New Humanitarian Studies Course Debuts

The Secondary Field in Global Health and Health Policy is offering the College’s first-ever course in humanitarian studies this spring, featuring an optional three-day crisis simulation in the forest at the end of the semester.

The course, entitled GHHP 70: “Global Response to Disasters and Refugee Crises,” is intended to teach students to apply global health theory and policy to real-world humanitarian crises, according to course heads Michael J. VanRooyen and Stephanie Kayden, who are medical doctors and have worked in crisis areas.

“Part of our interest is to introduce this topic of humanitarian assistance as its own discipline,” VanRooyen said. “For us, it’s really identifying it as a new and dynamic field.”

Kayden expressed her hope that the new course would help students understand the realities on the ground in the many disaster areas around the world.

“We want them to understand what it means to be a refugee, how the international community is designed to respond to disasters and refugee crises,” Kayden said.

The new course culminates in an optional crisis simulation in which students can apply what they’ve learned in a more realistic setting. Students will spend three days in a forest by North Andover, experiencing “the discomfort of being in the field,” according to VanRooyen.

The students in GHHP 70 will play the role of refugees, while graduate students, humanitarian professionals, and members of the U.S. military will act as aid workers.

“They have to work in teams,” VanRooyen said. “They work with U.N. agencies and military and NGOs and child soldiers and rebel militias and news media and all of those things to really understand the feeling of the field and to perform within it.”

The simulation, which has run for more than 10 years, has grown “in complexity and nuance” since its first iteration, VanRooyen said. Prior to this semester, the simulation run by the course heads was only available to graduate students and professionals in the field of humanitarian aid.

Assistant Director of the GHHP Undergraduate Program Christy L. Colburn approached VanRooyen and Kayden about teaching a course at the College after participating as a volunteer in the simulation herself last year.

“I knew that undergraduates would be really interested in this and that there’s nothing like this at the College currently,” Colburn said. “We have a number of courses that talk about global health and theory, but there’s nothing where they can practice it and put it into a real world context.”

Student response to the new course offering has been enthusiastic, with about 120 students entering a lottery for only 25 spots, according to VanRooyen. VanRooyen said he hoped the course’s presence at Harvard would positively influence future research.

“Our structure and experience base and research base at Harvard is unique,” VanRooyen said.“The aid world has recognized the importance of university presence, like Harvard, to contribute to the development of leaders in the future.”

–Crimson staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MarellaGayla.

–Crimson staff writer Jonathan G. Adler can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JonathanGAdler.


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