Winning political asylum for a woman fleeing persecution in Cameroon? That’s quite the homework assignment. Yet that’s what Tina Phillips and Grace Gallagher accomplished after taking the Human Rights, Human Wrongs class taught by Susan Dicklitch, associate dean of the College and director of the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
As part of the course, students work in teams on human rights cases, gathering information and interviewing subjects in an attempt to build a case for asylum. Gallagher and Phillips were assigned the case of a Cameroon woman who had been imprisoned and assaulted for her part in the Social Democratic Front, the main opposition to the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement. “It was hard at times,” Phillips says, “to accept the reality of the situation.”
Gallagher felt similarly overwhelmed by the task. “When we sifted through the documents, it was hard not to doubt justice would be done.” The students met the woman and talked with her numerous times on the phone. They read through hundreds of pages of material on Cameroon and helped draft an affidavit and legal memo for lawyers. As “case workers,” they were following in the footsteps of students who had worked with this refugee in a previous class.
Their work paid off when the woman was granted asylum—the highest possible form of protection for a refugee. Phillips and Gallagher were ecstatic, and so was Dicklitch, who created the course so that students could come to know what it felt like to have a meaningful impact on a life.
“How can you not be transformed?” she asks. “You’re coming face to face with people your own age, who’ve gone through incredible experiences. The course shows students they can make a difference.”