Dr. Rick Halperin (Director) began teaching human rights courses in 1990 in the William P. Clements Department of History. After being chosen as Director of the new Embrey Human Rights Program, he began overseeing its academic program, planning its public events, and developing a wide array of human rights focused trips.
Halperin has held many leadership positions in human rights and social justice organizations. During his more than 40-year affiliation with Amnesty International USA, he has served as chair of its board of directors three times. He has also served on the boards of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Center for Survivors of Torture, the International Rescue Committee and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He has participated in a U.N. human rights delegation that inspected Irish prison conditions in Dublin and Belfast, as well as in delegations monitoring human rights in El Salvador and Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza.
Halperin holds degrees in Southern U.S. History from Auburn University (PhD, 1978), Southern U.S. History from Southern Methodist University (MA, 1974), and U.S. History from George Washington University (BA, 1971). He also studied at The Sorbonne in Paris (1968-1969).
Dr. Brad Klein (Associate Director) is a human rights and environmental justice scholar-practitioner specializing in leadership development, critical pedagogy, and social change.
Klein has been an educator at the secondary, college, and graduate levels. Before coming to SMU in 2013, he worked as Coordinator for the Justice and Peace Program and Adjunct Faculty at the Iliff School of Theology. Klein has led educational and economic development projects in many domestic and global sites, including the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and South Africa. He has also organized community movements related to indigenous rights, refugee outreach, restorative justice, poverty eradication, educational equity, sexual assault, torture, and immigration reform. Klein's research uses interdisciplinary approaches to explore issues such as political ecology; food justice; the pedagogy of privilege; conflict resolution; cross cultural dialogue, colonialism, nonviolent activism, and sustainable development.
Klein holds degrees in Religious and Theological Studies from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology (PhD, 2012), Peace and Justice Studies (MA, 2008) and Pastoral Care and Counseling (MA, 2006) from the University of San Diego, and Sociology and Theology from Marquette University (BA, 2002).
Sherry Aikman (Program Coordinator) joined the SMU community in 1987, working in the Women’s Center for seventeen years before leaving in 2004 to join her sisters on an artistic adventure in Fredericksburg TX. She returned to SMU in 2005 to join the Office of Leadership and Community Involvement, where she worked for five years. In 2010, she became Coordinator (and room mother) in the office of the Embrey Human Rights Program.
Aikman relates, "My greatest pleasure is watching our students discover that they can reach beyond themselves to make the world a place where there truly is 'no such thing as a lesser person'."
Wife of 49 years, mother of three, grandmother of three, and professional artist and teacher for over 40 years, Aikman enjoys photography, traveling, and treasure hunting. After a 30 year absence from the classroom, she received her BFA from SMU in 1996 and continues to explore subjects of interest. Wearing her digital artist hat, she collaborates with her husband David (a computer nerd), producing a body of work called Kaleidoscapes. Looking to the future, Aikman hopes to “graduate” to retirement with the class of 2020!
Lydia Dale (Financial Coordinator) has been a part of the SMU community since January 1983 as a full-time staff member in Student Activities. In the fall of 2006, Lydia saw an opportunity to utilize her passion for serving others by providing part-time administrative support to Dr. Halperin and the Founding Board as they created the Embrey Human Rights Program.
Lydia continues to serve the program part-time as Financial Coordinator, a role she has held since 2010.
Lisa Walters-Vargas (Community Outreach Coordinator) is a community organizer passionate about the potential of youth and marginalized peoples to create lasting social change. Walters-Vargas spent a total of three years working abroad in the field of leadership development and experiential education in the Pichincha and Imbabura provinces of Ecuador. Walters-Vargas also participated in organizations focused on indigenous women's rights and school integration for at-risk youth in Quito, Ecuador.
Walters-Vargas is an alumna of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program. During her time as an undergraduate, Walters-Vargas led service initiatives in Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, and the United States. Walters-Vargas graduated from SMU in 2014, with a BA in Human Rights and minors in Spanish and Cultural Anthropology.
Karly Zrake (Student Coordinator) has been passionate about human rights as long as she can remember. She began volunteering from a young age with children who have special needs and continued her work throughout her high school years. As the Volunteer Coordinator for the Music Therapy Center of California for five years, Zrake organized and trained volunteers for seasonal music therapy camps focused on improving social and fine motor skills through art and music in children and adolescents with special needs.
In 2014, Zrake graduated at the top of her class from San Pasqual High School in Escondido, California. There, she spread her love of service through student government and as a two-term president of Interact club, working as a liaison to her local Rotary.
Zrake is double majoring in Human Rights and Anthropology with plans to attend graduate school and advocate for human rights through nonprofit work. She is motivated by a desire to ensure that everyone has a voice, living by the quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Zrake attributes her compassion and empathy to her amazing mother and best friend, Jana.
(Student Coordinator) grew up in Arlington, Virginia surrounded by a diverse community that values and emphasizes service. In middle and high school, her work with young children earned her the Presidential Volunteer Service award signed by President Obama.
Loper graduated as a valedictorian from Washington-Lee High School where, in addition to being a two sport athlete, she volunteered in English as a second language (ESL) programs for immigrant and refugee students. She was a member of the National Honor Society and several service organizations. During one summer, she completed a mission trip to Haiti where she worked with earthquake victims and orphanage leaders.
At SMU, Loper is member of the University Honors Program majoring in Human Rights. Thanks to the support of the Embrey Human Rights program, she has expanded her knowledge by participating in trips to South Africa, Cuba, and Poland. Post-graduation, she plans to work in the non-profit work realm or the United Nations.
Kendell Miller-Roberts (Student Coordinator) grew up in Dallas, TX, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with Dance High Honors. In addition to performing with the school’s repertory companies, she has volunteered for Children’s Medical Center and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Kendell is currently double majoring in Dance and Human Rights (Gender Track) and getting a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is actively involved with the Women and LGBT Center on campus serving as an LGBT Panelist and last year, the vice president of the Women’s Interest Network. She is also currently serving on this year’s Student Leadership Initiative (SLI) Board as Liaison. Her passion for human rights took off when she attended the annual Poland trip her freshman year and since then, she has gone on the Native American Rights trip and the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. She hopes to attend graduate school and receive her degree in Public Health and work to promote women’s reproductive and sexual rights and LGBT rights.