Unique to Stanford: Global Studies and Human Rights minors

Jan. 24, 2019, 12:02 a.m.

This article is the second in a series examining unique concentrations at Stanford. 

Over the past four years, the Stanford Global Studies (SGS) Division of the School of Humanities and Sciences welcomed two new undergraduate academic degree plans offered only as minors. These programs — the Global Studies minor and the Human Rights minor — provide central academic structures for students with interdisciplinary interests in global social affairs.  


Global Studies

Before the Global Studies minor was established, SGS Executive Director Katherine Kuhns said, the Center for African Studies and Center for Latin American Studies each offered their own minor. In autumn 2015, the Global Studies minor was created to bring these two areas as well as four new ones — Islamic Studies, Iranian Studies, European Studies and South Asian Studies — under a unified minor of six total sub-plans.

The minor focuses on an area-studies approach that dives into the culture, history and language of a particular region. In this way, Global Studies differs from international relations, which approaches the world through a broader, nation-state lens.

Students pursuing the Global Studies minor must take 28 units as well as a capstone seminar and presentation. Three of these units come from the gateway course GLOBAL101: “Critical Issues in Global Affairs,” and the rest come from the student’s chosen sub-plan.

“We really rethought GLOBAL101 and how to make that more meaningful to students and give them a broader exposure to global issues,” Kuhns said. “So bringing in more case studies from different regions of the world … and being more nimble to be able to reflect on things happening in real time in the world.”

According to Kuhns, the Global Studies program currently has over 20 enrolled students with a cohort of around three to six students in each regional sub-plan. The program is now focusing on building a sense of community among the students across all of the sub-plans.

Kuhns added that the program is also considering an additional, self-designed sub-plan for students interested in multiple area studies.

“One of the things we’ve heard from several students is that they would love to do a dual minor, in a way,” she said. “One of the things we’ve discussed possibly doing would be … to create a kind of a ‘create-your-own’ sub-plan so that students could look across the sub-plans to say they want to take a little bit from here and a little bit from here to create something that’s meaningful for them.”

The minor also encourages students to study or intern abroad. Each summer, the Global Studies Internship Program offers eight to 10-week internship programs in about 32 different countries. Many students enrolled in the minor get priority consideration for internship applications.


Human rights

Students can earn a minor in Human Rights by completing both a minimum of 25 units in Human Rights-related coursework and a capstone project. Introduced by the Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice in 2016, the interdisciplinary program provides an academic structure for students interested in Human Rights by offering advising opportunities and helping students find relevant courses.

In addition to the myriad of pre-existing courses with human rights subject matter across Stanford’s departments, 12 new HUMRTS courses have been created following the launch of the minor. Several of these classes were made possible by SGS course innovation grants and have travel and overseas components.

“It’s been exciting to see the level of student interest in the minor and to see the richness of course offerings that exist for students,” said Penelope Van Tuyl, Handa Center Associate Director. “By having the capstone requirement and the advising we provide through the minor program, we help students reflect on curricular and extracurricular experiences together and craft a course of study that … really helps them imagine what it could be to pursue a career in human rights through a lot of different pathways.”

According to Handa Center Senior Program Manager Jessie Brunner, the Human Rights minor has grown from three seniors in its first year to 24 this year. Current students in the minor span 17 different majors across the schools on campus.

While the degree is only available as a minor, Brunner explained that such an arrangement is beneficial as it allows for a diverse range of student interests and specialties.

“One of the reasons we like it as a minor is that it pulls in all these students who have diverse majors to bring in that expertise,” she said. “If it were a major, they wouldn’t have the time to develop all that other expertise and thematic and disciplinary toolkits to bring to bear on a very cross-cutting, interdisciplinary issue like human rights.”

Harika Kottakota ’20, who is majoring in biology and minoring in both Human Rights and Global Studies with the African Studies specialization, emphasized the flexibility of the minors as well as the community of students they provide.

“I’ve been able to meet people outside my major and been able to get a better sense of all the things that are actually happening in the international world and how many different ways there are to actually help the world,” she said.

Since its inception, the human rights minor has also sought to rethink and revise its gateway course HUMRTS101: “Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights Theory and Practice,” which introduces students to both the subject of human rights and the ways students can explore human rights at Stanford.

Van Tuyl, who teaches HUMRTS101, said that the constant revision of the class is an attempt to manage growing interest while maintaining the intimacy of a seminar environment. She plans to work with the Vice Provost Office for Teaching and Learning to consider implementing a flipped classroom model for the gateway class next year, in which students would watch lecture content outside of class and use in-class time for critical thinking exercises and discussions.

The human rights minor program also has a Student Advisory Board that engages with the Handa Center to help shape the next stages of programming.

“We do a lot of two-way communication with our student community,” Van Tuyl said. “We want [the minor] to be a response to what is meaningful and needed for the student community, and we want to meet students where they are and help them the best way we can for advising and with providing courses if there are gaps in things they are looking for on campus.”

Kottakota expressed appreciation for the staff running both minors.

“They actually really care about how their students are doing, how their studies are actually impacting their lives and what they’re learning from the experience,” she said.


Contact Michelle Leung at mleung2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Michelle Leung '22 is a writer for the Academics beat. She comes from Princeton, NJ and enjoys taking photos, making paper circuit cards and drinking tea with friends. Contact her at mleung2 'at' stanford.edu.

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