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Remembering Barbara Harlow

Barbara Harlow

Barbara Harlow, Louann and Larry Temple Professor of English Literature and chair of the Human Rights & Social Justice Bridging Disciplines Program faculty panel, passed away on January 28, 2017. Her contributions to the BDPs are profound and will endure as a tribute to her commitment to fighting injustice and oppression.

Dr. Harlow took part in early discussions about an undergraduate interdisciplinary certificate focused on human rights, bringing together the Bridging Disciplines Programs and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Karen Engle, Minerva House Drysdale Regents Chair in Law and co-director of the Rapoport Center explained, “Both the Rapoport Center and the BDPs had long fantasized about developing an undergraduate curriculum in human rights, but Barbara was the one who seized upon the opportunity to bring the two together through a uniquely collaborative concentration. She was deeply committed to the enterprise, chairing the faculty panel since its inception, and always working to provide challenging opportunities to students.”

More than simply a look at human rights at a theoretical level, students in the Human Rights & Social Justice BDP are encouraged to realize a sense of history, of people and populations impacted by various human rights practices, and of geographical and political implications of policy and regime. This broad yet balanced view of human rights was integral to Dr. Harlow, who was very influential in designing the certificate, and is evident in the coursework students pursue in considering social groups and social justice; nationalism, imperialism, and war; and theory, policy, and institutions.

In developing the Human Rights & Social Justice BDP, it became apparent that there was not an introductory course in human rights for undergraduates at UT, in spite of many courses considering the topic from various regional, historical, or thematic perspectives. It is here that Dr. Harlow’s enduring impact on the program is clearest, as she developed a template for a new course, BDP 319: Human Rights: Theories & Practices. This course, which has been taught by a variety of professors from departments across campus, was designed as a “traveling” course, to be inflected by the particular disciplinary, regional, and thematic interests and expertise of the instructor, while giving all students a core understanding of the theories, agreements, institutions, and debates that comprise international human rights. As a result of Dr. Harlow’s efforts, this course has helped over 150 students begin to comprehend what human rights means.

In addition to her careful regard of the curriculum and certificate requirements, Dr. Harlow also strove to support undergraduate students. Professor Engle remembered, “She used to delight in boarding the Forty Acres bus with her BDP students to head to the law school for Rapoport Center events. She enjoyed showing the students the law school and exposing them to often very high-level academic discourse. And she treated her undergraduates with the same respect she would give to mature academics, asking for their feedback and insight.” This support for students was also noted by Christine Anderson, recruitment and admissions coordinator for The Archer Center and former academic advisor for the Human Rights & Social Justice BDP, who explained, “Dr. Harlow really wanted students to understand the challenges and dilemmas of human rights study and work without scaring them away from the topic altogether. Her BDP 319 course and our numerous conversations made me a better advisor and a better citizen of the world.”

One of those students, David Loewenberg, who graduated with his Human Rights & Social Justice BDP in 2014, also worked closely with Dr. Harlow as a mentor for a Connecting Experience internship and has found his career path impacted by that experience. He said, “My first memory of Professor Harlow is when, on the first day of the BDP 319 class in fall 2011, she asked each of us in the classroom to describe a current human rights violation or social injustice. My last memory of Professor Harlow was in fall 2016 when we met for coffee in Washington, D.C., where I currently live and work. Looking back now, I can see that my trajectory from that classroom in 2011 to my current field of work in D.C. was directly shaped by Professor Harlow’s instruction, guidance, mentorship, and friendship. Just as she did with each of her students, she encouraged me, challenged me, and pushed me to think deeply and critically about the world and my place in it.”

Dr. Harlow’s charge to think deeply and critically about the world and our place in it is shared with all of us. Dr. Jeanette Herman, director of the Bridging Disciplines Programs emphasized Dr. Harlow’s role in the BDPs and the larger conversation about human rights, saying, “I know she believed in the importance of the work we are all doing to inspire the next generation of human rights and social justice advocates and practitioners, and she was continuing to think about how to further advance this work.” Dr. Mark Lawrence, associate professor in the Department of History and Human Rights & Social Justice faculty panel member, remembered Dr. Harlow’s dedication to the Human Rights & Social Justice BDP and noted, “Her blend of expertise, passion, high standards, and ‘real world’ engagement were a model for everyone who will do their best to carry on in her absence.” And though her absence will be felt as the BDPs carry on, we will honor Barbara Harlow’s memory in the work we continue to do with our students.

Read more reflections:

In Memoriam: Barbara Harlow
from The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

In Memory of Professor Barbara Harlow, 1948-2017
by Elizabeth Cullingford, in collaboration with Karen Kelleher, Neville Hoad, Kamran Ali, Tarek El-Ariss, Mary Reed, Yoav DeCapua, Mia Carter, and Karen Engle; UT Austin Department of English

In Memoriam: Barbara Harlow, 1948-2017
by Toyin Falola; Life & Letters: College of Liberal Arts Magazine