Tag: Changing the World 101

Changing the World 101: Democracy and Development

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Sampath’s class, “Democracy and Development”, has been a breath of fresh air for me this semester. As a new student in the MS-GHPM program, I was missing the readings on social theory that I was so often assigned as a COEX student. Luckily, I was able to take Professor Sampath’s class as an elective course from the Sustainable International Development program.

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman circa 1911
CREDIT: COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

On the very first day of class, we discussed Emma Goldman, an Anarchist writer and activist who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. I excitedly geeked out over the readings we were assigned— they were fascinating! To think that one hundred years ago, an immigrant to the United States was brave enough to vocally advocate for women’s rights, anarchism, and queer rights is so exciting, to say the least. I continue to be truly struck by the readings we were assigned of Goldman’s. I admire her clarity, her bravery, and her emphasis on maintaining joy within revolution.

In general, Professor Sampath’s class is a delight. Even though we often discuss the most difficult and heavy topics, such as racism, politics, intolerance, and histories of oppression, I enjoy hearing the opinions of my classmates especially when we’re split into small breakout rooms of four or five students. Despite being a fairly large class, Professor Sampath’s class can also feel like a smaller, more intimate discussion. “Democracy and Development” has proven itself to be a wonderful course, because of the way these difficult and traumatic topics are handled: carefully, and with great honesty and open-mindedness.

I strongly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath, even if you are not a student in the SID program. He is a very kind teacher, and very thoughtful when it comes to his students. For example, a few weeks ago our class met amid the confusion and stress of waiting to hear who won the presidency in the US, Professor Sampath allowed us to take the class time to voice our opinions, fears, questions, and concerns. I felt grateful for this opportunity to share our thoughts with each other, and appreciative of his understanding that his students were exhausted and worried.

“Democracy and Development” is by no means an easy or simple class. But as a student, it’s also a class that I don’t approach with anxiety or fear. Instead, I appreciate the flexibility of Professor Sampath, the openness of my fellow students, and the ability to discuss in small groups within the larger class. I highly recommend taking a course with Professor Sampath once you’re here at Heller, even if you’re not a social theory nerd like me.

(Editor’s note: If you’re interested in learning more about Heller, check out this video by Professor Sampath!)

Changing the World 101: Assets and Social Policy

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

It’s a cliché, but choosing only one course at Heller to write about is tough. As someone who feared statistics, Applied Regression Analysis gets an honorable mention in my book. (Seriously, to all other prospective MPP’s who managed to avoid statistics in your life, your stats professor, Steve, has got you covered!) Yet I think it’s more important to take this moment to write a love letter to my favorite class, Assets and Social Policy.

When I tell you I love Jessica Santos’s Assets course, I mean I looooove it. For me, it’s a perfect example of why I came to Heller. Assets and Social Policy teaches you how to examine the policies, practices, and norms that contribute to persistent poverty, concentrated wealth, and structural racial inequality in the US. Doesn’t that sounds exciting?!

Yes? No?

Wait, let me break down some of what we’ve learned before you decide.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the income gap between men and women as well as between white and non-white Americans. But have you examined the wealth gap? Check out these stats:

  • White single women earn 72 cents to the white male’s dollar.
  • White single women only own 32 cents to the while male’s dollar.
  • The median income for White Americans is $60K; the median wealth is $110K.
  • The median income for Black Americans is $35K; the median wealth is $7K.

Are you getting an idea for the stark contrast in wealth? Wealth is the total extent of an individual’s assets and resources (e.g. savings, real estate, stocks, etc.). But intangible assets (e.g. networks, knowledge, aspirational capital, etc.) can contribute to wealth as well. If we truly want to tackle poverty, we have to address the wealth gap in this country.

And that’s just the beginning (literally day 1). In this course, you’ll examine how assets affect a person or community’s social and economic course, what institutional conditions limit or expand opportunities for wealth accumulation, how policies can perpetuate disadvantages, and so much more. You’ll even compare urban and rural poverty and gain some new perspectives!

Getting excited now?

One month in, you’ll apply what you’ve learned in class to your own life by writing your Asset Story. If nothing else, this assignment is a great excuse to sit down with family members, learn about family history, and even discover something new about your ancestors! As a mixed, Black woman who was raised by two parents with sufficient income, I knew I carried quite a bit of privilege. Yet, in researching my Assets Story, I learned that tangible and intangible assets have equipped my family with privilege for generations. I never considered my Black grandparents as having privilege, but their assets (e.g. property passed down to them) freed up income that allowed them to better support their family. In addition, had my father not had neighbors who were college professors, he may have never formed the aspirations to establish the first Black law firm in Charleston, West Virginia.

I’d recommend this course to any student at Heller, as I believe it applies to all fields and can even be studied in an international context. This class and professor, Jess, have challenged me in the best ways. I haven’t finished the course yet but if I could take an Assets and Social Policy Part 2, I would in a heartbeat.

Changing the World 101: Sami Rovins’ Favorite Classes

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Lempereur’s course in Responsible Negotiation is a core component of the COEX curriculum.  Throughout my first semester at Heller, we learned to negotiate in different scenarios with a variety of (often challenging) people. Some negotiations were in-person, others could only take place by video chat, demonstrating how difficult negotiations could be based on the type of communication being used. In some negotiations, Professor Lempereur would even encourage one side to be particularly tough on the other. The goal was for our negotiations to mirror real-life scenarios that we might face as negotiators working in the world.

There wasn’t one typical or expected type of negotiation in this course. We sometimes negotiated in groups or teams, and sometimes one-on-one. At times these negotiations took place in person, sometimes by email. The negotiations covered a huge range of topics – from a legal dispute over car repairs, to political negotiations over a fictional autonomous region, to the personal and professional issues between two owners of a tech company. Our cohort didn’t simply learn how to responsibly negotiate, but we were also taught how to effectively prepare, how to debrief following a negotiation, how to properly manage our time, and how to work with (rather than against) the people with whom we negotiated.

As the final day of our Responsible Negotiation course, we played a complicated “game” called SIMSOC in which we had to simulate a society in every aspect. The COEX cohort was broken up into groups, each of which represented a different community. I was a member of the poorest community. While each group was given certain resources to begin the SIMSOC game with, our group began with no jobs, money, or food, and we had no ability to travel to the other regions. We quickly realized we would have to wait until another group visited us, and so we began to prepare for the negotiations that would take place once they did.

When we finally interacted with members from the other groups, we managed to pledge votes to a political party in exchange for jobs. Soon, however, our group began to split on the topic of money. Some wanted the money we were now earning to be collective, others wanted to keep their money for themselves. This led to a heated debate and ultimately two members of our community defected to another. SIMSOC took place over the course of the morning and afternoon, and by the end, the COEX cohort was exhausted. We finished the day at the Stein, a restaurant and bar on Brandeis’ campus. It was a great way for me, my fellow COEX students, and Professor Lempereur to unwind after a long and challenging final day of class.

Changing the World 101: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Favorite Classes

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

Managing the Triple Bottom Line, which is an MBA elective that is taught by Senior Lecturer Michael Appell, was one of my favorite classes during my time at Heller because it made me think differently to understand the business world in a new light. Highlighting that the MBA at Heller has a focus on social impact and social justice, this unique seminar-style course emphasizes why traditional businesses also need to have a social impact and what strides are being made currently in companies and corporations around the world. 

As the only class related to corporate social responsibility at Heller, it had students from all different degree programs who brought their diverse international and domestic perspectives to the classroom. The classroom dynamic was always conversational and exciting, with Professor Appell constantly asking everyone their opinions and creating spaces to have deep conversations challenging the status quo. The class also had many incredible guest speakers, who brought in their personal perspectives in the field, covering topics including impact investing, B-corps, corporate foundations, and even ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting. 

I was interested in this class because my work pre-Heller had introduced me to the phrase “triple bottom line” or “people, planet, and profit”, which is increasingly becoming an urgent focus of corporations. During the previous summer, I had a further introduction into this area of work when I completed my MBA Team Consulting Project with Oxfam. During this capstone project, I was working to create toolkits to pressure international agribusinesses to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Entering this class, I was excited to learn how corporations are focusing on a “new” bottom line that prioritizes not just traditional financial returns but also environmental and social returns.   

Throughout the class, I was introduced to areas of corporate social responsibility that was new to me, including the emergence of public-private partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations, ones like Starbucks with Conservation International, which are mutually beneficial – Starbucks increasingly has a positive image in conservation while Conservation International receives funding and international support for their programming with coffee farmers.

One area of the class that was memorable, was when we had deeper dive into understanding the role of industry leaders such as Nike in CSR to see if they have been able to uphold change and progress. Many times, these corporations have gone through a “public relations crisis” which has informed their pivot towards corporate social responsibility. For my midterm paper, I researched SeaWorld, and their ongoing public relations crisis after the documentary “Blackfish” was released exposing their treatment of killer whales and the death of a trainer at SeaWorld. I was able to create an analysis of their response to the film over the years, their operational and strategic pivot, and how they were able to respond to the controversy to improve their image and overall business.

Walking away from that class allowed me to rethink and reassess businesses and their role in the larger world. While I would often hear at Heller that for profits and corporations are the “bad guys” who are only profit focused, it was important to see and understand that their role is critical to creating impact and enacting social change. Yes, companies have the money, but they are increasingly realizing that their money can be used to help nonprofits – ultimately supporting the people who need it the most.

Changing the World 101: Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I’ve enjoyed all of my courses at Heller, and it would be impossible to choose a favorite. That said, one of the best things about Heller is the option to take module courses, half-semester classes which offer a chance to explore a more specialized topic in what is typically a small seminar setting. In my first semester at Heller, I chose to take “Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets,” co-taught by Professor Robert Kuttner and Dean David Weil. I found this course so engaging and informative that it is hard to believe, in retrospect, that it only met for seven weeks! While adding a fifth class for half a semester made my finals period quite intense, it was 100% worth it.

Part of my motivation for pursuing an MPP, and the Heller MPP in particular, was that this type of degree seemed like the ideal combination of academic subjects including history, political science, and economics, all in the service of gaining skills needed to analyze and advocate for effective and just policies. This course reflected that balance perfectly. It combined discussions of the economics of labor markets, lectures on the history of the labor movement (including lots of colorful and inspiring stories), and reflections from students on their own experiences with work and labor issues in a multinational context. Professor Kuttner provided insights from his time as a journalist covering labor issues and politics, while Dean Weil drew upon examples from his time in the Department of Labor and from his research related to the “fissured workplace.” Both were incredibly engaging and entertaining as professors. We also had the chance to hear from visiting scholars of labor history and economics. This meant that the course, while firmly grounded in history, also drew upon the direct experiences of our instructors and their work on contemporary research and policy challenges.

While I have been interested for quite a while in activism and social justice advocacy, this course helped me to see social movements in the context of political economy and to use analytical tools to assess and understand their impact. The chance to draw lessons from history and gain an understanding of how labor organizing can influence policy outcomes was very influential in helping me to hone my interests, which lie in the realm of workforce development and education policy. This course represents what I think is special about Heller – the opportunity to explore themes of social justice and equity in an academically rigorous, critical, and collaborative fashion. I am thankful that I chose to take a chance on a fifth course last semester – don’t forget to check for interesting modules at Heller!

Changing the World 101: Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Choosing my favorite class at Heller so far is not an easy task, but one course, in particular, does come to mind. Professor Nanako Tamaru’s class, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was an excellent course for so many reasons. First, I appreciated the class size. Most classes at Heller are relatively small, but Nanako’s course had only 11 students enrolled. As a result, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” felt particularly intimate and personal, and allowed for even more equal participation among the students. Although it was technically a COEX course, I was the only COEX student there, and my classmates came from a variety of programs at Heller; I really appreciated the differences in perspective that this fostered and encouraged.

The course began in module 2 of my second semester at Heller, the same time quarantine was beginning. Virtual learning hasn’t been easy for me, but Nanako’s class was engaging, challenging, and fun, despite the difficult circumstances. She was able to conduct the class with so much enthusiasm and an eye for detail. Nanako was conscious and considerate of the difficulties her students faced as we suddenly transitioned to online learning, and I always felt comfortable asking for the help or clarity I needed. Nanako managed to turn a potentially rough and tricky transition into an opportunity to engage deeply with her students. Nanako was always happy and eager to illuminate the course with her own professional experience and knowledge.

Most classes at Heller have many assignments intended to be worked on as a group of students, but “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” mainly focused on individual assignments. Although I do usually enjoy group work, I loved the variety in the individual assignments we were given. Our assignments included writing an op-ed, as well as giving a presentation on anything that interested us relating to women and security. I also loved the freedom Nanako gave us in choosing what we each wrote our op-ed on, which gave me the opportunity to explore in greater detail the topics that were most relevant to me, my interests, and career choices; I decided to write about how women from the lowest caste in Indian society are on the vanguard of creating radical change in South Asia. Nanako published everyone’s op-eds on the class’s website, which fostered an even greater sense of accomplishment. And now I have the experience of constructing and writing an op-ed under my belt!

In the end, Nanako’s course taught me how and why women need to be incorporated into all aspects of peacebuilding and development. Without women’s inclusion and participation, the programs we design and implement as practitioners will simply be ineffective. As someone who intends to focus on women’s health as my career moves forward, this lesson was especially important and impactful. Although there are many other classes at Heller that left a profound impression on me, Professor Nanako’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was absolutely one of the most challenging, helpful, and enjoyable courses I’ve taken as a grad student.

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