Lab Courses

The Human Rights Lab offers two seminar courses each academic year to UChicago undergraduate students. The courses are designed to engage students in a deeper understanding of the complex social and political aspects of mass incarceration and racialized policing. 


Autumn 2022: Mixed Enrollment: Narrating Social Change  

CRES/HMRT 
Cathy Cohen (Political Science) and Alice Kim (Pozen Center) 
Consent Required 

This course is a mixed enrollment class which brings UChicago students and incarcerated students together for a quarter of learning, dialogue and knowledge-building across the prison wall. We will examine how individuals, groups, and oppressed communities produce, reproduce and reimagine what equality, justice, agency and freedom mean as they engage in activism for social change. Throughout the quarter, we will explore contemporary and historical examples of people engaging in resistance to oppression. In some cases, people act alone or in small groups to provide themselves with limited agency. In other examples, people work collectively to build organizations and social movements that transform countries. To explore these topics, we will use materials from multiple mediums including film, poetry, memoir, and cultural works.

This is the first time UChicago students will have the opportunity to participate in a mixed enrollment course with incarcerated students at Stateville. (In Spring 2020, we were scheduled to begin a mixed enrollment course when the pandemic shut down classes at Stateville Prison and UChicago pivoted to remote learning). 

Eight to ten UChicago students will be selected for enrollment in the course. If all goes according to plan, the class will be held on Fridays, 10:30-1:15pm at Stateville Correction Center in Crest Hill, Illinois (approximately 40 miles from Hyde Park). For UChicago students, classes may alternate between Stateville and UChicago's Hyde Park campus. 

Traveling to Stateville for class requires a nearly full day commitment from approximately 8am to 3:30pm. Transportation will be provided. 

Eligibility: Undergraduate students who have taken at least two classes in Human Rights and/or Critical Race and Ethnic Studies are eligible to apply. 

An application will be required in advance of Fall 2022 quarter. The application will be available in June. If you have questions about this course, please email the professors. 
 

Autumn 2022 and Winter 2023: Human Rights Research and Writing I and II 

Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Consent Required - This course is designated for Human Rights Lab BA Thesis Fellows 

This course will explore theory, methodology, and trauma-informed approaches to research and writing about the carceral and criminal punishment systems through readings, discussions, workshops and guest speakers. We will think critically about accountability in relation to knowledge building and knowledge-creation. We will also explore how students/scholars can work towards developing a human rights praxis in their research and writing.

This is a non-traditional course built specifically to provide additional guidance and support for your project with specialized training and cohort building activities. The course will be structured so that students can support and learn from one another as they develop their BA projects alongside others who are writing about similar issues. It is not meant to supplant disciplinary BA Thesis writing or methodology courses.

The course will meet 4-5 times Autumn quarter (Human Rights Research and Writing I) and 4-5 times Winter quarter (Human Rights Research and Writing II). 


Spring 2022: Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases

HMRT 22217, CHST 22217, CRES 21217
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue/Thu: 3:30-4:50pm
Consent required 

From 1972 to 1991, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command systematically tortured over 117 Black people in police custody. In May 2015, 43 years after the first known instance of torture, Chicago became the first municipality in the U.S. to provide reparations to those harmed by racially-motivated law enforcement violence, passing legislation for survivors of the Burge police torture regime. This course explores the evolution of decades of community activism and creative organizing undertaken in the Jon Burge torture cases. We will consider the following questions: What do these cases and the activism surrounding them reveal about policing and the criminal legal system? What role did torture survivors and those directly impacted by Burge torture play in struggles for justice? How can we reimagine systems of justice and accountability? How can society reckon with legacies of state violence and their ongoing impact in communities today?
 

Spring 2022: #Justice: Race, Digital Media, & Human Rights Activism

HMRT 23275, HMRT 33275, MAAD 13275
Maria A Dikcis (Pozen Center)
Tue/Thu: 11:00am-12:20pm

How have digital media platforms influenced and motivated recent developments in human rights activism? Can literature, art, and film contribute to political debate and systemic change as much as on-the-ground protest? In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will explore a variety of ways that grassroots activists, writers, artists, and filmmakers have made inventive use of digital media to aid in political struggles for refugee rights, gender equality, environmental justice, police abolition, data protection and privacy, and an economy founded on fair labor practices. We will be especially attuned to how their practices advocate for communities of color and other marginalized groups, who are disproportionately impacted by regimes of surveillance, state violence, and capitalist expansion. In addition to resources and tools created by digital transparency activists, we will examine how cultural practitioners make political interventions and claims with literature, art, media, and other nontraditional forms of engagement. These cultural case studies will include films produced with iPhones and drones that document the global refugee crisis, digital poems concerning discrimination against immigrants, new media art installations that critique algorithm-driven predictive policing, and border-crossing robotic sculptures, among others.
 

Spring 2022: Creating New Anchors: An Introduction to Prison Industrial Complex Abolition

SSAD 62100
Sharlyn Grace (Crown)
Durrell Washington (Crown and Pozen Center)
Thu: 05:30pm-08:20pm 

This intensive seminar will introduce and discuss prison abolition as both a long-term vision and a practical organizing strategy. We will explore the ways in which the criminal punishment system perpetuates a system of violence and fails to address harm and facilitate accountability. We will review examples of abolitionist strategies and movements. We will also examine the connections between abolitionist values and the social work profession's values and ethics. We will attempt to move beyond abolition as a theoretical framework but push to think of the tangible steps to move towards abolition as a praxis.


Spring 2021: Incarceration and Justice

HMRT 22235
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue: 2–4:50 p.m.

This course explores the impact of long-term sentencing practices in Illinois and nationwide. Largely neglected, even amid a robust and ongoing national conversation about mass incarceration, more than 200,000 people are serving life without parole (LWOP) or virtual life sentences in the United States. Current efforts to decarcerate often pit “non-violent offenders” against “violent offenders,” those deserving versus those undeserving of mercy or second chances. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years in South Africa, said: “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” We will deploy Mandela’s standard to explore the long reach of long-term sentencing as we engage multiple mediums (memoir, personal testimony, poetry, film, art) to take an up-close and personal look at the lived experiences of those who have faced long-term removal from their communities into prison and how individuals, groups and communities are challenging what has been termed “death by incarceration.”
 

Winter 2021: Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases

HMRT 22217
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue/Thu: 2–3:20 p.m. 

From 1972 to 1991, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command systematically tortured over 117 Black people in police custody. In May 2015, 43 years after the first known instance of torture, Chicago became the first municipality in the U.S. to provide reparations to those harmed by racially-motivated law enforcement violence, passing legislation for survivors of the Burge police torture regime. This course explores the evolution of decades of community activism and creative organizing undertaken in the Jon Burge torture cases. We will consider the following questions: What do these cases and the activism surrounding them reveal about policing and the criminal legal system? What role did torture survivors and those directly impacted by Burge torture play in struggles for justice? How can we reimagine systems of justice and accountability? How can society reckon with legacies of state violence and their ongoing impact in communities today?


Spring 2020: Mixed Enrollment: Narrating Social Change

HMRT 24205
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Cathy Cohen (Political Science) 
Fri: 10:30 a.m.–1:15 p.m. (Stateville Correctional Center)

This course is a mixed enrollment course which brings UChicago students and incarcerated students together for a quarter of learning, dialogue and knowledge-building across the prison wall. We will examine and analyze narratives in multiple mediums (memoir, poetry, film, art, public memorial, political campaigns, and protest) to explore the role of narrative in social change. How do stories of transformation get documented, told and historicized? What are the dangers of a single story and how can dominant narratives be disrupted? What tools and methods can be deployed to surface previously marginalized lived experiences and truths? How have individuals and communities developed platforms to tell their stories and shape new futures? 

This is the first time a mixed enrollment course is being offered to UChicago students. Eight UChicago students will be selected for enrollment in the course. The class will be held on Fridays, April 3 to June 5, 10:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois (approximately 40 miles from Hyde Park). This course will require a nearly full day commitment, from approximately 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. including transportation, which will be provided. 

Eligibility: Undergraduate students who have taken at least two classes in Human Rights and/or Critical Race and Ethnic Studies are eligible to apply.

A special application is required in advance of Spring Quarter registration. Due to the unique nature of the course, we are conducting an early application process for approval to enroll.

See student projects from this course. 


Autumn 2019: Incarceration and Justice

HMRT 24208
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue: 3:30–6:20 p.m.

This course examines long-term sentencing practices and policies in Illinois and nationwide. Policies implemented in the 1980s and 1990s—particularly life without the possibility of parole, mandatory minimums, and “three strikes and you’re out” laws—contributed to a prison population increase of more than 1.5 million people over the last 30 years. This seminar will explore the impact of these laws and policies, paying special attention to Illinois. In particular, we will explore who is serving life or virtual life sentences, efforts to reverse long-term sentencing policies, and a growing movement to decarcerate.
 

Spring 2019: Art Against the Law

HMRT 27109
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue: 2–4:50 p.m.

Dreams of making a new world have inspired social movements around the world. Borrowing the title from a collection of essays and conversations edited by Rebecca Zorach—Art Against the Law—this course will explore how art-making and other creative practices have been employed to address human rights injustices with an emphasis on issues related to state violence. We will consider how artists and communities have worked together to catalyze public debate and collective action; examine creative forms of protest which have led to policy and legislative changes; and explore the aesthetics, ethics, and strategies of socially-engaged art parties and creative activism. This seminar will host in-class visitors including artists, cultural organizers, and community leaders whose creative work responds to mass incarceration, prison conditions, police violence, war, and empire-building. The class will also visit several local museums and exhibitions on art as a form of activism. 

“Human Rights in World Civilizations 1 or 2” (HMRT 10100/10200); or “Contemporary Issues in Human Rights” (HMRT 21001); or an HMRT-listed elective course is required as a prerequisite. Instructor consent is required. If interested in applying for instructor consent, please contact Director of Human Rights Practice Alice Kim. To obtain consent to enroll, students must bid on the course during preregistration. Undergrads Only.
 

Winter 2019: The Chicago Police Torture Cases, Reparations, and Human Rights Practice

HMRT 26315
Alice Kim (Pozen Center)
Tue: 3:30–6:20 p.m.

Through community-based learning, students will explore the evolution of decades of activism, advocacy, litigation, and investigative journalism undertaken in the Chicago police torture cases. From 1972 to 1991, former police commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command systematically tortured over 117 African Americans in police custody. In May 2015, 43 years after the first known instance of torture, Chicago became the first municipality in the U.S. to provide reparations to those harmed by racially-motivated law enforcement violence, passing legislation for survivors of the Burge police torture regime.

We will consider the following questions: What do these cases reveal about policing and the criminal legal system? What roles did the state, local government, international fora, NGOs, local communities, and those directly impacted by Burge torture play in the Chicago police torture cases? How can we reimagine systems of justice and accountability? How can society reckon with legacies of state violence and their ongoing impact in communities today?

The seminar will host in-class visitors who were directly involved in advocacy efforts as well as practitioners working in related fields. Students will read a range of writings by legal scholars, activists, historians, journalists, torture survivors, and artists; view films, videos, and socially-engaged artworks; and visit the Chicago Torture Justice Center and other community sites. Students will complete a project related to the work of a Chicago-based organization working to address police violence.