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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid