Fall 2023 study groups bring an impressive array of practitioners to Watson

The fall of 2023 will bring renowned human rights lawyer Malika Saada Saar and former U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin to the Watson Institute as senior fellows who will lead student study groups, along with an array of practitioners who will focus on issues relevant to first-generation and low-income college students.

Practitioner-led study groups that allow students to learn directly from Watson Senior Fellows — leading experts in their respective fields — are a cornerstone of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs programming. This fall students will have the opportunity to learn from two Senior Fellows — renowned human rights lawyer Malika Saada Saar ’92 and former U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin. In addition, Watson will also host a special study group in collaboration with Brown's Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center (U-FLi) featuring an array of impressive guest speakers, some of whom were first-generation college students themselves. 

Human rights and technology study group with Malika Saada Saar

Saada Saar, a 1992 graduate of Brown University, will lead a study group dedicated to exploring the intersection of human rights and technology. Saada Saar said she will "explore the emerging and complex intersection between human rights and advancements in technology" and the issues they pose for racial justice, gender equity and other human rights issues in her study group. Saada Saar currently serves as YouTube's global head of human rights and is co-founder and former executive director of Rights4Girls, an organization that advocates for the dignity and rights of young women and girls. She also served as special council on human rights for The Raben Group.

In her storied career as a human rights lawyer and advocate, among other accomplishments, Saada Saar led the effort to shut down Craigslist sex ads that served as the leading site for the trafficking of children for sex, ended the federal practice of keeping pregnant mothers behind bars in U.S. prisons and successfully advocated for millions in federal funding for treatment services for at-risk families.

With the increasing sophistication and popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) software such as ChatGPT, Google AI, Microsoft Bing and DALL-E, questions surrounding human rights in the technology arena have never been more relevant. Given her background in both human rights law and technology, few are better poised to explore the issue in depth than Saada Saar. 

Saada Saar plans to delve into complicated questions relating to new technologies including whether AI will further entrench hierarchies of racial, gender and economic privilege, or whether we can turn AI into a tool for justice that upends those hierarchies. She will explore how technology can be leveraged to document and support the prosecution of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity and ask what it would mean to innovate from a rights-based framework that centers under-represented communities. In addition, she will ask students to "identify potential solutions and strategies in culture, international law and product design to address the challenges posed by technology's impact on human rights."

Political polarization study group with former Rep. James R. Langevin

Langevin, who served as the U.S. representative for Rhode Island's 2nd congressional district from 2001 to 2023, will explore the issue of hyper-polarization in American politics in his study group. During his time in the House, Langevin served on the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Homeland Security. He also witnessed a period of increasing political polarization during his tenure, leading up to what he characterizes as "one of the most intense periods of political polarization in our nation's history."

During his more than two decades in Congress Langevin led the fight for the passage of numerous federal laws including the National Cyber Director Act, the Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006, the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2020 and the K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021. These accomplishments rested largely on his reputation as a bipartisan lawmaker and his ability to work closely with both Democrats and Republicans to pass laws that would make life better for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. "I worked hard to find common ground with my colleagues across the aisle," said Langevin "and I was frustrated to see bipartisan policymaking become increasingly rare towards the end of my career."

In his study group, Langevin will place our current political tumult in historical perspective by studying other periods of extreme polarization in American history, including the Civil War and the late 1960s. With that historical perspective, he will explore possible paths forward with students that might lead us beyond the unchecked political polarization that he says is currently "eroding the foundations of our democracy."

Leadership and networks study group 

This fall the Watson Institute will also host a unique study group in collaboration with the U-FLi Center, "Leadership and Networks — Preparing for Future Opportunities," focusing on issues relevant to first-generation and low-income college students. 

Prominent Brown alumni who will lead the study group include Tom Perez ’83, Robin Juliano ’03, León Rodríguez ’84 and Angel Brunner ’94. Perez currently serves as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Biden administration, Rodríguez is the former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Brunner is the CEO and founder of EB5 Capital and a trustee of the Brown Corporation. David Blanding, associate professor of the Practice of International and Public Affairs and faculty director of the Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program will also lead a session at the end of the semester. 

This special study group was developed alongside student leaders at Brown and will focus on skill-building and leadership development. The group will meet on Thursdays from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on September 21, October 5, October 19, October 26 and November 2. Registration is currently open and closes on Friday, September 15. 

Saxena raga study group

In addition to Watson's study groups, the Saxena for Contemporary South Asia has scheduled a special fall 2023 study group, "Raag Sense" with acclaimed Pakistani singer, songwriter, composer and author Ali Sethi. In this study group, Sethi will teach students how to recognize, differentiate, and perform the melodic frameworks of pre-colonial India. This study group is formatted like a traditional 'baithak' or salon and will meet on Mondays from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on October 16, October 23 and October 30. 

Spring 2024 study group with Todd Stern

In the spring of 2024, Todd Stern will join the Watson Institute as a senior fellow where he will lead a study group. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Stern served the Obama administration as the special envoy for climate change at the Department of State. He was the lead U.S. negotiator for the Paris Agreement, a historic treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 parties in 2015. Stern also participated in developing the Obama administration's domestic climate and clean energy policy.