The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Human rights minor created

In December 2005, Lauren Embrey and her two sons, Lindsay and Jeffrey, visited various Holocaust sites in Poland on the 10-day SMU Human Rights Travel tour. Moved by the horror of the concentration camps, Lauren said she realized that students were not learning enough about human rights in school. She and her sister, Gayle, contacted SMU about funding a human rights education for students and the SMU community.

The SMU Human Rights Education Program, created through a generous donation from the Embrey Family Foundation, will go into effect this fall.

Dr. Rick Halperin, who has taught courses in the history department at SMU since 1985 and is currently chair of the Board of Amnesty International USA, has been appointed the director of the Human Rights Education program.

Before Lauren and Gayle Embrey donated $1 million dollars to the SMU Human Rights Education Program in the spring of 2006, the idea for a human rights program existed only in Dr. Halperin’s “heart and mind.”

“I just am so indebted to both of them and their foundation that has made this gift possible for so many people here and people yet to come here,” Halperin said.

According to Dr. James Hopkins, chair of the SMU Department of History, “this is a particularly timely moment for the introduction of a coherent body of courses on human rights.”

“In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and the end of the Cold War, human rights have become one of the most powerful and important subjects in academic discourse,” said Hopkins.

According to the Mission Statement of the SMU Human Rights Education, the program’s mission is “to educate and train future generations of human rights advocates and responsible citizens of the world. The goal of the program is to promote all of the rights (civil, political, social, cultural and economic) enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by providing an interdisciplinary human rights curriculum, supporting human rights research and travel and offering internships, seminars and conferences relating to human rights themes.”

According to Halperin, “the mission statement of SMU is to produce student citizens to get into this world and to lead the world. What better usage of a university degree could there be than to produce leaders to bring about a better world with human rights compliance and respect and dignity for all people? That should be noble mission of every university in my opinion.”

As only 12 colleges and universities in the United States feature a human rights program, SMU has an opportunity to gain international recognition with the new human rights program.

“We hope to build a program that is recognized by scholars as one of the premier programs focusing on the study of human rights on any college or university in this country, allowing human rights advocacy to find a place within every discipline at the university,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Dr. Halperin would like to see SMU “fall to the vanguard of a human rights education in this country and think beyond its capabilities at the moment.”

“Universities have the ‘three Rs,’ reading, writing, and arithmetic, but we don’t have ‘fourth R,’ rights,” Dr. Halperin said.

The proposed human rights minor would be an 18-hour minor, with nine hours of the minor in the history department and nine outside the department. The only required course in the proposed minor is HIST 3301.

The Human Rights Education Program’s courses will encompass different thematic issues pertinent to human rights. Classes on human rights issues for refugees and women will be offered as well as classes based strictly on genocide and the death penalty.

Sophomore Kristin Schutz, current vice president of SMU’s Amnesty International chapter, believes that the human rights minor will give her the necessary education to pursue a career in human rights law.

“I was ecstatic when I heard that SMU will have a human rights minor,” Schutz said. “I believe wholeheartedly that education is the first step to lasting change. Now we can have an intensive education on human rights, and, like any other [program] on campus, the program will prepare its students for the real world,” she said. “I am looking forward to armoring myself with the education I need to really conquer human rights issues in the world.”

First-year Bethany Benjamin is also looking forward to taking classes in the new minor.

“The human rights minor is the perfect way to become informed on what is going on in the world and how I can help. It will prepare me for what I want to do when I graduate,” Benjamin said. “I think it is important to know that people are treated unfairly and inhumanely and there are things we can do to change that.”

The minor also requires an interactive component. Students can perform 20 hours of community service for various human rights organizations such as the Center for Survivors of Torture in Dallas or write a term paper based on their experiences on one of the human rights trips.

Students have the opportunity to travel to international human rights sites to witness firsthand the effects of human rights atrocities. According to the SMU Human Rights Education Web site, the program offers scholarships up to $1,000 to help make it possible for students to travel to various human rights locations, training events and conferences. The trips are open to all SMU students.

In the past, Dr. Halperin has taken students to human rights sites in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Vietnam. Every December, the 10-day Human Rights Travel Tour visits concentration camps in Poland. Over Spring Break, Halperin was able to take 13 students through a “sobering” tour of eight concentration camp sites in Germany.

“I will never forget the how I felt standing in a jail cell in Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women and children, or looking at picture after picture of what seemed to be human bodies,” Schutz said of her experience on the trip to Germany. “I will use this darkest side of humanity as motivation to prevent this from ever happening again, to stop it as it’s happening now.”

Students in the human rights minor program are also expected to research certain human rights topics and have their research published in human rights journals.

“There is no shortage of human rights journals available for publication. I expect them to get their research published. Students can have their work published in umbrella journals depending on their topic of interest,” said Dr. Halperin.

With funding from the Embrey Foundation, the Human Rights Education Program has been able to hold more events dedicated to human rights. The program’s goal is to put on at least one major human rights thematic event each semester. Already, the program has planned a human rights trafficking conference for April 10 featuring Nicholas Kristof, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. On April 12, Kerry Max Cook, author of “Chasing Justice,” will speak about the death penalty and his 22 years on death row as an innocent man in Texas. Cook will sign books after the presentation.

“Ideally, a goal of the program would be to bring someone like Samantha Powers, who has written one of the best received books on American genocide, to SMU and have him or her in residence for a semester to teach a particular class,” said Halperin.

Though Halperin has “a bigger vision than where we are at the moment,” he hopes that the administration will rise to meet the challenge of sustaining the Human Rights Education Program.

“I feel there is a great deal of support and this program is new, so I understand time is needed,” Halperin said. “I hope it gets the attention in the upper administration that it deserves. I hope that the program gets funding that it deserves.”

Dr. Halperin would like to give the program an on campus home to establish its identity and receive nationwide recognition.

“Right now all we have is this office. I am thankful for my office, but I would like something like the Women’s Center on campus where students, faculty and staff can feel comfortable and have brown bag lunches and come in on a regular basis and talk about a wide range of human rights issues. I know that this program would have a wide range of interests and not just for people here,” Halperin said.

Halperin hopes the program will grow over the years with administrative support and funding and looks forward to seeing his students improve human rights conditions around the world.

“I hope others can and will, especially those in positions of decision making, support growth of this program and to allow students here at the moment and students yet to come to this campus an opportunity to blossom in human rights leadership roles,” he said.

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