Travel courses offered at Rutgers Law this semester culminated in immersive, educational trips during Spring Break. One course, "South African Constitutional Law," highlighted the similarities and differences between two legal systems, specifically in how they deal with health law and reproductive rights.
When it comes to comparative legal study, South Africa represents a unique opportunity: their constitutional system is so much newer than that of the U.S. but is modeled in many ways on American law. In a course offered in Camden called "South African Constitutional Law," students are introduced to the history of the country, the development of its constitution, and how its laws handle issues from health and human rights to political, economic, and social development. During Spring Break, the cohort traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town to visit nongovernmental law organizations, courts, and the University of the Western Cape, where they had the chance to meet with law faculty.
This is the 26th year the trip has been offered at Rutgers Law School’s Camden campus, and the central themes shift each time depending on the expertise and interests of the faculty member leading it. This time around, the course was co-taught by Vice Dean and Professor of Law Stacy Hawkins and Co-dean and Professor of Law Kimberly Mutcherson, who infused the course with a focus on health law and reproductive rights. As such, stops along the 12-day trip included public interest centers like the Equal Education Law Center, the Legal Resources Center, and Section 27.
Additionally, students had the opportunity to visit cultural attractions like Robben Island, where noted political prisoners like Nelson Mandela were held, Table Mountain, and the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point in Africa. “This is an opportunity to experience law in action, and explore a comparative lens in practice,” says Hawkins. “But it’s also a cultural exchange since, for many of our students, this is their first visit to South Africa.”
For second-year law student Paula Souvannaphasy, one of the most impactful parts of the experience was studying the South African apartheid and Constitutional Court cases in the classroom, then having the opportunity to speak with South African Constitutional Court Justices about the goals of their constitution in person. “Listening to them speak about their hopes and desires for an equal South Africa was so inspiring and transformative,” she says, “and also helped me analyze our US Constitution in a way I wasn’t able to before.”