The latest batch of posts from the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Global Human Rights Scholars Rights Writers is posted for the month of March. The monthly series of articles written by Duke students focuses on six different human rights topics, each chosen by the author.
For Duke students Saheel Chodavadia and Julie Williams, a recent competition has further spurred interest to help refugees around the world after Kenan Institute for Ethics’ programs first got them thinking globally.
The pair were part of two Duke teams at the Hult Prize competition, a collegiate social entrepreneurship contest held March 2 to 5 in Boston. During their time at the event, Chodavadia and Williams networked with peers from a variety of different countries, heard from leaders of non-profit organizations and shared their own ideas for how technology has the potential to positively impact vulnerable populations.
The Hult Prize Foundation, which provides start-up funding for its contest, had teams present ideas to help “restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022.”
“Being surrounded by so much knowledge and so many creative solutions, it shows you that there are incredible people ready to do great things in the world,” said Williams, whose team, REconomy, built an app to better integrate resettled refugees into new economies.
REconomy’s idea came after Williams and teammate Sanjeev Dasgupta traveled to Jordan in 2016 with the Kenan Institute’s DukeImmerse program to work with refugees. Chodavadia, who has participated in Kenan’s Refugee Project and Focus and MASTERY programs, was part of Sawiana Enterprises, a team working to create an app to connect refugees to share skills, like cooking, and interests, like starting a business
While a team from Rutgers University won top prize at the competition, Williams and Chodavadia said the lasting impact from the trip will be the way they think about how they can help those in need elsewhere in the world. A big part of that, they said, is having more face-to-face time with refugee populations to understand what daily needs are like to better tailor solutions to help them.
“Based on what they say and what you learn, you can find a solution to empower them, not just help them,” Chodavadia said. “Whenever I do something at Duke, I want to do it because I see a problem. With refugees, I want to help them because they tell me what their problem is.”
Williams echoed the sentiment, noting that interactions she had with refugees through DukeImmerse taught her about the need for sustainable solutions, not just quick fixes.
“What can we provide,” she said, “so that people can provide for themselves.”
Despite not winning the Hult Prize competition, both the REconomy and Sawiana Enterpreises teams will continue to seek funding for their projects.
The latest batch of posts from the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Global Human Rights Scholars Rights Writers is posted for the month of February. The monthly series of articles written by Duke students focuses on six different human rights topics, each chosen by the author.
From covering the death of a Chicago teen to the importance of ethical policing, Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Practitioner-in-Residence Jamie Kalven covered an array of topics related to government accountability during a public lecture as part of Kenan’s “Cover-ups and Exposés” series Feb. 8.
Kalven, who won a 2015 George Polk Award for Local Reporting after breaking the story of Laquan McDonald’s death, spent time on campus meeting with students and faculty discussing issues of accountability, abuse, impunity and institutional denial. During his talk, Kalven examined the cultural and moral implications of each topic through the lens of his reporting. What he found in recent years, he said, are questionable behaviors ingrained “in the DNA” of the institutions created to help Americans, from aspects of racism to shielding those in power.
“The process of building more credible and transparent systems has only partially advanced,” he said. “The challenge now is to figure out how to heal. To do it without lying about the realities. To do it without receding from intermittent clarity about underlying systemic conditions.”
Kalven saw this difficulty first-hand in his uncovering of McDonald’s death. In October 2014, Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times, but it wasn’t until Kalven successfully issued a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain McDonald’s autopsy report that the narrative created by the department became clear. In the following months, Kalven learned how officers worked to lead witness reports and craft a story implying that McDonald was responsible for his own death. Through his reporting, Kalven found the opposite occurred, and before Van Dyke shot McDonald, the teen was acting calmly with first responders.
“What becomes apparent at this point is what the investigators are doing as their essential function, as they understand it, is actually not to figure out what happened, it’s to figure out how to justify what happened,” Kalven said. “That orientation is so strong it raises the possibility that the gravitational field of institutional imperatives is so powerful that they don’t actually see the wrongdoing. What they’re contending with is a problem to be solved in the interests of the institution.”
In the aftermath of uncovering the truth behind McDonald’s death, city leadership created the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired and thousands of pages of government emails were released, showing a concerted effort among officials and administrators to create a unified narrative of the incident.
Kalven warned that kind of behavior isn’t out of the norm and in order to create a more connected and informed society, it will be important for all people – from citizens to those in power – to expand their knowledge, understanding and empathy of the world around them.
“The challenge is to break into people’s moral imaginations,” he said, “to elicit their fellow feeling, to somehow subvert the stories they already know so there’s some space for perception.”
A collection of faculty from the Kenan Institute for Ethics were recently awarded an Intellectual Community Planning Grant to additionally fund Kenan’s “Cover-ups & Exposés” series, which seeks better understanding on mass institutional cover-ups and what happens when they’re exposed.
The awards, presented by Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth and Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies Ed Balleisen, provide $3,500 to $5,000 to support faculty pursuing the development of a new or existing collaboration. Cover-ups & Exposés is led by Kenan’s Suzanne Katzenstein and Ruth Grant. Along with Duke faculty, additional collaboration comes from UNC-Chapel Hill faculty.
As part of the Cover-ups series, Kenan is hosting investigative journalist Jamie Kalven Feb. 6 to 8, including a public lecture on police abuse and accountability at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8. Details are available here.