brochure cover

The SMU Human Rights Program is an interdisciplinary endeavor dedicated to providing opportunities for promoting, defending, and extending human rights in the DFW area and in the world. The program is located in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. It is directed by Dr. Rick Halperin, a life-long human rights activist and educator, and is staffed by a team of experienced human rights professionals.

EHRP specializes in three areas of human rights work.

First, the program offers opportunities for learning about human rights, primarily though an undergraduate major and minor. SMU is one of only seven institutions in the United States to offer a bachelor's degree in this field. Students can choose from over one hundred distinct courses offered from a range of academic disciplines. Faculty members who are interested in contributing new offerings from the perspective of their own discipline and interest are invited to apply for a course development grant.

Second, EHRP facilitates several human rights trips throughout the world each year. These trips are open to everyone - students, faculty, staff, community members, etc. - and focus on both issues of both historical and contemporary importance. Past groups have journeyed to Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, China, France, Hungary, the Mexican Borderlands, Rwanda, South Africa, and many other places. These trips allow participants to bear witness to human rights violations in the places they occur, interact with people who have been touched by atrocity and who are working to bring change, and to reflect on their own struggles and vocations. Partial scholarships are available for students with financial need.

Third, the program offers leadership to a variety of outreach and action efforts every semester. Conferences, film screenings, grassroots trainings, lectures, legislative lobbying, protest events, rallies, and social action campaigns - these examples represent just some of the happenings organized by EHRP. Likewise, a new generation of changemakers is supported through the Student Leadership Initiative, a student organization that promotes human rights activities on and off campus. One of the most important values of EHRP is collaboration with other individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of SMU. Anyone interested in partnering with EHRP for an initiative is welcome to submit a Sponsorship Request.

As the premier human rights organization in higher education, EHRP seeks to help individuals near and far advance their dreams - dreams of justice, of dignity, of making their lives matter, of never again having to feel desperate and afraid. While the program is proud of its achievements to date, it knows there is much more to be done. 

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 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.

The SMU Human Rights Program recognizes the importance of a transparent social media policy that explains how we use this powerful tool in our efforts to #DemandDignity.

The painful truth is that far too many human rights abuses occur across the globe on a daily basis than we can meaningfully respond to. Although we seek to educate people about broader human rights events when possible, our platforms focus primarily on issues that directly impact our campus and the extended SMU Human Rights family. This limited scope is necessary to maximize our bandwidth, stay grounded in our mission, observe university posting guidelines, follow a coherent strategy, speak from our expertise, and avoid virtue signaling.

We are training a new generation of visionary, innovative, and ethical leaders to build a more just and healthy world for all. The main purpose of our social media is to bring awareness and add value to that work. Responsible and effective stewardship of our platforms sometimes requires us to not post about a recent event or worthy cause. Alternatively, it may take time to contemplate and prepare an appropriate response. Such omissions or delays do not necessarily reflect a lack of concern or action.

As an organization that is nonpartisan but not apolitical, the SMU Human Rights Program is committed to upholding the essential truth of human rights: There is no such thing as a lesser person. The content we post and share on social media is intended to showcase and support that truth as it manifests in the people and initiatives of our community. However, that content may not always carry the weight of an official university endorsement.

If you are interested in discussing our social media, feel free to contact us directly at humanrights@smu.edu. We also invite you to support our Dignity Endowment Campaign (smu.edu/supporthumanrights), which helps us devote more resources to social media development.

The SMU Human Rights Program can be found on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and YouTube.