D.C. Human Rights Seminar

About the Program

The Washington, D.C., Human Rights Seminar (BIS 403) is a part of the human rights emphasis in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. The course has been a part of the curriculum since 1990 and focuses on the construction of human rights policy at the national and international levels, with a particular emphasis on engaging with the policy-making process in Washington, D.C.

For Autumn 2023, the seminar will mostly likely be taught in person in Washington D.C., but it is quite possible that the course will need to be taught over Zoom instead due to COVID-19 and housing availability. We strongly encourage students to apply regardless of whether they would be interested solely in an in-person or online (or either) format.

Students spend a week in the U.S. Capital, meeting with legislators, federal agencies (such as the Department of Defense and the Department of State), human rights NGOs, foreign embassies, and think tanks to investigate human rights violations and possible policy responses. The course will study United States human rights policy, its formation, articulation, and effects on countries and peoples around the world. Our approach will be interdisciplinary with an emphasis on how power is produced, distributed, and consumed within the policy process. Attention will also be given to the philosophical, historical, cultural, and economic aspects of human rights and the human rights movement in the modern era. The course will promote the analytical skills associated with original research in the policy process. This course also satisfies the Interdisciplinary Practice and Reflection (IPR) requirement.

The Instructor

Camille Walsh is a professor in the School of IAS and the director of the Master of Arts in Policy Studies program. Her research is centered on the interdisciplinary intersections of law, inequality, race and class and the implications of particular historical processes on social justice movements around access to education.

She holds a BA in European Studies from New York University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a PhD in History from the University of Oregon.

Overview of 2023 Schedule

  1. Meet & Greet in late May.
  2. Reading in August and early September.
  3. Mandatory two full-day workshops: Sep. 14th & 15th from 8am to 5pm
  4. Five extensive days of seminars and briefings in D.C.: Sep. 17th – 23rd
  5. A policy research paper is due in early December (TBD).
  6. The presentation of your research to UW Bothell community in a poster session (TBD).

 Schedule Details

  • April 30th, 2023: application due (Online)
  • Mid-May: final selection of participants notified
  • Late-May / Early-June: meet & greet (5:30pm – 7:30pm)
  • September 14th & 15th: *mandatory* two full-day workshop (8:00am – 5:00pm)
  • September 17th – 23rd: seminars & briefings in Washington D.C..
    • Participants must be available for the whole week.
    • Meetings may start at 7:00am to accommodate guest speakers from D.C. Debriefings may end at 6:00pm or later
  • December TBD: policy research due.
  • December TBD: poster session & Human Rights Day celebration

Course Theme

Human rights have emerged in the last 60 years as a critical normative dimension of international politics and policy. This course will examine the underlying philosophical, political, and social assumptions of human rights, especially in the context of public policy in U.S. institutions.  Students will engage questions such as the following: What is the relation between international human rights and domestic U.S. rights? Who are the main actors — governmental, non-governmental — who set human rights policy? What are the current issues that challenge the human rights agenda in U.S. domestic and foreign policy?  

The D.C. Experience

During the trip students will be staying in University-provided housing. During their time in D.C., students will be engaged in intensive seminars and briefings with a variety of institutions and policy makers at a variety of levels. During the day we’ll walk and use Washington’s excellent subway system to visit places such as the Pentagon, the State Department, Congressional offices, and policy institutions of various political orientations. For example, we may attend briefings at institutions such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation (the “Quaker Lobby”), Amnesty International, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United Nations, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution, and hear from a long and distinguished list of lobbyists and activists.

The week is an intense group experience and students will need to be ready to focus and engage for the entire time. There will be very little spare time for sightseeing; it is strongly recommended that students who wish to do so extend their stay in the city. 

Going on the Washington, D.C. Human Rights Seminar completely changed me. Having the opportunity to meet with many different government officials to talk about current issues affecting the United States as well as other countries is something I will never forget. We also had the opportunity to meet with a number of nonprofit human rights agencies to learn about their perspectives and work being done. This experience led me to look at myself as a citizen in the United States, as well as my county as a whole, in a completely different way and has made me more passionate about public policy. I would do this program again in heart beat if given the option because this is truly one of those experiences you walk away from as a completely different person.

Heidi Hannah (’16, Global Studies)


  1. BIS 403 Course Application
  2. Scholarship application for travel assistance

Please contact IAS academic advisor Stephanie Lê (slele@uw.edu) with any questions.

D.C. Human Rights Alumni

“My experience during the D.C. Human Rights Seminar completely altered my understanding of world politics and social change.”  – student participant 

The D.C. impact

Since 1991, more than 500 students have participated in the D.C. Seminar, which is often referenced as one of their most formative learning experiences. Our D.C.  alumni include a civil rights lawyer, a health policy maker, an environmental justice activist, and racial equity leader. Learn how the D.C. Seminar has impacted their lives.

Featured alumni

Morgan Mentzer (’04) is co-founder and executive director of Lavender Rights Project (LRP). LRP offers multiple services, including legal aid, mediation, information clinics, and actively participates in coalition-building that connects the queer and trans community to culturally competent legal service providers. 

Learn more about Morgan

Courtney McCurdy (’03) is the Refugee Program Consultant for North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services where she supports refugee agencies at a policy level after many years of direct service. Courtney aims to educate communities on who refugees are, where they come from, and the benefits they bring.

Learn more about Courtney

More alumni stories

D.C. reunion

D.C. alumni reunited in 2015 to share memories and discover opportunities for collaboration, learning, and philanthropy. Guests enjoyed a special message from program founder Bob Schultz, an alumni slide show, and 25th birthday cake! The reunion also marked the launch of the Washington D.C. Seminar Travel Assistance Fund.

Check out reunion photos here!

D.C. alumni – join the D.C. LinkedIn group to connect with other participants!