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Human Rights Studies

226-1 Milbank Hall  
Department Administrative Assistant: Raquel Solomon

Director: J. Paul Martin 
Committee on Human Rights Studies: Elizabeth Bernstein (Women's Studies), Ayten Gündõgdu (Political Science), Paul Martin (Human Rights Studies), Rachel McDermott (Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures), Catharine Nepomnyashchy (Slavic), Anupama Rao (History), Rajiv Sethi (Econmics), Paige West (Anthropology)

Other officers of the University offering courses listed below:

Nadia Abu El-Haj (Anthropology), Severine Autesserre (Political Science), James Basker (French), Sheri Berman (Political Science), Mona El-Ghobashy (Political Science), Serge Gavronsky (French), Kaiama L. Glover (African Studies, French, Women's Studies), Ayten Gündõgdu (Political Science), John Hawley (Religion), Larry Heuer (Psychology), Janet Jakobsen (Women's Studies), Xiaobo Lu (Political Science), Kimberly Marten (Political Science), Alfred McAdam (Spanish), Rachel McDermott (Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures), Jose Moya (History), Catherine Nepomnyashchy (Slavic), Anupama Rao (History), Jonathan Rieder (Sociology), Alan Segal (Religion), Rajiv Sethi (Economics), Paige West (Anthropology)


The Human Rights Studies Program introduces Barnard undergraduates to the basic normative, theoretical and empirical knowledge and skills necessary to contribute cogently to public debates and policy initiatives related to social justice in the modern world.  This mission reflects the proliferation of human rights concerns and the associated growth of public and private human rights institutions over the past half century, but more importantly the daunting theoretical and practical challenges that still remain.  Human Rights Studies at Barnard is an interdisciplinary program, a joint major that combines the study of human rights with a complementary disciplinary, regional or other expertise at the choice of each student.   These options include but are not limited to Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Comparative Literature, English, French, German, History, Italian, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Slavic, Sociology, Spanish, and Women's Studies.

Student Learning Goals

Human rights learning objectives fall into four broad categories:

  • Competence with respect to the normative dimensions concerned with social justice, and the related institutions.
  • Mastery of the empirical skills required to collect, evaluate and report accurately data on human rights abuses and institutional activities.
  • A basic knowledge of the causes and effects associated with human rights situations, including the factors that ameliorate or aggravate violations.
  • An understanding of the factors that contribute to effective remedial or response strategies and take into account the different political, economic, social and cultural contexts of each set of problems.

Student Learning Outcomes

In the case of undergraduate women majoring in human rights, these four broad goals would require students to possess the following knowledge and skills. The capacity to:

  1. Identify, and understand the work of, the main public and private institutions that comprise the modern international human rights regime.
  2. Identify the main past and present currents of theory and practice that define and challenge the contemporary consensus on human rights norms, particularly with respect to the core concepts of discrimination, equality, diversity, pluralism and human dignity.
  3. Identify and trace the impact of the major events over the last hundred years that have led to the formation of the contemporary human rights norms and institutions.
  4. Understand the major taxonomies, paradigms and current debates in the field of international human rights.
  5. Exhibit competency in the integration of normative, institutional, public policy and empirical materials.
  6. Understand the ways in which international standards are implemented and enforced in both international and domestic fora, including the nature of the obligations on states and other national and international actors.
  7. Think and write critically about human rights institutions, theories, strategies and their relationship to other social priorities.
  8. Discuss in detail two or more case studies, groups at risk, or specific human rights problems such as public health, specific rights, refugees, indigenous people, poverty etc., incorporating as appropriate the resources of other Barnard departments and programs.
  9. Identify the ways in which the human rights regime offers tools to address violations of women’s human rights as well as the ways in which women have been influential in the field.
  10. Examine the relationships between human rights paradigms and those in related fields, notably development studies, peace and conflict management, security studies, social work, refugee and migration studies and especially women’s studies.
  11. Complete and defend advanced original research that draws on diverse sources and addresses one or more of the above questions.

Human rights studies at Barnard is designed to contribute to a liberal arts curriculum.   Its cross-disciplinary character enriches and benefits from Barnard’s teaching in the humanities and social sciences.  Its core courses examine critically universally accepted intellectual and political frameworks for debates on social justice, i.e. international human rights law.  Many of these debates focus on domestic and international issues that are the grist of ongoing political and ethical debates that are legitimately the concern of all citizens and for which they ought to be well prepared.  As such, human rights studies forms an integral part of the expanding field of international education at Barnard.  The Program draws on Columbia’s and NYC’s unique human and documentary resources.  It also provides an intellectual base and appropriate skills for social advocacy. These different dimensions do not coincide with individual disciplines.  The range of issues that now fall within the field of human rights is extensive, reflecting the scope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent associated treaties.  The unique and defining dimensions of human rights studies are the problems raised by its normative and prescriptive or remedy-oriented dimensions (the first and the fourth of the fields of study above).