[4] We argue that the citation guidelines that we developed meet the majority, if not all, of these goals, and can easily be used along methods of anti-racist pedagogy.

As an example,[5] one student used the guidelines to cite personal family experience as Mexican Americans, and her own experiences on a research trip to the U.S.-Mexico Border for her research paper assignment. In her research on U.S. immigration detention centers, she found that she needed evidence to counter sources and information on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. In order to make a convincing argument, she wanted first-hand information about the effects of immigration detention. She explained:

“People don’t have personal experience in the articles we read. I can reference how I see it through my eyes, and how I interpret it. I can use it to make the case in my paper. The stuff I cite through family experience is not what you would find in academic papers… It’s important to represent how I experience the world because of my background.”[6]

The student was able to analyze the existing sources and based on her own life experience and the experiences of her family, she was able to identify the lack of representation of a key viewpoint in her research. From her own sources of knowledge, she was able to provide the alternative viewpoint that was missing from the sources she was found in her research and incorporate it as evidence in her own paper. She was able to find the value in her own voice in her paper, and the presentation she gave to her classmates.

In another example,[7] a student used the citation guidelines to interview a family friend from Turkey about the Kurdish Genocide in Turkish Kurdistan. In her outside research process, the student noted that she was having trouble finding much in the way of non-Western literature on the genocide, and none of the Turkish and other Middle Eastern authors who had written about it had explicitly identified as Kurdish themselves. When she was able to connect with her Kurdish interviewee, she asked him about this disconnect and he believed it was attributed to the fact that the Turkish government is so intent on squashing Kurdish voices that much of the truth is confined to word of mouth. Further, he indicated that the systemic oppression of Kurdish Turks has led to less educational opportunities and thus less exposure to the academic media. Because of this, the student made more fruitful and nuanced discoveries about the situation from her interview with her subject who experienced the genocide firsthand than any of the secondary-experience literature she read. Oftentimes, the student noted, higher academia likes to take credit for deconstructing colonial barriers in education despite historically being a major institution upholding it. By privileging indigenous and minority truths, we can not only work to erase inequalities in academia but harness a powerful body of knowledge that is essential to mitigating and preventing atrocities like the Kurdish Genocide.

Even if students do not use the guidelines in their research projects, the goals of anti-racist pedagogy outlined by Kishimoto were still met. In cases where students did not use the guidelines, they reported that they nevertheless critically analyzed their sources and their own relationship to their research. One student reflected on her own experience as a white exchange student studying in South Africa. She said that when deciding whether or not she would cite her own personal experience studying the criminal justice system there, she decided that she would not due to her limited close relationships, and inability, due to time and access, to fully understand the situation. Upon reflection, she felt that she could have made more conscious observations as an outsider and would have felt more comfortable writing about her own experience as an outsider, but still hesitant about centering her experience as a white person.

  1. Syllabus of “International Justice on Trial” course is provided in the supplemental materials.
  2. In future iterations, the guidelines were presented along with the research paper assignment at the beginning of the course.
  3. 21 out of 23 students participated in the anonymous course evaluation.
  4. Kishimoto, p. 546.
  5. We obtained informed consent from each student to use examples from their research papers, and to share quotations from their interviews. Student names are not used in order to protect personal privacy.
  6. Interview with Student #1, conducted via telephone by Emily in January 2019.
  7. Interview with Student #4, from autumn 2018 course. Interview via telephone in January 2019 by Emily.

Share This Book


Comments are closed.