September 09, 2008

Study Abroad course will focus on human rights

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale Study Abroad course offered during the semester break will take students to Germany to study the origin and development of the human rights movement.

Led by Elisabeth Reichert, a German native and an SIUC professor of social work, the course should prove particularly useful to social work students and professionals interested in European approaches to social problems within a human rights context. But students from disciplines such as history, sociology, psychology, political science and economics as well as community members concerned with human rights could find the course valuable, too.

“Interest in human rights arose from the history of this part of the world,” Reichert said. “There are lessons we can learn from what happened there that apply to what’s happening today. When we visit Dachau, it’s a reminder that this is how it ends when human rights are violated.”

Chicago resident Katie A. Lenza, now a graduate student in social work, took the class in May 2007 and still remembers her visit to Dachau.

“I had learned about it in history, but I never felt the way I did when I was there -- it was intense,” she recalled.

“Intense” pretty much describes the rest of the course as well, both in content and structure.

“We have a set curriculum and many planned activities,” Reichert said. “We have a full program, and we’re always on the go. It’s pretty typical of intersession classes.”

In addition to touring historical sites, students will visit social agencies and meet with German social work students and faculty.

“Students are always amazed at the different approaches to social problems,” Reichert said. Lenza found that cut both ways.

“When we were talking about health care, they couldn’t really grasp how in this country not everyone has the right to health care -- that it’s considered more of a privilege,” she recalled. “In Germany, they think of it as a need.”

Lenza found this exchange of ideas and approaches one of the most valuable parts of the course.

“We’re all in this together -- a lot of countries are struggling with the same things we are,” she said. “It’s a good experience to see how other countries are handling these issues. I think it helps develop an open mind.”

Registration for the program, which runs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 11, costs $2,000. This fee covers transportation within Germany (participants must pay their own way to get there), lodging and some meals. Those taking the course for credit also must pay for tuition. Undergraduates may apply for small stipends to help defray these costs.

For more information, e-mail Reichert at or call her at 618/684-5687. A Web site on the program is being developed at