The Embrey Family Foundation has been one of most committed partners in the work we do in inner city East and South Dallas. Their program related investment of $1,000,000 got our campaign to develop the new Opportunity Center at Malcolm X and I-30. But the foundation, led by Lauren Embrey has tackled so many cutting edge efforts it's hard to describe the impact of their work.
One of the most unique among their many efforts has been the founding of the Chair of Human Rights at Southern Methodist University. Now the work of that original investment has resulted in SMU offering a major in Human Rights, placing the university in a very distinguished club of universities offering the degree.
Here's what Mark Norris of The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this week about the amazing developments on the SMU hilltop:
SMU to offer major in human rights
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.
“Even as an undergrad, you can conduct your own research in ways you can’t at other universities at an undergrad,” said sophomore Michael Dearman, an English, philosophy and political science major who took part in an independent study class in which he looked into human rights abuses.
The human rights program is housed in Dedman College, home to SMU’s liberal arts majors. The bulk of human rights classes are history, political science, philosophy and anthropology.
But some courses are cross-disciplinary, such as an art history class about the Holocaust, a human rights and journalism course and a corporate ethics and social responsibility class in the business school.
Elazar Barkan, director of the Human Rights Concentration at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said graduates there often find work with nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian groups.
But he said that more traditional companies are thinking about human rights issues as well.
That’s something Dearman is counting on.
“From public pressure or they’ve become ethically minded, companies are engaged in more humanitarian projects,” Dearman said. “I think human rights has practical applications.”
Martinez wants to work in a public sector job in Mexico after working in the U.S. Embassy there last summer. In addition to her human rights minor, she is majoring in French, history, political science and public policy.
Halperin says it’s the hard work of his students that motivates him to keep developing the human rights program.
“I know the average student does care about these issues and wants to do something,” he said.