In the first semester of 2021-2022, undergraduate students in Kelley Loper’s Equality and Non-discrimination class had the unique opportunity to join more than 100 other students from around the world in an online comparative course. The students and experts who participated joined on Zoom from eight time zones in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. The 25 Hong Kong students took part online every Thursday evening followed by their own face-to-face sessions the next day.

The global course was designed by Professor David Oppenheimer, the Director of the Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-discrimination Law, and Professor Panos Kapotas, Senior Lecturer at The University of Portsmouth Law School. Kelley Loper is an advisory board member of the Berkeley Center.

The course provided an overview of legal responses to inequalities in international human rights law and several jurisdictions including the United States, Europe, India, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, South Africa, and Hong Kong, among others. The course covered 5 overarching topics across 16 online sessions:

  1. Theories and sources of contemporary equality law
  2. Employment discrimination law (race, sex, age, disability, LGBTQ+)
  3. Secularism, human rights and the legal rights of religious minorities
  4. Sexual harassment/violence
  5. Affirmative action (race, caste, origin)/gender parity.

The online sessions included two, one-hour modules. Each hour consisted of a short introduction, a fifteen-minute lecture, 15-minute small breakout room discussions facilitated by teachers from around the world, a 20-minute plenary discussion with the entire group, and a 5-minute wrap-up. The breakout room discussions and plenaries were highly interactive, and students were able to learn from each other as well as the equality law experts who joined.

Some examples of breakout room questions include:

  1. “Assume an employer’s statistical profile of its workforce is as follows: White men: $1,000/week; White women: $900/week; BIPOC men: $800/week; BIPOC women: $700/week. What arguments can you make that this proves – or fails to prove – discrimination.”
  2. “If women are expected to do more housework and caregiving at home, does that affect equality at work? Does the regulation of equality rights in the workplace reach into the home? Is the EU Directive on work-life balance a step toward substantive equality?”

The majority of the readings came from two text books, a web course, and additional materials delivered through a Stanford edX web-based course, Ford & Oppenheimer, Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law. Hong Kong students also received supplementary materials on local equality law and shared their own perspectives from Hong Kong with their peers from around the world.

Coordinating the lectures and breakout rooms with a broad student body from different backgrounds required close attention to teaching methods. The multiple time zones also presented challenges. Hong Kong students, along with Associate Professor Loper, attended from 11:00 pm to 1:00 am. “The course was a fantastic opportunity for our students to gain global experience with top faculty from other universities, but I will admit that the late hours were sometimes difficult for the students in Asia.” She added: “However, the students were very engaged and spoke highly of the international experience.”

This is not Berkeley’s first online course organized for a global audience. A previous course – COVID-19 and Global Inequalities – focused on the unequal impact of Covid on different groups. It included thirteen Berkeley Law students and more than 100 students from eleven universities around the world.