News / USA

    College Makes Human Rights a Major Issue

    Texas' SMU is latest of 5 universities to offer human rights focus

    Southern Methodist University Professor Rick Halperin, who pushed for a human rights degree program, teaches a class.
    Southern Methodist University Professor Rick Halperin, who pushed for a human rights degree program, teaches a class.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Bill Zeeble

    For years, Southern Methodist University Professor Rick Halperin pushed for a human rights degree program. The former chairman of Amnesty International USA taught his first human rights on campus 21 years ago, before many of his current students were even born.



    Finally, five years ago, SMU established a human rights minor for undergraduates. At the time, only 11 other schools offered such a program,  according to Halperin.  

    “We just don’t talk about human rights in general in this country," he says. "We don’t talk about these things. I blame it in part on culture. It’s a clear failure from one end of this country to the other.”

    Halperin set out to change that culture. Students began signing up for the minor and his required course, "America’s Dilemma: The Struggle for Human Rights."

    Now, he says, “We have become the fastest growing program within SMU.”

    That success fueled SMU’s approval of the human rights undergraduate major.

    SMU joins Bard College and Columbia University in New York, Trinity College in Connecticut, and the University of Dayton in Ohio, as the nation’s only schools to offer the major.

    The new degree will prepare students for human rights activism and non-profit work while providing them with a broader, international perspective. In addition to a minor in a related field, and at least two years of a foreign language, every student majoring in human rights will be required to participate in service learning and take SMU’s spring civil rights pilgrimage across the deep South. Halperin’s human rights course will also be required.

    A recent weekly Tuesday evening class of 30 students opens with some of them citing recent human rights violations.

    Halperin then focuses on slavery’s legacy in the United States. To encourage participation, he brings up the 1960s film, "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner."

    In it, a young white woman introduces her parents to the black man she wants to marry. Fifty-two years ago, the movie was controversial. For many, it still is. To explore cultural and racial changes through the generations, Halperin asks each student how their parents and grandparents might react today, to the same scenario.

    “My parents were born in the 1950s in the South, but then became hippies," says one, "so I really don’t think they care.”

    Another had a different take. “My parents are from Mexico and they were also born in the 50s, and I do not think they would be okay with it.”

    For some students, the course fulfills an undergraduate history requirement. But for others, like Emily Mankowski, it is a core subject, one that is  closely aligned with their interests. The sophomore says the opportunity to minor in human rights was a big reason she came to SMU.

    “I am very interested in service work, and going abroad," Mankowski says. "I am very interested in all the subjects we talk about. I’m pre-med, so I’m hoping to get involved in something like Doctors Without Borders and having human rights as a major could help me a lot with my future and pursuing Doctors Without Borders and going abroad and also doing the Peace Corps.”

    John Potts, a junior in mechanical engineering, is impressed SMU has established a degree in human rights. He says the school is perceived as being conservative and not particularly open to change. He sees the human rights major a progressive step for SMU and its students.

    “I think the class is very interesting. It’s a lot more discussion-oriented than I expected," Potts says. "But I think it’s good for us to raise issues that make us uncomfortable like we did today, discussing our parents’ opinions of race and our partners.”

    And now, thanks largely to Rick Halperin, SMU students can not only raise and pursue tough issues and their interests in human rights, but can major in it. Eighteen  of SMU’s 200 human rights minors have now made it their major. And Halperin has heard from others around the country who tell him they'll apply to the school specifically to pursue the new major.

    Halperin is already looking ahead; his next goal is to establish a graduate-level human rights program.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora