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Course explores humanitarian intervention

Each Monday and Wednesday evening, 13 students meet in Shattuck Hall with Professor Daniel Van Lehman to discuss and debate topics focusing on Humanitarian Intervention.

Van Lehman and Kim Brown collaboratively designed the course to capitalize on Van Lehman’s experience and expertise on international conflict, focusing on possible solutions to different countries’ struggles. His intention, however, has been to give more of a survey of the surrounding issues so that those interested can get a taste of what it is all about.

Winter 2002 is the third term Van Lehman, a part-time adjunct professor, has taught this course at PSU.

The class is designed in such a way that prior knowledge is not necessary for understanding the material or being a contributing member in class discussions. Van Lehman’s intention is for those who have worked in the field to gain a higher understanding and also for those interested to get an idea of what humanitarian intervention is all about.

Van Lehman said that most courses taught elsewhere tend to focus more narrowly on topics like conflict or refugees. This will help students to begin making their own decisions on how they feel about issues concerning countries today.

The class begins with a focus on developing a theoretical understanding of the causes of conflict and what viable solutions may exist. Then Van Lehman shifts to dealing with sector issues like the plight of refugees, women and children, and also poverty issues and how medical organizations can affect change.

The course focuses on reading an account of what is going on in Sudan and using skills learned throughout the term to present realistic solutions. A resonating theme of discussions emphasizes our responsibility to the world.

Each student’s personal interest in the course is uniquely varied. Some students have participated in the Mercy Corps, or are former member of the UN, and some have mere daily experience feeding their desire to want to know more about international and local policies.

Rebecca Moore’s interest in the class stemmed from a prior concern for the effects of political aid to struggling countries. When asked had the course met her expectations she replied, “So far it’s been good. He (Van Lehman) is really great!”

The course is structured so that a majority of the grade is taken from class participation and represents an understanding of the material being covered, and also from a mid-term and a final examination.

Students in the class have been using the events of Sept. 11 as tools to tie humanitarian theories to their own knowledge and emotional experiences. Van Lehman emphasized that an attack on one’s country can create empathy for others far away who are experiencing the same emotions, like fear, anger and sadness.