Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1
fall 2016
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights (WGSS 380, 635)

by Isadora Milanez '18

Professor Lyn Ossome’s seminar, Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights, has been formative in my academic experience at Yale. Professor Ossome’s syllabus is particularly designed to foreground intellectual and legal debates that consider human rights’ role in addressing inequality in gender and sexuality. We engage critically with controversial issues, often leaving the class with more questions than answers. Though human rights seem like an unconditional good, my readings and class discussions this semester have taught me that tackling the substantive issues that affect women is far from a simple task. Our topics of discussion range from political philosophy, to critical gender and race theory, to historical case studies, covering a wide range of approaches to understanding human rights. Because of its cross-listing in WGSS and Political Science, the class brings together thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. I engage with my classmates’ thinking processes each week with our class blog where each student posts their response to the weekly assignments.

I am most struck by Professor Ossome’s intellectual generosity as a seminar leader. She brings her experience with research in internal displacement camps to class discussion in ways that wrap together the importance of material facts, lived experience and theory. She also engages with the classroom as a forum to ask questions. We are expected to arrive not with a summary of the text, but a set of questions. Each class period, we tackle the debates in the assigned readings not to arrive at an easy answer, but to complicate our views. It is also helpful that Professor Ossome is well versed both in the tradition of political philosophy and in relevant historical case studies. In answering our questions, she turns both to the Enlightenment-derived political history of rights and to the historical case studies that have challenged this paradigm. I have learned a great deal from seeing the way she thinks, and continue to do so as the semester progresses. I only regret that Professor Ossome will not be teaching at Yale for longer, for she is a needed addition to Yale’s WGSS department. 

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