One of the best parts of being a teacher is working with students individually.
Classroom teaching is fun, of course. I’ve enjoyed this year’s classes in human rights, comparative health law, and climate change. Putting the syllabi and readings together, conducting class discussion (as I do my best to reorient the students from the system of dictée), and writing and grading essay exams – all in French – has been a challenge but a welcomed one. Per my first impressions, the students are marvelous: motivated, industrious, and always kind to me.
Since finishing my last seminar, I’ve served on several master’s juries. These take place so that 5th year students may present and defend their memoires or master’s essays. I enjoyed reading them, with topics ranging from sanitation programs in Pikine, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Dakar, and the bioethical implications of minors giving consent to pharmaceutical trials, to environmental regulation of the Port of Dakar and the governance of cross-boundary waterway conflicts on the Senegal and Niger Rivers. Suffice to say, in preparing for these sessions, I learned a great deal about Senegalese environmental and health law, which provided more context for my research of the country’s climate change laws. Conducting the juries gave me more insight into the instructional program.
Helping the environmental health law students organize their June 5th celebration of World Environment Day gave me an opportunity to work with them outside the classroom and within the larger context of the university. Lots of insights about them and their place within UCAD, as well as opportunities to talk about their next educational steps. Likewise individual advising I’ve done on their masters essays and recommendation writing I’ve done for their scholarship applications. Giving a talk about U.S. health care reform at a local Rotary Club came from a request of a student in my Comparative Health Law class.
All terrific ways of getting to know individual students better AND for them to work one-on-one with a professor. One student continually comments “you do too much for me.” To which I reply, “no, I’m only doing my job.” Whether it’s due to the crushing student numbers (recall 9,000 in the first year) or the plethora of consulting opportunities (government, UN, NGO) or the “culture” of student-teacher relations, the bottom line is that professors do not spend much time with students individually. And so ANY amount of my time spent doing this is seen as “spoiling” them. Tiens!
I’ve come to work with two students closely in the past few months. Binta Awa Toure was a student in my first FJSP class at the Human Rights and Peace Institute/Institut des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (the one conducted without electricity). She was one of the handful of women in the class and was quiet even among this small group. When she spoke, it was with clarity and thoughtfulness. After the last class, I caught her alone and told her that I knew that she was a very intelligent and serious student, from whom I would’ve liked to have heard more.
Months later, when a friend who works for Unicef told me about a research project on child-friendly legal assistance in Africa, I immediately thought of Binta Awa’s passion for children’s rights. She researched and wrote a terrific memo for U.S. law professors Tom and Diane Geraghty about conditions in Senegal, who then included her work in their own. Moreover she was invited to attend a recent UNDP –Unicef rule of law workshop for its regional partners, where she met people working in Unicef (a dream job) from Mali and Burkina Faso to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We both hope that these experiences will lead to an internship where she can marry her honed legal skills with her passion for protecting children.
Saa Pascal Tenguiano is one of the responsables for the environmental health law masters program. He is also a very serious student. (Which makes sense, for I recently learned that these class leaders are chosen based on grades from the previous year.)
Pascal is determined to continue on to a PhD and to receive funding to do so. Happily, he’s been successful! In March he asked me to be his encadreur or advisor for research and memoire-level writing on regional fishing law and climate change for REPAO (Réseau sur les politiques de Pêche en Afrique de l’Ouest). This non-profit organization seeks to develop West African researchers and scholars in a variety of disciplines who are focused on sustainable and coherent fishing policy in the region, and so offers scholarships to both masters and doctoral students. Pascal (and I) honed his thesis and methodology for the year-long project. I attended a fascinating meeting held at REPAO (and explored a new neighborhood in Dakar) with other scholarship recipients and their advisors, where we were the only lawyers at the table.
More recently, Pascal honored me with an invitation to a ceremony where he accepted a scholarship from the Kéba Mbaye Foundation. Kéba Mbaye was the president of the Supreme Court of Senegal for almost two decades and a member of the International Court of Justice. The foundation honors his legacy by supporting promising law students.
Despite the odds – first year classes with thousands of students, lack of amenities like books, toilets, and electricity, hundreds of hours lost to navigating administrative mazes and seeking out professors, to name a few – these students stand ready to lead the next generation of Africans.