Camellia Travels the World: Sociology Research 101

January 10, 2020

Throughout the semester, each of us picks an aspect of Human Rights and conducts an individual research project with the guidance and help from our faculty and country coordination teams. The project is a qualitative sociology research, and it is very different from any other research that I have done in college. Besides literature review and online resources, we are asked to hold interviews with locals and professionals to learn more about specific cases in each country. And at the end of the semester, we share our work with each other. To tell you the truth, this is a very long journey and a hard one; step by step, I slowly developed my project and dived deep into my thoughts…

Firstly, I have to narrow my interests to one aspect of Human Rights that I am passionate about. After days of thinking, I started my project with “comparison of public and private schools,” analyzing quality of education in different countries. At the personal level, I see the difference between public and private education within my own family: my brother has always been educated in public school system in China, and I have been attending private schools in both China and the United States. On a national level, I notice the rise of private school system in China, and I am curious about the causes and the differences. Thus, I would like to learn about the education system across the world, and thus, reflect on my own case.

When I thought my topic was specific enough and was confident about my project, my professor posed many challenging questions. Out of all, the most critical issue is that it is obvious that private education is generally better than a public one; therefore, how could I make my project more unique and argumentative? Going beyond the evident inequalities regarding entrance to and the outcome of the education system, what do these differences imply? And how these differences affect the future of children?

With numerous questions in mind, I looked for the commonalities among three countries’ education system, and finally, I decided to address the inequality of language education in public and private schools. To be more precise, I focused on English learning in schools, because English has been used as an international language for communication and in academia, and thus, English learning becomes prevalent and significant for most parts of the world. I understand the importance of English, as I am a beneficiary of good language education.

 

During the final few weeks of the program, I spent hours at a café going through my notes and working on this project.

 

Yet, I still ran into a wall: how is English learning related to human rights? How can I justify the importance of language education when facing the call for language justice? Indeed, language justice is a human rights movement, fighting for equity of all languages and building multilingual spaces. I support the initiative, and I strongly believe there is no “superior language.” Then, why is language education so prevalent across the world? Is it just for global education and neoliberalism? Is there any other use of language education?

Again, I spent days at this bottleneck period, until I saw a video of Gayatri Spivak discussing English as a “tool of the masters”; by acquiring this tool, teachers can “make elite and subaltern meet.” She uses herself as an example, describing her role as an English teacher in India and how she and her students “defeated the English by loving the language.” Learning English is not an act of surrendering to the masters, but rising and speaking as the subalternity. At that moment, I finally found the connection for my research project: language learning is a tool utilized by people to demand and protect their human rights; it is to give them the power of speech and expression and let their voices be heard and understood on the world’s stage.

With this belief in mind, I argued that guaranteeing equitable language education in public education is to equip lower socioeconomic class and marginalized groups with a tool to rise to the stage with the elites, to articulate the violation of rights they have been in, and to protect human rights by themselves.

This is my first time doing a sociology research project, and as you can see, I had many moments of frustration and periods of stagnation. To me, this project has witnessed my progress, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to scrutinize one topic and develop my critical thinking and research skills.

All my thanks and love to this funky and funny, relaxed and resourceful professor that helped me throughout this semester.


Camellia Travels the World: Human Rights vs. human rights

September 13, 2019

It has been a week since the program started, and we have been contemplating the concept of “Human Rights” vs. “human rights”. In short, Human Rights is a regime of governance working to advance it from the top-down level, while human rights is an array of struggles against oppression from the bottom-up. This is the guiding rubric of our whole journey; we do not only compare countries and their human rights issues, but also learn different forces that promote and defend human rights.

For that purpose, we are constantly dipping our toes into both waters, and I have to say, I am caught in a maze by the diverse range of organizations and their fascinating works fighting for human rights from all levels:

These are our “classrooms.” On the left is the renowned LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, and on the right is a multi-purposed building called Mayday Space in Brooklyn. Even though both buildings are associated with human rights, there is a distinctive disparity of influence and resources.

Visits for Human Rights. We paid a visit to the U.S. Mission to the UN, speaking with a senior adviser of Human Rights and Social Affairs and learning the U.S. efforts on promoting Human Rights around the world. We went to the office of elected officials, studying their contribution for the people of their districts; we talked with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, learning their specific work in defending Human Rights as International NGOs. Apart from these organizations who directly lobby for Human Rights, there is one organization that astounded me. Witness is an organization that teaches and uses the power of video and technology to promote and defend Human Rights. It does not directly lobby for human rights, but they help others to produce more effective videos and avoid potential harm. The group has offices around the world and its work consists of three layers: on the ground with activists, working as guidance for movements, and connecting with big tech platforms. Besides their unique approach for advocating human rights, their ethics impressed me as well. As we were talking about blurring faces in videos in order to protect victims and activists, our speaker also brought up the issue of privacy of perpetrators: should Human Rights apply to all humans, even if one is a violator or abuser of these Rights? This is a very complicated question to ponder. (To learn more about Witness: https://www.witness.org/).

The Twitter Post of U.S. Mission to the UN about our visit.

Visits for human rights. We met with many grassroots activists and organizations fighting for different rights, criminal justice, labor rights, economic justice for Jews, and housing justice. To explore more about grassroots organizations and their work, we were invited to a celebration dinner for housing justice at Mayday Space. We met many organization leaders who fought for new rent laws in New York. For many years, the tenants of NYC had been suffering from landlords’ violation of rights for just housing: shortly-posted evictions, constant rent increases, high deposits, inadequate repair services, and so on. They had been suffering for twelve years, and finally, they won the battle. After months of demonstration outside of the capitol and sixty-two people mass arrests, they have changed the rent laws. One elder lady also told us an anecdote of her victory: “A few of us went to the landlord’s house on a Sunday morning. We knocked on his door, and after a few minutes, he opened the door without checking who is outside. Then, we handed him an eviction notice. He was so mad, and he called the police. We ran to the yard and stuck the eviction notice everywhere onto the fence before the cops got here.” The event truly showed the solidarity of communities; the group is very diverse: different age groups, different races, different languages, etc. Yet, they united to fight for their own rights as well as all the tenants of New York. (To learn more about new rent laws in New York: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/nyregion/rent-laws-new-york.html). I am truly inspired by their courage and action to challenge the system and gain their rights.

Even though it has only been one week of learning and unlearning, I am overwhelmed by the depth we have gotten into, and I am grateful for all the opportunities to talk with different organizations and workers dedicated to human rights. This is truly an experience one can never get in a classroom. Alright, one week done, fifteen more to go!

Parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.


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