SMU to offer major in human rights

SMU becomes the first university in the South, and only the fifth in the country, to offer a major in human rights.

Human Rights Program at SMU

Staff Writer

Adriana Martinez knew SMU was the place for her when she heard about its growing human rights program.

By her junior year, the native of Mexico was on the ground in Tucson, Ariz., talking to law enforcement and community members about immigration.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Martinez, who is now a senior human rights minor. “It gave us an opportunity to hear from people who are rarely heard from.”

Getting out of the classroom and into the world is just one of the reasons human rights has become SMU’s fastest-growing program since it became a minor in 2007.

After receiving strong support from deans and faculty members at the university, the program was approved by the SMU Board of Trustees as the university’s newest major earlier this month.

SMU is only the fifth university in the U.S. to offer human rights as a major and the first west of the Mississippi River.

“It’s something I’d waited for, dreamed of,” said Rick Halperin, an SMU professor since 1985 who helped start the human rights program and is its director.

Halperin said he believes the new major appeals to the “idealism of youth” and young people’s desire to make the world a better place. More than 200 students are working toward the minor.

“I’ve always believed …young people who have a fervor and passion to make the world better would be attracted to it in large numbers,” Halperin said.

Students can begin taking classes toward a major in human rights this spring. Past classes count toward the major.

The major has two tracks: gender and human rights and public policy and human rights. Students must take 12 hours in a foreign language.

The human rights program was created in spring 2006 with a $1 million donation from the Embrey Family Foundation after Lauren Embrey and her two sons went on a 10-day school-sponsored trip with Halperin to Holocaust sites in Poland.

Every student majoring in human rights will participate in SMU’s annual civil rights pilgrimage through the southern United States, where students visit historic sites.

Multiple trips will be available for students to take each school year. Trips to Brazil, Poland, Rwanda/Uganda and Ukraine/Croatia are scheduled for 2012-13.

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