Students and faculty participating in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programme in Human Rights, Democracy, Diversity and Gender encountered a significant challenge in their participation in the Summer Semester 2020. Designed to provide faculty and doctoral students from all seven faculties of the University of Graz with the opportunity to present and receive varied, multi-perspective feedback on their work, the course relies heavily on discussion and opportunity to interact – no small feat in the times of COVID-19 and online learning. That these problems presented themselves did not deter anyone this semester, as all participants rose to the challenge and were even more engaged than usual.
Lead by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, the almost weekly sessions were held without greater problems, allowing two or three faculty members and students each session to showcase their work. Presentations by all participants proved to be of the highest quality and covered a broad range of topics, from current issues relating to COVID-19 and human rights, nationalism, and climate change, to foundational topics related to the effects of language, such as the generic masculine or translation proceedings, to developed historical perspectives on the rights of indigenous persons in Brazil, refugees’ rights in Europe, or the Austrian Islam Law. That the course was held using online tools did not deter from lively and stimulating discussions, which participants noted were extremely helpful.
Additionally, this semester saw the involvement of two doctoral students involved in the moderation and hosting of sessions. Elshaday Woldeyesus and Girum Gebremariam, PhD students at the Uni-ETC and the Institute of International Relations at the Law Faculty, respectively, and members of the Doctoral Programme in Law and Politics, not only presented their work to their colleagues and faculty, but moderated the presentation and follow-up discussion during two sessions. Their skillful refereeing facilitated a productive discussion and conversation during these sessions.
The only saddening aspect of the programme this year was that due to the COVID-19 concerns, the annual workshop at the Monastery of San Nicolo at the Lido, Venice, that also hosts the Global Campus of Human Rights with which the Uni-ETC has a long-standing partnership, had to be cancelled. The workshop normally gives the participating students and faculty a chance for not only inter-university, but also inter-institutional exchange, as the workshop is open to students and faculty from other partner universities and centres. Still, Prof. Dr. Benedek noted an overall positive response to the course from all faculties despite the challenges and noted in the last session his great appreciation for the outstanding engagement of all participants.
The Doctoral Programme will be continued in the next summer semester 2021. Interested doctoral students are encouraged to check the Uni-ETC website towards the end of the Winter Semester 2020/21 for more details on how to participate.