2010 Archives

SMU human rights program changing lives


The following column by Robert Miller appeared in the March 28, 2010, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

March 29, 2010

By Robert Miller
The Dallas Morning News

When Lauren Embrey traveled to Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites with the Southern Methodist University Human Rights Program in 2005, it was a life-changing experience.

That trip also resulted in $1.8 million in gifts to the program

While studying for her master's degree in liberal arts at SMU, Lauren took a human rights class taught by history instructor Rick Halperin. The trip to Poland was with a study group led by Halperin in December 2005.

Embrey shared the experience with her sister Gayle, who immediately understood. To help others experience similar life-changing study and travel, they funded the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU in 2006. The Embrey Family Foundation provided $1 million for the first four years of the program, funding student scholarships, travel and course development.

"After my personal experience through SMU study and travel, it became apparent to me that an integral piece of historical information was being left out of our usual educational experience – the study of human rights, past and present," Embrey said.

Last week, the foundation voted to provide $390,000 annually in additional funding for two more years, bringing its total commitment to about $1.8 million in support of the human rights program.

"I believe the only way we can stop repeating history's human rights abuses is to understand the consequences of past violations," Gayle Embrey said. "By educating young people to the abuses that have existed throughout history and that continue today, we hope to inspire future leaders to be advocates for global human rights."

Lauren Embrey added: "We hope our funding for the human rights program at SMU will allow for integrated study and applicable life experience for students that will set the cornerstone for effecting real systemic change in our culture and belief systems, resulting in an awareness that promotes human dignity and opportunity for all people."

Directed by Halperin, the Embrey Human Rights Program is one of the fastest-growing programs on the SMU campus, with 179 students in the pipeline to graduate with a human rights minor.

The program that started with 39 courses in fall 2007 now offers 70 courses across a wide range of disciplines and appeals to an equally wide range of students. Although most courses were drawn from the existing SMU curriculum, eight were developed specifically for the human rights minor.

The program introduces students to the study of universally recognized civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights, enlarging their understanding of what it means to be a socially responsible global citizen.

An important component of the program is travel to destinations where human rights abuses have occurred. Halperin leads between 30 and 40 people a year to places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, South Africa, El Salvador, Bosnia and European Holocaust sites. The program also brings human rights scholars to campus and convenes symposiums and public forums.

Jonathan Richardson, a senior English major and human rights minor, made a trip to Polish Holocaust sites in December 2008.

"This trip changes people in a way that no one can foresee, its effects unique to every person," he wrote.

Students working toward a minor in human rights must also commit time to advocacy for human rights. They can complete a 20-hour service-learning placement with a human rights agency or receive independent credit by participating in an Embrey Human Rights Program group tour and completing a research paper.

About 20 of Halperin's students are working this semester with the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a volunteer organization that provides legal and social services to refugees and immigrants who have suffered abuses.

Many people living in the greater Dallas area and students who come to SMU share a concern for a better world, Halperin said. "Thanks to the Embrey Family Foundation, we have something in place for them to act on their passions."

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