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Students Gain Hands-on Practice in Human Rights Advocacy in International Education Course


“International Studies in Human Rights Education and Activism” focuses on the role of stories, narrative, and bearing witness in human rights practice.

Two students standing at a collection table outside at NYU holding a flyer that says "School Drive"

An International Education course at NYU Steinhardt is giving students hands-on experience understanding how different approaches to human rights in varied educational settings may or may not facilitate change.

“Each year we focus on a particular right covered in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to adequate housing and medical care,” says Heddy Lahmann, clinical assistant professor and deputy director of international education, who teaches “International Studies in Human Rights Education and Activism.” “This year focused on the right to health, and as part of that students interviewed people in New York City about their experiences with the healthcare system.”

The interviews from Lahmann’s class are also serving a larger purpose as part of a collaboration with NYU Steinhardt’s Verbatim Performance Lab and Theatre and Health Lab. Together, these two entities are participating in the NYC Health Equity Project to explore the experiences of people living and working in New York City who have encountered discrimination in accessing and receiving healthcare. 

Human rights can be a lot of talk but not a lot of action, and this class pushed us to take that step to act on what we’re learning and give people resources to empower themselves.

Elianne del Campo ’23, Educational Leadership, Politics, and Advocacy master's student

“Students' engagement with the NYC Health Equity Project, which requires them to conduct interviews according to a unique style and methodology, pushes them to gather, observe, and listen to human stories in a way that disrupts their assumptions,” says Lahmann. “The deep, attentive listening to others that they do with this collaboration really drives them to develop their own thoughtful and intentional advocacy projects.”

In the second half of the semester, students worked in groups to design and implement original projects to support the right to health. One example is the student-created NYC Health Buddy, a digital tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help immigrants navigate New York City’s healthcare system.

“NYC Health Buddy is an AI copilot that will be available in PC and mobile phone to provide live guidance and translation in more than 25 languages,” says Javiera “Javi” Zamora Iturra (MA ’23, International Education). “It is designed to help people understand their rights as well as the costs of and healthcare access options, regardless of their insurance or documentation status.”

This group of students received a startup grant from Microsoft Startups Founders Hub to develop the tool. They have already presented NYU Health Buddy to the leadership at NYC Health + Hospitals, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and NYC Care and plan to fully launch the app this spring.

Two students presenting to a classroom, standing next to a monitor that reads "Mental Health Wellness & Awareness"

Another student group co-led a mental health wellness seminar with a local nonprofit, Northern Manhattan Institute, at a school in the Bronx to support newly arrived migrant children and their parents. The seminar connected families to free resources, such as English lessons and help with immigration documents and housing applications.

“The course was all about empowerment and helping other communities, and a big emphasis was placed on we don’t have to do something huge to make a difference in a human rights capacity,” says Elianne del Campo ’23, who is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Politics, and Advocacy at Steinhardt. “Human rights can be a lot of talk but not a lot of action, and this class pushed us to take that step to act on what we’re learning and give people resources to empower themselves.”

Other student projects included an event in NYU’s Kimmel Center in collaboration with the Brooklyn Community Pride Center and the NYU LGBTQ+ Center to distribute HIV at-home test kits and information; and a collaboration with the International Rescue Committee to create an information pamphlet and infographic detailing healthcare resources available to unhoused migrants in New York City, which has been translated into six languages.

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