Humanitarian Challenges: Global Innovations and Initiatives

  • Concert for Humanitarian Challenges Students
    Concert for Humanitarian Challenges Students


The Humanitarian Challenges seminars introduce students to global citizenship, the challenges that face societies in our contemporary world, and approaches of both thought and action that address these challenges. "Humanitarian" by definition implies promoting human welfare, social justice, and human rights. "Challenges" refers to the obstacles that block the achievement of those ideals. We’ll gain an appreciation of ties that bind us to people in other contexts and societies. We will explore humanitarian dilemmas resulting from natural disasters, the refugee crisis, the challenges of human rights for children and aging populations, issues of racism, discrimination and economic distortions, and the opportunities, dangers and constraints of technology. The lives and efforts of great humanitarian activists and initiatives of the 20th century revive our faith in the future as we confront environmental hazards, threats to human dignity, and social inequality. Our sources range from literature, poetry, music, and film to spiritual texts, biographies and humanitarian policies. Throughout our courses and weekly programs we will explore means of advocacy, modes of dissent, models of civic mobilization, and possibilities for change.


Cultural Anthropology 190FS/ Public Policy 190FS — MAKING YOUR CASE: Advocacy for Change.  (SS, CCI)

Ingrid Bianca Byerly, Senior Lecturing Fellow and Research Scholar, Cultural Anthropology and Public Policy

How did Mandela defuse an audience of critics with a single speech? How can Tibetan monk meditation be seen as a form of cultural advocacy? What did a Vietnamese pop star do to masterfully sustain and blend the traditional and contemporary music of his homeland?

Effective advocacy is essential in achieving humanitarian goals. This course will explore the theoretical and practical elements of advocacy; especially in relation to pressing humanitarian challenges. We explore public policy issues, and focus on global crises to identify not only your own cause for change, but for the way in which to ‘make your case’ for change. While the focus is on efficient oral communication and effective presentation skills (both in large public speaking environments, and in smaller interactive exchanges), stress is also given to ethics in decision-making, considerations of cultural sensitivity and awareness of global codes of conduct. In the development of any compelling arguments, thoughtful considerations have to be afforded any debate and written expositions for presentation that will have potential effects on others, so emphasis is placed inter-cultural sensitivity, variable codes of conduct, and the human dimensions of the communication process; vocal intonation, body behavior, audience evaluation, focus, control, distraction, and self-awareness.

Advocating for Change explores public advocacy, empowering students to speak up for causes they care about. Tracing different forms of activism across diverse eras and cultures, the course explores the mechanics of successful social movements, including effective public speaking strategies, cultural nuances, and personal charisma.

The course is geared towards students interested in entering the public or political arena, those interested in investing their skills and passions in NGO’s or charitable ventures, and those spearheading initiatives towards global change. For experienced speakers and novices alike, the discussion-based course emphasizes self-reflection and growth. The most important things you learn will be about yourself. 

Cultural Anthropology 190FS — TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE and SCIENTIFIC INITIATIVES: Approaches towards Social Change (CZ, SS, CCI, EI, STS)

Richard Collier, Visiting Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Archivist at Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History

Science and technology are not simply instrumental additions to our public and private lives, “gifts” as it were to make our lives more enjoyable, more efficient, more convenient, more everything. The institutions of scientific practice and the products and processes of technological development do not come to us free of value, insulated from the political, social and cultural debates and struggles that define our daily existence, but are themselves reflections of those debates and struggles, as well as the fears and aspirations present in society. There is an ongoing need to examine the relationship between society and technology, and of the ways that technology serves to mediate our relationships with the outside world, other people, and ourselves.  Visual media from Metropolis to Twilight Zone to The Matrix have posed questions, concerns and criticisms of technological control and the status of technology in daily human life. It is an especially complex task, for technology, whether seen as the sum of our practical knowledge of the world, artisan skills, or the totality of the human-created world, saturates our existence and touches all our personal, social, institutional, and material relations. It bears on us, but at the same time it is there as a potential ally in our efforts to manage our lives and improve the conditions of our existence. Each encounter spins us out into a labyrinth of processes and histories. 

Our world is defined for us by finite resources, fragile ecosystems, debilitating diseases, competing or conflicting interests, and unequal access. Wherever we turn, we can find individuals and groups employing the tools of science and technology to address concerns over human welfare, to work for community change, advocate for new ideas or programs, or to improve the quality of life of a community’s members. Viewed from that perspective, science and technology comprise many of the tools and resources that can be focused to address humanitarian struggles for the betterment of human welfare and a more equitable distribution of resources. To become aware of and to recognize how social actors come to view science and technology as viable, strategic, even necessary components in their work for community welfare and improvement is critical to an understanding of communities themselves.

Documentary Studies 153FS/ Cultural Anthropology 153FS/ International Comparative Studies 153FS—Borderline Humans (How Walls and Bridges Define Us) (CZ, SS, CCI, EI)

Charles Thompson, Professor of the Practice of Cultural Anthropology and Documentary Studies at Duke University

Focus on the border/frontera: a scar, a divide, a wall between friendly nations, a challenge for policy-makers, a line of demarcation for human rights abuses, a law enforcement nightmare, a pass-through for trade and NAFTA, a net for the poor. Study history, culture, policy, creative writing and art about the only border dividing two nations with such disparity in wealth. Look at the issue as it relates to Mexican farm workers and their work in U.S. fields. Think about solutions together. Learn what this all means for the future of the United States and how its citizens define themselves. Know where you stand along this deadly line in the sand. Students will engage in a service-learning project related to immigrant laborers and will conduct

Faculty Director

Ingrid Bianca Byerly
Ingrid Bianca Byerly
  • Senior Lecturing Fellow and Research Scholar in the Department of Cultural Anthropology
Campus Box: 
(919) 684-5012