Impact Story

Cross-Cultural Learning Broadens Students’ Ideas about Justice

Seattle University School of Law’s Transitional Justice Legal Exchange

Participating in Seattle University School of Law's Transitional Justice Legal Exchange gave students in Seattle and Morocco the opportunity to learn about each other’s national histories of state-sanctioned violence and how governments can move forward in a way that promotes healing and transparency. Interviews with survivors of human rights abuses helped the students build empathy and understanding.

Chaimae and another participant in Transitional Justice Legal Exchange, Adnane, conducting an interview for their service project.

Law student Crystal had nearly lost hope that the United States could ever come to terms with its ongoing history of violence against people of color. But she found reason for optimism in an unlikely place – Morocco. Meanwhile, in Morocco, Chaimae gained a new appreciation for her country’s ability to confront its history of human rights abuses in a direct and transparent way.

Both students, across the globe from each other, participated in an innovative new class this fall that connects students from Seattle University School of Law in the United States and Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco. The class, called Transitional Justice Legal Exchange, is a virtual exchange that explores how each country confronts the problem of state-sanctioned violence – in the United States, police brutality against communities of color; and in Morocco, a history of government violence against political dissidents.

“If you had asked people in Morocco 50 years ago whether they had hope for an end to violence, they would have felt the way I do now,” Crystal said when reflecting on what she learned from her peers. “But the country created a reconciliation commission. They lifted up the stories of victims and held them in the light. Morocco put a wedge under that wheel of violence and stopped it.”

Chaimae said Moroccans speak openly about the Years of Lead, a period of intense political violence and repression from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, and that has helped the country understand how to improve its justice system.

“This is not a taboo subject here. We have to be very honest about our history,” she said. But she learned from her American peers that it’s risky to pretend it could never happen again. “Information should always be accessible to the public and part of the public debate.”

Transitional justice refers to the process that takes place when a country confronts its own history of human rights abuses or other atrocities. For Morocco, the class covered the Years of Lead and for the United States, the class learned about violence against people of color perpetrated or enabled by law enforcement.

“This experience is unique. Different perspectives have converged on the questions presented by transitional justice, which have challenged both our Moroccan and American students and which have encouraged them to learn and improve together.”

Nadir Ismaili, Professor, Moulay Ismail University

The class consists of 25 students in Seattle and 25 students in Morocco who meet twice weekly via Zoom. Professors from both countries co-teach the class, and interpreters simultaneously translate English and Arabic.

Working in smaller groups, the students have interviewed families of victims – or the victims themselves – of such violence in order to formulate ideas and proposals for social and political change. In Seattle, students presented summaries of their interviews to members of a local advocacy group, the Black Community Lobby.

Crystal, for example, interviewed the foster mother of Jesse Sarey, a 26-year-old man killed by police in Auburn, Washington, in 2019. Sarey’s killer became the first police officer charged under a new state law that makes it easier to prosecute police who use deadly force.

“When I made the decision to become a prosecutor, I knew I had to learn about what justice really looks like, and that’s why I took this class,” Crystal said. “One thing I heard from Jesse’s foster mom is that killings by police officers have to be treated and investigated like any other homicide, to remove that special relationship between prosecutors and police.”

What she knows now, from learning about Morocco’s history, is that justice is more than locking people up in prison. It’s also about economic stability, job creation, and elevating survivors of abuse to positions of influence and power in decision-making.

Chaimae interviewed Khadija Ryadi, a Moroccan human rights and women’s rights activist and former president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, one of the country’s oldest and most influential organizations.

“People will tell you that the history of Morocco is a history of crisis – how government played a part in the crisis and how it has managed the crisis,” Chaimae said. “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far and we hope there will be more progress in the future.”

Professor Nadir Ismaili, who co-teaches the class from Meknes, said he appreciates the cross-cultural learning made possible by the class

“This experience is unique,” he said. “Different perspectives have converged on the questions presented by transitional justice, which have challenged both our Moroccan and American students and which have encouraged them to learn and improve together.”

Chaimae agreed. “Studying with the American students gives us an outside look at our own history,” she said. “This diversity of perspective allows us to understand more about our legal system and how to improve it.”

"Studying with the American students gives us an outside look at our own history. This diversity of perspective allows us to understand more about our legal system and how to improve it.”

Chaimae, Participant, Seattle University School of Law’s Transitional Justice Legal Exchange

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