Exploring human rights growth

By Nichole Seguin

While some people spend their summer at the beach or on vacation, others, like associate professor of political science Laura Landolt, spend their summers elsewhere.

During the summer of 2010, Landolt spent her “vacation” in Cairo doing research while teaching her PS 114 issues in world politics class online.

“I didn’t tell them until the end of the class,” Landolt said. “One student asked when my office hours were and I offered to meet them via Skype. She didn’t have Skype, so I just used it to call her on the phone and then we talked.”

In Egypt, the government is very strict. Censorship is rampant and the government watches all types of communication. Phones in Egypt allow the government to listen in to conversations even when they are off.

From monitoring phone calls to cracking Skype, Landolt was forced to be cautious.

“I actually had to go over there on a tourist visa,” Landolt said. ” My Internet and phone were both bugged so I had to be very careful. I even had to hold one interview with a major activist in Britain until I came back to the (United) States so I could get an accurate response from the person. We didn’t need the Egyptian government to listen to the interview.”

Since 2007, Landolt has collected a total of 45 open-ended , one-to two-hour interviews with human rights activists that were in Egypt for the Universal Periodic Review, a process run through the United Nations.

“Every four years, every country in the world is reviewed on human right progression,” Landolt said. “I went to interview human rights activists about that process. The non-governmental organizations are more active at the UN, and the Egyptian NGOs presented more information.”

While her original research in Egypt was for her dissertation project, she’s now continuing her research so she can be published again. Landolt already has three articles published on U.S. foreign policy and Egyptian democratization.

“Laura’s field work in Egypt has been a valuable experience,” Pete Trumbore, associate professor of political science, said. “It’s definitely something she can share with students when working with development and how it is affecting people. Laura brings experience in a perspective that we didn’t have in the department.”

Landolt has only worked at Oakland University for two years. She picked the school based on its Ph.D. requirement for all professors.

“I was teaching at Virginia Wesleyan College, but I wanted to teach and do research,” Landolt said. “Here at OU they want you to do both. There’s also a new international relations program that looked like a good program to do.

In the summer of 2009, Landolt and her husband had their first child. Although it prevented her from traveling and doing research, Landolt used her experiences as a mother in her feminism class the next semester.

“Laura brings a perspective that I find very valuable,” Jo Reger, director of the women and gender studies program and associate professor of sociology, said. “She taught a course in women’s studies last fall and she had the class focus on feminist theory and motherhood. It definitely brought life into the classroom.”

Inside her classroom, Landolt shows her students various movies followed by what some students consider a strict grading style.

“Professor Landolt is so very passionate about political science, and it really came through in her teaching style and the discussions we had in class,” Lisa Vitale, a junior with an undecided major and a political science minor, said. “For an introductory lass, it was tough. You’d never hear anyone refer to Professor Landolt as an ‘easy’ professor, but she’s still very well-liked and respected by her students, and that’s a tough thing to do– -— teach a challenging class yet still have most students find it interesting and enjoyable.”

Landolt plans on going back to Egypt for more research soon.