ASU Humanities Lab teams up with School of International Letters and Cultures

September 3, 2020

Arizona State University's Humanities Lab and the School of International Letters and Cultures have announced the Humanities Lab’s new administrative affiliation as part of the School of International Letters and Cultures collective.

The Humanities Lab, launched on ASU’s Tempe campus in fall 2017, is an academic initiative that offers students team-taught, problem-focused, humanities-based interdisciplinary courses designed to produce collaborative exploratory learning experiences and outcomes. All labs tackle pressing social challenges that afflict our world today, issues ranging from the future of cars to energy justice in the Navajo Nation, from food sovereignty to dismantling ableism, from human land use in the Amazon and Arizona to the protection of biological and linguistic diversity. Durham Building on Arizona State University Campus The newly renovated Durham building, still undergoing renovations in the south wing, is home to the School of International Letters and Cultures. Photo by Maureen Kobierowski Download Full Image

Coming together as part of the school's collective is synergistic. The School of International Letters and Cultures and the Humanities Lab are aligned in their missions to help students become globally informed citizens in a world of complex challenges.

“This affiliation comes at an ideal time when the Humanities Lab and (the school) are experiencing accelerated growth and interest as the pandemic reveals the depth of global inequities as well as the urgency of transnational communication and collaboration,” Humanities Lab Co-director Juliann Vitullo said. 

School of International Letters and Cultures Director and longtime supporter Nina Berman expressed her praise for the partnership: “The Humanities Lab is a highly dynamic incubator for innovative teaching at ASU. (The school) is very excited to become the home for the lab, which has been a true trailblazer, both in terms of the content of the courses offered as well as experimental pedagogies.”

Since its early inception, the Humanities Lab has partnered with the School of International Letters and Cultures to bring international perspectives into the lab experience. Collaborations include labs such as: "Re-Envisioning Food Systems" and "Facing Immigration" (fall 2018), "Facing Immigration II" (spring 2019), "Why is the Amazon Burning?" and "Only English?" (fall 2020), and "Sustainable Fashion" and "Information Overload" (coming spring 2021).

The fall 2020 labs Why is the Amazon Burning? and Only English? will be the first School of International Letters and Cultures cross-listed labs to kick off under the affiliation. Both labs continue the practice of bringing individuals and community partners from around the globe into their classroom experiences via Zoom and social media.

International study abroad programming is another space in which the two partners see the opportunity to grow together in a significant way.

Some of this had already begun to evolve organically with a collaborative research project and the creation of a new study abroad program developed by faculty team Christiane Reves, from the School of International Letters and Cultures and Sujey Vega, from the School of Social Transformation. Reves and Vega had designed a research project and summer 2020 study abroad experience comparing migration in Berlin and Phoenix as a new project stemming from their 2018 Humanities Lab "Facing Immigration I."

The School of Social Transformation was the inaugural home of the Humanities Lab because of the school’s focus on social justice. The school’s faculty have played and continue to play an important role in the creation of new Humanities Labs.

“The (schools') collaboration is an excellent example of ASU’s commitment to interdisciplinary rigor and creativity,” said Heather Switzer, from the School of Social Transformation and Humanities Lab co-director.

In addition to the School of International Letters and Cultures and the School of Social Transformation, the Humanities Lab currently collaborates with 12 colleges and schools from across all ASU campuses. Vitullo and Switzer invite and welcome exciting and interesting ideas for labs that address urgent social challenges from faculty from across all of ASU’s disciplines and programs.

Both the School of International Letters and Cultures and the Humanities Lab welcome students of all levels — both undergraduate and graduate — and from varying cultural and disciplinary backgrounds to participate in their programs and contribute to the creation of innovative approaches to making a better and more inclusive world. 

“Since both (the School of International Letters and Cultures) and the Humanities Lab deeply value bridging cultural gaps as much as historical and cultural contexts, this merger is a very natural fit and we are quite pleased to have been able to bring this affiliation to fruition,” Berman said.

Maureen Kobierowski

Program Coordinator, Humanities Lab


ASU announces new initiative to address inequality

Ehsan Zaffar, prominent civil rights attorney and senior government adviser, will lead initiative

September 3, 2020

Through an interdisciplinary approach jointly formed by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, W. P. Carey School of Business and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University is launching a new initiative to help reduce inequality in the United States.

ASU President Michael Crow was instrumental in bringing together the interdisciplinary group and recruiting Ehsan Zaffar, a senior adviser on civil rights and civil liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to launch and lead the initiative beginning in January 2021. Collaboration throughout the university is critical for the success of this initiative because social, political and economic inequality is systemic and affects society as a whole. Photo of Ehsan Zaffar Ehsan Zaffar, prominent civil rights attorney and senior government adviser, will lead ASU's new initiative to address inequality. Download Full Image

“The U.S. Constitution’s aspirations of the right to equal justice, the right to pursue happiness and the right to individual liberty, are, in fact, unfairly and inequitably distributed across our society,” Crow said. “With systemic racism, economic disparities and many more issues of injustice and inequality we are facing, ASU must do more to make a practical and meaningful impact. Our deans, faculty and students across ASU made a commitment earlier this year to outline new programs that we can initiate with our own resources and then pursue additional partners in creating and deploying new solutions to transform social justice. The creation of this initiative is one of these new concepts.”

Zaffar, who was appointed ASU Law professor of practice, envisions the initiative as an applied center that will leverage cross-functional proficiencies at ASU to create classes, comprehensive private-sector partnerships, and tangible “products” to help students learn, help faculty broaden their areas of expertise, and provide affected communities with the tools to diminish structural inequality.

These products would range from educational tools for use inside and outside the classroom to indexes and maps for nonprofit and government organizations to smartphone apps that can be shared widely throughout impacted communities.

“Reducing inequality will rely on all of ASU’s fundamental strengths: an openness to innovation, a community of amazing students and faculty, and the involvement of a network of supporters, alumni and citizens who are passionate about eliminating unfair systems,” Zaffar said. “The COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police brutality make it even clearer why we must rebuild equitable systems, and I am grateful to President Crow for the opportunity to realize this vision at ASU. It is my hope that 50 years from now, students who join this initiative will help create a world where people don’t feel like they have to join protests to obtain basic, fundamental rights.”

A civil rights attorney, educator and advocate, Zaffar began serving during President Barack Obama’s administration as a “peacemaker” for community and faith-based conflicts arising from actual or alleged discrimination at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He continues to provide leadership on these issues as a board member at Team Rubicon and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Zaffar joined government service as a well-known expert in the areas of civil rights, inequality and social justice, having taught courses on these subjects at George Washington University and George Mason University. Prior to his work at DHS, he served at Los Angeles County’s office of the public defender, where he represented juvenile defendants in Compton, California, and also founded the Los Angeles Mobile Legal Aid Clinic — a “law firm on wheels” that helped to pioneer the delivery of legal care to vulnerable populations in California and abroad.

His latest book “Understanding Homeland Security” (2019) helps students understand the role of the homeland security enterprise on American communities and his podcast “UnfairNation” features interviews with leaders working to make the U.S. a fairer place for all.

If you are interested in participating in, or contributing to, the initiative, contact Terri Burkel at

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law