A Letter from the Project Director
“In August 2013, Fairfield University officially launched its new Teagle Foundation-funded grant with its partner institutions Georgetown and the University of Central America (UCA), Nicaragua, ‘Collaborative Project in Student Learning:The Examination of Enduring Questions through Humanitarian Education.’ Project teams from each campus will use humanitarian action and the Jesuit Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN) as a conduit to integrate civic and moral responsibility into their undergraduate curriculum to equip students to deal effectively with some of the large clusters of “great questions” of meaning and value, and of moral responsibility.
While we live in a world bordered by politics, fences and surveillance designed to keep out those who ‘don’t belong,’ human displacement continues to be one of the leading dramas of the 21st century. For the fifth consecutive year, in 2011 the total number of forcibly displaced people continued in excess of 42 million. This figure includes 15.2 million refugees, 26.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and 895,000 asylum seekers, while 4.8 million Palestinians remain registered with UNRWA. In addition, the UNHCR estimates there may be over 12 million stateless people worldwide.
But the iconic image of the refugee camp as the symbol of human suffering is being rapidly replaced by a more invisible emergency-the growing number of urban refugees whose status often goes undetected and needs unmet, with attendant risks of (gendered) violence, including rape, exploitation, kidnapping, and trafficking. Climate change is also likely to act as a threat multiplier, increasing the potential for environmental conflicts, and adding new complexities to the interface between migration, displacement and humanitarian crises.
Since spring 2013, I have come on board as project director, building on contributions I have made to the JUHAN project at Fairfield, including the JUHAN ‘toolkit,’ and new course offerings, such as Challenges of Global Politics, and Gender, War, Peace, along with a course inspired by fieldwork that I look forward to teaching for the first time this fall, Border Politics.
I bring to my duties as project director for our new Teagle grant my experience as a scholar, facilitator, and consultant on humanitarian concerns, including work for The Brookings Institution, Catholic Relief Services, Search for Common Ground, and the South Balkans Working Group of the Council on Foreign Relations (New York). My most recent book-length contribution is Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict (Polity Press, 2011). I am now working on another text for Polity Press onGlobal Peace Studies, as well as research on the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Arizona/Nogales, Sonora, Mexico for a study on safe spaces in humanitarian crises. As I am fluent in Spanish, collaboration with colleagues at UCA will also be a special pleasure and opportunity to learn new perspectives on humanitarian action from their experiences.
So, it is with a profound sense of mission and purpose that I assume duties to direct the current three-year Teagle Grant. I am excited to work with project teams at Fairfield, Georgetown and UCA to develop models of humanitarian curriculum that will inspire colleges and universities in the United States and other parts of the world.”
The Center is partnering with Georgetown University and the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA, Managua, Nicaragua) on the project ‘Collaborative Project in Student Learning: The Examination of Enduring Questions through Humanitarian Education.’ One of the most significant aspects of the multi-institutional and bi-national design of the grant is the cross-fertilization of ideas for moral and civic education on humanitarianism. Teams from the three universities are developing curricular, extra-curricular and pedagogical approaches to understand and respond to humanitarian needs in local communities and internationally.
To galvanize project learning and cross-campus coherence, the project teams are focusing their efforts around a set of three closely-related, enduring questions: (1) What is human suffering and why does it exist in the world today? (2) What are individual and collective responsibilities for humanity? (3) What can we do about it?
This approach has brought early synergies among the three partners, and also helped to frame the objectives for the second annual workshop held this past August at Georgetown University, led by Dr. Andria Wisler. Highlights of the workshop included an overview of Humanitarian Crises and Migration while other sessions brought new perspectives on Catholic Social Teaching under Pope Francis, as well as training in peace pedagogies.
The Georgetown workshop presented opportunities for team members to engage with the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins,an initiative to bring education to refugees presented by Fairfield alumnus, Reinier Terwindt ’09 (UN Global Compact). Another session introduced the project team members to Catholic Relief Services Global Solidarity Network, an initiative co-presented by Fairfield alumnus Eric Clayton ’11 (CRS, Program Officer, Rice Bowl).
Building on the groundwork established in year one, each campus is pioneering new approaches to humanitarianism and developing a model for its campus. The Fairfield team is creating a Humanitarian Studies minor that will draw on courses in nursing, business, engineering and arts and sciences to equip students with an understanding of the multi-billion dollar humanitarian aid industry and an introduction to core competencies needed to work. UCA plans to develop its own emphasis in humanitarian studies that could help integrate coursework across its core. Georgetown is creating new undergraduate courses relating to crisis migration and humanitarian action that will become part of its newly adopted Peace and Justice studies major.
In year three, team members will travel to UCA in Nicaragua for the final project meeting. Key objectives will be to identify best practices for a JUHAN Toolkit, and strategize means for reporting on grant outcomes and disseminating its curricular models, tools and findings.
It is hard to believe that we are already in the third year of the Teagle Foundation-funded grant Collaborative Project in Student Learning: The Examination of Enduring Questions through Humanitarian Education! It has been a fascinating and stimulating journey as Fairfield University, along with our partner institutions Georgetown and the University of Central America (UCA), Nicaragua, have developed models to equip our students to deal with enduring questions of meaning, value and moral responsibility in relation to humanitarian needs.
One of the greatest strengths of the collaboration has been a greater awareness of how our different institutional and national experiences shape approaches to and understandings of humanitarian action. Is humanitarianism about emergency response, peace and justice, or development work? Does humanitarianism mean working oversees or attending to one’s duties at home and locally? Humanitarian action is anchored in this creative tension. It is very much at the core of enduring questions on human suffering and our individual and collective responsibilities to alleviate them.
Our campus dialogues and learning also raise profound questions about the kind of humanitarian action pedagogy we are developing. Understanding how we are grounding this pedagogy will be an important objective for the third year of the grant. One resource that resonates with our dialogue is the writing of Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest from Spain who lived much of his life in El Salvador, including during this country’s civil war. Ellacuría’s philosophical and theological framework describes a vision for conceptualizing a grounded pedagogy as a way of “taking hold of reality” through three kinds of imperatives: knowledge to grasp reality, an ethical dimension to bear the burden of this reality and action to take responsibility for reality.
The type of JUHAN pedagogy we are developing nurtures the yearning to make a difference that many of our student have. We seek to give that yearning a voice, though tempering its idealism with a grounded practice that will enable students to connect theory and practice, so one informs the other. Thus a shared goal is to develop tools that make a difference and that are transformational. The three enduring questions provide entry points for each institution to develop a humanitarian pedagogy and methodologies for “taking hold of reality” and “bearing its burdens” through reflection, discernment and action.
Last year, our Fairfield University Teagle Advisory Team worked to develop a Humanitarian Action Minor, one of just a few in the country. While approval is ongoing, we are hoping to receive final endorsement of the minor in the fall which integrates learning across nursing, business, engineering, and the arts and sciences to equip students with an understanding of humanitarian assistance, and skills and methods needed in the field. The foundation courses and capstone for the minor will engage the students weekly in enduring questions. This methodology will ground students in self-reflection, moral commitment and ethical action. Service learning in class and immersion experiences at home and abroad will model responses to the needs of vulnerable communities wherever humanitarian needs arise, starting with needs in our own community. The minor is our way to enable Fairfield students, in the words of Ellacuría, “to take hold of reality and bear its burdens.