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. 


Spring 2020: Mixed Enrollment: Narrating Social Change

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.

Application Deadline: Monday, January 27, 4 p.m. 


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.