News & Events
Professor Dustin Sharp Teaches Human Rights Law Practicum in India
Where in India did the course take place and what was the name, purpose and length of the course?
The course was an "International & Comparative Human Rights Law Practicum" organized jointly by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and National Law University, Delhi. It lasted three weeks, and the idea was to teach students about human rights in a way that integrates theory and practice. Students spent their mornings in the classroom, but their afternoons and evenings out doing fieldwork, conducting interviews with victims of human rights abuses, and meeting government and NGO officials to better understand the scope of the problem. The theme we chose to focus on this year was labor violations in India's vast and expanding construction sector, a sector largely fed by a stream of poor migrant workers from the countryside to urban areas. Students are now working to draft a human rights report outlining the various abuses they documented in the field, including health and safety violations and failure to pay minimum wage.
What was the nationality(ies) of the students? How did these students differ from the graduate students you teach at USD?
The students were all law students from the United States and India. Having students from both countries was a great model for a study abroad program of this nature as it allowed us to have students do their fieldwork in mixed teams. It also provided a bit of a comparative law dimension to the program as we had American professors lecturing a bit about US and International law and Indian professors lecturing about Indian law. Comparing those students to the graduate students I teach at USD, I'd say that the challenges students face in trying to understand the gaps between human rights theory and human rights realities are not that different, whether they are Peace Studies students or law students, Indian, or American. That said, one difference is that law in India is an undergraduate degree, so many of the Indian law students were comparatively young.
Can you describe some of the challenges and successes you experienced in teaching this course?
The main challenge was the limited time we had to accomplish anything. The class was only three weeks long, yet its goals were quite ambitious. It is not easy to give students the necessary substantive background in human rights law while still leaving enough time for them to get out into the field and start the work of human rights documentation. It was also a pretty intense experience for many students, not only working 12 hours a day, but doing so while being exposed to realities that take you well outside of your comfort zone. This was not your typical study abroad program in Paris or London where you take a class for a couple of hours in the morning and then go be a tourist for the rest of the day! We were really asking them to roll up their sleeves. As teachers, that required us to help them understand the substance of the classroom material, while also helping them process what they were experiencing in the course of their fieldwork.
Can you envision a similar course being taught in the U.S.?
In fact, we talked about how much we would like to bring the Indian students over to the US and conduct a similar exercise looking at labor violations in the US context, particularly when it comes to the use of migrant labor. There are actually a lot of parallels between migrant labor issues in both countries. The challenge here is, of course, that most Indian students would not have the money for such a US-based program.
Would you consider teaching a similar course next year?
I loved the overall program that my former classmate, Fatma Marouf, who is now a professor at UNLV, is building. I think if you are going to do study abroad, this is exactly the kind of thing we would like to have at the Kroc School. The challenge for me is that the course takes place over Christmas and New Years, which takes me away from my family over the holidays. So I probably wouldn't teach this class again in India under the current timetable. I would like to eventually see a similar course developed for students at the Kroc School and USD more generally. It's worth noting, however, that the UNLV program did not spring into existence overnight, but has been three years in the making, and it was much more humble in its beginnings than what we did this year. If we were to do our own program, we'd likely have to follow a similar course.