After Three Decades, Three Key Goals
Rick Halperin and advocate Tanya Morshed
As 2015 holiday carolers promote peace on earth and good will toward all, SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin is grateful for a job allowing him to focus on that goal daily.
For nearly three decades, Halperin has been educating people both in person (at community events and schools) and online (via daily human rights news roundups sent to thousands of subscribers) about the need for human rights, human dignity, peace and social justice.
Halperin is proud that human rights has become more of a mainstream issue, and is “now woven into the pedagogy of SMU’s curriculum.” He’s also encouraged by the passion, idealism, and drive of today’s students – and the tools they have to bring about change.
“Technology has opened up a new world, one practically reduced to the size of a pea, so that everybody lives in real-time,” he says. “Things that happen half-way round the world can now affect billions of people the moment they occur.”
“When I was a student there was no academic program in human rights and very limited opportunities to find professional work that involved it, other than maybe law,” Halperin says. “Now students can focus on human rights in full-time jobs in fields ranging from engineering to education, the arts and athletics, and intelligently address issues from gender rights to environmental abuses.”
Young people are in a much better position to demand their rights and to usher in the kind of world that rejects violence, he says. What’s more, “SMU students are being exceptionally prepared to address the world’s myriad problems from an early age. And hopefully they never have to utter life’s three most dangerous words: ‘I didn’t know.’ ”
Halperin and the EHRP is working toward three key goals:
Human Rights Dallas: “Dallas has a well-earned reputation for resisting, antagonizing and ignoring the human rights of others,” Halperin says. “We’d like to use our academic strengths and community connections to help change that.” This summer the EHRP plans to host the first human rights summit in Dallas to connect people in a variety of fields –business, non-profit, politics, faith – so they can plan and implement ways to promote cultural understanding and improve lives and communities.
Reflecting on the Holocaust: The EHRP will publish a large-scale photo book capturing the power of its annual two-week trip to Poland each December. During those trips SMU pilgrims visit more than a dozen concentration/labor camps and other sites where millions were killed during the Holocaust. The book, like the trip, is about “committing to remember” the genocidal actions of Germany’s Third Reich, which killed more than 11 million people, including 6 million Jews, during World War II.
Thinking Big: After expanding SMU’s master’s level degree options in human rights by 2017, Halperin hopes to develop the nation’s first Ph.D. program in human rights.
December 11, 2015
DALLAS (SMU) — As tribute to 30 years of teaching at SMU and five-plus decades of social activism, the Dallas Peace & Justice Center has awarded Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
During his acceptance speech at a celebration dinner Dec. 3, Halperin turned the spotlight from himself to others, asking 10 SMU students in attendance to stand. “I want to show you the face of the future,” Halperin said of the human rights majors and minors. “This is what hope looks like.”
Since joining SMU in 1985, the popular teacher has taught an estimated 5,000 students in history courses, as well as human rights classes that began in 1990.
Philanthropist sisters and SMU alumnae Lauren and Gayle Embrey were inspired to fund the Embrey Human Rights Program in 2006, with Halperin at the helm, after Lauren took one of Halperin’s master’s-level human rights classes and a Holocaust study trip he led to Poland. (Halperin has been offering the immersive trip to the SMU community since 1996.)
Over the last nine years the Embrey Human Rights Program has hosted numerous eye-opening public events devoted to issues of social justice. It also has sponsored travel opportunities that regularly introduce students to struggling countries ranging from Rwanda to Cambodia — and this summer led a 10-day American West trip to address past and present struggles faced by our own nation’s “too often-forgotten indigenous people.”
The program also has continually developed a compelling mix of human rights courses. An expansion of interdisciplinary classes allowed SMU to begin offering a human rights minor in 2007, followed by a Master of Liberal Studies degree in Human Rights and Social Justice two years later.
In the year ahead (2016), the Embrey Human Rights Program will celebrate its tenth year and 20th anniversary for Halperin-guided trips to Poland.
But for Halperin, here’s the biggest accomplishment: SMU is the only university in the South – and one of just seven in the U.S. – to offer an undergraduate degree in human rights.
Since SMU first began offering a bachelor of arts in human rights in 2012, about 50 students have earned the degree, one allowing them to recognize and resolve vital human rights issues in fields ranging from international law to medicine. Increasingly, more SMU students are eager to follow suit: Nearly two dozen are expected to earn the degree in May 2016.
Beyond his work at SMU, Halperin has held numerous 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 also has 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 a Ph.D. in Southern U.S. history from Auburn University; a M.A. in Southern U.S. history from Southern Methodist University; and a B.A. in U.S. history from George Washington University.
SMU students joining Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin (center) and Assistant Director Bradley Klein (third from left) at the Dallas Peace & Justice Center awards dinner Dec. 3 were, from left, Claire Krizman, Hope Anderson, Sorsha Huff, Chelsea Zortman, T.I. Atkins, Karly Zrake, Ashley Park, Mary Kate Tadie, Taylor Kramer and Tiffany Mourlam.