Second Annual U.S. Civil Rights Movement Clinic

by Yuhan Liu, MSFS '16

MSFS’s second annual clinic on The U.S. Civil Rights Movement: Leadership and Nonviolent Resistance took place on November 13th and 14th. More than thirty MSFS students participated in the two-day clinic which included visits to and discussions at historical sites in Washington, D.C. The clinic is designed for students who are interested in ethical leadership, human rights, democratic reform, nonviolent resistance, social movements, and conflict resolution.

The clinic started on Friday afternoon with an introduction by Professor Bibbins Sedaca on Capitol Hill. Professor Sedaca talked about the relationship between transactional leadership and the Civil Rights Act, and raises the question of whether the U.S. can continue to be an exemplar for the global promotion and protection of human rights. This introduction was followed by a talk from Senate Historian, Kate Scott, who gave students a detailed recounting of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Acts. Later during dinner, students were divided into groups and discussed issues in civil rights and social movements that interest them.

The clinic continued on Saturday on campus, with a presentation given by Dr. Mary King, who led the discussion on framing the Civil Rights Movement and nonviolent methods. Dr. King is a professor of peace and conflict studies at the UN-affiliated University for Peace and was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization that played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement.  After discussions of strategy, tactics, and methods of nonviolent resistance, Dr. Maria Stephan, a senior policy fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, gave a presentation on nonviolent resistance in an international context. Dr. Stephan presented data that demonstrated the repeated success of nonviolent protests over violent uprisings and the implications these findings have for policymakers around the world.

Next, students traveled to the Alexandria Black History Museum, where they learned about civil resistance among the African American community in northern Virginia. The clinic concluded at the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, where the student organizers led a discussion that revisited the themes of the clinic and gave participants an opportunity to reflect on what they learned. Students ended the day with a deeper understanding of how the strategic uses of nonviolent civil resistance—in the United States and abroad—can bring about social and political change and how they can use this knowledge to guide their future thoughts and actions.

This year's clinic was organized by second-year MSFS students M.J. Crawford, Mike Fox, and Jack Randolph.