Embrey Human Rights Program

History and Philosophy


The Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU (EHRP) grew from a $1 million gift from SMU alumna Lauren Embrey and her sister Gayle Embrey in 2006. Prompted by Lauren Embrey's life changing trip to Poland in 2005 with Rick Halperin and other members of the SMU community, the sisters' gift enabled SMU to create a pioneering program in human rights.

The creation of EHRP permanently altered the culture of SMU. This new initiative challenged a campus historically identified with wealth and privilege to redefine itself as a defender of justice and diversity. Likewise, it called on Dedman College to recognize human rights as a legitimate field of study amid an academic landscape still beholden to traditional boundaries. This daring initiative galvanized the university community to project constructive leadership into society and transform Dallas into a beacon of direction and hope.

At its heart, the message sent by the formation of EHRP was simple: if you want to learn how to create a world in which all people can not only survive, but thrive, come to SMU.

Over the past years, this message has proven influential and timely as EHRP has helped guide the university into a new era. Students have increasingly chosen to major or minor in human rights, making this discipline one of the fastest growing academic offerings on campus. Human rights travel experiences have generated cross cultural partnerships and extended SMU’s international reach. Likewise, the program’s community advocacy has aggressively demonstrated the importance of higher education in 21st century society. A spirit of revolution has even become reflected in the branding slogans recently adopted by Dedman College (“Minds Moving The World”) and SMU (“World Changers Shaped Here”).

A timeline of important program events can be seen below.


Rick Halperin begins teaching human rights courses in the Dedman College Department of History


Human rights trips to Poland begin


SMU alumna Lauren Embrey joins trip to Poland

2006  EHRP founded with a $1 million gift from sisters Gayle and Lauren Embrey; First human rights trip as a program explores Rwanda


Undergraduate minor in human rights launched


Graduation of the first undergraduate minors


EHRP moves into the suite of offices in 109 Clements Hall


Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Rights launched


First Triumph of the Spirit Award recipient honored


The EHRP philosophy of human rights education incorporates three basic commitments:

  1. First, special attention is paid to the perspectives of oppressed communities. It is not that privileged voices deserve to be omitted or devalued. Rather, the work of human rights must encompass all voices, whether they exist at the center of society or on its margins. The program is particularly receptive to historically silenced groups: women, children, indigenous peoples and peoples of color, sexual and religious minorities, persons with disabilities, and the poor. This commitment animates EHRP’s foundational aim of recognizing the dignity of, and offering recourse to, individuals treated as “lesser persons.”

  2. Second, practical applications of knowledge are emphasized across the curriculum. Academic scholarship can and does positively impact human rights struggles on the ground. Yet students and scholars must never see themselves as detached analysts or objective arbiters. EHRP seeks to provide meaningful education that outfits learners with necessary intellectual and experiential tools for bringing change. This commitment ensures that program pedagogy is attuned to situations of conflict and suffering.

  3. Third, creative projects are promoted as valid forms of cultural criticism and social activism. For too long, the visual and performing arts have been confined to traditional domains. These domains have often ostracized poor and marginalized persons and undercut the disruptive power of their imaginations. To reverse the trend, EHRP encourages artistic expressions related to human rights throughout the campus and city. A commitment to creativity helps the program champion subversive worldviews and uphold a holistic view of the human person.

The common denominator running beneath these commitments can be summarized in one word: integration. EHRP is guided by an integrative philosophy of human rights education that links center with margin, classroom with community, and knowledge with artistry. Integration informs every venture undertaken by the program and give purpose to historical and global awareness. It also sets a new benchmark in SMU’s continuing transition toward more interdisciplinary, empirical, and engaged models of learning.

EHRP supports survivors of sexual assault.

If you or someone you know has been assaulted or harassed, you can find appropriate resources on the
SMU Live Responsibly website.