I took the online intensive version of this class, but Professor Widney Brown planned it out and executed it so well that it didn't seem exhaustingly intensive. She is extremely intelligent, well-spoken, kind, understanding, and genuinely the best professor I've had at Columbia. She was new to being a sole professor, but she was very composed and organized. She has an insane amount of experience and pays careful and deliberate attention to the words that she uses, such as refusing to call incarcerated peoples "criminals" because "no one should be reduced to the worst thing they've done in the lowest point in their life." The final paper that we wrote for the class was one on a topic of our own choice, and she made sure to individually meet with all 60 students to give feedback on our drafts and advice. She is a fair grader and is just... amazing. I cannot recommend any class that she teaches enough.
I really enjoyed this class. Widney is a radical, intelligent, and compassionate person who gives great feedback and facilitates really rich discussion. Widney made sure that the discussion was respectful of all people while challenging us to discuss uncomfortable topics. She helped me to redefine the concept of human rights as I understood it and she has an adorable dog.
(I took intensive and remote 2020) I would definitely recommend this class! Lots of discussion on a variety of topics, Professor Brown always has fascinating anecdotes and is extremely empathetic, and the class was broken up well into lectures, discussion, and break. The final paper worth 50% of the grade was stressful, but she gave opportunities for feedback and discussion so it wasn't that bad.
This was the most imperial and neocolonial class I have ever taken at Barnard/Columbia. I genuinely want to save any first year from ever taking this class because the overriding message of the entire course was that Third World Countries commit the most violence and are in need of Western countries to go in and change them. The class completely lacked in any critical analysis of human rights as a field / justification for Western imperialism, and completely lacked in tying violence that happens around the world to the human rights abuses of Western civilization. My TA literally asked me once what the American military should do about a conflict between a government in a Southeast Asian country and the indigenous people that live there - as if he was advocating that the American military should enter into the conflict. If you are taking or thinking about taking this class, please do not trust the readings or the professor. HIs framework is ultimately oriented around imperialism and white supremacy, even though he's a nice guy.
Oh lord, what a wonderfully useless class. I'm the type of person that goes to every class, reads every homework assignment and takes copious lecture notes, but, after the midterm, I hardly went to class, didn't do a SINGLE reading after the midterm (not one, I swear) and didn't take even a page of notes and got an A-. That's because your midterm and final are (in-class) open-internet. Yes. Open-internet. As in, he gives you some questions and you google it (aka, Wikipedia, which is allowed) and answer them. You're not even expected to use class readings because, as prof. Martin stresses, he's not interested in "what you know," he's interested in "how you think." Additionally, the two short papers that you have to write don't relate to the readings either. Human rights majors, this class is a gift to you, as it counts for your intro class. On the other hand, it's a complete and utter waste of time if you know even the basics about human rights and the UN. I mean, really, for the second half of the semester, "homework" consisted of links to websites that gave outlines of human rights topics (not even readings?) as well as REPEATS of readings that we already did. Really a huge waste of time, but also an easy A.
The way that Prof Martin conducted this class was appalling. The review before mine was right- he teaches from a neoliberal white savior complex point of view that can sometimes be so naive and offensive that I have to get up and leave class to take a breath and come back. He has referred to Africa, ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, as an entire country. Apparently he did field work in several countries there, however he failed to recognize the distinct differences between countries, cultures, and the human rights violations/concerns that different countries deal with. On another note, the class itself, despite his disgusting rhetoric, is unorganized and a waste of time. The way he goes over the readings is terrible; he essentially just reads through the whole text and calls it a discussion because he asks a few arbitrary questions that no one wants to answer- you might as well not read beforehand. I don't. I have an A in the class.. The only reason I did well on the midterm was because of the definition sheet he put on the syllabus. No, he did not go over most of these definitions in class. I taught myself through google and the text book. Which reminds me-- the textbook is written from the same white, privileged, naive, ignorant perspective that Prof. Martin teaches from. If you'd like to learn what it's like to live inside the head of an old British man who was a former missionary (yes, missionary) in Africa who only wears monochrome corduroy suits, this class is for you. If you want to have an engaging, interesting class that discusses the nuances of the current HR structures in place in the modern world, stay the fuck away. Do not take this class. After the first few weeks most people just stopped showing up because he simply stands in front of the class blathering on about random texts he reads off of the internet and the poor little people in Africa. THIS CLASS IS AN ABSOLUTE WASTE OF TIME. YOU HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO.
This class was literally terrible. If you're interested in neoliberal, white savior complex human rights, then go ahead and take this class. I feel like John Martin doesn't know anything about human rights and that if I studied international law for a year I could do as good or better of a job. The TA doesn't know anything about human rights either - he's a lawyer and he said he was asked 3 weeks before the class started if he wanted to TA it. I literally did not learn anything of value the entire semester. John Martin's viewpoints are so limited and watered down, I find myself constantly confused by what he's saying and can't imagine that ideas would improve anyones life besides rich white people.
This is not the type of course you should just jump into without consideration. Firstly, if you do not know much about Human Rights, you will inevitably end up doing a lot of research on the side about major human rights crises, the UN, and current HR happenings in general. Particularly around the midterm and final, this course becomes very time-consuming because of this. Secondly, it can become a bit overwhelming (and thus, depressing) because the course covers many aspects of human rights: everything from conflict resolution/peace-building to maternal health to the structure of the UN. I find it to be very important that students are educated about human rights issues and what our world faces, but the course sometimes seemed to be without a concrete focus and we never knew what we would (or sometimes, would not) get out of each class. In other words, it was unpredictable, so if you are looking to learn something concrete or specific about HR, you should probably go into this course with much more of an open mind. Finally, as other reviewers have suggested, Professor Martin is very committed to providing students with opportunites for interships and networking. I really, really appreciated this, but it does take up large chunks of some class times. Also, if you plan to meet with him outside of class, he wants to know you as a person and will end up discussing career and internship options more than the actual course material, so be prepared for that. For more HR- specific questions, go to the TA. I read the CULPA review before taking this course and almost didn't take it. In retrospect, I'm still not sure it was the best idea. I ended up learning quite a bit, but still feel overwhelmed by the world of human rights. I have actually seen people from this class shedding tears about the midterm and final multiple times, so like I said, just be sure you know what you're getting into when you choose this course. Professor Martin is an amazing person, but perhaps not the best professor for this intro level course. Just be sure you really want to be there, and if you're unsure, I'd recommend taking this course as Pass/D/Fail.
I love this class, and I love Professor Martin. Provided, I'm a human rights major but that is in large part because of this class. I find him engaging to listen to, and he brings in guest speakers. I think his emphasis on the practical is really important since human rights can be a depressing topic. I appreciate that he is trying to teach us HOW to fix these problems, and not just telling us that they exist.
Before you go on to read this scathing review and assume that the person who wrote it is probably just mad she got a bad grade, know that I got an A in this class. That said, this was the worst class I have so far taken at Barnard. The readings were massive, often totally repetitive (I found myself one day taking notes on a reading that I realized we had already done), and usually were left undiscussed in lectures. Lectures themselves were almost half the time taught by "guest speakers," which is a cool idea in THEORY but not so much in PRACTICE, as they were often redundant, the speakers having no clue as to what we had covered, and even less of a clue as to what we were reading at the time. Every now and then we would get a particularly experienced or engaging one and that was gratifying, but too rarely. In terms of Professor Martin, I was very disappointed. The aim of the class was far too ambitious in my opinion: he wanted to give a broad and general view of human rights in theory and practice, but the reality was that the class wound up being all over the place, erratically honing in on random specific events, bureaucratic proceedings, and careers, and at other times trying to cover wide, abstract notions of philosophy and history. As a lecturer I found him boring and repetitive. My sense was that his TA did all the grading, the writing of questions for essays as well as for the midterm and final, and that was a whole other disaster in and of itself. Though the TA was nice and well meaning she gave us essay prompts like: "Where do human rights come from?" and then scolded us as a class of a hundred when EVERYONE got a bad grade because, according to her, people "misunderstood" the prompt. Our second paper was no better, asking the question "Can international law work well enough?" WELL ENOUGH FOR WHAT?? People did better on that essay... for some reason. Our midterm questions, though we thankfully got them ahead of time, were also poorly-phrased, erratic, and repetitive in content, and due to the fact that most people got 95% or higher on the midterm, Martin instructed the TA that she was not to give us the questions for the final. By the way: I AM APPALLED AT WHAT HE DID FOR THE FINAL. Though the class had minimally covered UN procedures and structure, in the final study meeting that the TA held she told us that pretty much the entirety of the final would be on that. We would be asked questions that would require us to know the most minute details of "treaty bodies" (a term I had never before heard), various treaties, a particular NGO of our choice, all the Human Rights organs of the UN, and a variety of other UN tidbits that WE HAD NEVER COVERED IN CLASS. Oddly enough, there was an 100-paged chapter in one of our books that contained most of this material but it WAS NEVER ASSIGNED. I can't even articulate my frustration when the final required me to go two days without sleep doing additional research when I had already done all of the readings and attended all lectures. DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. I kicked ass on the final simply because I became a robot for the two days before it just to spite Martin because I heard he had made it so "hard" (more like impossibly unpredictable) because too many people had "high grades." convinced?
I have mixed feelings about this class, and I'm not sure the 9 am time slot helps much. Professor Martin definitely has a lot of experience in the field, and he wants to teach, but he seems overly career-oriented, always talking about internships and telling guest speakers to tell us how to get internships, etc., which takes away from the class at times. When he lectures, he doesn't really talk as much about the theory aspect of Human Rights as we do the practice, but practice from the practitioner's perspective and not the victims'. Human Rights courses are notoriously hard to teach, though, and so I don't think I can blame him completely. One problem I had with the class, however, was that he left on some Columbia Alumni trip for over 2 weeks, leaving the class in the hands of the TA, who basically runs the class anyway. He could put in a little more effort overall. Now, the good part. Every week, Martin lectured one day, and we had a "practitioner" the other day. This was an amazing set up for the class, I think. We heard about real life experiences from a variety of sources, from a Turkish lawyer fighting for civil liberties to a Human Rights Watch worker who detailed sexual violence in Cote d'Ivoire. Every speaker was absolutely enlightening. The class was worth it for the chance to hear these people speak alone.