SPRING CLASSES AT HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL (HKS) don’t begin until next week, but many students are already diving into a new year of learning.

The school’s January Term, which ran from Jan. 4-15, offered 17 courses on a broad range of subjects. Students studied international law, leadership, federal budget policy, policy writing, and the art of persuasion, among others, and some of them traveled beyond the classroom.

Elaine Kamarck, adjunct lecturer in public policy, taught a class on presidential elections, which included a weekend field trip to New Hampshire where students participated in various pre-primary campaign activities. The students, many of whom are experiencing their first election cycle in this country, also discussed the role of rationality versus visceral emotional responses to campaign advertisements and presidential debates.

“Nobody wants an angry man in their living room,” Kamarck told her students, while showing a series of video clips ranging from early television campaign ads to excerpts from the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates in 1960. She and the students compared the appeal of various candidates based on images in their ads and the impressions they gave viewers during TV debates. Kamarck drew contrasts between campaigns that sell fear and those that sell hope, adding, “Winning campaigns combine both elements.”

“This is a very emotional business,” Kamarck explained. Her statement could just as easily have applied in another course, where students studied the ethical and practical challenges of human rights advocacy via the use of video and social media.

Taught by Sam Gregory, adjunct lecturer in public policy, the course included an overview of human rights movements that have used new media, including the Arab Spring uprisings and the Occupy movement in the United States. Gregory is the program director for WITNESS, a global organization that trains and supports people to use video and participatory technologies in advocacy. His course challenged students to consider the ethical implications of using “found” footage, which requires filmmakers to provide context and background for their media pieces. In a rapid-fire media world where context is often lacking and privacy is sometimes violated, human rights advocates have a particular responsibility to treat their subjects with care and respect.

“What should we capture, share and see?” Gregory asked his students, after showing footage from the 2011 uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “And conversely, what should we not capture, share and see?” As the students head into a new semester, these and other questions from J-Term will continue to resonate. 

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