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Fall 2012 semester presents policy document on Chinese Laogai system at State Department

The first of our Fall 2012 semester capstone projects is in the books…or, more accurately, in the hands of the State Department’s leading experts on Chinese human rights.  Each cohort of SEGL students chooses one current international ethical challenge and drafts a collaborative policy document that proposes practical solutions to that challenge.  This fall, inspired by an AP Comparative Government trip to the Laogai Museum (just a few blocks from our Academic Building), the choice was the laogai prison system in China.  The system, shrouded in mystery, has long been suspected of human rights abuses and other problems.  (There is no greater advocate for this point of view than the Director of the Laogai Museum, Harry Wu, whom the students serendipitously ran into at the Museum.  This was just days after former Hillary Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine mentioned him as part of her story about her most well-known speech: then First Lady Clinton’s 1995 “women’s rights are human rights” speech to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing.)

After choosing their topic, the students spent a day at the Gelman Library at George Washington University.  They first met with David Ettinger, one of the library’s leading (and most charismatic) research librarians.  Ettinger gave two hours of his time to guide students through university-level databases and other research resources.  Together with the research they subsequently completed, this experience will help each of our students hit the ground running when the time comes to author that first undergraduate research paper.

For the next two weeks, we devoted Ethics and Leadership class to the document writing process.  Before the first draft was due, the students experienced an SEGL tradition: the infamous Review Panel, in which faculty members play harsh and uncompromising officials who demand clear, authoritative information from students.  That panel, along with impressive research and revision after revision, produced the group’s final document, which you can read in full here.

On Wednesday morning, the group trekked to the State Department and gave one of the more impressive performances in SEGL history.  In front of Susan O’Sullivan, the State Department’s leading expert on human rights in China, Aubrey Carlson, the Director of the China Desk at the State Department, and several other leading members of the China/human rights team, six students (one from each group) presented and defended their ideas.  At the end of the presentation, Ms. O’Sullivan noted to one of our faculty members that the students were as well-prepared and impressive as those at a leading graduate school with whom she sometimes meets.

Then it was back to the Academic Building for lunch and celebratory cake (with a crossed-out “LAOGAI” artfully written on top!).

Read the Fall 2012 policy document here.

Dec 13, 2012

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