For 15 years, Professor Hank Perritt has led student-centered initiatives promoting democratization, rule of law, and economic development in post-conflict countries. His latest project, supporting Chicago-based Heartland Alliance, created an Internet-linked database to track gender-based violence, including honor killings, in Iraqi Kurdistan. IIT Chicago-Kent Moot Court Honor Society member Joe Panza worked with Professor Perritt and accompanied him to Iraq. Joe had recently revived the law school's United Nations Association.
Prof. Perritt: When students work on these nation-building projects, on the ground, they learn a vital lesson, difficult to teach in class: a professional lawyer, or lawyer-to-be, can make a difference—as an individual. You don't have to be part of a big bureaucracy or have a million-dollar grant. You just have to be focused, energetic, entrepreneurial and results-oriented. Joe is all of these things, and he already has made a difference.
Joe: Learning international law and other class-based subjects is essential—it gives you a foundation. I appreciated the opportunity to tie this foundation to real-world experience. In October 2009, Professor Perritt, two other students and I went to Iraq to deploy the database. To see the Iraqi lawyers and social workers begin to use it with actual data during our training sessions was gratifying.
Prof. Perritt: To sit with 30 brave Iraqi lawyers and social workers and watch Joe and the other students command the room as they coached the Iraqis in using the software that Joe wrote was uplifting. It's why I love being a teacher. The project will help Heartland and its Iraqi partners goad Iraqi Kurdish institutions to provide a more decent society for women.
Joe: Working with Professor Perritt was great. I have immense respect for him, but he still made me feel like a peer. He was more a coach and quarterback than a boss or a traditional professor at the head of a classroom. I knew this was what I wanted to get involved in-human rights, international development and technology. Chicago-Kent and Professor Perritt showed me that I did not have to wait until after graduating from law school.